The Three-Step Process for Answering Most Interview Questions

There are thousands of questions that you could be asked in an interview, and there is no way you can memorize a "correct" response for each one especially not the night before the interview. Interviews just aren't like that because they are often conversational and informal. The unexpected often happens. For these reasons, developing an approach to answering an interview question is far more important than memorizing a canned response.

I have developed a technique called the Three-Step Process that you can use to fashion an effective answer to most interview questions:

1. Understand what is really being asked. Most questions relate to your adaptive skills and personality. These questions include "Can we depend on you?"; "Are you easy to get along with?"; and "Are you a good worker?" The question may also relate to whether you have the experience and training to do the job if you are hired.

2. Answer the question briefly in a non-damaging way. A good response to a question should acknowledge the facts of your situation and present them as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

3. Answer the real question by presenting your related skills. An effective response to any interview question should answer the question in a direct way that also presents your ability to do the job well.

To show you how to use the Three-Step Process, let's use it to answer a specific question:

Question: "We were looking for someone with more experience in this field than you seem to have. Why should we consider you over others with better credentials?"

The following sections show how one person might construct an answer to this question using the Three-Step Process.

Step 1: Understand What Is Really Being Asked

This question is often asked in a less direct way, but it is a frequent concern of employers. To answer it, you must remember that employers often hire people who present themselves well in an interview over those with better credentials. Your best shot is to emphasize whatever personal strengths you have that could offer an advantage to an employer. The person wants to know whether you have anything going for you that can help you compete with a more experienced worker.

Well, do you? Are you a hard worker? Do you learn fast? Have you had intensive training or hands-on experience? Do you have skills from other activities that can transfer to this job? Knowing in advance what skills you have to offer is essential to answering this question.

Step 2: Answer the Question Briefly in a Non-Damaging Way

For example, the following response answers the question without hurting the person's chances of getting the job:

"I'm sure there are people who have more years of experience or better credentials. I do, however, have four years of combined training and hands-on experience using the latest methods and techniques. Because my training is recent, I am open to new ideas and am used to working hard and learning quickly."

Step 3: Answer the Real Question by Presenting Your Related Skills

Although the previous response answers the question in an appropriate and brief way, you might continue with additional details that emphasize key skills needed for the job:

"As you know, I held down a full-time job and family responsibilities while going to school. During those two years, I had an excellent attendance record both at work and school, missing only one day in two years. I also received two merit increases in salary, and my grades were in the top 25 percent of my class. In order to do all this, I had to learn to organize my time and set priorities. I worked hard to prepare myself in this new career area and am willing to keep working to establish myself. The position you have available is what I am prepared to do. I am willing to work harder than the next person because I have the desire to keep learning and to do an outstanding job. With my education complete, I can now turn my full attention to this job."

This response presents the skills necessary to do well in any job. This job seeker sounds dependable. She also gave examples of situations where she had used the required skills in other settings. It is a good response.

Chapter 4 shows you how to use the Three-Step Process to provide thorough answers to 10 interview questions that, in one form or another, are asked in most interviews. If you can answer those questions well, you should be prepared to answer almost any question. Chapter 5 provides answers to a wide variety of more-specific interview questions you may be asked.

The Prove-It Technique

The Three-Step Process is important for understanding that the interview question being asked is often an attempt to discover underlying information. You can provide that information in an effective way by using the four-step Prove-It Technique:

1. Present a concrete example: People relate to and remember stories. Saying you have a skill is not nearly as powerful as describing a situation where you used that skill. The example should include enough details to make sense of the who, what, where, when, and why.

2. Quantify: Whenever possible, use numbers to provide a basis for what you did. For example, give the number of customers served, the percent you exceeded quotas, dollar amounts you were responsible for, or the number of new accounts you generated.

3. Emphasize results: Providing some data regarding the positive results you obtained is important. For example, you could state that sales increased by 3 percent over the previous year or profits went up 50 percent. Use numbers to quantify your results.

4. Link it up: Although the connection between your example and doing the job well may seem obvious to you, make sure it is clear to the employer. A simple statement is often enough to accomplish this.

If you do a thorough job of completing the activities in chapter 2, providing proof supporting the skills you discuss in an interview should be fairly easy.

Key Points: Chapter 1

No matter what type of interview you face, you must stay focused on conveying the job skills you have in order to be successful.

There are several things you should do to have a successful interview, including make a good impression, answer tough questions well, and follow up after the interview.

By using the Three-Step Process, you can handle any interview question. First make sure you understand what is really being asked, then briefly respond to the question in a non-damaging way, and finally present your related job skills to answer the true question.

To support the skills you discuss in interviews, you can use the Prove-It Technique. To use the Prove-It Technique, you give examples for, quantify, and list results for each job skill you present. You also must be able to relate your job skills to the position you are applying for.

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