Don't Flub This Important Interview Question

Martin Yate By Martin Yate January 26, 2021
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Dont Flub This Important Interview Question

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I've had two jobs in 15 years and two promotions with each, so I'm pretty comfortable with my skills. I get along with most everyone, and I'll always take two extra steps when maybe one would be enough.

But that didn't save me from getting laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now I'm back in job-search mode; by the way, thanks for the tips you've published over the last few months—they work, and that helps me keep my spirits up.

I'm getting interviews but not offers, which is crazy given my talents. I think the problem is that I'm weak at selling myself and I just don't have much experience doing job interviews. We say hello and then they launch into questions like "What do you know about our company?" or "What do you know about the job?" They're such obvious questions. Perhaps because I don't want to come across like a know-it-all, my mind goes blank and I gibber like a moron. Where am I going wrong and how do I fix this?

Kudos to you. Four jobs at two employers demonstrates continued growth and marks you as way above average. Unfortunately, your problem is one that many of us experience. The nervousness from lacking the skills to turn interviews into job offers has prevented many otherwise awesome professionals from reaching their full potential. But don't worry—this is easily fixable.

The questions you're tripping over, while they may seem light or obvious, are not inconsequential. Botching the "What do you know about our company?" question insults the interviewer because he or she hears you saying, "Not much, really; I just want a job." Now your chances are ruined because you've shown a lack of real interest in the position you're interviewing for. Additionally, you've unwittingly shown disrespect toward the interviewer who spends the majority of his or her waking hours at that company.

Who Would You Hire?

Become the hiring manager for a moment. Who would you hire: the guy who says, "Not much, really; I just want a job" or the guy who says, "Your company has earned its place in the Fortune 500 by consistently staying on the cutting edge of development and delivering a superior product at a competitive price. Industry scuttlebutt says you have great breakthroughs in the works. I've met some of your colleagues at conferences, and this seems like the kind of team I want to join and contribute to the great work"?

The answer is a no-brainer, right?

Research, Research, Research

If a job interview is worth going to, it's worth knowing something about the company and the people who work there. Put in the time to conduct online research on the company. You want to gather information that enables you to talk intelligently about company activities and why that company meets your professional and personal goals.

Study the company website, search Google for mentions of the company and each of its products and services, and make networking contacts through online social media groups to gain insight into the people and the work atmosphere. Read the latest news about your profession in general. On LinkedIn, visit the company site and the profiles of people who work or have worked there, especially in your area of expertise. Don't forget to check out what employees are saying at websites like glassdoor.com, vault.com, etc. 

Interviews Shouldn't Be One-Sided

Most job interviews are one-sided examinations of skills: The interviewer asks questions, and the candidate answers them. But if you have done this research, you should have as many intelligent questions as you have answers. 

Your answers can demonstrate your understanding of the work, while your questions demonstrate the depth of your understanding and engagement with the work. When you answer an interviewer's question, add a question of your own: "That was an interesting question. I read recently about [a development in your industry or a new product from the company]. How will this impact your recruitment?"

When you turn interviews into two-way conversations between professionals with a common interest, the opportunity becomes your job to lose. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

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