The most challenging interview question

Made it to the Interview? Congratulations!! Do you know what questions you will be asked during the interview? Many candidates are unprepared for their interviews and it leaves a poor impression on hiring managers. In a world where social media can connect a hiring manager with the next potential candidate in seconds, you do not want to lose the golden opportunity of impressing the hiring manager sitting across the table. A favorite question for most hiring managers – “Tell me something about yourself” often leaves candidates fumbling for the right words to say. What should be the easiest question of the interview is the most challenging question for most job-seekers.

The best way to prepare for any job-interview is to anticipate the questions beforehand. While some of the other behavioral interview questions such as “Tell me about a time when….” may be hard to anticipate, the one question you should absolutely be ready to answer is : “Tell me something about yourself” or in other words “Why should we hire YOU”. Candidates must understand that employers are flooded with resumes and find it challenging to sift through the noise. What most candidates miss is that this question is not intended to be just a rehash of your resume, but instead a golden opportunity to address the burning issue in the hiring managers mind : “What problem can you solve for me/my organization?”.

I like to think of jobs as problem solving zones where each person is assigned a specific problem to solve by the hiring manager/organization. With that view in mind, a job seeker should really focus on attempting to understand the “problem” their specific job position is attempting to solve. Does this position exist because customer service scores have dipped or because YOY sales growth is in single digits? Or does the position exist because a key engineer recently left the organization, and there is a gaping hole that the hiring manager needs to fill to meet upcoming deadlines. Knowing this “problem” before hand will be the key to your success in the job interview. Networking with your connections and researching news and updates about the organization will help you gain insights into what are the likely problems you are expected to solve in your job role. Use linkedin company pages to learn more about the recent hires and recent departures at this company and you may be able to determine if the position is being advertised to fill a recent vacancy created through a departure or due to rapid growth as evidenced by a large number of people who have recent start dates at this company. Also, if you know the name of your hiring manager, look them up on LinkedIn and research their background and current experience and look for clues around KPIs they state they accomplished or are responsible for. Another key research tool that many candidates do not pay attention to is the job ad itself: It contains golden nuggets about what the company is looking for in this job role and a brief description of the organizations culture.

Knowing the problem is just one part of the puzzle, albeit the most important one. The next task is to align your expertise and background to this problem. For e.g. If the problem this company has is low customer satisfaction and high churn rate, you need to look into your background to determine how YOU can help fix this problem. Many candidates make the critical mistake of taking the “Tell me something about yourself” too literally. While you must indeed talk about your background, if you miss connecting your background with the “Problem statement” in the hiring managers mind, you have already lost their attention. As an interview coach at Success Simba, I work with several candidates who are preparing for interviews. Once the candidate has researched the “Problem Statement” for this job role, I ask my coachees to list 3 strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments and develop a “Pitch” that describes how they are uniquely positioned to solve the problem at hand. Many candidates are aware of their strengths and will simply state this in their interviews – For e.g – ” I am an excellent communicator”. This style of presenting your strengths leaves the task of “connecting the dots” to the hiring manager. Instead, in the example of poor customer service, the candidate would be better off describing how their natural strengths in communication helped rally customer service agents towards being more friendly and responsive leading to improved CSATs. Another common mistake is taking too long to answer this question. My recommendation would be to keep this answer between 60- 90 seconds at the max. Here’s a framework : RIPE -> for answering this question you may find helpful:

  • Relevant : Ensure your response is relevant to the job at hand and the problem to be solved through prior research.
  • Interesting: Think about interesting experiences and unique perspectives that will make you stand out.
  • Positive: Avoid any negative experiences and comments at all costs. In this context, you must leave the past behind.
  • Energetic: Ensure you sound enthusiastic about the opportunity to make a significant contribution to this new job role.

Your response to this question often forms the “First Impression” on the hiring manager. Good Interview skills requires practice.

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