You've probably read all kinds of advice about how to respond to the 100 most commonly asked job interview questions. Guess what: Hiring managers have already received those same answers a thousand times before from other candidates. They can spot a canned response before you can finish its first sentence, and they are not impressed.
Of course it is important to prepare responses to questions that can be anticipated like "Tell me about yourself," "What are your key strengths and weaknesses?" and others. To be successful, however, you need to go well beyond this and reframe the interview. Don't view it as a test requiring correct answers, but rather as an opportunity for you to understand and address the hiring manager's silent concerns better than any of your competitors.
Savvy interviewers evaluate you in terms of five questions they ask themselves but never bring to your attention. How you act and respond to the verbalized questions will determine how they respond to these real, but unspoken, ones:
1. How well does this candidate really communicate? When answering questions does the candidate avoid the weeds, or get too deeply into them? The degree of detail that you provide in response to any question goes to the heart of the underlying communications question. Your interviewer will no doubt take note of the level of vocabulary you use, your grammar and the clarity of your thought process in framing your speech.
There is always a fine line between giving too much information or not enough, but you should avoid both extremes. For example, if you are asked about a given skill, you can get a cue about how deeply to get into the subject by saying, "Yes, I've used this skill when doing A, B and C. Would you like to know more about these situations?"
2. Is this candidate comfortable in his or her own skin? Astute interviewers will look for both verbal and nonverbal cues to assess a candidate's level of emotional security, sincerity and maturity. The strength of the initial handshake, eye contact throughout the interview and posture all contribute to how you are viewed.
Speaking too loudly, softly, quickly or slowly all portray something about your emotional state and self-confidence. If you are overly vague in your answers, it can suggest that you have something to hide. And if you are asking, "How can I fake sincerity?" this probably isn't the best fit for you.
3. Is this candidate intellectually and emotionally engaged? It is obvious that you are interested in the job because of the paycheck it offers. But the employer most likely wants to hire a candidate who views the post as more than that. Does it offer the right amount of challenge to keep you engaged intellectually? Is it a role that you will care about? Will you be self-motivated to go that extra step so as to excel in your performance? Will you be packed up and ready to leave work the moment the clock strikes the appointed hour?
Take pains to show why it is that the job makes sense to you as a next step in your career path and why you are psyched to take it. When you do, you'll enable the interviewer to see it that way as well.
4. Does this candidate have interesting questions? When given the opportunity to pose your own questions, failing to do so raises a huge red flag. And the kinds of questions you ask speak to your intellectual curiosity, your understanding of the role and your desire to contribute to the company's success.
Interviewers regard giving you the chance to ask your questions as the biggest open-ended question of them all. What you ask will tell a lot about who you are, and the kind of employee you are likely to become if hired.
5. Does this candidate care about me? Bottom line, the job is open only because the hiring manager has a problem that can't be addressed satisfactorily with the current workforce. The successful candidate will be perceived as wanting to address the issues causing the pain in the first place.
Figure out what isn't getting done, isn't getting done correctly or isn't getting done quickly enough. When you understand these things, you will be in a position to provide your own unspoken but clear message: "I care about your situation, here's how I can help, and this is the value that I can offer you."
When you understand and address these employer concerns successfully, you will be able to turn your interaction from a quiz into a meaningful conversation. In this context you will have the very best chance to propel your candidacy forward.