Job Search Tip of the Week #9 (2018)


How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q3

Remember those times when your teachers said, “‘I don’t know’ isn’t a valid answer,” and you rolled your eyes at them? Time to start apologizing, because they were really doing your professional career a favor when they forced you to “at least try.” Employers won’t hire candidates who refuse to strive for solutions (even to silly scenarios like “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”) because they’re afraid of getting it wrong.

They want employees who can think quickly on their feet and use the resources available to them to turn a problem into an opportunity for improvement, because those are the ones who will positively contribute the most to the company’s environment and productivity.

Consequently, during the interview you should expect that your potential employer will assess your creative thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning abilities. Although they’ll most likely attempt to achieve this by using behavioral and situational interview questions, sometimes silly scenarios get thrown into the mix.

How to Prepare for Behavioral & Situational Interview Questions

During a behavioral interview, the interviewer asks about your experience overcoming (or succumbing to) obstacles in the workplace, under the premise that past behavior predicts your on-the-job performance (“Tell me about a time when…”). On the other hand, a situational interview entails the interviewer presenting dilemmas that may realistically arise in the future at your potential job and asking how you’d handle it (“What would you do if…”).

The best way to answer both these types of questions is to provide provide concrete examples. Before you embark on interviews, prepare: Choose three to five situations in which you displayed exceptional problem-making skills. Then for each situation, break down the details. Think “PS CAR” (Fun fact for you car non-aficionados: Pferdestärke (PS) refers to horsepower.):

  • People: Who was involved
  • Situation: What was it and why was it particularly problematic
  • Cause: What led to the problem / How did the situation arise
  • Address: What specific actions did you take, and why did you choose that particular course of action over the alternatives
  • Result: What was the end-result, and what did you learn from it (Was it what you’d expected? If so, why? If not, why not? What would you do differently the next time you face a similar situation?)

Touching on all points of PS CAR when responding to behavioral interview questions will show your interviewer that you are confident and capable. You can still use PS CAR when answering situational interview questions as well – just describe how you’ve handled a situation similar to the hypothetical scenario that the interviewer posed.

How to Handle Silly Scenarios

If you’re presented with “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put into a blender, how would you get out” or something of the like, here’s the big secret: There is no “right” answer.

Interviewers like to pose off-the-wall questions to evaluate not only your conflict resolution strategy but also your stress response, creativity, and confidence. Focus on clearly communicating your logical thought process and showing off your personality. It’s an opportunity for you to shine, so put yourself in the situation and just have fun with it! When it comes time to review and eliminate job candidates, a unique, memorable response that demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking could be the difference between you landing your dream job or missing out.

How to Tackle Presentst Problems

Ready to improve your problem solving and critical thinking skills now so you’ll be better prepared for interviews later? Follow these steps:

  1. Don’t jump the gun. Take the time to thoroughly assess the situation and identify the actual problem and figure out how it came to be. Remember, sometimes what is presented as the issue is only a symptom. Understanding the causality of the situation (how it came to be) can give you insight in how to solve it more efficiently and effectively.

    That being said, efficiency is great, but effectiveness is better. As Steve Jobs once said, “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.”

    View the problem from multiple angles and develop various solutions to it. Adopt utilitarian thinking (i.e., focusing on a decision’s end results) and consider each solution’s potential outcomes both in the short- and long-term.
  2. Speak out. Sometimes all that is needed to move forward towards finding a solution for a problem is a fresh outside perspective. Employers take notice of people who take the initiative and show they can think for themselves. Voice your opinions and encourage others to do so as well – just remember to be polite and respectful about it.
  3. Make the tough call. Employers like people with negotiating, compromising, and leadership skills. When collaborating with multiple people, it’s important to consider the interests of all involved parties before making a decision.

    As Jeremy Bentham once said, you should act on “The greatest good for the greatest number.” Remember that oftentimes you can’t make everyone happy, but there is a solution that will satisfy everyone.
  4. Slow and steady wins the race. The best solution is the one that address the issue in its entirety. It takes time and effort to find it, but is worth it so that you don’t have to revisit the problem later on down the road.

Interviewers will always ask some questions designed specifically to test your mental flexibility and agility. Every problem you face is an opportunity to develop your mental muscles and add to the arsenal of experiences you can draw from when tested to think on your feet and perform well under pressure.

Sound Off: If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?

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Image Credit: The Wall Street Journal