Job Search Tip of the Week #7 (2018)


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

Think Like an Interviewer – Q1

“If you had a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea, what would it be?”

As an IT/technology professional, you’ve probably been asked that question (or something similar) before. And at some point in your professional career, you’ve undoubtedly been left wondering, “Why did they ask me that? What should I say?!” Not to worry, you’re not alone: The hypothetical situation of receiving a financial windfall is one of the 19 most commonly asked interview questions.

In fact, it’s a question made famous by e-commerce company Amazon in job interviews, particularly with product development or management candidates: “Jeff Bezos [Amazon’s founder and CEO] walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?” Employers like Amazon ask this difficult, oddball question in order to:

  • Gain insight into who you really are (behind the rehearsed interview answers), with a focus on your outside interests, passions, ambitions, values, and priorities;
  • Get a better sense of whether you’d fit in with the company’s culture, people, and values;
  • Determine your abilities to plan and set realistic goals, think logically and creatively, and communicate clearly and concisely; and (of course)
  • Challenge you and see how you respond to stress and the unexpected.

As with most strange interview questions, it’s not necessarily about what you say, but how you go about answering the question. So:

  1. Stay positive. Smile! Remember, there are no right answers, but there are certainly wrong ones. Respond with any of the below, for example, and chances are you won’t be asked back for another interview.:
    • “I don’t know,” and/or shrug your shoulders.
    • “That’s a stupid/strange question.”
    • “I’m not sure how that relates to the job or my qualifications. I’d be happy to answer anything else.”
    • “I’d pay you to stop asking me these sort of stupid interview questions, because it’s a waste of my time.”
  2. Always attempt the question. Doing so shows you don’t crumble under pressure and are willing to handle any curveball thrown at you. Breathe deep, and let yourself take a moment to formulate a thoughtful yet concise response.

    If you need to buy yourself some extra time to compose yourself, make a joke. Try à la Top Gun (in your best Maverick impression, naturally): “That’s classified. If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Just be sure to smile and laugh as you say it (so someone doesn’t think you’re actually serious), and don’t forget to actually answer the question! If you’re feeling brave and the mood in the room is right, consider turning the tables on the interviewer when they ask you if you have any questions for them: “If I sold my entrepreneurial idea for one million, what would you say is the best thing about working here that’d keep me coming in?” Again, use your best judgment, and delivery is key.
  3. Think about what you’re passionate about. This question is a great opportunity to break out of the mold, and really differentiate yourself from the other candidates vying for the job who may have the same background and technical knowledge and skillset as you. Get creative, and have with it!
  4. Tie your passion into what the company is all about. This step is especially important when presented with a form of the question that addresses a key leader in the company, such as Amazon’s. Make sure you do your research! Make your idea appeal to the mission, values, and interests of the potential employer and/or company, and you’ll come across as a good fit for the position and the organization.

    Hint if you’re going in for an Amazon interview: Bezos likes newspapers and print publications (he bought the Washington Post for $250MM and continues to invest in Business Insider), and clocks (he invested $42MM in the construction of a clock that’s supposed to last 10 millennia).
  5. Be honest. Remember, this question is meant to determine whether you and the company align with one another. You may want the job and think it’s best to try to convince the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the position but if your passions and values really deviate far from those of the company, it’s best to know upfront before you take the job and join a work environment where you won’t be happy in.
  6. Address the keys to a successful startup. For example: How does your entrepreneurial idea address a currently unfulfilled consumer need or solve a business problem? What is your market competition? How exactly would you finance the venture? How would you structure and organize the business? How would you brand and market your company?
  7. Be confident. Make steady eye contact, and take care not to ramble or stumble over your words.

Sound Off: If you had a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea, what would it be?

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