Open-ended questions are dreaded and can be a potential trap for the unprepared. Answers to open-ended questions can sometimes accelerate your candidacy if your responses are succinct and targeted. Your answers can also sink your chances if you don’t demonstrate that your communications skills are up to the standards of the hiring manager. Yes or no questions are easier, but you can’t market yourself with one-word answers.
Questions like, “Tell me about yourself”, or “What are your major accomplishments?” are the most difficult to answer unless you’ve thought about the best answers beforehand. You don’t want to respond awkwardly or mumble something incoherently. Hiring managers want to hear a “story” that is clear, succinct, that flows in an understandable and logical way, and hopefully includes transferable skills and experiences that relate to the job to be filled.
Here are some ways to approach answers to the dreaded open-ended questions:
- HIGHLIGHT YOUR PROFESSIONAL CREDENTIALS – Keep the personal information personal by stating, “Professionally I received my degree in xxxxx, from xxxx and was recruited by xxxx to expand sales in a new product”. Then brief the interviewer with each major step of your career with a 10 second synopsis. Why so short a brief? Because this information is already on your resume. The question is really designed to see how you present the information in a compact, complete, and clear way.
- FOCUS ON THE KEY ELEMENTS – The first 3 to 5 items on the position description are the most critical.Describe comparable results from your past experiences. Show that you can solve the issues that are important to the hiring manager. If you don’t know how you can provide value to the organization, it will show.
- SHOW THAT YOU CAN DO THE JOB – Discuss potential solutions to short-term issues. Highlight potential alternatives to longer-term strategies. Identify actions you took to achieve high performance. Your results should speak for itself.
- GIVE SPECIFIC AND MEASURABLE EXAMPLES – Use numbers if you can: Dollars, percent, ratios or other measurements tell them that you can do the job. Nothing can “sell” your candidacy better than giving them examples of your results somewhere else. If you have successfully done it before, the chances are you can do it again, only better.
- DON’T GET SIDE-TRACKED – The interviewer is not only listening to what you say, but how you say it. A rambling story demonstrates an inability to organize your thoughts into a coherent sequence. Think in bullet point terms while communicating in a logical step-by-step way.
However, be sure to answer all questions in a polite and personable way. Don’t answer like a robot. Show your keen interest in the job when answering the questions. The hiring manager is assessing not only your skills and experience, but also your compatibility and potential relationship with the working group already in place.
Open-ended questions can be stressful, but with planning and preparation you can become a finalist candidate.
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