by Sharon Boerbon Hanson
Your answers to interview questions tell employers more about you than you might think. Interview questions are designed to evaluate traits, abilities, and skills that the interviewer hasn’t asked directly about. Understanding what an employer is hoping to discover will help you present yourself in a way that moves you from the interview “firing range” to the “hiring range.” (Note: the advice below uses examples from the field of IT, but the general points apply to any field.)
It’s especially important to keep this in mind when doing a first interview with an HR representative. They will ask you questions that have nothing to do with your IT skills. They need to find out if you are a good cultural fit and have basic, necessary professionalism and business skills.
Consider this interview question. “You’d be working with a team of seven other staff members; what have you done in team settings to help people work more effectively together?” It’s obvious that the interviewer wants to know how you operate in a team setting. What may not be so obvious is that they are also looking for initiative.
Answering that you “used well-developed communication skills to make sure everyone was in the loop” is fine, but it’s an answer that anyone could give. Compare this answer to the last one, and decide who you would hire: “Clear communication is vital, both to good team relations and also to completing projects efficiently. I introduced an online tool to the team where we posted information on our areas of work so everyone knew what to expect next and when to expect it.”
This tells the interviewer not only that you understand teamwork concepts and have good communication and problem-solving skills, but also that you take initiative.
As you prepare for an interview, look over a list of key questions that might be asked and develop answers that can highlight your specific strengths, or solve more than the obvious problem posed in the question.
Sharon Boerbon Hanson is associate executive director of Advance IT Minnesota, a Center of Excellence that promotes awareness of and excellence in IT careers in order to ensure business success. She has over 25 years experience in marketing and brand-building, and has over 15 years as a resume and interview coach.