It’s the season for summer internships/post-grad job applications, and that means upcoming interviews. Interviewing used to terrify me – I’m not the best public speaker in the world. But after prepping many others for interviews and being the interviewer as well as the interviewee, I figured out how to handle any curveball from a potential employer.
When coaching my friends for interviews, I always advise them to consider the hidden meaning behind every question. Greek Life coordinator Joaquin Feliciano has a similar approach. He likens interviewing to eating at In-N-Out. You can order a cheeseburger, a hamburger or a Double-Double … but there’s also a secret menu. Likewise, in interviewing, there’s the question that’s being asked, and there’s the secret menu of why the employer is asking the question and what they want to hear.
Almost every question the employer asks you has a hidden meaning, a “secret menu.” The key to acing an interview is knowing what the interviewer is trying to find out about you with each question. Take for example, “Tell me about a time when you did not get along with a boss.” It may seem like the interviewer just asking about your interpersonal skills. However, it’s also a test to see if you would say a single negative thing about a former boss.
I’ve also heard recruiters ask questions like, “On a scale one to 10, how competitive are you?” Again, consider the secret menu. The company in this case probably values competitiveness in candidates and has identified it as a top desired quality. It probably would not be a good idea to say you’re only a five. ?
Here’s another example question: “So why did you choose to attend UC Davis?” This question may be asked casually in the very beginning of the interview to make it seem like the recruiter is just making conversation. If you fall for this trick, you may say something like, “Oh, you know, it’s close to my parents’ house and I like to go home on weekends.”
This response is weak because it answers the question literally and does not provide the information the interviewer was looking for. The goal of the question was to learn about your decision-making process and judgment. The ability to take in information, analyze it and come to a sound decision is another common desired quality in a candidate.
Here’s a better answer: “Well, I first had to decide whether I wanted to go to private or public school. I weighed the pros and cons of each and decided to attend a UC or CSU for XYZ reasons. Then I researched the schools and identified my top five to tour. I ultimately decided on UC Davis because I fell in love with the campus when I visited. The characteristics about Davis that matched my personality and goals were…”
Other questions that should be approached with a similar method include, “How did you choose your major?” or “What animal would you want to be?” It doesn’t matter whether you pick a cat, a bird or a naked mole rat, as long as you can walk the interviewer through your thought process.
So the next time you are met with a seemingly random question, think about the purpose behind it to help you frame the answer. This is difficult to do on the spot, so preparation is key. Google common questions, dissect them to find the hidden purpose and practice your answers with a friend.
Behavioral questions are also used frequently in interviews. These questions are based on the belief that past experience is the best indicator of future performance. Example questions include, “Tell us about a time you used problem-solving skills to solve an unexpected problem,” and “Give an example of a time you demonstrated leadership to help someone.”
Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your head – there’s a second layer to consider. Stop to think about what else the interviewer hopes to learn about you with these questions. The interviewer is testing your critical thinking by seeing if you bring up relevant examples. I once interviewed a candidate who had great relevant internships but never mentioned it in any of her answers. Instead, she only talked about working in a grocery store. This left the interviewers confused and wondering why she didn’t talk about her internships. As much as possible, prepare examples that are relevant and also demonstrate your strengths and successes.
Interviewing is like ordering at In-N-Out. The secret menu is the way to go. Your options are limitless with a Three-by-Three, Animal Style, the Flying Dutchman, etc. But you can’t order off of it if you don’t know what it is.
JENNIFER KIM never felt more popular in her life after all the e-mails and LinkedIn requests in response to last week’s column. Keep them coming at email@example.com.