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The best thing you can say in a job interview

Peter Harris|

The Canadian job market remains very competitive, even five years after the recession. Just landing a job interview can be challenging. People apply to an average of five jobs just to get called for one interview. So once you actually get to meet with a potential employer in person, it’s important to stand out from the other candidates and make it clear that you’re the one for the job. But how?

I’ve written before about how you can convey your competence and confidence, your job-readiness to an employer more impressively with the questions you ask than the ones you answer.

Smart questions can demonstrate that you have some knowledge of the industry, and that you’re already thinking about how you can contribute to it. They can lead to off-the-beaten path conversations that take your interview to the next level in the employer’s mind and cause you to be more memorable than your competition.

Here’s an example of the best question I have ever been asked by a candidate in a job interview (and I believe it can be easily modified to be applicable across industries.)

I was hiring a Content Producer for an editorial website that reached several million Canadians every month. Our subject matter was broad, including news, technology, trends and even some pop culture.

The stand out candidate was competent, but unremarkable – until I asked if she had any questions for me. Here’s what she said that landed her the job:

    “Your stories are timely and relevant, your headlines are great, but the Canadian internet audience for content like this is much bigger than your readership – who aren’t you reaching, and why?”

This lead to a conversation about our methods of content dissemination, things we had tried, and plans for the future. Social media was just becoming a powerful force at the time, and she had some follow-up questions about what we were doing and made some great suggestions for using it in innovative ways to connect with new people.

Before the end of the interview, she already had the job. I literally couldn’t remember the discussions I’d had with other potential candidates.

Here’s why it worked: She prefaced the question by demonstrating that she knew what we were doing already (and complimented us on it), indicated that she knew and had thought about the target market (potential audience traffic for a site like ours) – and asked the key question: who aren’t you reaching, and why? She wanted to know the challenges of the role, and how to meet them.

That same question could be adapted to whatever industry you’re applying for. Who isn’t shopping/dining/visiting here now, and why not? Who doesn’t use your product or service, and why?

It shows you’ve come into the interview thinking of the future. You’ve seen potential growth for the company, and you want to know how you can help them reach that next level.

Of course it’s important to be prepared for the standard job interview questions you know you will be asked, and to practice describing your past work experience and accomplishments in relevant terms. But it is in the questions you ask, not the ones you answer, that you can really stand out from the crowd.

See also:

The only job interview question that matters
The biggest mistake at a job interview (and the one question you will always be asked)
Eight signs that the job interview isn’t going very well (and how to turn it around)
The worst job interview answer ever

Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter


Category: Job interviews
  • NoldorElf

    This idea is great if you have the chance to use it.

    The problem with this recommendation is that not all companies are so open with their products and services. Not all positions too are so direct in what they lead to. Some are highly sensitive and are kept under strict NDA.

    In this case:
    – You knew the company
    – You knew the contents
    – You knew who the intended audience was
    – You knew what the firm’s objectives were and how that position related to it

    A content producer’s position is well known for what it does and how the applicant can add value. Plus the company’s products are publicly available and easy to see. A lot of the time, jobs are not so easy to determine. It’s especially true in large companies where HR types up the job description and it’s nothing like the work environment.

    The correct lesson of all of this is, research the firm, and prepare a list of good questions, but you may not be able to get something so relevant and directly related.

  • Guest

    Peter Harris… you like teaching many, but do you accept teaching from others?

  • Guest

    Writing article by article to impress people how smart you really are…

  • Roustam

    I think that the best thing to say during the interview is to show your appreciation and love toward other people. You want to get hired because you want to help people within the company, not just because you want to earn a lot of money.

  • Marcelo Thomas

    Very interesting post, Peter. But there’s something that has always puzzled me: how many perfectly qualified candidates were interviewed before this one but did not had the ability or the specific knowledge to make such an intriguing question? By no means I’m saying that your choice wasn’t adequate but sometimes Mr or Ms Right don’t show up so clearly and the interviewer has to go from the ‘dazzle me’ position to the ‘digger’ position, actively trying to find the required qualities in a sometimes shy but suitable capable candidate. More than a science it’s a kind of art.

  • Theuora John

    Great question!!! and we all thought “answering” question was the only way to ace an interview. Try something different, ask a smart question…