How to Answer the Top 5 Interview Questions of 2017

I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed recently and have noticed that this is the time of year everyone likes to send out their recap of the preceding 12 months. Usually it is industry specific so things like, “Overcoming the top 10 denials” in my investigation groups or “Top 10 HR trends to expect in 2018” in my HR forums are pretty common. One however, seems to happen more frequently than any others: How to Answer the Top 5 (or sometimes 10) Interview Questions of 2017. Since I work in and around the HR industry you would expect this to be of no surprise to me, but I must say I’m shocked and frankly a little disappointed.

I suppose it is only fair to say that it is likely these lists come from a good place, HR practitioners out there trying to give a helping hand to job seekers. I have got to believe they are trying to help people hone their interview game so they can land the perfect position. Only that’s just it. If the goal is to help an individual land the perfect position, we are approaching the interview process in the completely wrong way and perhaps pointing great talent in the wrong direction altogether.

Let us assume for a moment that a perfect role exists for every job seeker. What does that look like? For one person it could be as a programmer for a tech company out in Silicon Valley, for another, it could be as an oil-rig worker in North Dakota, still another may love the idea of protecting their community by being a police officer. The point is, the perfect role for one person is different than the perfect role for almost every other person. Sounds simple enough, right? It follows then that since the perfect roles are different, the questions asked during an interview are going to be different. The managers making the decision to hire are different, so they are going to want different personalities on their teams. People are not cookie cutters so we should stop trying to encourage cookie cutter responses to “The top interview questions”.

You might be thinking, well sure, all those jobs are so different of course the questions and answers are going to be different. That means there are “best” ways to answer questions for each specific job mentioned, right? I’m sorry to break it to you dearest reader, but that would be a big “no” as well.

Again, what is right for one person is not right for every other person. Take a very common HR question as an example: “Please rank the following motivators as they pertain to you in order from most to least important: Compensation, Recognition, and Challenging work”. Generally, guidance is to answer this question in the following order: Challenging work, Recognition, then Compensation so as not to focus on the monetary component of the role making the individual look thoroughly engaged in the type of work they do while being rewarded for it is a side note.

That kind of advice has been putting people in the wrong positions for years. Sure, back in 2008-2011 when no one had a job, go ahead and use the cookie cutter answer because at that point it was not about finding the perfect position, it was about finding any position. Now though, the markets have rebounded, unemployment is at an all time low, technology provides access to almost every available job opening in the world in real time, and job seekers should be putting their honest foot forward.

If finances motivate you, good! I’m sure you will find a company who embraces that and structures their reward system around big bonuses or other financial incentives. If recognition is what really gets you going, answer with that, and know that if it is not the answer the company wants to hear that its ok to not get the job. You don’t really want it anyway because their rewards are not going to line up with what motivates you and in two years you are going to be looking for another job because you don’t feel valued, engaged or fulfilled.

To all the job seekers out there who clicked on this link expecting some easy read bullet point article about what to say in your next interview, I’m sorry. I will not be giving you lines to memorize and regurgitate at your recruiters. Be yourself and know that the right job is out there. Think of the job search like dating. How would you feel if someone proposed marriage after hearing you say all the right words on the first date, words you don’t even believe in? You would run for the hills, right? This is no different.

To all the HR/Talent Acquisition professionals out there reading this, please, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop encouraging people to fit into a nice tidy box that’s easy on the palate. Encourage a person to be their best self and then match person with the company who compliments that self. Do you really want a bunch of people in your company who are not fully excited to be there? People who are not engaged but know how to “Say the right thing” when someone asks a question? I know I don’t. We can do better than that.

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