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Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Structure Your Answer in a Job Interview?

There are a variety of formats that are used to conduct job interviews. Sometimes you will be before a panel of people who will take turns asking you questions.  Sometimes only one person will be meeting with you to ask questions.  Some employers may also conduct phone interviews prior to inviting you for an "in person" meeting.

Despite the format, one of the key components to a successful interview is to keep the employer focussed. Focussed on what you may be wondering? Focussed on you! On what you are saying and the message you are trying to get across. When attending an interview, you are up against many distractions that may have you fighting to keep the attention of those asking the questions. Bear in mind that people are people and employers, just like you and I, can get easily bored, can have other things on their minds, and might be suffering from interview fatigue. In some cases, you may be the fourteenth person they are interviewing and they may be tired.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of interviewing, from an employer's point of view, is having to sit through long-winded and rambling answers or having to search for the point in what the applicant is saying.  Combine this with the fact that the interviewers may be approaching fatigue, and you are looking at a no win situation. do you fight the odds and maximize your chances of success? One of the most effective ways is to structure your answers. Structuring your answers will ensure that you are concise and to the point with your responses.  It will have a positive effect on the interview panel, particularly if they just sat through a previous interview with a candidate who was long winded and was rambling. There are many ways that an interview panel decides if you will be hired. Sometimes it is be a formal scoring system in which they are looking for certain content in the responses, or sometimes it is an informal evaluation. It can also be any variation or combination of the two.

Structuring your answers works in spite of the format being used. Let's look at an example:

A Non-Structured Approach:

Interview Panel:   Tell us about your experience in project management and how your experience can make a difference to our company.

Job Applicant:  Well, I am managing a project called Trans-go  which I have done for the last fourteen months. I also managed a construction project in the late eighties but just before my current job, I was a project manager for IBIX  Software Inc. I delivered on each project and I was on budget except for the IBIX job which had its budget cut. Presently, at T.R.Z.I., I am ahead of schedule and the steering committee is pleased.

* The problem with this answer is that it is unstructured and incoherent.  If the answer is hard to follow, you can be sure that you will lose points in its evaluation. Employers do not want to search for the answer; they want you to present it clearly.

Let's look at the same question, this time with a structured answer.

Interview Panel:   Tell us about your experience in project management and how your experience can make a difference to our company.

Job Applicant:

I would like to begin by providing a brief description of the last three positions I have had as a project manager. I will then describe the skills I have acquired as a result of my experience. Lastly, I will demonstrate how these skills will allow your company to move forward on its goals and objectives.

(At this point, the panel knows that you have understood the question. They know, in advance, how you will be presenting your answer. They are thus "tuned in" and ready to listen.  Equally as important, you have given yourself a structure to follow to keep on track.)

The following are some excerpts of the answer:

My present position is with  Sunnex Inc where I am the Project Manager for Trans-go ; a project that will result in the complete automation of freight car shipping.  Prior to that I was Project Manager for.....

In all of these positions, I encountered obstacles and challenges that threatened the project's success. I learned to overcome these challenges by employing creative approaches and group problem solving. I was thus able to keep each project on time, within budget and within the desirable quality of result.  I did this by........

I am aware that your company is in the process of downsizing and that resources are fewer today than they were last year. I am also aware that, in spite of this, your customers demand greater quality of service. My experience in devising creative solutions to complex problems is one of the many ways that I can make a difference.......

You will notice that the answer follows the structure.  Structuring your answer works especially well when the questions are multi-layered and long or otherwise complex. It forces you, and the interviewers, to break the question and the answer down. It also provides them with a clear presentation of the answer which incites better scoring.  The best way to structure an answer is to announce how you will answer the question, before you begin answering it. This announcement helps the interviewers to understand your answer and keeps you "on track".

In this JobTip, we have used a fairly complex example  from the world of project management. Bear in mind however, that you can structure an answer to almost any question.  Questions like: Why do you want this position? Why are you the best candidate for the job? What are your strengths and weaknesses?  can also be answered more effectively by structuring the answer.

The point of this JobTip is, structure your answers!  It will keep your answer "on track" and will maximize your scoring potential.  Structuring your answer is like reading the outside of a paperback novel. The brief description of what is to come gets the reader's attention. The story inside keeps the readers attention.

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