Interview questions need clarifying

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Apr 20

If you accept the premise that all interview questions have only three answers, then you get another magical advantage compared with other candidates: you can ask clarifying questions to the interview question.

Remember the three answers to interview questions: can you do the job, will you love the job, and will you fit in with the manager and team. Why is the ability to ask clarifying questions important?

You answer the right interview question

You wouldn’t answer “why is the sky blue?” with “because the sky is red,” would you? Yet candidates do this all the time because they think they are answering a “job skill” question when they are really answering a “will you fit” question. Or they answer a “why will you love the job” interview question with an “I can fit” response.

By knowing the three answers to the interview question, you can clarify those typical behavioral questions by clarifying your response. “Tell me about a time when you faced difficulties on a project and how you overcame them.” This could be a “will you love the work” question or a “will you get along with my team” question.

Now you can ask if the “difficulties on a project” means difficulties with a team member or if it means difficulties in “staying motivated to do the work.” Whatever the answer is from the person doing the interview, you can rest assured that both of you are now on the same page with the focus of the question and the rightness of the response.

You answer the interview question with right scale and results

Scale and results are using numbers to describe your work in response to interview questions. By getting the interview question into the right category — job skill, motivation or fit with the team — you can use the right scale and results numbers with your answer.

For example, if the question is really about fitting in with the team, it does you little good to respond to a question by noting that the project’s budget was $1.2 million (a scale number) that produced $2.5 million in savings to the company (a results number). If anything, putting the wrong scale and results number into an answer, especially one where the real question is about getting along with the team, makes you come across as arrogant. Certainly not in tune with the interview question.

The interview question becomes a conversation

By asking questions back during the interview, there is a better exchange of information between you and the hiring manager. Clarifying questions help get the right question in your head and helps both of you to get to the right answers based on your work. When you ask clarifying questions, it forces the hiring manager reveal more about the operation, giving you more clues to answer the interview questions with the right stuff from your experience.

Of course, I’m not advocating you ask a clarifying question after every interview question. That’s not a conversation. But by asking appropriate clarifying questions during the interview, you will get much closer to the right category of question, get the right scale and results numbers in the hiring manager’s head, and learn more about the operation.

Much better than answering all the questions from the hiring manager and then being left at the end to ask your own questions of the hiring manager, don’t you think?


About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.