Interviewing Tip #4 – Puff Ball Questions

There is absolutely no excuse for not being ready for the most commonly asked interview questions.  Knock these out of the ballpark by being prepared ahead of time.  I’ve included a list of questions commonly asked during interviews Here.  Don’t necessarily memorize your response word-for-word, but definitely know which points you want to make and practice this using role play with a friend or family member.

Performance-Based Interview Questions

There’s a developing trend towards including performance-based and culture-fit questions into the interview.  Below are some examples of performance-based questions to help you prepare (credit to the Veterans Affairs website):

  • Describe a situation in which you had to use your communication skills in presenting complex information. How did you determine whether your message was received?
  • Share with me an example of an important personal goal that you set, and explain how you accomplished it.
  • Lead me through a decision-making process on a major project you’ve completed.
  • Have you ever had many different tasks given to you at the same time? How did you manage them?
  • Give an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision and how the scenario played out.

The “Compensation Expectation” Question

There’s one common question I’d like to cover directly in this article because it seems to be stressful for most people.  “How much are you looking to make?” or “What is your salary requirement?”.  Many people try to wiggle out of answering the question with responses like these:

  • I’m just looking to make whatever the market rate is for this type of position
  • I’m open to considering offers in a range of salary
  • Salary isn’t the most important thing to me.  I’m evaluating opportunities based on a broad range of factors.
  • At my last job I made $xxK

There’s nothing terrible about the above responses, but what about something like this: “Salary is only a part of my overall selection criteria but I’m most strongly considering roles that pay in the range of $xxx”.  There are some advantages to this approach:

  1. You highlight the fact that it’s not just about the salary
  2. You hint that you’ve either gotten other offers or are expecting some
  3. You suggest an acceptable range, which increases the chances the company’s budget for the role will be within the range

After that bold sentence, you could continue by describing other factors that are part of your selection criteria.  Company culture, opportunities for growth, company benefits plan, commute duration and other things could all be a part of your criteria.

I hope this information is helpful to your job search.  See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Getting Stumped

Sometimes you’ll get a question that really forces you to think on-the-spot for a good answer.  First, don’t feel pressure to immediately blurt out an answer.  It’s totally OK to initially say something like “That’s a really good question.  Let me think about it for just a second.”  That along buys you some very valuable time.

You might get asked to describe a time when you performed a particular task or addressed a specific situation but, unfortunately, you’ve never encountered it.  Your best approach to this is probably to admit that you haven’t previously encountered that situation/task and then either 1) tell them about something that’s the most similar to the task/situation they asked about  2) tell them how you would go about addressing the situation.

You might get a question that isn’t looking for a precise answer but rather gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you think.  Imagine a question like “How many jelly beans do you think could fit in my empty trash can?”  I can think of two ways to answer the question:

  • “I imagine considerably more than 1,000 could fit but I’m fairly certain 10,000 would overflow.  So my estimate is something in the 5,000 range.”
  • “I imagine about 100 jelly beans could fit in one cup.  It looks like your trash can has a volume of about 3 gallons.  With 16 cups per gallon, it means roughly 4,800 jelly beans.”

The second answer shows more analytical thinking than the first, but you get the idea.  The interviewer cares less about your answer and more about how your brain processes analytical challenges.

In the rare event that you get a question that literally leaves you stumped with no response, first ask to come back to it later in the interview.  If, when that happens, you still are drawing a blank, just let them know you’re sorry but you don’t have a really good answer at the moment.  Then, while driving home think about a possible good response.  If you come up with something, include mention of it when you send your thank you email.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Gordon Daugherty is a best-selling author, seasoned business executive, entrepreneur, startup advisor and investor. He has made more than 200 investments in early-stage companies and has been involved with raising more than $80 million in growth and venture capital. From his 28-year career in high tech, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200-million acquisition exit under his belt. Now, as co-founder and president of Austin’s Capital Factory and as author of the book “Startup Success”, Gordon spends 100 percent of his time educating, advising, and investing in startups.

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