In an ideal world, I’d find the perfect opening at a killer company whose values & internal culture speak to my senses better than pudding.
I’d go to the interview prepared and relaxed, with no need for a pep talk in the car.
We’d talk about my passions, what I like best in my job, who I admire and follow, what keeps me up at night.
We’d have a debate about who’s my all time favorite TV character and whether or not movie sequels stand a chance of being better than the original. This will definitely extrapolate into the age old dilemma of what’s better: the movie or the book?
All this time, I’ll be there twirling in my chair, constantly fixing my hair (since I’m always growing out my bangs) and my body language would be all over the place without them labeling me as a psycho.
In real life, none of the above happens.
Instead, you’ll find me miserably nervous for no apparent reason. While I say my name, I never focus on the other person, since I’m too busy praying that I don’t screw up my pronunciation as soon as I have one foot in the door.
Then, the cold sweats continue as we go through the same playlist of questions every time. I’m sucking in my stomach during the entire interview and I make mental notes on how bad I’m going to punish myself for crossing my hands at the meeting more often than a rugby player performing the Haka.
I’ve always felt like each interview was a step back in time in which I was once again the introverted student at the exam and the recruiter, the professor that wants to find out what I don’t know about the course. Nobody is ever interested in what I do know. Instead they are digging for the bad parts, the dirt, the missing pieces.
Some people don’t interview well.
That doesn’t change the fact that recruiters need to do better or that the questions that are usually addressed desperately require a more personal touch. It’s not about making it easier. If you want to make potential employees jump through hoops, so be it! I’m all for high standards! But this has more to do with keeping the process motivating and meaningful for all the parties involved.
Humanity is not up for negotiations, not even at an interview.
That is why I took the most common interview questions everybody face, no matter the area of expertise, and reimagined them in a more human and authentic way.
1. Tell me about yourself → What drives you?
Nobody really wants to know where you went to highschool and how your college degree never helped you anyway.
“Tell me about yourself” is not an invitation to honesty. “I’m Maria, I’m 33 and I’m passionate about not starving to death” is not the answer recruiters are waiting for, even though there is nothing closer to the truth.
They don’t want to hear about your kids. They want the elevator pitch of what makes you, you. That’s exactly why I would much rather answer the spin off to this question: “what drives you?”.
This switch allows you to dive in your passions, your work ethic and values. Sure, it’s still a curated version of you, but it pinpoints what makes you special and relevant for their company.
2. Where do you see yourself in 5 years → How do you see yourself in 5 years?
A small change goes a big way, especially when talking about the future.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s the fact that our plans can be tipped over with no warning whatsoever. We need to adapt to whatever the future brings and that itself is a skill of paramount importance.
With everything that is happening global wise right now, this same question could be addressed to the company holding the interview. Where is your business going to be in the next 5 years? Will it survive, adapt or thrive?
However, turning the table might not be the best approach, yet switching the meaning of the question might just do the trick.
Recruiters are interested in people who want to grow, that have the ambition and the stamina to invest in their personal and professional development. That is why telling them the type of person, leader or colleague you strive to become is more powerful than just stating titles.
How do you see yourself in 5 years? Happy, accomplished, running your own team, helping others grow, teaching, inspiring, learning more every day? These are the answers that will make you stand out and have more to do with your true self than with a specific company or job title.
3. Why do you want to leave your current job → What matters to you the most?
This is a tricky one.
Interviewers want to find your dark side. Or how bad you hate your boss. Or if you demand a higher pay or a bigger responsibility.
Even if your boss is a schmuck, telling the truth in this situation will not serve you well. You’ll come off as ungrateful and not loyal, and nobody wants a person who’ll end up bad mouthing the firm.
That’s why the question should not focus on the ex-job, but rather on general aspects that make the person feel good at his job. Money, benefits, team spirit, nice offices, interesting line of work, promotion opportunities, taking your pet to work day and so on.
It’s still personal, but at least this way, everybody has a chance to leverage their pet peeves and use positive arguments on their behalf.
4. Take a look at our product/ service/ site and tell me one thing we’ve done wrong → What do you like about our company?
This is a question that a lot of creatives struggle with, but a lot of professionals are asked to solve business cases, imagine funnels from scratch, and figure out magic solutions.
“Creativity is vulnerability” – that is what Brene Brown taught us and yet, companies are still asking for a “stroke of genius” on the spot.
It’s an extremely uncomfortable position. You have their best work in front, that most likely has the blood, sweat and tears of so many people you don’t know (not to mention that it might be the recruiter’s baby you’re asked to slam) and you are required to find flaws. Or to invalide it.
Creativity does not just happen. It requires preparation, research, holy water, understanding the product, the audience, the constellations. Imagine a brand like Nike asking you during an interview to come up with a better catch phrase for their brand than “just do it”. Even if the gods are in your favour that day, most probably, you won’t come up with something more than” I like to move it, move it”.
Instead of this excruciating exercise, why not give the person the chance to talk about the positive things that they see in your brand? The good vibes, the things that inspired them to apply in the first place. Not only will the recruiters learn about their creative vision, but they’ll see that They understand the company and share its values.
5. What is your biggest weakness → What would your friends say about your biggest flaws?
What would be a satisfactory answer to this common (read snooze) question? “I’m a perfectionist”, “I care too much about my work”, “I don’t have a personal life nor want one”. They’re all fake and designed to showcase yet another rehearsed quality, designed as a weakness.
The suggested version is a seemingly oddball question meant to disrupt the official flow of an interview. If you frame it like so, you’ll have a better chance to know the candidate and how they’re really like when they let the guard down.