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How to craft perfect answers to any interview question

Ramit Sethi · July 28th, 2015

Do you know what’s better than memorizing a long list of interview questions you might be asked?

Answer: Learning how to craft the perfect interview response to any question. That way no matter what you’re asked, you’re never caught off-guard.

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Today, I’m going to show you a framework that guarantees you always give a compelling response to ANY interview question. Then I’ll show you how to apply this framework to the top three toughest questions so you know exactly how to respond.

How to craft the perfect response (no matter what the question is)

Storytelling is the secret to interviewing. Stories give your answers a structure that guarantees a great response.

If you’re not telling stories and creating a narrative for yourself, there’s nothing memorable that makes you stand out from the thousands of other applicants for the job.

But how do you tell a captivating story? How do you build rapport with the hiring manager while still letting your personality shine through? What do you do if you’re quiet and cerebral? What if you hate talking about yourself?

You can actually learn how to tell great stories. It’s a skill that I’ve shown thousands of people how to do.

In fact, I brought one of my students into my studio for a session to help her learn this skill (with just a few hours of practice).

Watch carefully as I show her how to improve her answers by adding a personal story to her response:

 

Key things you’ll learn:

  • The one thing hiring managers LOVE hearing in your responses (0:51)
  • Real before and after questions and answers  — how to make your answers more powerful with just a few tweaks (1:10)
  • Why your personality is more important than your technical skills (3:29)

Now, let’s look at this storytelling framework in action with real interview questions and answers.

The 3 toughest interview questions and how to answer them

Question #1: “Can you tell me about your work history?”

What average candidates say: “Ummm, well I started working at A Company doing some basic marketing and customer relations stuff. Then I worked at B Company as a product marketing manager. I was passionate and liked the corporate values there. Now, I’m at C Company, and I’m doing social media marketing for them.”

What’s wrong with this response? Other than being really poorly worded, it doesn’t create a story at all. It’s more like reading facts off of a page. In fact, it’s insulting to the hiring manager because they ALREADY know these things — they have your resume in front of them, which covers all of that.

Here’s a better response:

“If you look at my work experience, there are 3 things that stand out.

First, I have experience with many areas of marketing, including social media, product marketing, and customer relationship management.

Second, I’ve always been fascinated by the analytical side of marketing, which is why I chose to study this in college. My recent social media campaign experience has really allowed that passion to flourish.

Finally, I’ve always wanted to take my skills to a larger stage, which is why I moved from A Company, which was a startup, to B Company, which is more established. Now, I’m excited to be here talking with you today because of those transitions and how they fit so nicely with your needs around this position.”

Why this works: Rather than walking the hiring manager through your resume chronologically, you’re highlighting the key strengths of your background and creating a story, showing growth. If you’ve done your pre-interview homework, you’ll know what aspects are most important from your background to highlight.

(In the above example, we highlighted the analytical side of marketing because that’s what the hiring manager was looking for.)

Question #2: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

What average candidates say: “My biggest weakness is definitely that I work WAY too hard, and I struggle with perfectionism.”

What’s wrong with this response? It’s too negative. And the one potential positive — that they’re a perfectionist — is just glossed over. This response is plain boring, and it’s close to the same thing that 99% of people will say.

Here’s a better response:

“That’s a great question, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. What I’ve found is that the majority of my career was spent working for one industry. In many ways, that can limit my perspective.

But, of course, I’ve worked in a variety of departments and been in several different positions. In fact, I was promoted faster than anyone else to lead up new projects. But I’m ready to take what I’ve learned from this one industry to a different culture and new industry, and that’s why I’m here today.”

Why this works: Candidates typically hate this question because it’s a virtual minefield of traps and potential ways to misspeak.

If you’re too candid with your answer, you risk revealing too much. But if your answer is total BS, that’s just setting you up for even bigger failures later on because you won’t live up to the hype.

This is where the storytelling comes into play. You want to show a transformation or journey here.
The whole point of even telling them something negative about yourself is to spin it into a positive. You do this by either showing them that you’ve learned something really valuable from this negative trait or that this negative thing has helped you grow in some way.

Question #3: “Have you ever faced a challenge when working with a coworker?”

What average candidates say: “You know, once I did have a pretty big disagreement with one of my coworkers. In the end, though, we worked things out.”

What’s wrong with this response? It’s okay if you guessed everything. Not only does it make the person look like they don’t get along with people at work, but also it makes it seem like they didn’t really learn anything in the process.

Here’s a better response:

“I once came across a situation when I had some new ideas for a project. My previous employer had been working on this for months. One of my team leaders really liked the ideas I had, but my immediate boss kept shooting them down. I didn’t know how to proceed at first and it was a little frustrating. But I decided to look deeper into the situation to see what was actually causing the problem. I realized it was because my plans would impact my boss’s work in a negative way. I reached out to him directly, apologized for the oversight, and promised to keep him in the loop in the future. We haven’t had an issue since.”

Why this works: This answer shows that the candidate was in control of the situation the entire time.

Also, it’s really important to notice how the story unfolds and how the specific problem was addressed. Hiring managers want to see the details, and the more specific you can get with what you learned, the more memorable you’ll be when it comes time for a callback.

Live interview teardowns

Knowing how to craft the perfect answer is one thing, but actually giving it live under pressure is a whole other ballgame.

It requires both practice and seeing live interviews in action. Seeing the mistakes others make and the great answers they give will help you in your own preparation. So you’ll have a better chance of blowing hiring managers away in your interviews.

Enter your email below and you’ll get access to a free video where I coach one of my students on how to answer real interview questions.

You’ll see exactly what works, what needs improvement, and get hidden insights for how to crush your interviews — using interview techniques I used to land top job offers from Google, Intuit, Bain Capital, and more.

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