Ladders 2020 Interviews Guide: The 3 questions you must answer in an interview

Hi Readers,

The 2020 update for my best-selling Ladders Interviews Guide is out now and available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.  I’ve included a brief excerpt below.  

This updated version is designed to make your 2020 interviews go smoothly.  Whether you’re interviewing for better pay, a better job, or simply to maintain lifestyle insurance for you and your family, the third edition of Ladders Interviews Guide gives you the essence of what you need to know in about 90 minutes.

Ladders Interviews Guide provides 49 common interview questions and answers, best practices and expert advice on questions to ask in an interview, how to answer behavioral interview questions, and interview tips for fast-rising and mid-career professionals.  Along with its companion guide, Ladders Resume Guide, they make a great pair of helpful guidebooks for you on your 2020 adventures.

Here’s the excerpt I promised you…

This book is for people who choke on interviews, and for people who don’t choke on interviews.  It’s for those who blather on and on, those who fail to answer the question, and those who don’t get the joke.  It’s for those who are confident, those who are overconfident, and those who aren’t confident at all. It’s for the clever and the uncertain, the capable and the confused.  It’s for those who get asked impossible brain teasers, and those who prefer brain teasers to talking about themselves. It’s for those who remember the title of the job for which they’re interviewing, and those who hope the interviewer reminds them.

Three most important things

An interview should answer whether you are right for the hiring firm, the role, and your future boss.  What are her specific needs from the role? Is there a particular style in which she is looking to have the work done?  Do you match up with the title, pay, skills, role, span of control, prior experience, capabilities, communication style, and work cadence that your boss expects for the role?  Ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, that there is a match between your qualities, and her desires, is half of the battle.

The other half is determining if the firm is right for you.  Interviews are absolutely not one-way streets, and too often candidates allow their questions to be afterthoughts.  Does the role make sense as a logical next step on your career path? Does it match up with your ambitions and direction?  Does the company meet your desires on company size, culture, and pace?

These are obvious questions, yet they are often left unanswered in the dramatic whirlwind of interviewing courtship.  I have counseled otherwise bright and capable professionals who were romanced through a recruiting process to take a job entirely outside of their interests or plans. There’s a reason so many new hires don’t work out, and the “swept off your feet” interview process is a culprit.  I’d guess that, by 20 years into their careers, most American professionals have at least one mulligan job.  Has it ever happened to you?  If not, you’re stronger than most.

To best determine your ability to do what the role takes: ask.  It’s advice so simple as to barely qualify as advice, were it not for the hundreds of times I’ve asked people going to interviews, “What are the most important things they’re looking for from the role?” only to be met with a blank stare or a mumble.

So… ask.

When you’re setting up the interview, ask the HR person, recruiter or hiring manager: “Which three things are most important to success in this role?”  You only want to know three, because that’ll be about the number of factors you’ll be able to manage throughout multiple days of interviews.  It also forces prioritization on their part. Sure, there are dozens of things they’d like from this hire, but indicating which are the three most important reveals their thinking.  Further, whether it’s reviewing your work history in the context of these three items, comparing the varying answers from interviewers, or confirming with the boss after your interview that she heard your points loud and clear — three is a magic number for making a strong case.

It may not surprise you to know that the company will gladly tell you which three things are most important to success in the job.  They’ll be pleasantly surprised you asked. Because so few people start off the interview process by focusing on the company’s needs rather than their own abilities, you’ll stand out from the start.  It’s an encouraging sign to the interviewers that your style is to understand them better, before talking about yourself.

When the HR person or recruiter provides you with the three most important factors, you should do a careful review.  Do these three performance factors match up with your strengths and what you’re looking to do next? If all three are right on target, that’s terrific, and you’ll be prepared to nail each interview thoroughly.  

Conversely, if all three are completely off the mark, your course of action is simple — you let the recruiter know there isn’t a fit, because your background or career path doesn’t match up.  You may be tempted to fudge a bit, on the theory that getting your foot in the door is better than no interview at all, but this is not a productive approach. Informing the company and HR team upfront of the mismatch impresses with your self-awareness, your respect for their time, and your good judgment.  By showing your good manners as a candidate, you’re more likely to be made aware of other opportunities, not less.  Especially if you position your feedback as, “I’m not right for that role because of reasons one, two and three, but if you have something come open that requires x, y and z, I’d be a better candidate for that kind of opportunity,” you are setting yourself up for success by communicating proactively and clearly.

The trouble comes if there is a mix among the three factors — one or two of the three do not match up, while the others do line up with your background or interests.  In these cases, it’s your business judgment as to whether and how hard to pursue. Raise these issues with the HR person or recruiter prior to heading in for the interview.  It could be that they’ve misstated their priorities, and will clarify for you in a way that makes a go / no-go decision easier. But, ultimately, the call will be yours as to whether or not proceeding is a good use of your time, and theirs.

To read the rest, head over to Ladders Interviews Guide and Ladders Resume Guide today!

As an Amazon Associate Ladders Inc. earns from qualifying purchases.

More From Ladders