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We’ve all been there, just when you think an interview is going really well, the interviewer throws you a curve ball and asks a really awkward question. Even if you’ve done all of your interview prep, sometimes you can feel panicked or stuck when certain questions are posed. So, what is the best way to answer them?
At the start of a recent interview for his new You Tube series called State of Inspiration, Bill Gates was asked some common job interview questions and during the first 5 minutes of the chat he gave some brilliant 30-Second Answers to the following:
“You should look at the codes that I’ve written. I write software programs way beyond any classes that I’ve taken. I think I’ve gotten better over time, so take a look at how ambitious I’ve been there. I do think I can work well with people. I might criticize their code a little harshly, but overall, I like to be on a team. I like ambitious goals. I like thinking through how we can anticipate the future. Software is cool and I want to be involved.”
What’s great about his answer is that it’s succinct, uses evidence of his skills and also manages to incorporate a sense of honesty by pointing out a weakness that doesn’t affect the overall positivity of the answer. He then finishes by showing his enthusiasm for the industry and the role.
On the flip side, especially in the UK job market, the language used could be misconstrued as a little aggressive and ‘showy’, telling the interviewer what to do, rather than just sharing the information. A more balanced response might be:
“I have written some extremely complex codes which have improved over time. I’d be happy to show them to you if you haven’t seen them so you can see where I have been ambitious and successful. I like to think that I work well with people, offering constructive criticism where I feel it’s needed but overall, I like to be part of a team. I like ambitious goals. I like thinking through how we can anticipate the future. Software is cool and I want to be involved.”
“Well I’m not somebody who knows a lot about marketing. I wouldn’t enjoy being a salesman. For a position where you’re actually creating the products and thinking through what those features should be, I’m fascinated by that. I followed the history of the industry, read about the mistakes that have been made. So product definition, product creation, very strong. If you have a team that understands the customers, the sales, the marketing, I’m not going to bring that, but I would enjoy working with them.”
Again,the answer gets straight to the point and answers the tricky ‘weakness’ element of the question by picking a genuine weakness but one which wouldn’t affect his ability to do the role he is interviewing for as the weak skill is not required for the job.
While it is important to sound confident you don’t want to sound brash, so you could open with something slightly more humble like: “The sales and marketing side of the business is not my forte or my preferred area of work…” and then continue with Gates’ example of a very positive answer about his fascination with the role and the industry which again shows enthusiasm, bringing personality to the conversation which could make you stand out from the crowd,as opposed to just factual skill-matching which the interviewer will have already gleaned from your CV.
“I hope the option package is good. I’m able to take risk and I think the company has a great future, so I prefer to get stock options even more than cash compensation. I hear some other companies are paying a lot, but treat me fairly and emphasize the options.”
Gates cleverly sidesteps the awkwardness of providing an actual figure and mentions that he would be open to a good benefits package showing that it’s not just about the cash.
To tailor this answer to the UK market or perhaps a more junior level, again, steer clear of sounding like you are making demands of the interviewer but perhaps phrase it as:
“I hope the option package is good. I’m able to take risk and I think the company has a great future, so I would be open to stock options or a good benefits package,not just cash compensation. I hear some other companies are paying a lot, but I am happiest working at a company who treat me fairly and emphasize the options.”
The beauty of all of his answers are that they are all concise, confident and enthusiastic. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that Gates is using his celebrity status and the fact that this wasn’t a real job interview to add a slightly cheeky side to his responses, so it is important to remember to be humble in your answers too to avoid coming across as arrogant, but the bones of what he says make for just the sort of response a potential employer is looking for as a way to reply to these classic questions.
You can read some further analysis about why these answers are so effective in the full article here and find out more about another tricky question which interviewers often pose in part 2 of our blog on this subject.
Nothing can ever completely prepare you for what an interviewer might ask but hopefully armed with this information you can make a great impression when asked the most common yet difficult questions, which can help you on your way to finding your dream job.
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