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How to Answer Common Interview Questions in an Uncommon Way

How to Answer Common Interview Questions in an Uncommon Way

No matter how much we may love our job, there are always aspects that we could do without. And among all of my duties as Chief of Product Management at Lifehack, interviewing is by far my least favorite. It’s an awkward, draining task that wears me down both mentally and physically. Most interviews take around an hour to get through, a grueling 60 minutes that neither I nor the interviewee enjoys. I hear the same answers to the same questions time and time again. Boring, basic answers that by no way separate the individual from their competition. But every once in a while I will hear an answer that catches me off guard, leaving me impressed and inspired.

To help you to knock out your next interview, I’ve compiled a list of the best possible answers to common interview questions, and what to avoid.

“What can you tell me about yourself?”

Your interviewer isn’t looking for little fragments of information. They want to hear a story. This will help to draw them in and keep them interested. Be sure to include your progression and how it brought you to where you are today.

Avoid including irrelevant personal things like your love for cats. Your potential employer is only interested in your work persona, so only focus on that aspect of yourself. Summarize your experience and explain to them why you are an expert in this field. Highlight your achievements, as well as obstacles you have encountered and how you managed to overcome them.

Here is an example of an intriguing answer to this question:

“Previously, I had worked for a prestigious company, managing a team of 15 people. My job was to improve the company, but the longer I stayed, the more I realized that there was very little potential for growth. That is why I am here today. To further myself in this field, as well as advance this company with my skills. “

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“What are some of your strengths as well as weaknesses?”

When speaking about your strengths, focus on elements that are necessary for this potential job. Briefly describe your skills, and elaborate on how they will be beneficial for this company.

Don’t make the mistake of avoiding speaking about your weaknesses. Your interviewer will not be impressed, instead they will think that you lack the ability to self-reflect and improve. But when you do mention your weaknesses, include what actions you are taking to improve them. This will highlight your problem solving skills as well as your humility.

For example, let’s say that you are interviewing for a sales position. When your interviewer asks for your strengths and weaknesses you could say:

“I am very skilled at thinking on my feet, and using the art of persuasion to make a sale. Although sometimes I tend to shut down when dealing with an agitated customer. I am currently reading a book on how to quickly diffuse conflict to reroute the customer and have them meet me on common ground.”

“Why are you the right fit for the job?”

Before the interview, consider the position you are interviewing for and all of the duties that will be expected of you. Reiterate these duties to the interviewer, and how you possess the skills necessary to fulfill these requirements.

Be sure to include specific duties that were listed in the job ad, but doctor them so that it sounds organic. You don’t want the interviewer to feel that you’re just regurgitating the job description they’ve already provided for you.

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“What do you know about our company?”

Do your research before the interview. Familiarize yourself with the basic functions of the business, and the goals that they are working towards. Identify the challenges that the business is facing, specifically in the department that you are interviewing for. Mention these challenges, and how you have noticed the advancements they are making to alleviate them.

Search for individuals in a similar position on LinkedIn for example. Pay close attention to their specific job duties, as well as the challenges they have faced and how they overcame them. Use their technique to describe how your skills will help to improve the business.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Similar to question number 3 (please refer above), make sure you know the details of the position before the interview. Then, include how your involvement with the company will bring you satisfaction. This makes your answer more personal, as well as shows your interest in the actual company and not just a paycheck.

Reassure the interviewer that you will be very committed and passionate about your position, because it appeals to you on a personal level.

For example, as a Production Manager, I love to see projects grow exponentially instead of just naturally. I like to see big results right away, and will throw myself entirely into a project to see that happen.

“Why did you leave your last job?”

Do not by any means belittle the previous business that you’ve worked for. It will make you appear unprofessional. Instead, speak about how you learned all that you could from said company, and the reasons that you eventually outgrew it.

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What has really impressed me during interviews is the highlight of an achievement before leaving the company. This shows that you are a team player, and didn’t leave your previous employer high and dry.

Example:

“At my last job as a Production Manager, I realized that I didn’t believe in traditional media anymore, and my ideals did not line up with the concept of the company. But before leaving, I trained the editor so that the company could continue running as it had.”

“What is your greatest achievement?”

Use this opportunity to tell another story to keep your employer captivated. Don’t only speak about your achievements, but the action that you took to get there. Include how you analyzed the situation, the various options you came up with to resolve the conflict, and what led you to your final decision.

Don’t be vague! Don’t answer the question like this:

“I had the highest record of sales at my previous company.”

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Definitely start off your answer with this achievement, but then elaborate.

“In order to achieve the highest record of sales at my previous company, I collected market research on the demographic that I was aiming to sell to. I considered what appealed to them, and how I could use those variables to make them want my product.”

“Tell me a story about how you overcame a conflict or challenge in a work environment.”

Use every opportunity to tell a story instead of just providing a simple answer. This gives your interviewer the opportunity to focus on individual aspects of your story and expand on them. You want to engage your interviewer as much as possible.

Again, stress the steps that you took in order to resolve the conflict. If your interviewer is engaged, go on to tell them more stories about overcoming conflicts.

This is your golden opportunity to sell yourself and showcase who you are. At this point you can delve a little deeper into how your techniques reflect who you are as a person, but still keep it professional and work related.

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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