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How to Answer Open-Ended Interview Questions

        posted by , February 05, 2013

How do you feel about the universe?

Open ended interview questions are designed to give you the floor. They are intended to get you talking freely. They help to break the ice.

Open ended questions are your chance to take an interview in the right direction. To sell yourself.

Examples of Open Ended Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself.
Tell me about your current role.
Why are you interested in this job?
What do you know about our company?
What's your biggest accomplishment?
What have you achieved in your current role?

Open ended questions give you a great deal of flexibility. They have a wide universe of possible answers.

It's this wide range of possibilities that throws some candidates off.

Answers to open questions often wander without direction — leaving the interviewer wondering "so what?".

The following three guidelines are designed to improve your answers to open ended questions. They are based on time-tested public speaking techniques.

1. Answer Why Before What

Most candidates answer open ended questions with what-answers.

Example: What-Answers

Tell me about yourself.

I graduated from ZZZ university in YYY subject. I started working for YYY bank in marketing .....

What-answers are like dictionary definitions, they are factual but throughly uninspiring.

Why-answers are emotional. They explain the philosophical aspects of things. They explain why you are the compelling candidate.

Example: Why-Answers

Tell me about yourself.

I'm passionate about banking. I'm excited about creating new banking products with the potential to transform our industry. That's why I studied marketing and economics at ZZZ university. That's why I began my career at YYY bank 10 years ago ....

Why-answers have the potential to inspire. To make the statement that you're interested in more than your paycheck — that you are fully engaged.

2. Have a Point

The worst thing you can do is make 18 unrelated points, leaving the interviewers confused.

Example: Confused Answers

Why are you interested in this job?

Your company has a great reputation. I'm interested in the banking industry. I am a banking professional and you're a big bank. Your office has a great location. I know that you are big in commodities trading and I'm interested in that area. I learned about commodities in university. I also learned a lot about middle office in my last job and I know this job is related to middle office.

Give your answers a point. Prove your point. State your point in three different ways to drive it home.

Example: Answers With A Point

Why are you interested in this job?

I'm focused on a career in commodities risk. That's why I've learned about commodities markets throughout my career. That's why I've worked hard to gain experience in financial risk management. I know your institution has a great reputation. I know you're a big player in commodities markets. I know this role has a risk management focus. That's why I'm interested in this role, it's exactly where I've focused my career path.

3. Set Up For the Next Question

Interviewers almost always ask a follow up question after an open ended question. They will base their follow up on your answer.

Avoid pointing the interviewer to follow up questions you can't answer.

If you don't know anything about risk management it's probably not a good idea to mention it 3 times in your answer to an open ended question.

Example: Setting Up a Follow Up

Q: Tell me about yourself.

A: I'm passionate about banking. I'm excited about creating new banking products with the potential to transform our industry. That's why I studied marketing and economics at ZZZ university. That's why I began my career at YYY bank 10 years ago. I'm always looking at industry trends to identify opportunities for new products.

Q: Tell me about a few industry trends you're keeping an eye on.

A: I'm glad you asked that, just last week I went to a banking conference and saw some fascinating presentations .....

This article is part of the ongoing series of posts called how to win your next job

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