Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tackle open ended interview questions like a pro!

Interviewers love throwing curve balls with ambiguous, open-ended questions. I've faced them when I was interviewed (several times!) and am guilty of doing the same to my interviewees. While such questions are a norm and are in fact a great means of testing a candidate's thought process, for you, these questions are probably a nightmare scenario because there are several different answers and ways of tackling these questions, where there is no single correct answer, or a wrong one as a matter of fact. Each potential answer has its own pros and cons. (yes… sigh!)

Choices are always hard to make, especially in the moment, when you are sitting in an interview, facing tough questions. To help you get through this very situation, in this blog, we are sharing ways in which you can objectively maneuver through the answer to such questions.

Rule #1: Make peace with the fact that while you can overcome the ambiguity in the question to a certain extent, the answer CANNOT be planned, or constructed absolutely right in any circumstance. There are no cookie-cutter answers for ambiguous questions so you will need to add your flavor to it. The positive side? Creating your own unique answer, not only distinguishes you from others, but gives you the opportunity to shine and make a mark in your interviewer's mind! For instance, the question "Why should we hire you?" is an extremely open-ended, subjective query. But instead of having a bullet pointed response pulled off the internet, you have the opportunity to add your unique flavor - including your individual strengths and distinctive qualities that stack up to a plausible candidate for the position with that special characteristic you believe is unique to you. While it's possible, that almost all other applicants outside that room have the same skills and experience level you have, your unique value - your X factor - will still be true to you alone.

Rule #2: Secondly, come what may, keep it positive! Ambiguity in questions invite open ended responses, giving you the opportunity to be as positive or, you guessed it, as negative as you'd like with your clean, blank drawing board to answer on. For example, imagine you get asked "why are you leaving a well known company like XYZ to join a smaller, nondescript one?". In response, you could either go all guns blazing on the terrible experience you had in your previous company with the boss, culture and what-not, or you can focus on the positive and elaborate on the new opportunities of moving to another company and the learnings you are looking forward to. Another situation that is very relevant to young fresh graduates during interviews is when you get asked "You are an engineering major, why apply for a business job?" (or other combinations). You could describe the grim story of how you never wanted to be an engineer (which could very well be the truth), or, instead of the grave tale, you could instead focus on the gains you would get in a shift of your job profiles, stepping into business and picking up a great combination of skill-sets.

Rule #3: The 3rd rule, always ensure you keep your response specific and definite! Move away from tackling subjective questions with vague replies, and if your answers tend to be plural, for example "one of my weakness is...", it invites the interviewer to wonder "So what are your other weaknesses?" and continue to further probe you to find out.  

In the next blog we will share a detailed list of open-ended questions you could be asked. Remember, you can research the approach but the crux of the answer will lie with you. You need to search within yourself and draw answers from your thoughts and experiences to capture and communicate your unique value.

In the meanwhile, please comment with a situation where you were asked an open-ended interview question, and how you tackled/or would tackle it!

Manish Gaba
Editor - Vaishnavi Ravi
(Pic courtesy -
Copyright © 2016-to date by Career Ready Consultants LLP, All Rights Reserved. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to handle interview questions that you genuinely don't know the answer to

          In our last blog, we spoke about blanking-out in interviews and what you can do to recover from such a brain freeze. There are 3 essential reasons why you may not be able to answer an interview question:

1.   You know the answer but.. well, sometimes you just forget. In the previous blog we discussed specific steps to make sure your momentary memory loss does not cost you your dream job.
2. The question is very subjective. You have several ways to tackle this question,   but each option comes with its own pros and cons, without an obvious “right” answer, which one do you go with? We will discuss this in our next blog.
3. The question is just too damn hard and the answer genuinely lies beyond your level of knowledge. What do you do?

In this blog, let’s tackle #3 - Situations where you do not know an answer to a specific question, the manner in which you handle the situation and the approach that you take can get out of choppy waters and make or break the interview. Let me start by telling you a secret: As you enter an interview room, you are not in fact, expected to know EVERYTHING, but you are expected to demonstrate how you carry yourself in difficult situations and how you maneuver yourself out of tight corners. How do you do this? The tactic to use in these situations is to provide Fail-Safe answers. Be upfront, drive the focus of the interview to your skills and enthusiasm and demonstrate the hunger to learn about what you don't know; all that while reminding the interviewer that you are human, just like them, after all ;) The positive, glass-half full response along with honesty will get you through.

Let me give you an example -

I have worked in the Google Ad space for ~5 years and thanks to the longevity, I picked up even the most intricate ins and outs of the Google Ad Product. Now Let's say I apply for a Social Marketing position at Ad Knowledge, who manage ads on many social platforms (think Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc. NOT Google) I ace questions based on the ads space using my previous knowledge and because I anticipated questions around social ads. BUT I am unable to respond when asked about Pinterest's Rich Pin ads. I freeze not because I cannot remember or because it’s a subjective question. I freeze because I did not come across this particular detail when I read up on Pinterest - not surprising since I have not worked on Pinterest ever, let alone on a daily basis. Is that a bad thing? No! Remember, you are not expected to know everything. But instead of sitting mum, or even worse, making up the answer out of thin air or bluffing, I use the below, Fail-Safe technique.

I tell the interviewer/panel that I am genuinely not familiar with the concept; this upfront and open revelation demonstrates your honestly. I add that I am excited about the space though and am learning as much as I possibly can; this shows your intent and enthusiasm. I follow up with what I do know about the larger space (ad space) and may even finish up by throwing the ball in their court and asking them for their thoughts on the matter and the space- having been in it for longer than I have; this helps you re-iterate the skills you possess and also shows you are actually eager to learn NOW from a credible source ;)!

To be more specific to the interview question on Pinterest Rich Pins - Using the technique one could say "Pinterest Rich Pins are not something I am familiar with yet, but I see the rising popularity and features of the platform and am actively trying to learn more about all aspects of it and read up. It would be exciting to see how Pinterest moves the existing social marketing pie dominated by Facebook - a platform I am proudly familiar with, using new ad types such as Rich Pins and more. This is one of the reasons I am excited about the application to your position, the learning and changes in the platform are constant and never ending and there are so many different products I can add to my knowledge base! By the way, Jeff, I would love to know your take on Pinterest as a business and your perspective of their feature richness in terms of ad options in the market, especially compared to the incumbent- Facebook.”

You will notice, in the above answer we:
·     Genuinely accepted our unfamiliarity with the topic
·   Demonstrated our thirst to learn and eagerness and excitement to do so in this role
· Showcased our strengths on what we do know with a smart, intuitive response
·    Threw the ball back at the interviewer’s court and learn from their knowledge on the subject.

You may find yourself in many-a-tight situations, but by applying the above technique for Fail-Safe answers, you will come out riding tall. If you have experienced such a situation, please comment below and look out for our next blog where we will talk about handling subjective questions!

Stay tuned!
Manish Gaba
Editor - Vaishnavi Ravi

(Pic courtesy -
Copyright © 2016-to date by Career Ready Consultants LLP, All Rights Reserved.