It’s not about getting it right, it’s about getting to know each other.
When asked a question in an interview the instinctive reaction is to scan your brain for the “right” answer. The one that is truthful, but also most likely to give what the interviewer wants to hear. Interviewees search for subtlety or hidden meanings in the question, or ways in which the most obvious response might not do the trick. Relax, you’re over-thinking it.
Let me give just one example. I often ask an interview question that presents two types of people. I describe the extremes on both ends of a continuum, then I ask which end of the continuum the interviewee falls closer to. No one, and I mean no one, simply responds, “I’m definitely closer to X”. Everyone says something like, “I’m probably closer to X, but I understand the importance of Y, so I try to balance it and in situations where Y is really important.” It’s a boring response. It tells me little about the interviewee except that they fear giving a wrong answer. The thing is, there is no wrong answer. It’s not an absolute question, just a relative question about general tendencies. It’s not even about discovering the tendency itself as much as it is the level of self-knowledge and self honesty.
Most people actually know pretty quickly, but they pause and give a hedged answer, so as not to appear extreme. It ends up making the whole thing very un-enlightening for both parties.
Here’s a trick that I think improves the outcome of interviews: when faced with such questions, imagine you are being asked by a friend in a purely social context, because they genuinely want to get to know you. If a friend asked you, “Are you more of a thinker than a feeler?”, or, “Are you more action biased or analysis biased?” how would you answer, if your goal was for them to really understand and know the real you? Do likewise in an interview.
Remember, an interview is not just a way to rattle off a checklist of specific skills and experiences. A resume or LinkedIn profile can do that. It’s a chance to let the interviewer get to know you, your personality, what motivates and makes you tick, what you do and don’t enjoy. It’s also a chance for you to get to know them and their company in the same way. The goal is not to get it right so they pick you, but to get to know them and let them get to know you, so that if it’s a good match, it will almost seem inevitable.
Isaac Morehouse is president of Praxis.