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Job Interview: Structuring Your Answers

This lesson is a part of an audio course Complete Job Interview Preparation by Felix Peeters

In general, we want to apply the following rules:

Keep your response brief and to the point. It's always better to answer a bit too briefly and get a follow-up question (could you elaborate?) then to get interrupted because you keep on blabbering uncontrollably, this comes across as being very nervous and insecure, and that is not a good look. If you are not sure whether the recruiter wants you to continue talking, you could take a break at a very logical point in your answer and ask: would you like me to elaborate? Ok, that said, let's jump to structures, there are 3. You can repeat a part of the question to buy some time and avoid silence, and after that, you reply, and you aim for structure. Things that work really well, in general, are the two-angle structure, the 3 points, and a conclusion structure, and the STAR structure.

An example for the first one: "Compared to 100 years ago, do you think we are more or less concerned about our privacy."

To answer with the two-angle structure, you do the following. You say:

  • 100 years ago, we were less likely to share personal information about ourselves, and because of the internet today, we are sharing close to everything about ourselves.

  • One could also argue that 100 years ago, we were less aware of the dangers of disclosing personal information, and today it is more of a topic.

So in that sense, I would say that today we are both more aware and more concerned about our privacy, even if our actions don't always perfectly reflect that.

You have answered the question very well, you've shown that you are capable of bringing nuance to a seemingly straightforward question, and you are also definitely right, because you've selected both possible answers in a very clever and subtle way. I now invite you to try and do the same with this question: "Are companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon too big, in your opinion?"

Ok, so I leave you some time to write something down, and again I'd like you to look at this question from 2 angles in order to avoid choosing one side.

Are you ready? Ok, so here is what I would do. And again, yours can be different as long as you've stuck to the structure a bit. Here we go:

  • Well, that's an interesting question. I think in many ways, these companies have grown so large that they no longer leave the consumer enough choice. Furthermore, they may stand in the way of healthy competition. Online sellers can not go around Amazon to sell their products, and no other Social Media platform can compete with Facebook without getting acquired by Facebook.

  • On the other hand, there is a clear value for the user to have these companies assume a certain scale. You want to shop online where you know all products are available, you want to search info knowing you are using the biggest search engine, and you want to use the social platform that has everyone on there, not just a few people. So it's difficult to say what is too big, but it's an important subject, and these companies have the responsibility to treat it as such.

Again, yours might be different, but ideally, you've displayed an ability to look at problems in 2 ways, and you are not anchored by your own opinions, necessarily. Then if the recruiter asks: "But what is YOUR opinion?" That's when you can let go of the diplomacy and actually say which one you think is truly more.

Ok, a second general structure to use, the 3 points and a conclusion structure. Because it's super obvious what I mean here, let's jump straight to an example.

The question could be: "Will 5G change the economy?" By all means, I know these are difficult questions, but we are using them to demonstrate these common ways to structure your answer.

Here, my answer would be: That's an interesting question (buy some time):

  • If we accept that the current economy is largely dependent on the internet, then making the mobile internet faster must mean that the economy will change.

  • This new form of faster, mobile connection will enable new technologies as well: Network systems and network technology will allow for interconnected and collaborating systems and full digital integration of value streams: from in-factory tracking and shipment tracking to communicating robotic manufacturing systems and self-driving cars, 5G will enable a new, connected economy.

  • Then, If we consider Telco an important part of the economy, which I do, then the idea that telcos will have to reposition themselves around this new offer, that in itself would be another good argument to prove that 5G will change the economy.

So, in conclusion, yes, I think 5G will change the economy.

This is a very satisfying structure, you give 3 examples or points and a conclusion. Now to drive that point home, even more, you could also really hold the hand of the recruiter and really lead them through it: well, first of all, then secondly, and as a third and last argument, I would say.

Good, we've now seen 2 out of the 3 structures, and before moving on, I quickly wanted to explain when to use which one. And it's quite straightforward: you use the 2 angle question when you are less sure about the answer or the opinion of the recruiter, and you use the 3 points and a conclusion structure if you know exactly what you think and know about something, and you want to drive your point home. And sometimes the structure depends on where you've brought yourself while trying: if you have already given 2 examples, then go for a third one and deliver a conclusion. If you have replied with 1 argument, but you are not sure, bring a counter-argument from the other angle to get out of it. It requires some training, but these 2 structures are great! And then there are those questions you immediately recognize, and they don't require any thinking as to what structure to use. These questions are behavior questions, and you answer them using the STAR method. We'll explain that to you right now.

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Felix Peeters