Your Key to Successful Job Interviews: Be a Problem Solver

Your Key to Successful Job Interviews: Be a Problem Solver

How you prepare for a job interview can be the difference between a job offer and a discarded resume. I’ve seen the results of solid interview preparation with a range of successful IT candidates over the years. Here is some advice based on their experiences:

Every job opening is a business problem waiting to be solved. Did you ever think about why jobs are open in the first place? Understanding why an HR department goes through the time and steps necessary to find a new employee offers some important insights. Behind every job opening there is obviously a business problem, and it requires a qualified person to solve it. Whether you are applying for the role of janitor, teacher, programmer, financial analyst or CTO, the one common trait these positions share is that the company is looking to hire someone who can help solve a problem. Once you realize the job interview is an opportunity to communicate how you can solve their business problem, you can tailor your responses to questions appropriately.

Prepare to solve problems bullet by bullet. This exercise can be a bit time consuming, but if you want the job, it’s worth every minute. Look over the entire job description, including the list of bulleted responsibilities and qualifications. Can you perform this role successfully? Great! Now all you have to do is prove it. Visualize each of the bullets as mini-problems that need to be solved. One by one, list specifically how your unique skills and experience will solve the problem and make your potential employer better. It is really important not to be too general in this preparation. The more specific you are about your past experiences, with an example or two prepared in case you are questioned more deeply, the better prepared you will be to help elevate your candidacy. Keep in mind, even if the bullets are not specifically discussed in the interview, this exercise will provide you with good practice for the overall interview.

Problem solvers ask questions. There are times that I think an interview is beginning to go well, and then I ask the candidates what questions they have about the position. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am when they say they have none. It’s not because I want them to make up questions even if they don’t technically have any. I actually look at this as a sign of disinterest, and as a missed opportunity to show that they can investigate how to solve the problem and issues my team is facing. Asking specific questions in the interview gives you an opportunity to apply some examples and experience you have to the discussion. Some basic questions that can almost always be incorporated include:

  • Why was this position created (Or why is this position open)?
  • How have previous employees been successful in this role? How have they been unsuccessful?
  • After joining your team, what tasks can I accomplish in the first 30 days? (My favorite).
  • Do you need clarification on any of my previous responses during this interview?

Remember the basics. A lack of formality or respect for the interview process does not help position you as a problem-solver: it has the opposite effect. I am sometimes shocked by the percentage of people who will actually show up for an interview without a copy of their resume (after all they did email it to me). Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Do not talk negatively about your previous employers.
  • Always be prepared to take notes (and bring your bulleted list for quick reference with the job description).
  • Dress professionally (unless directed otherwise).
  • Conduct specific company and hiring manager research on the web prior to going into the interview. The more specific you are, the more impressive it is.
  • Professionally address each and every person you encounter.
  • Always take business cards and send hand-written thank you notes, in addition to emails you send, to everyone you interviewed with in a timely manner.

It is important to remember that many companies will interview multiple candidates, and will have a candidate pool that is capable of executing tasks. Make an effort to differentiate yourself by ensuring they know they have a problem solver who wants to join their team.


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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 30, 2013 at 1:40pm

Thanks, Ari. "Hand written notes"? What's" handwriting"?




Comment by Ari Waller on October 30, 2013 at 4:02pm

Thanks Keith - I feel the same way :)  I would ask my wife who has much better hand writing than I, to write them for me. Clearly a lost art form, and I am thankful for it.  I find that in the Information Technology industry, a well constructed email is mainstream and acceptable, but taking the time to write seems to still be respected and expected in some cases.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 31, 2013 at 12:54pm

It certainly doesn't hurt... I can also imagine an increased interest in calligraphy in a few years as a sort of retro-action....


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