When you're answering interview questions, you need to use a structure for your answers so they sound clear and focused.
I hear a lot of answers that are disorganized, unfocused, and unclear. Following a simple structure fixes this problem.
The correct structure of interview answers
Here's my advice on making your answers to interview questions clear.
Use a 3-part structure in answers
Interview answers should have:
1. an opening – topic sentence (your main idea)
2. a middle – body (supporting details)
3. a closing – summary and a sign you're ending the answer
Think about when you write a paragraph - you need to have the topic sentence first, then the body, and then the last sentence, which will either tie together the paragraph or lead to the next one.
Your opening should answer the question, without adding extra ideas or unnecessary words.
Here's an example. “What was your favorite class last year?”
Your answer should open with, “My favorite class last year was Enterprise Risk Management.”
This topic sentence is good because you are simply answering the question that was asked. You aren't adding extra information, answering a different question, or talking about something that isn't relevant.
Many people in this situation do not give simple, clear answers. In fact, many people answer a different question entirely.
Examples for openings for other common questions are below:
"What is your biggest weakness?"
"My biggest weakness is that I get frustrated and impatient when my employees don't do their work well."
"Why do you want to go to Harvard?"
"I want to go to Harvard because I plan to major in chemistry and Harvard has the best undergraduate chemistry program in the country and also has internships arranged with local pharmaceutical companies."
These openings are simple and clear and only contain information that is exactly answering the question.
The middle of your answer should give details that support your opening sentence. Give one, two, or three details. More than that can make the answer confusing.
"What was your favorite class last year?"
"My favorite class last year was Enterprise Risk Management. I liked it because I had never studied risk management before so I learned useful things that I know I"ll need it in my future career, and I also enjoyed our group discussions."
This answer gives two details to support the topic sentence.
Choose details to make the answer interesting or to give more information to support the statement.
If you get asked the question, "What are your strengths?" You need to say more than, "I have strong analytical skills."
You need to give evidence that supports this statement. Your interviewer doesn't know you, so they need to hear details to learn more about you and to decide whether you are a good candidate.
If one of your strengths is strong analytical skills, you need to show examples of when you used them.
"What are your strengths?"
"I have strong analytical skills. In my current job I have had a number of responsibilities where I was able to use this strength. One of these was working on the database project, where I had to review the data from each team and decide whether to approve it. Another example was the risk management project, where my role required collecting data from each group and assembling it into directives.”
Sharing exactly how you used analytical skills will prove that you actually have them and show your interviewer how they made you a great asset to your team.
Length of answers
The best length for your answers is about 30 seconds to 1 minute (for the simple questions like "Why are you leaving your current company") to around 2 minutes for the longer ones. Often the behavioral questions take a longer time because you have to give the entire situation and result.
Remember that the interviewer is a person and people get bored easily. It's hard for people to pay attention for longer than 1 minute.
Step 3: Closing
Once you’re ready to finish your answer, it’s important to say something that shows you're finished.
I had one client who said, "That's all" after finishing each of her answers. Her answers were actually good – but when she added this last phrase she ruined all the work she had done because "that's all" isn't a good closing.
You need to say something that sums up your answer and shows you're finished.
"What was your favorite class last year?"
“My favorite class last year was Enterprise Risk Management. I liked it because I had never studied risk management before so I learned useful things that I know I'll need it in my future career, and I also enjoyed our group discussions. So when I think about my classes last year, Enterprise Risk Management is definitely the one I enjoyed most.”
This shows that you're finished talking, and it also repeats the answer again. Why do you want to do that? It can help the interviewer remember your answer.
Examples for closings for other common questions are below:
Why are you interested in getting your MBA at Boston University?
“blah blah blah...And that’s why I want to go to school here. I really appreciate you taking the time to tell me more about it.”
Why do you want to work for our company?
“blah blah blah...For those reasons, and others, I’d love to work for [company].”
What is your greatest professional strength?
“blah blah blah...I would definitely say strong analytical skills are my greatest strength."
The benefits of using structure in your interview answers
Structuring your answers helps you sound intelligent.
Americans prefer clear, focused answers.
The details give your answers depth and “prove” your point.
Your closing tells your interviewer that your answer is finishing so they can think about the next question.
I hope this post helped you understand how to answer questions. If you want to practice, ask me for some one-on-one interview prep. You can email me at email@example.com to schedule a consultation.
Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. From communicating with your interviewer before the interview to greeting your interviewer and using the right body language in your interview, I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.