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How to Protect Your Branded Value and Expertise with the Two Most-Dreaded Interview Questions

nervous candidate in office

I should file this post under “More Nonsensical Advice from (Former) Recruiters” but I won’t. I just watched a couple YouTube videos from “career experts” that claimed two of the worst interview questions a decision maker can toss your way are these:

  1. “So, tell me something about yourself…”

  2. “What’s your worst (work) habit or greatest weakness?”

They are only the worst questions if you aren’t prepared because most candidates don’t anticipate these questions or don’t know how to respond by promoting their branded value and expertise.

Let’s begin with Question 1: “So, tell me something about yourself.” This is NOT the time to respond with “uh…what do you want to know?” or reciting your résumé…for crying out loud, the decision maker probably has your résumé on his or her desk and has looked at more than a couple times if you’ve been called in for an interview. You’ve been given a golden opportunity to promote your branded expertise and value (“branded expertise and value” is a key phrase I use a lot, so learn what it is and how to apply it). I enjoyed asking this question because I wanted to see if the candidates really got the idea behind it.

Here’s a template for your response: “I’m a <personal fact No. 1>, a <personal fact No. 2>, a <personal fact No. 3>, a darn good <position for which you are interviewing>, and I have an eye on your <No. 1 key item of importance to decision maker> and your <No. 2 key item of importance to decision maker>.  Here’s a real-life response from an Android platform programmer I interviewed back around 2009 (he was hired on the spot):

“I’m a cello playing kids’ soccer coach, a member of the PTA; I’m a darn good Android programmer who has an eye on your project schedule and project budget.”

Wow! He nailed it. I learned that he, like myself, played classical music, was involved with his kids and the community, and he knew two things that were important to ME: project schedule and budget. And he did it in one sentence that took less than 15 seconds! He didn’t recite his experience or education; he didn’t “brag” (I don’t consider self-confidence as “bragging” because he had the background to back it up), and he didn’t beg or plead for the job. He positioned his branded expertise and value in such a way that influenced the hiring decision.

Let’s look at Question No. 2:  “What’s your worst habit or greatest weakness?” Why on earth would ANYONE give a “brutally honest” answer to this question? If a compulsive liar says that he’s a compulsive liar, how will that influence whether or not he gets a job offer? It’s almost a trick question and no interviewer worth his or her credentials would ask such a question of candidates, but they do. You can try to soften the response with something like, “My co-workers would say that I’m tenacious at problem-solving and won’t quit until I have the solution” which is a softball-type of response that (1) decision makers are wise to; and (2) it’s not really a “worst” work habit.

I once responded to this question with: “Only my wife and my pastor know what my greatest weakness is, but for my worst work habit, my references are in a better position to provide unbiased assessments.” That response didn’t hurt my chances of moving forward in the hiring process at all because it showed that I protected my branded expertise and value by not blurting out some stupid response that would have stopped my progress cold! It’s 5-star impression management!

So, that’s how you respond to those two most-dreaded questions that not only preserve your value, but better position you to influence a decision to hire you or buy from you. I teach these strategies in my “Presence-Driven Leadership” programs that reveal the steps behind engaging –> positioning –> influencing –> and converting decision makers to become your ally, advocate, champion, client, customer or whatever your end goal is.

What are your experiences with such questions? Any other good responses?

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Positioning/Influence Strategist, Brand Leverage Catalyst, Success Expeditor, and Global Leadership Speaker Donn LeVie Jr. has nearly 30 years experience leading and managing people and projects with such Fortune 100 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, and Intel Corp., the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA), and academia (adjunct faculty, University of Houston Downtown College, Dept. of Natural Sciences and Mathematics).

Donn is the author of two award-winning books on professional advancement positioning and influence strategies, and is a popular conference keynote and seminar speaker. His “Influential and Persuasive Intelligence” and “Presence-Driven Leadership” corporate programs help assure CEOs they won’t have to deal with ineffective leaders in the C-Suite. 

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