I got a comment recently asking about one of the most common interview questions, “What do you know about our company?” Basically, the reader thinks the question is incredibly stupid and meaningless, since he was there for them to find out about HIM, not their own company.
He makes a good point from a job seeker’s point of view. But answering interview questions, and how you handle even the most common ones, goes far beyond just coming up with an answer that shows them how great you are in general. They need you to help them see how great you will be for THEM.
How I answered the comment about “stupid questions”
The job seeker was upset that companies haven’t taken the time to research HIM, saying he has publications online that he knows no one has been checking out despite his many applications.
So when they ask him to talk about the company, he feels they’re not respecting him – and in turn doesn’t respect them or their meaningless questions. Here’s my take on these types of questions in general and how to answer them:
“I know you are not alone in these thoughts. Here’s what I can tell you from the point of view of someone who was an internal recruiter for many years and helped hire a good number of tech people as well as managers…
Questions like these, lame as they may seem, are an interviewer’s chance to get a sense of the person, their communication skills, their ability to listen and relate, how they approach and solve problems, whether they’re someone who thinks more about their own needs or the company’s…
Also, their ability to be flexible and go with the flow, do they go the extra mile, and what they might be like to work with on a daily basis as well as under pressure – or when confronted with situations where there are difficult / annoying people they have to deal with.
Since these are not qualities that are easy to assess, we do our best to listen between the words and lines to try to find the real person. And these types of commonly asked questions help us do that.”
My own experience hiring new employees
“I can report from hard experience that just going for the most qualified person on paper, although tempting, doesn’t always work out. There is far more to the art of hiring than first meets the eye – not that anyone always does it perfectly.
In the end, it’s kind of like dating – you have to assess using all your senses and knowledge, and then decide whether to move forward. Your published papers may be very useful as you approach final candidacy, but first they want to find the people they think have the best chance of working out in less tangible ways.
But interviews are also a chance for the job seeker to assess whether they’d want to work with the company. If you find a culture or way of thinking / interviewing off-putting, you are wise to consider that in your decision. It has to match both ways.”
Why you need to think about the employer’s needs
This is not the first time I’ve heard from job seekers who are angry about how the job search process is all about the company’s needs, rather than what the job seeker needs. After all, without workers, there is no company!
While we all want to be treated with respect and have our job satisfaction and growth be something our employer takes seriously, in the end it is their dime. The company’s goals and needs have to be a major part of the deal. Of course, a smart company knows full well that the two can go hand in hand – and that caring about staff needs will further their own.
But they are not there to be your mother, or nanny, or even career coach. They need you to get the job done, and it’s often up to you to find ways to stay interested and move forward where possible. (If this doesn’t work for you, consider independent consulting or starting your own business. Although, you’ll still have to serve your clients’ needs – and also find them.)
So what does all this have to do with stupid questions?
The attitude you bring to interview shows. And if you can let go of shoulds and how we would ideally wish things to be, you have a far better chance of answering questions, stupid or not, in a way that goes deeper than the surface. We interviewers really do look to read between the lines.
So your best chance of using your limited time to show them all you can offer is to let go of judgments and shoulds and just throw yourself 100% into the moment – and into answering the interview questions as if each one were the most important interview question ever asked. It could be!
And if you want some ideas on how to handle these common and, in effect, not-so-stupid questions both specifically and in general, here’s that link again from the beginning of this article:
As for the stupid “what do you know about us” question
Turning “this is such a lame question” on its head, this is a great example of how you can use job interview questions like this to your advantage. Here are some things you, the job seeker, can show the employer with your answer:
- You took the time to do some thorough research and know things beyond what it says on their website.
- You’ve really thought about this company, what it is, what it stands for, its products, its mission, its goals, its vision – and can see how the company might meet your own needs.
- You can clearly and convincingly connect the dots for them between you and what you know about the company.
So rather than judge it, make it work for you. Oh what a change in attitude and perspective can do for your interview!
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