I’ve heard, quite literally, thousands of answers to interview questions from hundreds of applicants over the past 25 or so years. Of all these answers, there is one in particular that stands out as the best answer I’ve ever been given. In fact, it was so good that I’ve used it as a role model many times.
It was an answer to a question that, while very difficult to answer well, is one that is pretty commonly asked in interviews. Though the exact wording used by a Hiring Manager may vary, It usually goes something like this: “If two senior executives each wanted you to do something at the same time, with the nature of the tasks being such that you could only do one, how would you decide which one to do?”
While this is a pretty simple question on the surface, it can be extremely difficult to answer and presents you with a real puzzle. Just exactly how do you decide to do one without antagonizing the other executive? Since you can only satisfy one request, how can you keep both executives happy? In other words, how do you avoid committing CLM (Career Limiting Move)?
A number of years ago I was actually asked this question myself when I was interviewing for a job and I’ll admit that I fumbled it pretty badly. It was a question I had not considered in advance and as a result was completely unprepared to answer it. There just isn’t an easy answer for the dilemma raised by this question.
At least that’s what I thought at the time.
Fast forward a few years and I was on an interview panel that was interviewing an applicant for a middle-management position. As it turned out, this question was on the list of questions we were given to ask. And did that ever bring back bad memories! The applicant we were interviewing was an amicable, seasoned manager who fielded our other questions very well, so I was of course anxious to hear how he would handle this one.
His answer was simple, elegant and brief: “I’d do the one that’s best for our customers.”
That’s it – the single best interview answer I’ve ever heard – and the interview panel was blown away. This one-sentence answer to an extremely difficult question was simply awesome and it said it all. What executive could possibly argue with doing what was best for the customer? In fact, what better reason is there for doing anything in business? And by the way, this candidate did get the job – by a unanimous vote.
This answer, tweaked a bit to fit the circumstances, could be an excellent response to a wide variety of questions. It’s hard to go wrong by answering as an advocate for the customers of whatever organization you are interviewing.
Just watch the members of an interview panel start nodding their heads when you work a customer service attitude into your answers.
In my next post, I’ll flip the subject of interview questions around and talk about the questions YOU need to prepare and ask.