Posted

by Liz Ryan

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Dear Liz,

I am someone who doesn’t mind job interviews.

I like to meet new people and I enjoy the conversation, as long as it is a real conversation and not a series of rapid-fire questions. I can’t stand it when interviewers ask insulting questions that no adult should have to answer.

I had a disappointing job interview about a month ago. The interviewer was a young HR person. At first I thought she was on the ball. She was pleasant for the first twenty minutes. Then out of nowhere she asked me “What makes you the best candidate for the job?”

I took a breath and said “I can’t say that I’m the best person for the job, because I haven’t met and won’t meet the other applicants. I can tell you why I think I’m qualified, if that would be helpful.”

The interviewer literally rolled her eyes at me. “Don’t you know what that question really means?” she asked. “It means ‘Why should we hire you over the other candidates?’ You don’t have to know the other people. Just tell me why you’re the best.”

I am proud of myself for staying in the room after she said that, because I really wanted to leave. I didn’t want the job. I said “You get to decide who’s the best candidate for the job. My job is to decide which employer is the best organization for me.”

The HR gal sighed and wrote something on her notepad. I thought she was going to rip the paper, the way she was writing. She probably wrote “We will hire this candidate when hell freezes over.” I never heard from that employer after the interview but I wasn’t surprised.

Should I consider an interview a total loss when they ask “Why are you the best candidate?” or am I being too sensitive? Thanks Liz!

Yours,

Katie


Dear Katie,

It is strange how some interviewers ask perfectly idiotic questions and then sigh and roll their eyes at you for taking their stupid question at face value.

They say ridiculous things like “You don’t have to meet the other candidates for this job in order to tell me why you’re more qualified than they are.”

That’s obviously not true, and it’s not just inaccurate but brainless, also. The truth is that a lot of people go to work and read from the standard script, the way your interviewer did. They don’t think about what they are saying. The words just tumble out of their mouths.

You are right that the question “What makes you the best candidate?” is inappropriate and insulting. You couldn’t possibly know the answer to that question, not only because you won’t meet the other contenders but also because you don’t know what the company really needs. Only they know that!

The question “What makes you the best candidate?” is nothing more than an invitation to dance and prance and grovel in front of the interviewer. I don’t blame you if you have no appetite for that task.

You can handle the question this way:

Interviewer: What makes you the best candidate for this job?

You: How about this — I’ll tell you what I think the job entails, and you’ll tell me if I understand your need correctly. Will that work?

Interviewer: Okay.

You: My understanding is that this Regional Service Manager is in place because the Midwest region has two to three dozen major customers that need customized service, and you need a manager to oversee the service team across the region and make sure that those customers’ needs are met. I understand that you need someone to fight fires as they arise and also to design the long-term service strategy, staffing plan and budget for the Midwest service team. Did I understand all that correctly?

Interviewer: Absolutely, yes! Given that assignment, what makes you the best candidate

You: Here’s how my background intersects with the Regional Service Manager role. I led the Customer Engineer team at Acme Explosives and supervised four on-site service specialists. I crafted and managed the service team’s schedule and budget. We had a 96% customer satisfaction rating. Ninety-eight percent of our customers bought from us again. It was a great experience, and I only left Acme because they were sold.

Interviewer: Yes, I heard about that. Do you want to tell me about your best personal qualities, like being a strong leader or being a great negotiator?

You: Honestly, I think my experience speaks for itself, but I’d be happy to tell you a story to illustrate any quality that you’d like to know more about.

Having to answer obnoxious interview questions is often the hardest thing about getting through a traditional job interview.

The problem is that for many interviewers every job interview is predicated on the unspoken agreement that employers are mighty and job applicants are a dime a dozen.

Interviewers like your young HR person are not necessarily trying to be obnoxious when they ask you obnoxious questions. They don’t know any better. They’ve been trained to treat job applicants like they are lesser beings than the interviewer him- or herself.

The smarter and more attuned to talent the leaders in an organization are, the less likely you are to hear tired, insulting interview questions like “What makes you the best candidate?” or “What’s your greatest weakness?”

I encourage you to forgive one ridiculous interview question per interviewer. That’s a reasonable standard. The first dumb question gets a pass, and the second one trips a switch in your brain. The third dumb question might get you to conclude (as you did) that these people don’t deserve your talents. That is an important observation for a job-seeker to make!

If you’re subjected to a string of brainless interview questions, you have permission to get up, extend your hand for a polite handshake and say “It’s been wonderful  to meet you.

“I can see that it’s not a great fit and I would hate to use up another minute of your valuable time. I’ll be leaving now — thanks again for the coffee!” Then head for the exit.

Once you escape the interview that was a waste of your time and talent, treat yourself to a nice gelato! Don’t feel bad. Saying no to the wrong opportunities is the best way to bring the right opportunities in. Keep in mind that only the people who get you, deserve you!

All the best,

Liz

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