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How to Answer Any Interview Question

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How to Answer Any Interview Question

By Perri Capell

Don't be rattled by your next job interview. It's possible to answer any question that comes your way. How? By preparing and knowing how to direct the conversation to the topics you want to cover.

To start, take a tip from consultants who coach executives and politicians on how to handle media interviews. These trainers say you can deliver the message you want to an employer, regardless of the question you're asked.

"Most people don't realize that their purpose isn't to sit there and hope the right questions will be asked," says Aileen Pincus, president of the Pincus Group, a media interview-training firm in Silver Spring, Md. "They need to develop two or three key messages and make sure their point is delivered."

Go to to test yourself with the Interview-Prep Tool.

Unlike some politicians who ignore press questions and immediately introduce a different topic in response, job candidates must respect and directly answer employer's queries, says Jeff Braun, vice president and general manager of the Ammerman Experience, a Stafford, Texas, media interview-training firm. However, you can quickly make the transition from your answer to the important points you want to convey about your qualifications, he says.

He suggests when answering job-interview queries applying the formula Q = A + 1: Q is the question; A is the answer; + is the bridge to the message you want to deliver; and 1 is the point you want to make.

"If you take the '+ 1' off the formula, then the interviewer is controlling the session," says Mr. Braun.

Diligent preparation also is necessary to effectively answer any interview question, say senior executives. Theirs and media trainers' tips follow:

Study hard. Learn as much as you can about the job, the employer and its executives beforehand. Use this information to answer direct questions and to then segue into a discussion about your qualifications and fit.

Eric Herzog, a vice president of product line management and channel marketing at Maxtor Corp., a hard-disk drive company in Milpitas, Calif., says he always talks to current and former company employees and analysts whenever possible prior to job interviews to gain as much insight as he can into the employer's challenges and culture. If the company is publicly owned, he studies its financial condition by reading U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents, such as annual 10-K shareholder reports on the company's performance. He then tailors his interview answers to the company's issues.

"If the company is having a rough time financially, you can say that not only did you make good products or services, but that you produced things on time and under budget," says Mr. Herzog. "That's a little plus if the company is in trouble."

If you're working with a recruiter, ask him or her about what the company is seeking and its key challenges, says Derek Messulam, vice president of rental market development for GE-Capital Solutions, a financial-services unit of General Electric Co. in Norwalk, Conn. Mr. Messulam says he grills recruiters regarding a job's responsibilities and the attributes the company wants before job interviews. He then makes sure that his answers demonstrate his potential value to an employer.

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How to Answer Any Interview Question - Continued

"When questions come up, you can steer the conversation to how you can demonstrate value," says Mr. Messulam. "You answer the question, but maybe not 100% the way they were expecting it."

Have anecdotes ready. Many interviewers ask questions that require candidates to provide examples of how they handled a difficult challenge or other work situation. Such questions



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