Ever heard the expression "There are a million ways that something can go wrong, but just one way that it can go right"?
The best answers to interview questions look the same whether you're applying for a job as the director of finance or applying to become a school nurse.
Here's what it looks like:
A direct and straightforward answer to the question without extraneous information. Often, people are tempted to keep talking even when they've answered the key parts of the question. They stare at the interviewer, waiting for the right emotional response to flicker across their face. That look may never come, so once you've answered the key issues at hand, it's okay to stop talking.
An example from your past job that shows how you performed what you described. Ever since humans started gathering around a fire, we've communicated with one another by sharing stories. If your interview is just a series of statements, your interviewer will have a hard time keeping focused and may think that you're only hot air. Stories and examples are key to getting buy-in.
An outline of how you can apply this skill to the specific needs of this organization. Ever heard the acronym WIIFY? WIIFY stands for "what's in it for you," the "you" being the person you are talking to. An interview is like a sales pitch in which the product you're selling is yourself. Like any good sales pitch, you need to communicate not only what makes you special, but how those characteristics will specifically benefit the needs of the organization that would hire you.
An answer that lasts under two minutes. Yes, the project that took you six months to complete could take more than two minutes to describe thoroughly. However, you need to keep the attention of your interviewer, and that means providing short and crisp answers and then moving on. A simple "Yes" or "No" is often inappropriate, though, as it doesn't help you address either of the two previously mentioned points.
Example of one of the best answers to interview questions:
Q: "Our past director of fundraising has been with this nonprofit for ten years. What will you do to make big donors feel comfortable with you?"
A: A direct and straightforward answer to the question
"That's a great question. I think it's important to quickly establish a personal relationship with each of the larger the donors, for them to know who I am, and to feel that their concerns will be addressed."
Example with a previous job
"In my last job, when I became the director of fundraising, I saw that there were 23 critical donors. Within the first two months, I had lunch, coffee, or a telephone call with each of these individuals. Within the next few months, I also followed up at least twice to show how their concerns were being addressed or discussed."
Apply to the specific needs of this organization
"With your organization, I intend to similarly meet individually with the top donors to learn about their concerns and allow them to become comfortable with my approach. I know your end-of-year gala tends to bring in big donors from across the country. I would plan to schedule meetings during that event, and would also organize a reception where smaller donors would have the opportunity to speak with me. My goal would be that by the first of the year, every donor will know what I'm about and feel comfortable approaching me."
Is this answer under two minutes?
The general rule for spoken English is to say about 160 words per minute. As the above answer had about 200 words, it sits comfortably below a minute-and-a-half.
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