How to Break the Interview’s ‘Q&A’ Format

Serious Man

A lot of IT professionals think of job interviews as interrogations, tense encounters where managers or engineers fire off a series of questions and you respond with terse answers.

But if you’ve been reading our Interview Qs series, you know the opposite is true. In fact, managers frequently ask open-ended questions to spark a discussion. Even technical evaluators hope you’ll ask for hints and walk them through your steps as you solve a problem on the whiteboard. They want to get a sense of who you are and how you think.

In other words, interviews don’t have to seem like scripted Q&As. Indeed, they shouldn’t be. The more you can turn your interview into a professional discussion, the more impressive you’ll be.

For example, Brett Kelley, custom development practice lead for Nashville consulting firm InfoWorks, recalls a developer who responded to a question by illustrating a project on the whiteboard. “He diagrammed the structure of the database and the design challenges he faced,” says Kelley. “We discussed possible solutions and bounced ideas off each other as he walked me through his decision-making process. I could envision myself working with him as we worked through the issues.” In the end, Kelley felt the discussion was “a preview” of how the developer would interact with teammates and clients. “He provided me with all the information I needed to make him an offer,” he says.

Ask Questions

Of course, you don’t need a whiteboard to loosen up a conversation. If you want to get the interviewer to say something that breaks the script a bit, ask for more details to a question before responding. For example, if you’re asked about test protocols, say, “I usually customize mine based on the timeline, the needs of the business owner and the company’s tolerance for bugs. If you describe your typical scenario, I’d be glad to discuss a solution.”

Another way to engage is by asking for the answer when you’re stumped or by soliciting feedback after you’ve answered a question. If they asked about your favorite wireframing tool, for instance, tell them what you like, then ask about their preferences. If they asked you to describe something like your most challenging deadline, ask them to share their experiences under pressure, as well.

Don’t forget the importance of motion, either. Moving around in your chair, gesturing and smiling can also change the mood since they’re all things that normally happen during a conversation.

Plus, relaxing can make you more likely to show off your enthusiasm for your work and technology in general. “To most people, a systems integration project is boring stuff,” says Chris Petersen, CIO of San Diego biopharmaceutical startup Assay Depot. “But one candidate got so excited he definitely stood out. He was shifting in his chair and I didn’t have to prompt him for stories. It was clear to me that he was passionate about his work.”

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Comments

  1. BY Chaz Chappy says:

    Good theory, but this is not going to work in the real world when the interviewer has an agenda and a set of questions he wants answers for. It’s sad but in today’s economy, it’s how a lot of interviews work.

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