Effective answers to interview questions aren't always easy to come by. Learn how to do them in this article.

How to Craft the Most Effective Answers to Interview Questions

The COVID pandemic has significantly changed the U.S. job market. Initially causing job loss, layoffs, and remote work, its effects are now igniting a red hot job market with a record number of workers wanting to change their positions. One thing is certain. Nothing will be the same again.

Despite the lingering uncertainties driven by a recent surge in infections, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that payroll employment increased by 850,000 in June 2021. Just as jobs are becoming more plentiful, many employees are preparing for a job search. According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 26% of domestic workers plan to look for new opportunities when the pandemic recedes.

Ready, Set, Find a New Job!

If you are one of these new jobseekers, now is the time to prepare. Get ready to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of the current labor market. To position yourself effectively, you’ll need to update and rewrite your job search documents — including your resume and LinkedIn profile — to target your ideal position. Often overlooked, but just as important, you want to prepare for your upcoming interviews.

Proactive Interview Preparation: What Is the Question?

There are many aspects to interview preparation. While some are more difficult than others to prepare for in advance, the main area that can be addressed is preparing effective answers to interview questions. If you are prepared and know what you want to say in an interview, you will feel more comfortable and confident throughout the interview process.

“Sounds great,” you may say, “but how can I prepare for a question that I haven’t been asked?” The answer is a little easier than you may expect. A recent survey conducted by Zety found that when both interviewers and interviewees were asked what the most common interview questions are, the following five interview questions came out on top:

  1. Tell me about yourself…(Interviewers—60%) (Interviewees—94%)
  2. Tell me about a challenge or conflict you faced at work and how did you deal with it?(Interviewers—57%) (Interviewees—82%)
  3. What are your greatest strengths? (Interviewers—51%) (Interviewees—91%)
  4. How did you hear about this position? (Interviewers—48%) (Interviewees—84%)
  5. What are your greatest weaknesses? (Interviewers—46%) (Interviewees—80%)

So, if you prepare in advance to answer these questions by crafting effective answers to interview questions, you can feel confident before any interview.

Create a “Story Toolbox”

Career coach, Madeline Mann, advises her followers to create a story toolbox, or a repository of well-prepared responses to common interview questions such as those above. Below is a step-by-step guide to crafting effective answers to interview questions.

1. Gather/Record Notable Career Moments

Ideally, you will have a career journal that you jot down work-related project information and achievements. However, if not, it’s time to sit down and recall as much information as possible. Wherever possible, quantify your efforts.

At this stage, record all of your career moments, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Remember that one of the questions you’re preparing for is about your greatest weaknesses. If you have a problem identifying notable moments, you may be trying to remember the last time you saved the world. Try and think of your small victories.

Memories are short and if you’re fuzzy on the details, invest some time in additional research. Go through your old files, contact former colleagues, and as you do this, promise yourself to keep better track of this information in the future.

2. Re-Write in A Problem Solving Format

Now that you have the information you need, it’s time to reorganize. For each career moment, rewrite the information in a problem, action, result format. Variously called STAR (Situation Task Action Result) and PAR (Problem Action Result), rewriting your information in this way will ensure that you capture the most pertinent facts in your interview response. Ask yourself: What did you do? Why did you do it? What were the specific, and hopefully quantifiable, results or outcomes?

When rewriting, you might identify multiple problems in one career moment. For example, perhaps your moment is organizing a conference for 500 physicians. You may identify the main problem as the purpose of the conference, but others may arise in negotiating with the venue, securing high-profile speakers, overcoming audio-video difficulties, and so on.

When deciding which PAR situations to focus on, think about what your actions in the situation say about who you are. Even if the situation didn’t turn out perfectly, if you showed emotional intelligence, resilience, and resourcefulness, the PAR is worth keeping.

At this point, you can rewrite and use your PAR statements in your resume and on your LinkedIn profile as impactful accomplishments.

3. Craft a Story

Now it’s time to take your PAR statements and, in the words of Madeline Mann, tell an EPIC story. Take the stale statements you created for your PAR and liven it up by making it personal. How did you feel? What was your thinking process? What did you learn during and after the situation?

Then, review the top five interview questions above and identify which of your career moments is the best answer to those questions. Mann advises followers to include two stories where you are the problem-solving hero, one about interpersonal relationships, and one story about when you messed up.

How To Craft An Engaging Interview Story

Now you may be thinking, “I’m not good at telling stories! How am I supposed to rewrite my dry, boring PAR statements into an engaging tale of triumph?” Thomas Pueyo is someone who used to be scared of storytelling. He used to watch his colleagues’ eyes glaze over when he made presentations. Now, after years of research and practice, he has written a book on storytelling where he shares the insights he has discovered. He is so confident that anyone can do it, he provides a step by step process to create a great story in five minutes.

1. Decide on a Theme

The good news is that creating the PAR statements is the first step identified by Pueyo to craft a story. So, you’ve already got the first part done! Pueyo states that stories are always about learning how somebody else solved a problem.

2. Describe the Initial Situation and Aftermath

In this step, you create context and describe the initial situation. What were the circumstances that brought about the problem? Also, describe the situation after the problem was resolved. What changed?

3. The Mid-Point

This is where the magic happens. This is the place in your story when you realized a key insight that helped you solve the problem. It is the turning point in your drama. What happened to help you understand the problem? What did you learn and what did you do with your new understanding?

4. Explore the Problem

Now you can connect the dots by re-creating the series of events that led to the mid-point realization. This is the first half of your finished story.

5. Explore the Solution

Create the second half of your story by establishing the series of events that happened after your realization. How you developed and implemented the solution. Then include a reflection on what you learned going forward.

Pueyo says that people fail in storytelling because they are too eager to jump to the solution. However, if you want to create a memorable story, it’s important to include the problem first, and then the insight.

Example of How to Craft Effective Answers to Interview Questions

Let’s put the above information into action and see how you might start with a memorable career moment and end up with a memorable interview story.

Job Target: Non-Profit Fundraising Manager

Interview Question: Tell me about a challenge or conflict you faced at work and how did you deal with it?

Memorable Career Moment: Due to COVID-19 all our events were canceled, so we switched gears from in person to virtual and hosted our annual gala event online. We had a live band to watch and sing along with, as well as a great emcee to engage the audience between performances with opportunities for giving and why it’s important. We raised $150K.

Applying Pueyo’s 5-Step Formula:

1. Decide on the Theme

Problem: All scheduled fundraising events were canceled due to COVID-19. Needed to switch from an in-person to a virtual event.

Action: Created an online event that was interesting and engaging enough to persuade people to watch and donate to the organization.

Result: We raised $150K.

2. Craft the Initial Situation and Aftermath

Initial Situation. It was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person events were canceled. The organization worried about having enough money to operate its programs.

Aftermath. Despite the challenges faced, we came together to create and implement a workable solution and raised enough funds to continue the organization’s mission.

3. The Mid-Point

I realized that we could pivot to an online fundraising event and save the organization’s programs.

4. Explore the Problem

Connect the dots:

  • The COVID pandemic resulted in events being cancelled to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Zoom calls with organization leadership revealed that without the funds raised by the annual gala, they would be forced to cut back significantly on the programs offered.
  • Not only would this affect the organization’s ability to operate, but the beneficiaries of the non-profit’s services would suffer.
  • In the face of these dire outcomes, I held meetings with my creative team and reached out to my industry contacts to brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Armed with this information, I realized that our organization had the technical ability and event planning expertise to pivot to an online format for the annual gala.

5. Explore the Solution

Connect the dots:

  • Once we decided to switch to virtual, my team and I conducted our due diligence to identify best practices and potential issues that may arise.
  • One of our biggest challenges was designing a program that would keep viewers entertained while also imparting important information about the organization’s mission and service impacts.
  • We knew we needed to include a live music component but wanted to engage our viewers instead of passive watching. So, we decided to have at-home karaoke and provided the lyrics to the songs on the bottom of the screen so viewers could sing along.
  • We also knew that we needed an engaging and high-profile emcee to get and keep people watching during the musical breaks. We successfully secured a popular local personality that had a personal connection with our mission.
  • The result was that we were able to entertain and inform over 80,000 online attendees and raise over $150K.
  • Moving forward, we switched most of our events to online and raised enough funds to keep our programs running through the year. This meant we could continue to provide needed services to the members of our community.

With #4 and #5 above forming the complete narrative of the story, there is now an interesting and engaging story to illustrate how this individual was a problem solving hero in a very challenging situation. Practice telling your stories to family and friends to get comfortable and tweak them for the best effect.

Ace Your Interview and Get Back on Track

Whether you lost your job, are laid off, or are looking for a new career, there are plenty of opportunities for jobseekers. Make sure you are fully prepared by crafting effective answers to interview questions. Not only are these great for interviews, but you can also use them to enhance your resume and LinkedIn, spice up cover letters, and provide conversation topics at networking events.

Do you have any effective answers to interview questions? What worked in the past? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

Join Virtual Vocations

Joining Virtual Vocations grants you access to our hand-picked remote jobs database. Learn how our service works, browse job leads by location and career category, or search hundreds of hand-screened remote jobs to find legitimate work-at-home job leads that match your skills and background. Register for free or contact us for more information on our service guarantee.

Check out our menu of Career Services provided by our team of certified professionals, including resume and career coaching services for remote jobseekers. Resume assessments and writing, LinkedIn profile enhancement, and cover letter writing are available to maximize the success of your remote job applications. Discounts on all services available to subscription members, become one now.

Related Articles