I know what you’re thinking. Nobody messes this interview question up, right? I mean, it’s the easiest one you’ll ever have to answer during your job hunt. Ever. When I was recruiting, I approached it with the mindset of, “I’m going to ask the candidate to tell me how he found the gig just to break the ice.” Or, I’m going to bring this up to know which of my many methods actually led to a qualified candidate sitting in front of me. Never was it ever a trick question.
But I quickly learned that in a lot of ways, this one trips people up sometimes. And because I’ve seen some of the worst examples, here’s how you can avoid making the most common mistakes when talking about how you found the job.
1. You Feel Uneasy About Sharing That a Friend Referred You
I get it. Nepotism, right? Yuck. Nobody wants to feel like he got his foot in the door just because he knows someone at the company. What's worse than getting a little help from a friend? Dancing around the answer, hoping that you won't have to fess up to the fact that not only is your future on the line, your friend currently has a referral fee on the table for getting you an interview.
What to Do Instead
I hate to sound so crass, but if you’re fortunate enough to know someone at a company you want to work for, just buckle up and tell everyone who asks you exactly how you found out about the job. A simple response like, “I was excited to find out about the job from my friend who works in [department]” is a perfectly OK response. In fact, it’s the only response you should be giving if this is the case.
2. You Turn it Into a Monologue About Why This Is the Only Job You Want
Here's a perfect example of an interview question that only requires a short answer. All you need to do is tell the hiring manager where you found the darn job. But, all too often, candidates get so caught up in the moment that they end up turning it into a long-winded explanation of not only where they found the listing, but also why they couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being excited about an opportunity, but when you’re going on and on about how you simple found the gig, it can be a huge turn-off for a recruiter.
What to Do Instead
If you want to fold in a little tidbit about why you’re so excited about the job, that’s not a terrible idea. But, keep it short. Add your unique spin to a response along the lines of, “I found it on [wherever you found the job], and since I’ve been hoping to work for the company for a long time, I was excited to see the opening had become available.” That’s all you need. Seriously.
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3. You Forgot Where You Found the Job
Job searches are undeniably frustrating at times. I’ve had stretches where I had so many bills that I needed to pay, I applied for a lot of openings. And after a while, it can be hard to keep track of what you’ve applied for, what the positions call for, and where you found them in the first place. But that’s no excuse for drawing a complete blank when a hiring manager asks you how you stumbled onto the job that, let me remind you, that you are currently interviewing for.
What to Do Instead
When I realized that I had applied for a lot of jobs during my last stretch of unemployment, I made myself a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. It included the following columns: job title, link to the original listing, the date I applied, where (or how) I found the opening, and current stage of the interview process. That list especially came in handy for phone interviews, but regardless of how close I was (or wasn’t) to getting any particular job, I don’t know how I could’ve kept track of anything during my job search without that spreadsheet. If you’re having trouble remembering little details, like how you found a particular posting, cobble together a tracker for yourself.
If there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that no interview question is too small to potentially mess up. And even the icebreakers can change the entire tone of a meeting with a hiring manager. So cross your T’s, build spreadsheets if you need to, and above anything else, answer the question as thoroughly and quickly as possible so you can focus on telling the interviewer more about why you’re the right fit for the job—rather than boring details about where you found it.
Photo of interview courtesy of PeopleImages/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author