Wearing an eye-catching tie or piece of jewelry, bringing in a sketchpad to visually show your ideas, writing memorable thank-you notes—there are tons of techniques for standing out during the interview process.
But the simplest and most effective strategy is also one of the least-utilized: giving unexpected answers to the most common interview questions.
You have to remember that these people (and they are real, live people) hear the same answers over and over again. So nothing will make them sit up faster and listen to you than a surprising answer. And that means you’ve got a significant advantage over all the other candidates who gave perfectly satisfactory, but perfectly boring answers.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
As Muse writer Lily Zhang explains, “This question isn’t an invitation to tell your life story. The interviewer really just wants to know why you’re interested in this position and what makes you qualified.”
So, don’t just launch into your bio (“My name is Aja Frost, and I’m a writer and content strategist”). Instead, start with the story of how you decided on your current career and why you’re applying to this job.
For example, if an interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” you could respond:
In 2011, I was a sales executive at a web design company. Helping clients was great, but I was fascinated by the design portion of what we did—I started spending all my free time hanging out with developers and asking questions about their projects. My enthusiasm led me to take several UI and UX classes.
While I was enrolled in these courses, I came across your company and was immediately impressed by how well-thought-out and appealing your products were. When I saw the UI designer position, I knew I had to apply.
Why This Works
Our brains are wired to remember stories. Plus, this format lets you show off your passion for your work and the company, which is always attractive to hiring managers.
2. What’s Your Greatest Strength?
Most people will say something along the lines of, “Thanks to my extensive experience in [X], I’m well-versed in [Y].” Maybe they’ll even describe how their strength would be really valuable in the role they’re applying for.
But you can do better. Instead, talk about a situation that exemplifies your greatest strength; then to really bring it home, talk about how you’re still nurturing that skill.
I’m very proactive. To give you an example, in my last job as a community manager for Gofish, I noticed we didn’t have a blueprint for reaching out to potential partners—each salesperson did their own thing. This was inefficient and ineffective, so I collaborated with our team to build a partnership process and some guidelines. Our sales doubled in one year.
Since I don’t want to lose that ability to identify and solve problems, I keep a running list of pain points I see within the organization and am always trying to come up with new ideas of how to solve them.
Why This Works
Again, stories are very powerful. By using a story to frame your skill, you’ll lock it into the interviewer’s mind. And showing that you’re always trying to improve makes you every boss’ dream.
3. Why Should We Hire You?
Highlighting your skill set, your cultural fit, and your competitive advantage over all the other candidates is a solid way to respond to this question. Yet, you definitely wouldn’t be the only interviewee to answer this way. Instead, show how you’re uniquely positioned to move the company forward.
From my research, I know that brands have turned away from display advertising to focusing almost exclusively on content marketing. Your publication has produced some impressive native ad campaigns, but I believe that someone with a strong analytical background could help you make an even bigger impact. If you hire me, I’ll use my quantitative skills to improve campaign measurements, give brands a better sense of what we can offer, and secure even more partnerships.
Why This Works
One of the most convincing reasons to hire someone is because you believe that person will solve a problem. So during the interview, your goal should be to prove that you’re the perfect person to help the company overcome a challenge it’s currently facing. If you can do that, you’ll definitely stand out.
4. Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
You know that the wrong answer to this question is “Nope, I’m good!” However, there are many different right answers. You should have multiple things to ask your interviewers (check out this article for more inspiration). Then, to really wow them, end with this one:
Is there anything I can do between now and when you make your decision to improve my chances of getting the job?
Why This Works
If the interviewer has any lingering doubts about why you might not be the best candidate, this question gives him or her the opportunity to voice them. Or maybe you’re missing an important skill—if they say, “We’d really love someone with a basic understanding of SEO job search strategies,” you can say, “I’ve actually been thinking about taking an SEO course, so now I’ll look into that ASAP.” (And then, of course, enroll in said SEO course and mention that you did it in your thank you letter.)
You’ll look confident, ambitious, and dedicated—and there’s no better way to exit the interview.
Standing out is one of the biggest challenges job seekers face. Use these unexpected answers to make yourself a one-of-a-kind candidate.
Photo of interview courtesy of Shutterstock.