Take a minute and picture this: You’re in a job interview for a position you’re really excited about. One of your interviewers—who happens to be the Director of Marketing—is currently ranting and raving about the recent website redesign they went through.
They threw a lot of dollars at this project, they totally revamped their branding, they gathered tons of feedback on the functionality—so on and so forth. Long story short, she’s made it obvious that she’s pretty proud of this new website they just launched.
Then, she drops a bomb—a question that sends a rollercoaster of nausea barreling from your stomach all the way up to the back of your throat: “So, I’m sure you’ve looked at our new website. Tell me, what would you change about it?”
Your mouth goes dry and a cold sweat tickles your forehead. How can you possibly wiggle your way out of this? Honestly, is there even a right answer to a question like this one?
Confession time: This is a true story. As a matter of fact, it’s a personal story—this exact thing happened to me when I was interviewing for a full-time gig that I desperately wanted. So, believe me when I say that I know firsthand just how panic-inducing this scenario can be.
Being prompted to provide suggestions for improvements in an interview—regardless of the position you’re going after—can be a tough situation to navigate.
On one hand, you want to demonstrate that you bring a lot of expertise, brilliant suggestions, and all-around value to the table for this employer. After all, it’s an interview, and most people make hires because they believe that person can make a positive difference at the company.
But, on the flipside of that coin, you’re hesitant to critique anything. You don’t want to come off as condescending, high and mighty, or overly critical.
So, what do you do? How can you prove that you have great ideas—without straight up bashing what the company is already doing? Implement these five steps, and you’re sure to make it as painless as possible.
1. Don’t Panic
I won’t even try to deny that this dreaded question is enough to inspire quite a bit of anxiety. So, I know that this first tip can seem a little counterintuitive (or, honestly, impossible).
However, think about it this way: The interviewer is the one posing this question. And, he wouldn’t do so if he didn’t want you to actually answer it with a thoughtful, constructive response.
That means you need to try to resist getting too bent out of shape about the fact that you’re being asked to provide a critique (you are quite literally being asked, after all). Instead, think of it as a positive opportunity to further demonstrate the value you offer. That mindset will make it that much easier to dive into your response.
2. Start With a Compliment
You catch more flies with honey, right? Even if your mind is racing through all of the things you’d immediately change about the way the company does something, there has to be at least one thing you think the company is already doing well.
When you identify that one thing? Lead with it. It’s a classic communication tactic—starting with the positives helps to cushion the blow and make it clear that you’re offering constructive advice, rather than trying to brutally tear down their existing efforts.
Sticking with the website example, you could start with a statement like, “I have had a chance to look at your new site. You did a great job organizing it—it’s all really easy to navigate!”
3. Give Some Background
One of the things that can make this question so tricky is that you don’t actually work there yet. You feel pressured to provide suggestions and ideas, without having all of the nitty gritty details of their goals, their capabilities, and how exactly they operate.
Yes, that fly by the seat of your pants approach makes things complicated. And, that’s why it’s important that you preface your reply by sharing that you’re speaking from your previous experience. You’re not on your high horse pretending to know everything about their company. Instead, you’re only aiming to offer areas of improvement based on information and skills you’ve gathered through past opportunities.
Not only does this provide a chance for you to feel a little less uncomfortable and condescending, it also offers the perfect opening for you to further illustrate how your experience make you an ideal fit for this position. It’s a win-win!
4. Offer Explanation
Of course, this one should be obvious. But, you need to elaborate and explain exactly why you’d make that change you’re proposing.
Has your experience shown you that your approach increases customer engagement? Significantly streamlines a process? Improves team communication? Impacts sales? What is the key benefit behind your suggestion?
As important as the “why” is, you’ll also want to take things a step further to illustrate why it matters. Any statistics, hard facts, or real-world examples of results you can provide will not only give your idea some real credibility, but also prove that you’re a candidate who truly knows his or her stuff.
5. End With a Question
Even if you made it through the above steps with grace and poise, wrapping things up can still present a challenge. If you’re anything like me, you’ll ramble your way through a closing that looks something like, “So, yeah, I guess that’s what I’d do. But, I mean, you guys totally don’t have to do any of that. Like, what you did already looks super great.”
Impressive, right? Not exactly. Instead, you’re much better off wrapping up your idea or suggestion with a thoughtful question.
If this sounds impossible to pull off, I promise it’s not. Here’s an idea of what this could look like: “Did you guys consider that approach as you were working on this? I’d love to know more about your process.”
Ending with a question like this accomplishes a couple of different things for you. First, it makes it clear that you’re a team player who doesn’t stick with a “my way or the highway” philosophy. You bring your own ideas to the table, but you still maintain an open-mind.
Secondly, it encourages an extended conversation that will allow you to learn more about the company and the way it operates—which is helpful in determining whether or not you could actually picture yourself there.
Being asked in a job interview to provide ideas and elaborate on areas where the company could improve can often feel like something straight out of a horror film. Believe me, I’ve been there.
But, as long as you approach the question in the right way, you can actually work the entire conversation to your advantage. Use these five steps, and you’re sure to knock that question out of the park—and maybe even land the job!
Photo of person talking to an interviewer courtesy of Blend Images—Erik Isakson/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author