“One who looks around him is intelligent, one who looks within him is wise.” – Matshona Dhliwayo
The question that seems to transcend all interviews. Simultaneously adored by interviewers and dreaded by interviewees.
The one question to rule them all.
But why is it so difficult to answer? After all, who could possibly know you better than yourself?
Yet from newbies to industry veterans, this question remains challenging to answer well. Not too short as to come across as incomplete or abrupt, and not so long that your interviewer dozes off before you’ve finished. The right answer requires introspection, and we’d like to help point you in the right direction.
So read on as Geektrust unravels the deepest mysteries of the self… *cue dramatic music*
Well, not really, but here’s some advice about how to effectively answer that question during your next interview. We understand that these questions are deeply personal and will be different for each person, so consider these as markers to help guide you on your way.
Why Is It Asked?
For many reasons actually. To begin with, it’s a great way to transition away from the initial small talk (“Can you believe the weather we’ve had recently?”) and into the interview.
Interviews are conversations and the best ones flow smoothly from one topic to the next. Considering that the trickiest parts of a conversation are the beginning and the end, this question helps set things up nicely.
It’s also a way for them to understand how well you communicate. Answering this question clearly shows that you would also be able to communicate well with your future colleagues – a crucial factor in determining whether hiring you is the right decision or not. It’s also important to note that how well you communicate has nothing to do with your fluency in English or how impressive your vocabulary is. It is more about whether there is clarity in knowing what you are going to say and putting that across effectively in your own unique style of expression.
Of course, its main purpose is to get to know you. Beyond your skills and qualifications – that’s on your resumé anyway. It’s a way for them to get a glimpse into your personality, find out what drives you, discover your values, and where you come from. For companies looking to hire people on the same wavelength as them, this could be even more important to them than your qualifications.
So now that you know why this question’s asked, let’s move on to how to answer it. We begin with the work and what you want to get out of it.
What Are You Looking For?
From the company you would like to work with. Take stock of your journey thus far, how you’ve arrived here and what direction you would like to head in next. If you’re asked where you see yourself 5 years from now (the second most clichéd interview question!), how would you answer?
Beginning with the long view can help crystallize intentions for your next job too.
Is finding solutions to pressing problems what motivates you, or the opportunity to work with a particular technology? Is it the industry or a specific brand?
Startup or MNC? What team size do you think you’d enjoy being a part of?
How about the culture? Are you looking for a young firm that’s constantly evolving or a more mature one that’s found its feet?
Is there an end goal for your career that you’re working towards? An overarching objective that you would like to achieve within a certain timeframe?
We could go on, but you get the gist. These are some of the types of questions that you may face during the interview, and exploring them from both a macro and micro perspective is essential.
And even if you don’t get asked these questions, knowing the answers to them will only enrich the process and avoid potentially costly missteps. It will help focus your search and save time from distractions. Often these kinds of learnings only arrive after an interview hasn’t gone well. Armed with this knowledge from the start, your clarity and self-awareness will shine through in the conversation. You can lead the interaction, rather than just participate in a Q&A.
While the employer is assessing whether you are the right fit for them, you could be doing the same. But for that, clarity is a must.
So, Who Are You?
Now that we’ve begun to scratch the surface of why you work, it’s equally important to figure out the person behind the lanyard. This understanding will prove invaluable to you – both in your career and life in general.
Whilst the true scope of this question goes beyond any job interview and makes one think of red-robed Himalayan monks instead, answering this question well is important to the success of the overall interview.
At the heart of the matter is a deep understanding of yourself and your objectives.
Let’s begin with the experiences that shaped you thus far. The path you took to get to this point, the people you met along the way, and the lessons learned from it all have moulded you into the person you are today. This certainly has had an influence on you subconsciously but actively engaging with them could be insightful and illuminating.
What drives you would be another key area of introspection. Are you driven by a desire to elevate your level of knowledge in your field? Or is it the ability to enhance your family’s standard of living and gain access to experiences that were thus far out of reach? Maybe it’s a combination of these and other factors.
Your values play a huge role in determining how compatible you are with your employer and by extension your level of happiness. This can mean many things to many people but, as an example, if diversity and inclusion is a key value then surely a company that is working towards those goals will be a better fit than one that doesn’t prioritise those issues.
Beyond the day-to-day, the MOMs and email threads, the paychecks and the promotions, and all the lines of code, why do you really work?
Answering these questions and figuring all this out will give you a much better understanding of why you work and who you are, both within and beyond the workspace.
Though on the surface the questions seem simple, truly figuring out the answers to them will take some people no time at all, while for others it could be more difficult and take far longer. The main objective is to begin the search for answers and the rest will follow.
We invite you to spend some time thinking about this and write this down yourself before you set out for a job search. Sounds like school? On the contrary, it could be productive, fun, and perhaps a little maddening but we guarantee it will help you go to interviews with the full confidence of having done your homework. Your skills and qualifications aside, this is about the only thing you need to do to stand out as an original.
So go ahead, do it old school if you like with pencil and paper. Once done, read and review it every 6 months or so. You’ll be amazed how one’s priorities and fundamentals can change over time. Or maybe not so much. Either way, investing in finding out about yourself is worth every minute you spend on it.
And this will not just help your interview, but you’ll see how it applies to multiple areas of your career and life. When introducing yourself to new colleagues, for example. You’re probably set for every time you have to make an introduction to a client or an audience.
The next step would be to use this knowledge to help shortlist the companies that you think align with your personality. By studying their open positions and ideal candidate requirements, you should get a clear idea of what you already have in terms of skills and certifications, and what you’ll need to get there.
So the next time you’re asked that all-encompassing question, rather than squirm and stutter, you can clearly and confidently respond.
Because within that response lies the very essence of who you are, both at and outside of work, and effectively informs the interviewer that you’re clear about it all — so they can be too.