My eighteen year old son had his first job interview a few days ago. While prepping for the big event, he did some on-line research and located a list of common interview questions, and the best way to respond to them. We then practiced how he would answer the ones that I figured were most likely to arise. As it turned out, it was a purely technical interview and none of them even came up—but it did get me thinking about the topic of interview questions and how to best answer them. Top on my list was how one should answer any question that is asked, and my advice for that is something I read years ago:
"Say A Few Words" (SAFW)
S: Make an opening Statement
A: Amplify that statement
F: Provide a Few examples
W: Wrap it up
You can bet that interviewers will place just as much importance on how a candidate answers a question as they will on how correct the answer is—and in some cases, even more. In fact, just a few weeks back, I had two technically competent candidates rejected, in part because they violated some of the key points of this SAFW formula. So let’s briefly take a look at each of these.
First, keep in mind the sentence as a whole: Say a few words! Both of these candidates lost out on a good opportunity because they were FAR too verbose in their answers. A candidate who doesn’t know how to be brief and succinct in his or her answers is a huge red flag to hiring managers.
INTERVIEW QUESTION: Have you ever created a chocolate chip cookie recipe?
Opening Statement: Yes, I have.
Amplify that statement: From 2005-2008, that was my primary responsibility and I learned quite a bit during that time period about making chocolate chip cookies.
Provide a Few examples: I created a Choco-Chocolate chip cookie recipe for Gourmet Markets Baked Delights. That one went on to become one of their best selling cookies. Prior to that, I designed a Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookie, for the One Horn Steak House chain, which actually won the prestigious Platinum Cookie Recipe award.
Wrap it up: As a result of these experiences, I feel well qualified to create cookie recipes.
And then—very important—keep quiet and wait for the next question.
Aside from keeping it brief, probably the next most important aspect to this formula is providing a few examples. It’s one thing to say you did something, but an entirely different one to provide the demonstrated proof behind your claim. It’s the difference between a mediocre connection and the solid whack of your driver against the ball letting you know before it’s even in the air that you’re landing on the green. Make your claim, but be prepared to back it up with some specifics.
Come up with some practice questions of your own, and practice applying SAFW. I guarantee that your interviews will be stronger as a result.
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