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The Most Important Interview Question of All Time

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A generation ago, job interviews were loaded with traditional and essentially meaningless questions like “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” These questions provided almost no real information about a candidate’s readiness for a position, especially when candidates could provide stock answers that were neither useful nor especially honest.

But over the years, employers have caught on. And they’ve started to recognize that meaningless questions don’t lead to smart hiring decisions. Employees have caught on as well, and now realize that describing their greatest weakness by saying “I work too hard and care too much” won’t win the day.

As employer questions become more sophisticated, candidate answers become more honest, more useful, and sometimes more difficult. At this point, employers are beginning to embrace one specific and very popular interview device that provides volumes of useful information about a candidate. This is that question:

“Describe the most impressive project you’ve completed or task you’ve accomplished in your entire career.”

Why This Question Offers Great Value to Employers

Employers love this question for several reasons. First, it helps them understand how the candidate defines “impressive”. Second, it allows the candidate to talk in an unstructured, open-ended way about a positive moment that made them proud. And third, the details that contribute to the answer can tell employers all they need to know about a candidate’s focus area and level of experience. So if you’re on the candidate side of the table, what should you do when this question comes your way? Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

1. Choose a project or accomplishment that reveals a high-level definition of difficulty, complexity, or challenge.

2. Don’t worry about the pass/fail outcome of the project. The employer isn’t necessarily looking for a brilliant success story. If the project ultimately failed, but you’re proud of the way you handled your role and you’re proud the lessons you learned, this may actually make a stronger case for your candidacy than the time you leaped majestically over a very low hurdle.

3. Explain how you found yourself in this position of responsibility. Why were you given this task?

4. Explain how the project required you to work with others. Were you part of a team? Were you leading a team? How did you handle dealing with multiple personalities and personal clashes?

5. Offer answers to items 3 and 4 without waiting to be prompted. Your employer will want to hear these details, whether she says so directly or not.

For more information about how to handle your interview challenges, including this question and others, reach out to the job search experts at CSS. We can provide the coaching and guidance you need to land the job you’re looking for.

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