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My Standard Job Interview Question

“What lessons have you learned in your work experience that you wish you knew when you started your career?”   This is one of my standard interview questions for job candidates and I always look forward to the answer.

Of course there is no wrong answer, but I have noticed that the responses all have something in common.  Each person speaks about themselves with no mention of others.   The answers range from getting organized, setting priorities, and learning Excel along with other software.  Some speak to the importance of meeting deadlines and delivering more than what the boss is asking.  I have even heard the answer, “I learned to keep to myself, get my work done, and leave co-workers alone”. 

In truth none of the answers have inspired me.   The above responses are fine, but it is an interview and a chance to stand apart from other candidates for the job.  My question is open-ended and I am looking for someone to expand, share more, and show me a spark.  My business environment is similar to nearly all workplaces, we have teams of people each with specific jobs, but work success demands folks connect and work together.   As managers we focus on individual performance.  As leaders we focus on the total being more than the parts.

As such, yes my bias, I would love to hear an answer to my question that involves how the person learned to work with others and succeed by working together.   I was once told that “we are hired for our technical expertise; we are fired because we can not play well in the sandbox”. 

Tell me how you learned to play well in the sandbox.

How would I answer my own interview question?  Sure, I would start with learning the importance of organization and setting priorities.  Yet I would expand my answer.

 “People will surprise you.   Where others can not work with some one, I find a way.   I look for the good in everyone and how they can contribute to our success.  Sometimes it does not work and we need to cut our loses, but we need to first try to make it work.  It starts with me.”

How would you answer the question?   Remember no wrong answers.  Really.

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4 Comments

  1. “…I look for the good in everyone…It starts with me.” Here, Michael, is where leadership starts and ends. And leaders who deliver on this promise, attract passionate followers. Great post…

    • Thanks David – let’s continue to pass along that message. You are right, people recognize those who find the good in others and want to work with them. Hard to teach … you like people or not. By like I mean you are truly interested in people and curious on how they tick – that is the path to get the most out of people we work with and being a leader.

  2. Jamie Elgie

    I love this interview question. Personally, my answer would have been that I wish I had learned earlier that learning from what was wrong is more important than being right. Had I known that I would have grown more from my first business experiences than I did. But I am grateful everyday now that I did learn this. Great post!

  3. Thank you for the comment and I do love your answer – you got the job! How true is that – we learn from what we did wrong and mistakes. Those are the teaching moments and I do want to work with people that (1) admit they make mistakes and (2) learn from them.
    All the best – Michael

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