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Problem Solving: the key to interview success

19 Jun 2018
Paul Buchan

Key to Interview Success

Interviews. You have one hour to showcase your talents in the hope of landing your dream job – and in a flash it’s over. You’re standing in the car park and you try to assess the situation;

“Why didn’t I mention X?”

“I can’t believe I forgot to talk about Y!”

“Oh no, I didn’t ask about Z!”

We’ve all been there and there’s no cure for these post-interview emotions. However, there is a way you can take control of the outcomes, successful or not.

Interviews come in all shapes and sizes; biographical, behavioural, values-based, competency-based, scenario, and sometimes even just an informal chat. Interviewers also come in various guises; skilled, focused, structured, inexperienced, unsure, and underprepared. It can be disheartening to land an interview for your dream job only to find that the interview format itself doesn’t showcase you effectively as an individual. In other cases, you might not put your best self forward because you’re underprepared – there can (and often is) fault on both sides.

This article is not about how to prepare, how to answer questions about your weaknesses, or how to dress.  There is plenty of information on our site covering these important topics. Instead I would like to help you to understand how you can take control and move an interview in a direction that does showcase your talents and does help you to get your key messages across - and it really is quite simple. 

Be a problem solver.

Key to Interview Success

There is one simple truth that you need to be aware of when interviewing - job roles exist for a reason. Interviewing, as part of a range of recruitment tools, has evolved over the years. Very skilled interviewers will ask questions that help you to express yourself in the most flattering light.  The interview can very structured and leave little room for creativity, but in most, if not all, circumstances you will have an opportunity to ask questions and this is your best opportunity to wrest control and push the conversation down a path where you can amply showcase your range of abilities.

It doesn’t matter if you are replacing a leaver, interviewing for a newly-created position, offering consulting services, or in some other way engaging with a potential employer - the fact is that the vacancy exists to help the business achieve success. 

They may have growth plans, are downsizing, are re-structuring, covering a period of maternity leave or a whole raft of other drivers.  By not having someone in that role the business may not achieve its outcomes. To put it another way, they have problems that need solved.  You solve problems by identifying the issues, working out who and/or what is affected by them, offering a range of solutions, evaluating each for risk versus success factors, and ultimately telling the employer what you can do ease their pain.

Imagine the scene; the interviewer has asked you a scenario-based question. You could go ahead and answer it with an example of what you have done in the past, and in many instances, you are duty bound to do so.  Chances are the example you give might not help to solve their problems as it will clearly be a solution for a different company.  The good news is that you will have demonstrated your abilities, but there is a way you can take this one step further to make the interviewers feel you are the ideal candidate for them and ultimately beat your competition.

Seizing the opportunity to diagnose the problem by asking questions makes you better equipped to offer solutions.  Once you have this in place you can then use the range of abilities/solutions you have accumulated in your career to give the employer a very clear idea of how you can help them.  In most instances this will lead onto a very in-depth conversation around the specifics of what you can do to help them be successful. I would wager that this alone will make you stand out from other candidates.

This technique may look a bit like this;

  • “So that is what worked for my previous employer, but I am very interested in learning more about the issues you are facing as a business. What is keeping you awake at night?”
  • “What are the major obstacles you can see in the coming years for growth in this market?”
  • “Where do you feel the best opportunities are for growing top-line sales in this climate?”
  • “In what way do you feel the company could perform better on cost?”
  • “What will be the principle sources of funding for the major CAPEX programme you have planned?”

These questions are all designed to get the interviewer to volunteer more information. The more you know the better able you are to tell them exactly how you can ease the pain. 

This takes practice, confidence, and experience – but anyone can use this technique to stand out from the competition.  The success is largely based on how effective your communication style is and how quickly you can build trust. This is a very soft skill but one that be oh-so effective when employed in the correct manner. 

If you're looking for a job or career change please don't hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat. You can reach me at or on 0131 550 1121.

Key to Interview Success


Paul Buchan
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