• Kwan Segal

Present Your Success Stories In An Authentic Way as an International Student



How Do You Give Effective Answers to Positive and Negative Questions in Job Interviews?

Let's look at this through the lens of the interviewer.

  • What do they hope to gain from interviewing you?

  • What information are they seeking?

The answer is they want to learn if you have the right fit skills and behaviors for the job and they also want to dissect any red flags or gaps in your skills that could be a roadblock if you’re offered the position.

Accept it – nobody is perfect. Your interviewers do not expect you to be perfect. In fact,

the appearance of perfection could also be interpreted as a red flag, of not being authentic, or never experiencing failures in life and therefore not having enough resilience when things go wrong.

Throughout my time as an international job seeker in the U.S. job market and currently as a mentor for my candidates who are going through extensive career searches, I've seen and analyzed many great interview questions. In this blog, I'd like to share some techniques of how to present your answers genuinely and impactfully.

Before preparing for any interview, as I've shared in "What Is The Right Mindset I Should Have For A Successful Job Interview?”, please remember that your interview is not a test if you are in or out, it is about creating a conversation.

Normally when you are invited to the next round of interviews with hiring managers, you will experience two types of questions:

1) Questions to reassure your positive attributes and experience (for example- “What set of skills/experiences can you bring to this role?”)

2) Questions to investigate your negative attributes and opportunities for improvement (for example- “What part of this job do you feel uncomfortable doing?)

Let's start with something positive! Positive questions are normally asked at the beginning of the job interview.

Part I: Answering Positive Questions - Presenting Your Hero Stories In An Authentic Way

The classic way to answer any kind of behavioral or technical question is to use the STAR format. I’ve talked about how to analyze potential questions and deliver STAR responses in my previous blog: 3-steps to become a superstar in your future job interviews. However, throughout my job hunting and coaching experience, I think STAR approach could be confusing to many candidates as they couldn't clearly differentiate between Task and Action. I've come up a new framework called "SPAR", which means Situation, Problems, Actions, and Results. I recommended that you use a "SPAR" structure when answering your questions in order to avoid throwing out a lot of irrelevant information. In the next video of my YouTube channel, I'll talk about the transitioning phrases for SPAR approach. If you don't have transitioning phrases, you could lose control of your story and will not be seen as a good communicator.

Let's start with some examples!

Interview question: Tell me about a time when you demonstrated yourself as a trusted team player?

Version 1 of the Candidate's Answer

Situation: In my recent project at Company A, the company was going through a data migration. There were over 20,000 customer data sets that need to be migrated to a new system. I was a project analyst working independently and reported dir

ectly to the project manager.

Problem: In the first three days of data analysis, I found over 50% of the data had discrepancies.

Action: To solve this problem, I reached out to the users who managed the data and set up a meeting with them to share the documentation and gain their buy-in for the data cleansing.

Result: At the end, I was finally able to migrate all 20,000+ datasets to the new system. The project was completed on time.

What do you think? I think it's pretty dry and not engaging. How can you make the story more engaging? The key is to add authenticity.

You can do that by adding quotes from your supervisor or someone you worked with. You can also refer to the pain points that you had to go through before becoming successful.

Version 2 (My version): Check out the differences below:

Situation: In my recent project at Company A, the company was going through a data migration. There were over 20,000 customer data sets that need to be migrated to a new system. I was a project analyst working independently and reported directly to the project manager.

Problem: I remember my project manager mentioned to me at the beginning that this was not going to be an easy task as the company had been around for over 10 years and never performed any data cleansing. It really was as challenging as she said. Besides, the project manager's schedule was very busy and it was impossible for her to participate in all decision making. After analyzing the data, I found over 50% of the data had discrepancies. That's a very high number and I knew I couldn't solve this problem by myself.

Action: However, the project manager was not available to ask for guidance either so I proactively reached out to the users who managed the data. I set up a meeting with them to share the documentation and gain their buy-in for the data cleansing.

Result: At the end, I was finally able to migrate all 20,000+ datasets to the new system and the project was completed on time. The project manager provided feedback that I'd helped the company solve an issue that had been outstanding for some time. It was a big relief for her that this challenging task had been resolved.

Does it sound better and more engaging? Version 2 helps the interviewers see that you are

  • a great problem solver,

  • a proactive team player,

  • a talented communicator, and

  • has an ability to engage key stakeholder to help you solve business problems.

In the next blog, I'll show you how to deal with negative questions like "What part of this job do you feel uncomfortable doing?"

While these questions may make you feel worried and reluctant to answer - well, don't be! There are ways to handle these questions.

Personal note: I'd like to say thank you to the young and talented international candidates who I have helped and am currently working with, who have achieved their dreams or are on their way to achieving their dreams. I've gained inspiration for my blogs through coaching them... "To me, you are a superstar"!

About The Author: Kwan Segal is a former Accenture and Deloitte consultant. Kwan moved to the U.S. in 2014. She mentored herself and landed a job at a big four consulting firm in Chicago. Today, Kwan is the Founder of ICAway, a Chicago-based boutique human-capital consulting firm. She helps international candidates like her become successful in the U.S. and in the International job markets. (More about Kwan: Watch "10 Rules for International Job Seekers to Become a Winner and Land Your Dream Job in the U.S.")

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