The easy questions are usually the hardest.

When I was first taught how to interview (many years ago in an office over a mobile phone shop on Regent Street in London) I was told that the first thing to do was put the candidate at ease – smile, introduce yourself, explain the process, and ask a couple of easy questions to get them used to sound of their own voice.  So what are easy questions – well, they suggested, how about: whether they are enjoying their course, or to introduce themselves, or why they are interested in working in the industry. 

This seemed like good advice, and I’ve tended to follow it – after all surely they know about their course, or themselves, or why they want to work in this industry.  But since I’ve crossed the divide to careers advice I’ve realised that these questions really flummox people.  There are varying reasons for this:

1 Is it a trap? Lots of candidates are really suspicious that there is a hidden trap here, and spend so much effort working out what the trap is that they don’t really answer the question;

2 They hadn’t expected that type of question – they’ve prepared for technical questions, and for competency questions, and for why that particular company, but this line of questioning is just a bolt from the blue;

3 They don’t know the answer, particularly in relation to the ‘why this industry’ question – in some cases it’s because it’s entirely engrained, they’ve wanted it so long they’ve forgotten how it started.  In other cases they’ve never thought about why – it popped into their heads, it seemed like a good idea & they ran with it.  In many cases there is no reason, they are there because all their friends are applying to the industry so they have too.

And there’ll be other reasons too; many of them.

Whatever the reason though, an inability to answer these settling-down-questions comfortably sets the whole interview for a fail; first impressions count. So spare a moment to think through the fundamental questions, and hope it doesn’t set off an existential crisis. Merry Christmas.

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