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Every Interview Question is Really This Question

Behind every interview question, there are three things that the interviewer is trying to figure out.

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Back in 1959, Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge worker.” True to his vision of the future, many of the most desirable jobs in the modern economy involve acquiring and using knowledge to solve new problems in new ways.

It is easy to forget that in the details of the job application process. You have applied for a specific position with a particular title. The ad probably listed a set of job requirements and duties. And when you get ready for your interview, you typically prepare by focusing on how your previous experience gets you ready to do that job.

And you should be ready to answer questions about how you will do the job you applied for.

But underlying each interview question is really a broader picture the interviewer is trying to fill out. Recruiters really want to know if you are going to use your knowledge effectively to enhance the mission of the organization.

There are three things they are looking for.

First, are you curious?

The knowledge you have when you walk in the door is wonderful, but you don’t know everything you need to know to succeed in the long term. There are going to be new skills that your job will require you to learn. The facts on the ground are constantly changing. The competition improves its products and services.

The people who are most likely to succeed in the long run are the ones who drink in the information around them. The more you learn, the better able you are to recognize potential problems before they become significant. So you want to find ways to demonstrate your thirst for knowledge. Ask a lot of questions in the interview. Talk about things you have read and classes you have taken. If you have interests outside of the direct line of the work you’re going to be asked to do, mention those as well. A broad base of knowledge often aids creativity.

Second, can you use your knowledge when you need it?

When you get asked a question, don’t just rely on a rehearsed answer that you practiced beforehand. Find ways to engage the interviewer in a discussion that brings up aspects of what you know that are relevant to the job you have applied for, and the organization, more broadly. Interviewers want to know that you can handle whatever comes at you by drawing on what you have learned.

Third, can you admit what you need to learn?

Part of being a successful knowledge worker is knowing what you know, and knowing what you still need to learn. After all, you can’t fill a gap in your knowledge if you are unwilling to admit that it exists.

There will be times in an interview in which you get a question that you simply can’t answer. There is a temptation in that situation to bluff your way through the answer in the hope of getting past it. But then you have lost an opportunity to talk about your strategy for learning new things on the job.

Instead of slinging BS, consider coming out and saying that the question touches on something you don’t know much about yet. Then discuss the ways you typically go about picking up new knowledge and skills. Take that change to talk to the interviewer about learning opportunities at the company. What kind of education benefits do they provide? What training do they give on a regular basis?

When you have the confidence to display the things you don’t know, you actually start to create trust with a prospective employer. They now know that you are someone who won’t just try to cover when you are asked to do something that falls outside of your sphere of knowledge. Instead, you will ask questions and learn, and then apply that to the task you’re given.

Ultimately, you want to ensure that you help recruiters to see you as someone who will be a good knowledge worker, both in the first position you are hired for and beyond.

Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work.

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This post originally appeared on Fast Company and was published September 24, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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