If you are preparing for an interview, you might practice answering common interview questions. There are lots of resources online showing common questions. However, there aren’t as many showing what good answers look like. As such, you might be wondering what are good interview answers?
Good interview answers give information in a short, clear, and structured way. The interviewer doesn’t have to find the answer, it is obvious and well-described.
One of the best ways to give a short, clear answer is to use a summary. My preferred method for summarizing work topics is the goal-problem-solution method. I describe how to do this in How to answer open-ended interview questions.
In this article, you’ll see how to apply the goal-problem-solution method to create a good interview answer. I give a complete example and explain how the method provides information most interviewers are looking for.
A good interview answer using a structured summary
The following example shows how methods from The First Minute can help structure a short and clear answer to an open-ended ‘Tell me about a time when…’ style of interview question:
Interview question: Can you tell me about a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?
Answer part 1 — using framing:
- Context: I was signing up a valuable new customer.
- Intent: I needed a senior manager to approve the contract.
- Key message: No managers were on-site, and I was at risk of losing my biggest sale of the year.
The context stated the situation in terms that are understandable. The company or customer names are not used. The interviewer needs no prior knowledge to understand the context. The intent states what you need to happen in the example you are about to give. The key message is a summary of the problem you faced, and overcame in the example.
Together the intent and key message answer the first part of the question ‘Tell me about a difficult work situation…’. In just a few words you have outlined the difficult situation. The second part of the question ‘…and how you overcame it’ is answered using a structured summary.
Answer part 2 — using structured summary:
- Goal: I needed executive approval on the contract for a high-value client by the end of the day.
- Problem: We had a hard deadline to meet or we would lose the client. The problem was the executive team was at an offsite meeting with strict instructions not to disturb them.
- Solution: I contacted the admin assistant for the VP of Sales to ask if there was a phone number we could use for urgent issues. I also contacted my manager and asked if she could help. Then I spoke to the client to let them know we needed a few hours to get the signature on the contract. I didn’t want to surprise them if things took longer than expected. My manager got in touch with the VP, and I drove out to their location to get the signature and then took it to FedEx. It was close, but we got the contract to the client in time.
In a few lines the interviewer has a sense of what happened and why this was a difficult situation. The framing makes it clear what problem needed to be solved. The structured summary describes the problem in more detail, and the solution shows the steps taken to resolve the problem. Each sentence in the solution is high level. There are no tangents, no unnecessary detail and no rabbit holes.
The complete answer takes less than two minutes
This is a complete answer that can be delivered in less than two minutes. With such a concise answer, there is enough time to add a validation checkpoint. You could ask the interviewer if they would like to hear more or for you to clarify any part of your answer. Read more about validation checkpoint on pages 71–80 in The First Minute.
By adding a validation checkpoint, the interviewer can ask about any part of the answer if they want more information. They can also move on to another question. Many people give long answers with details the interviewer doesn’t need to know or doesn’t care about. This wastes time that could be spent answering different questions and giving more examples of why they should hire you.
What is a good interview answer? It is a short, clear summary that provides information in an easy-to-understand way. This example shows how the framing and summary methods help organise an answer. It doesn’t matter that the topic is, or what the example involves. This framework works with most open-ended interview questions.
To find out more about giving great answers in interviews, check out my book, The First Minute — Interview Answer Workbook. This 30-page workbook shows you the step-by-step process for creating clear, concise answers to tough interview questions.
Learn more with my book
The First Minute Interview Answer Workbook
Communication is listed as a top-five skill for almost all companies. There is no better time to show you have clear and concise communication than when answering interview questions.
This instructional guide and workbook shows you the step-by-step process for creating clear, concise answers to tough interview questions. The guidance and activities in this book will improve the quality of your interview answers.
- Section 1 of this workbook covers the theory behind creating great interview answers. Examples are given to demonstrate the methods.
- Section 2 provides activities and exercises for identifying the topics and problems you can use as examples in your interview. Activities then guide you through the creation of examples and answers you can use in your next interview. The result will be shorter, more organised examples that you can take with you to your next interview.