Dilbert: How Not to Answer in a Graduate Job Interview

This strip from Dilbert speaks volumes about how not to answer in a graduate job interview.

Dilbert, Engineering Interview, How to pass an interview, Interview mistakes,

So What?

A typical mistake graduates make in online application forms or graduate interviews – being honest without substance. As in the strip, the interviewee is “honest” about his mistake and what he learnt. But apart from sounding slightly funny it didn’t make any valuable claim for the job, or the work ethics of the person.

So, Should I Be Honest At An Interview?

Yes – you should be honest in a job interview. But please remember, it is a business interview, the interviewer wants to know about you, your character, work ethics, in short, you need to sell yourself. And you need to show that you can do the job and want to genuinely work for the organisation. When answering at an interview, follow the STAR (What does it stand for?) technique, which I find best for graduate interviews at any level.

How Should I Answer to Interview Questions?

Whilst answering questions at interviews, try to use business words. Have a look at the “keywords” and skills businesses usually like to hear. As mentioned before, the STAR technique is a nice way to answer questions at an interview.

Example of  the STAR Technique in Answering Questions

Sentient Recruitment have put together this good article on answering, using the STAR technique.

A Star story should be about 2 minutes long, and delivered with energy and enthusiasm, about a real experience you have had (it does not have to be a work-related experience, as long as it describes a relevant skill or behaviour).

Question: Have you ever lead a team before?

This is another reason why the STAR method is so powerful. The above question is a terribly closed question.

You could answer: “yes”, or “yes”, on three separate occasions”, and move quickly onto the next question.

But leadership is an important skill, and you must not miss this chance to shine.

A lot of graduates would choose the easy answer here, but you have been given a great chance to impress, and do all the interviewer’s work for them.

Let’s build a STAR method story answer

(Situation) “Yes, a relevant example being at my last company, where I was initially a software developer in a team of 6, developing a new finance module for our core accounting product.”

(Task) “The project was critical, as the launch dates had been set with a lot of sales and marketing investment riding on the product being ready. However, the project was behind schedule when our team leader unfortunately became ill, and had to leave.”

(Action) “I had been sports team captain at school, where I loved the challenge and responsibility of leadership. So I volunteered to step in, and by using my technical analysis skills, spotted a few small mistakes made in the initial coding, that were causing the sporadic errors, and slowing us down. I then negotiated with our product director a small bonus incentive for the team, and budget for two pizza evenings, so we could pull a couple of late night shifts to correct the coding and catch up with the critical project landmarks.”

(Result) “Though this took us 1.5% over budget, the software was delivered on time with a better-than-target fault tolerance. The project was seen as a great success, as the additional project cost was minimal, compared to the costs of delaying the launch, and the negative effect on our product branding. The team were delighted with the extra bonus, and I have now been officially promoted to team leader as a result.”

You need to practice your answers out loud, to ensure there is continuity and that you don’t go over 2 minutes.

The example above not only answers the leadership question asked, but also conveys that you have other skills and behaviours any interviewer would be interested in.

Answering tough interview questions like this will work wonders, but answering poorly worded questions will really set you apart.


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