Regardless of the position, you’re applying for, there is one question you will have to answer at your job interview or college course interview.
No, it’s not about what you’ve done before. And it’s not about your strengths or your weaknesses. Those questions are common. But they are not the key questions your success at the interview hinges on.
What your interviewer really wants to know is, how you can make a difference to the organization or the college you want to be a part of.
At a job interview, you’ll probably be asked: How do you think you can contribute to our company in the initial months of your joining?
At a college interview, you may be asked: How will your presence make a difference in the classroom and the college?
Employers and college authorities are looking for individuals who will make the organization or the institution better. They are looking for people who will make a positive contribution.
And since you don’t have too much time to make a first impression, you’ll have to answer very carefully. There are many ways to go about answering such questions. Here’s a look at the right and wrong ways to go about it.
What Interviewers Don’t Want to Hear
There are two kinds of responses to this question that don’t work. The first is the safe kind. Some candidates may say: I will only figure out what changes I can make (or contributions I can make) after I’ve learned more about the organization (or college) and met with my colleagues (or the rest of my class.)
Some students or job applicants respond by saying they’ll contribute with regard for others and a good work ethic. That’s a vague response that doesn’t do anything for you.
Both these responses reek of diplomacy and predictability. They won’t impress the interviewers. They may also suggest a lack of critical viewpoint or opinions, even if you do have them.
The other bad response is to tell a job interviewer that you’ll make big changes and shake things up drastically. This will usually apply to positions of relatively more power, such as middle managers or board members. Your interviewer will be put off by such a response. Your promises could also look impossible to achieve and in the worst case, naive.
Your response must be balanced, well-thought-out.
Here are some of the attitudes and mistakes to avoid when you’re answering this question, and most other questions at an interview:
- Vagueness: Once upon a time it may have been enough to say that you’re hard-working or have great communication skills. Such vague responses no longer cut it in an increasingly competitive world. Generalizing won’t make it clear that you can do the job. Always add examples to your responses.
- Irrelevance: Don’t be irrelevant and long-winded. Whether or not you played basketball in high school or college won’t help your case (unless the ability to play basketball is a requirement for the job.) Although, where required, you could play it up as an example of how good a team player you are. Mention skills and achievements only if you can logically relate them to the job.
- Arrogance: Confidence is good, but it’s easy to slip into arrogance especially when it’s your first job interview and you’re eager to paint yourself as the best thing that could happen to this company. Instead of boasting about the achievements you’ve made in the past, state the facts.
How to Prepare a Balanced Response
A balanced response will make it clear that you’ve thought about what the organization or institution needs, and you’ve thought about what you can bring to it with a level head. Let’s take a look at both the job interview scenario and a college application scenario for how to prepare the best responses.
What to say at a Job Interview
You have to appear confident that you know what you’re talking about when you present your plans for contribution.
Start by focusing on what the company needs and the needs of the position you’re applying for. Prepare for it by talking with employees, checking out the company website, following industry news about issues that could affect the company. Customize your response based on what you find out.
Bring your past in where necessary. Speak about rewards for the contribution that you’ve won at your last job. If you can show them with figures, that’s even better. For instance, talk about the percentage by which you raised your company sales. Do you have any numbers to show how a step you took increased customer satisfaction?
When you talk about your past achievements, don’t leave it to the interviewer to deduce how it relates to what you mean to do in the future. Make it very clear how what you’ve done in the past can fit in with the company’s needs. Explain about the skills you have that can help you make contributions.
If you feel you don’t have all the skills required for the job, don’t talk about the ones you don’t have. Instead, talk about your ability and desire to learn new things. Focus on the positives, on your problem-solving skills. You have to toe a line between being open, honest and savvy.
What to Say at a College Interview
Whether you’re freshly applying to college or going back to it, you’ll probably have to tackle the contributions question. So it’s useful to look at how to respond to that as well.
Older, more experienced students going back to college will have an easier time responding to this. Usually, they’ve already figured out what they want to do.
The younger applicants need to think a little more about what they expect from the college and what they hope to give to it. Think about any research you want to pursue. Do you want to participate in any community projects? Do you have any leadership position in mind for any extracurricular activities?
Use these guidelines to prepare your answer, and show the interviewer that you know exactly what your role is going to be. Make them understand that you’re a candidate who will bring value with you and make a positive difference.