The Core – Digging Deep to Differentiate Yourself In the Interview

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Mar 22, 2011 in Interviewing Skills |

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We’ve had interview tips here in the past (search and you’ll find them! >>>)  But last week I was reminded how much more complex interviews have become since the economy has turned, which requires people to dig deeper to show value in why they should be hired.

The interior of the earth is commonly divided into 5 main layers: the crust, upper mantle, lower mantle, outer core, and inner core.

Just as there are many layers to the earth there are just as many layers to you and your experience.  Companies don’t want to hear what I call the “beauty pageant answers” anymore.  When the interviewer asks “What are your strengths?” responses like: “I work well in teams or on my own” or “I am a quick study and hard worker” just won’t cut it in today’s competitive interview environment.

Let the earth break it down for you: The crust of the earth can be traits that anyone could have or want. You are a hard worker and you are eager to learn. That tells little about your personality or your measurable skills. Let’s dig deeper. The upper and lower mantle is beneath the crust and can stand for your hard, measureable skills such as the software and systems you know, the breadth of your experience, or your certifications and education. The mantle is the thickest layer of the earth and it could have a lot to say. The core is the very center of the earth and should say something about your specific value. What beyond your likability, your assets, and your experience can you bring to the job? What specifically makes you stand out? The core is the deepest part and may not be evident on your resume. The outer core is the hottest liquid in the earth and should be boiling out of you in the interview! The inner core is thought to be solid and rotate at a different speed than the rest of the earth. This is true of your experience as well, for the most valuable experience probably took the longest to gain and may take some introspection to synch with the rest of your experience and skills.

Give the interviewers more substantive information about your technical expertise as it applies to your work.  Your character traits should shine in the answers you give and you can intertwine concepts about your more subjective skill sets.  A better answer to the question above for someone who is, say, a financial analyst might sound like:  “I work well in teams, am a quick learner and have advanced skills in excel including macros, pivot tables, and V-look ups. I aided in an extremely valuable acquisition to the company and helped it grow in a dynamic and unprecedented direction that continues to be a significant contribution.”

Whether you are a bartender or CFO, everyone has quantifiable/measurable skills as well as abilities and accomplishments.  Dig deep to identify what yours are.

Take this list of standard interview questions and try them on for size interspersing your hard, measurable skills combined with good examples that show work ethic, dependability and other subjective characteristics.  

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you looking for in your next position?
  • Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
  • Why does this job interest you?
  • What lead you to leave your current job?
  • When would you be able to start?
  • What is your anticipated salary?
  • Why should we select you for this position?
  • What do you see as your strengths and how would you utilize them in this position?
  • What would you consider an area that would offer you growth, or is a weakness?
  • What changes would you have made, if you could, in any previous job?
  • What did you like best and least in your most recent job?
  • Tell me about an assignment or goal from your last job which you failed to achieve and why.
  • What did you like best and least in any supervisor?
  • Tell me about an occasion in your career where you exceeded your employer’s expectations.  
  • Describe how you organize and prioritize.
  • What is your approach to customer satisfaction?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to make an important decision with limited facts.
  • What was the toughest decision you have ever made and how did you arrive at it?
  • Describe the most challenging ethical decision you have made in the workplace.
  • Describe when you anticipated potential problems in a previous job and developed preventative measures.
  • What are some of your significant accomplishments in your career?
  • When have you had to support an idea or project that you were not in favor of?
  • Have you ever improved on an existing process or work area?
  • How would your previous supervisors/peers describe you?
  • What if you get a counter offer?
  • Do you think you are overqualified for this job?
  • Where did you tell your employer you are today? 


Suggested correct answers to all these questions are intertwined here throughout our blog.  Feel free to send in your own unique situations and interview questions you need help answering and we will reply here for you and everyone else to learn from.  Use the 5 layers of the earth to help you think of the perfect answers that will make you stand out in the interview.

Happy Interviewing!

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1 Comment

Narciso T
Apr 12, 2011 at 10:45 am


thank you for sharing this article. It is interesting how you introduced the interior of the earth analogy.




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