Sometimes the toughest interview questions seem like the ones that should be the easiest to answer. “Based on your research, what makes us uniquely different from our competitors?” Time and time again, it amazes me how many people get tripped up by this question. It’s easier to swallow when the candidate is a newly-minted undergrad or grad student, but candidates looking to make a mid-career move are just as likely to make the same mistake.
With links to thousands of articles, databases, and the treasure trove that is the web, you’d think that everyone would be able to answer it. But most can’t. And that led me to wonder…if interviewees can’t answer the question, should you automatically disqualify them? I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this one but I usually think it does because it’s a direct reflection of a candidate’s interview acumen or lack thereof.
What could not being able to answer that question say about an interviewee?
They’re not that into the company. If they were, they would have taken the time to do their homework. Thanks to Google, there’s really no excuse not to know a little bit about the company before an interview. Typically, candidates don’t have to know the middle names of the past five CEOs or what the stock is trading at on the day of their interview, but they should have a firm grasp of what products or services you offer, who some of your key leaders are, and how your company differentiates itself from some of your top competitors. If they’re not into your company, you don’t want to hire them. Simple as that.
They don’t “get it.” Show me a company that doesn’t value common sense, and I’ll show you a company that will soon be shutting its doors. They don’t have to be the most experienced interviewees in the world to realize that they should do a little research before the interview—it’s common sense in every shape of the word. If they don’t understand that, I suggest you show them the door 1) because they might not be able to find it on their own and 2) so you can avoid having them waste any more of your time.
They’re overconfident. Because of their background, they might think they’re a lock for the job so they decide not to do any research. Again, thinking someone is going to hand them a job on their laurels says a lot about where their collective heads are…and I’d fathom a guess it’s somewhere in the clouds. Not good. Even if they think they’ll be handed the job, they should still take the time to figure out if the company and job are a good fit. Overconfident now could mean big headaches later. Next!
Nerves. This is one you can almost always forgive. We’ve all been there. We know the answer, but we let our nerves get the best of us and we freeze up. This one is easy to identify if you just come back to the question later in the interview. In most cases, those who have done their due diligence will be able to knock the question out of the park. Within reason, there’s nothing wrong with being a little nervous. However, if you ask “why our company” and an interviewee starts to hyperventilate, it’s probably a good idea to consider other candidates.
Companies are made up of people and those people typically take pride in their companies and in their jobs. We want to know that the candidates we’re hiring to join our teams share the same passion for the company and the position as we do. I’m not saying you should reject candidates who can’t tell you what makes your company unique, but I am saying that should raise a SERIOUS red flag.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).