How to Answer Any Interview Question, with Ryan E. Yip

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Preparing for behavioral interview questions is a crucial part of any job search. But what if you don’t have a specific answer to one of the questions you’re asked? Find Your Dream Job guest Ryan Yip says you can address it with a philosophical statement that addresses the root of the question. Another suggestion Ryan gives is to prepare these statements for several categories and then record yourself practicing your answers so that you can give a smooth response. If you go into the interview with the attitude of being of service, you can feel confident answering any behavioral question you face. 

About Our Guest:

Ryan E. Yip is an executive coach who helps you find your best career fit, create your personal brand, and organize your job search.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 320:

How to Answer Any Interview Question, with Ryan E. Yip

Airdate: November 3, 2021

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

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You need to get ready for a job interview. So you study common questions and practice your answers. 

That’s a good start, says today’s guest. But you also need to prepare for the questions, not on your list.  

Ryan Yip is here to talk about how to answer any interview question.

He’s an executive coach who helps you find your best career fit, create your personal brand, and organize your job search. 

Ryan joins us from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Well, let’s get started, Ryan. How do most candidates prepare for interview questions?

Ryan E. Yip:

You know, if you Google search interview preparation, you’ll find basically two approaches to interview preparation, and one of them, and they’re both important, but one is, you know, have your accomplishment stories ready. You know, usually, it’s what you did, the project, the situation, the problem, and what you did, actions you took, and then what you accomplished, the results, hopefully, quantitated. And that’s very important to have in preparation for an interview so you can bring up your accomplishments when you’re asked a question and asked for an example. 

The other approach would be a list of sample questions that you might be asked, maybe thirty, forty, fifty within a certain category, and that is also important to see, you know, the types of questions you might be asked. 

My approach to it kind of consolidates both of those and has a little bit different element. And it’s not something that people don’t think about but maybe a little more systematical in their approach, and that is to have a systematic and, you know, organized categories for each of those questions that you might be asked. So, in other words, you know, there’s different things that you might be asked during an interview. So what would be the concern that an interviewer might have when bringing on a new team? 

Mac Prichard:

Alright, before we dig into that, Ryan, so the two approaches that you just described, there’s an acronym for the first one it’s called STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result, and as you say, it’s very popular and effective, and the second approach you described is getting ready for what are called behavioral interview questions, where a manager wants to ask you for examples of how you’ve tackled problems that that company or employer is probably currently facing. 

Why aren’t those two approaches alone enough? Why do you need to do more than that, Ryan?

Ryan E. Yip:

Well, they are great for preparation. However, people get, I would say, overwhelmed if you give them thirty, forty, fifty questions and they think about, “Oh, I have to answer all of these and have prepared answers for all of these questions, and then all the variations of these questions.” People can get rather intimidated and maybe overwhelmed and go into an interview quite nervous and apprehensive.

 So what I like to do is have them prepare, especially for behavioral questions with some philosophical statements about each of the categories they might be asked, and so, I would say put yourself in the place of the interviewer, in the shoes of the interviewer. What would this interviewer be concerned about if they were bringing on a new member of their team? Some of the obvious ones are, does this person work hard? Does this person get along with others? How does this person handle conflict? How does this person like to manage if it’s a management position? Or how does this person like to be managed, if it’s an individual contributor role?

 So what I do is I categorize each of the questions, all of the questions into these different areas of concern and then what I do is develop a philosophical question for each of these categories.  And why is that important? And I think it’s important, for example, if you go into an interview and someone asks you, “Tell me a time when you had a conflict with another team member. How did you resolve that?” It’s a very common question you might be asked in an interview.   

Mac Prichard:

And a great example of a behavioral interview question, too. Which often begins with that phrase, “Tell me about a time,” or, “Give me an example,” or, “Talk about your experience in doing,” you know, “fill in the blank.” 

Ryan E. Yip:

Exactly. Very often, you will have a preparation for that question and an accomplishment or a case study that you can give right away. But let’s say the interviewer wants to put you under a little stress, maybe puts a little bit of a spin on it, and let’s say you blank out, or you hesitate, and you don’t – you can’t think of your accomplishment statement right away, this STAR that you use the STAR method for the, the SWORD method, or a  success story. 

Let’s say you just kind of blank out, and it’s quite common, and so instead of hesitating, what I would recommend is having your philosophical statement ready for this particular category. Actually, this is kind of two categories in combination; one is, “Can I get along with others?” And the other one is, “How do I handle conflict?” So, for example, let’s say you blank out on this question; then you would go to your philosophical statement, and it could be like, “Well, I believe I can get along with anyone as long as we both behave within the bounds of professional demeanor. I might not be their best friend, but I really believe I can get along with anyone as long as we both behave professionally.” 

So this is your philosophical statement for, “Can I get along with others?” And while you’re saying this prepared statement, you’re kind of buying yourself time to think about a case study, an accomplishment that you can say, that you can state after you’ve said this philosophical statement. 

So you can say, “For example, when I was doing this project and we had a conflict,” and so forth, and even if it’s, maybe if you don’t have an exact example, you can say, “Well, I don’t have an account on that particular case. But here’s another example of how I got along with others in a project situation and a team situation.” So it would help you.  

Mac Prichard:

Well, two quick follow-up questions, Ryan. I mean, one is, how do you determine what categories you should create a philosophical statement for? 

Ryan E. Yip:

Yeah, well, again, you know, put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer. So you, the very, I think common, these questions or these categories that you would think about in your head, and you can actually develop them from the questions, and let’s say you do have a list of questions that you’ve been given as examples of what interviewers might ask. They are usually categorized into different behavioral, you know, ways to behave in particular situations that would come up and that an interviewer might be concerned about, and it’s not, I think this also can be relevant for non-behavioral questions.  

Mac Prichard:

So when you’re sitting down with a client, they’ve got an interview coming up in a week or two, and they want to identify the categories that they should be prepared to address in case of uh… How do you help them do that? Do they look at a job description? What steps do you take them through to help them identify those categories so they can prepare those philosophical statements? 

Ryan E. Yip:

Yeah, oftentimes, actually, if their first contact is the HR person or the recruiter, the recruiter will somewhat prep them on what the interviewers might be concerned about or might be asking in an interview. So you can kind of get clues from what the HR person might tell you in terms of preparation for the interviews coming up. And again, and you’re right, the job description is another way that you can get clues about what they’re concerned about, or what they’re looking for in a candidate, whether it’s, you know, some of the soft skills, like, you know, how to manage people, how to get along with people, any conceptual type of issues, or technical. Of course, they’re gonna have technical and job-specific requirements that you want to show your qualifications for.

 So you’re gonna have your accomplishment, your STAR stories ready for those requirements. And then, I would say, still develop your philosophical statements. In other words, if they ask you know, how would you manage this project-specific project, I would still prepare a statement that says, “Well, I approach – in general, I approach projects this way. I like to be very transparent in the way that I set our goals up for a project. Let’s say, I like to, you know, to develop the consequences, both good and bad of our actions, as we move through the project, and then have a process by which we handle any conflict that comes up.”

So you can have a general philosophical statement about even a technical issue about a project, or how you would handle a problem there, you know, even a technical whiteboarding problem. Develop a kind of philosophy about how you develop or vision about how you solve a problem, and that will help, I think, give people your interviewer kind of an overview, and your, the way that you think. Your critical thinking, your logical analysis of how you approach different issues and problems that come up in the workplace. So I think it’s really important.  

Mac Prichard:

Well, we’re gonna pause and take a break, Ryan. When we come back, I want to talk more about philosophical statements, particularly if you have a recommended formula or set of elements that you always suggest that people include. 

So stay with us. When we return, Ryan Yip will continue to share his advice on how to answer any interview question. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ryan Yip.

He’s an executive coach who helps you find your best career fit, create your personal brand, and organize your job search. 

Ryan joins us from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Well, Ryan, before the break, we were talking about how to answer any interview question, and you recommended two well-known methods, the STAR method for talking about accomplishments, and then behavioral, preparing for behavioral questions, and you’re also – have outlined for us an approach that involves creating philosophical statements that give you a chance to talk about your general approach and, as well as, and do other things as well, and I just, before we paused, we were talking about, you gave an example a great example of a philosophical statement.

Do you have a formula for building this? If somebody is at home thinking, well, how do I do this? What are the most important pieces I need to include? What would you say to them?  

Ryan E. Yip:

Yeah, you know, it’s very interesting. You know, I’ve been asked that before, and people have even asked me, “Oh, can you write my philosophical statements for me?” or, you know, and things like that or, and, you know, people are, you know, very conscientious when they see these questions, a list of questions, they actually try to write the answers down, you know, very conscientiously and try to formulate the answers, but sometimes it comes off as too rote and stiff. 

Basically, I would say, if you’re unsure about how to answer these behavioral questions, like, how do you handle conflict? How do you get along with others? How do you like to be managed? Or how do you like to manage? You know, I would say, you really have to go back to educate yourself about best practices in, whether it’s people management or conflict resolution. Those types of philosophies, let’s say, or concepts can be learned, and it’s not for me to…

It’s not like a formula that you would, kind of, just conjure up out of thin air. It really has to be authentic to your experience, and many people, my clients, are quite experienced. They’ve had five, ten, or more years of experience in the workplace, so they, generally, maybe they haven’t formulated these philosophical statements, but they know, kind of intuitively, how they handle different situations. So it’s just a matter of crystalizing their thoughts and writing them down and, kind of, thinking about in general how they approach different problems, different issues.

If you’re younger, let’s say you maybe haven’t thought about these particular types of questions, then what I’ve done is refer them to different websites, let’s say, or information and articles about these different issues, and it has to resonate with you. And over the years, you know, let’s say the example about, how do you handle conflict? So, you know, you can, there are many books about negotiating and handling conflict resolution. So one of the methods could be- 

You know you put yourself in the shoes of the other person because you want to get their perspective. Even though you might not agree with that perspective, you want to know what it is and why they are having that approach to a particular problem, and then you take the thirty thousand mile view of it. Objectively, look down on it, both of your opinions about a particular issue, and that is the first way to begin negotiating a resolution, a solution.  

Now, you know, that comes from, in my case, it comes from reading books about conflict resolution, about negotiation, and so forth, and finding what’s authentic to you and what works for you. So it’s not for me to say, you know, what exactly you should say. It’s how you would educate yourself about it.          

Mac Prichard:

Alright, so you do the research, you draw on your previous professional experience, and you form an opinion, which is your approach. As you do this work with your clients, Ryan, do you recommend that they write down what their – the philosophical statement and practice it before an interview?    

Ryan E. Yip:

Well, the important part is actually practice. So you know, writing it down is absolutely, you know, what you want to do. Taking notes, exactly, doing that. But the more important thing is, especially for an interview, is to practice, and whether you take your recording device, your phone, or the computer to record yourself on video, for me, it helps quite a bit for my clients to-

You need to say it out loud. You need to either record it or say it out loud and practice because you can write it down, and it sounds great when it’s written, but as you formulate the words in your mouth, it might not be so easy. It might not flow the way you would like it when you’re in an interview.

So very, very important to say these words and these paragraphs and these statements that you want to make. Practice them until they’re very natural to you, and change the words,so they fit your mouth. That the words fit your mouth easily to say. Because some words, for me and, you know, are not easy to vocalize. So you have to find ones that are comfortable for you.     

Mac Prichard:

So you write it out, you hit the record button, whether it’s audio or video, then you listen or watch the recording. What do you recommend to your clients that they look for as they listen to themselves or watch themselves? And what sorts of things should they look for to change?

Ryan E. Yip:

Well, yeah, I mean, I think there are the common ones where you don’t want to say, and this is some of my own things that I look for. You don’t want to have these “you knows” or these vocal tics and so forth. You want to sound very smooth when you give your answers. I think the more, you know, the important thing is to sound confident, and I think, you know, I mentioned this previously when we talked prior to this podcast, that you want to sound comfortable and confident, and the way that I would say you would want to do that is to go into an interview with a “be of service” attitude. So what I mean by that is that you want to be confident in that you’ve done the work that they require, or at least you’ve done some of it, and if you don’t know exactly, you don’t have the experience exactly of what they want you to do, then you can learn it quickly, you can come up to speed quite quickly. 

So I recommend that you go in very confidently and say, and you’re offering your services, trying to find a good connection between you and the interviewer, and the interviewer might want to judge you, but that shouldn’t affect your self-esteem or your confidence. It’s just not a good fit if they, you know, if they, for some reason, their requirements don’t fit your qualifications. I know there are other external factors that come in if you’ve been looking for a job a long time or if there’s financial considerations and so forth. But I would say, try to go into an interview, just to be of service and offering your services and just seeing if you can find that connection. 

So that’s really, really important. I think that helps relax you during an interview and will help whatever philosophical statements or answers or accomplishments that you will give during an interview will help to make it sound, you want to sound relaxed. You want to sound relaxed and confident. That’s really, really important. 

Mac Prichard:

After you share that philosophical statement, and it’s given you time to think about what other points you might make, then, what do you do next, Ryan? Do you talk about accomplishments?  

Ryan E. Yip:

You do talk about accomplishments. But again, when I’ve talked to my clients many times, they’ll be very conscientious and write out their accomplishment stories, but it will sound very monotone because of their reading off like a script, and so again, you want to practice recording yourself. 

And there’s a certain structure that I recommend also, and that is to present each of your accomplishments as a story. Everybody’s seen movies, read books, and so forth, and so if you can structure it like a story, in other words, you’re the main character. You know who the audience is. The audience is the interviewer. There’s always a character arch. So, in other words, you start, you know, in a little bit of background, and then you’re building up, you know, you’re going through, you know, what you did, the actions you took, and then there’s a punch line, or, you know, a yeah, you would call it a climax. 

Let’s say you’re going up, and so you want to really engage. Engage the interviewer in your story, and that means not taking too long to explain the story and make it, you know, make it interesting. That’s the main thing, and then you have your punchline. These are the actions you took. These are the results you got, you know, whether it’s productivity, efficiency, percentages, a customer served, you know, some kind of monetary, and I know it’s difficult if you’re not in sales to put a dollar amount on the impact you’ve had in a company. 

But, in the way that you can, you want to try to quantitate it, your accomplishments, just because you know we hear so much about adjectives about your skills, like this is what I’ve done, this is what I can do, and so forth. But what really proves what the skills that you have; it’s the accomplishments that you’ve achieved and the impact it’s had on the company, so, or your team, and so forth.  

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a great conversation, Ryan. Now, tell us what’s coming up next for you? 

Ryan E. Yip:

Yeah, so I’m finding more and more, I’m doing executive coaching and how it relates to people that are applying for jobs and seeking more different roles is that. Especially, people of color, they’ve gone through their jobs and up through their jobs and up through the career development, and to become technical leaders, let’s say senior directors, and then they want to apply for VP roles, and so that’s a different skill set. That’s more of the soft skills, emotional intelligence, people management. So I’m helping more and more people prepare for those types of interviews, in terms of soft skills, people management, and emotional intelligence, how you perceive other people’s emotions, and how you communicate well with others. So that’s more the work I’m doing recently.      

Mac Prichard:

Now, Ryan, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to answer any interview question?    

Ryan E. Yip:

I really think that the being of service is really number one. Is being, going in with a “be of service” attitude, and then also have this vision, you know, think about yourself – you’ve seen in conferences where there’s a person on stage, they’re being interviewed by a moderator. They’re having a big vision of how they run their company, and how they manage people, and how they work with their people. So think a little bit more big picture about how you would contribute to the company, and that will help you with your interviewing, behavioral interviewing questions, and answers.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Markell Morris. She’s a career counselor and the founder of Futures in Motion. 

Markell helps her clients take charge of their careers, navigate the job market, and reach goals with confidence. 

She says there is one basic error that applicants make again and again. Avoid it, and your job search becomes easier, shorter, and more rewarding. 

Join us next Wednesday when Markell Morris and I talk about the biggest mistake job seekers make and what to do instead. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job. 

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