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The Most Important Question You’ll Face in an Interview

As a candidate facing an average 20-minute interview session, you can expect to field one interrogative statement after another, most of them dealing with your work experience and the responsibilities you've successfully handled for previous employers. You'll be asked to explain why you want this job. You'll be asked to allay concerns about your resume, including any long gaps in your work history or suspicious departures from former jobs. And you'll be asked about your personal career plans and ambitions.

But there's one question every responsible manager, regardless of the industry, will ask before the interview ends. And the answer you provide will have a disproportionate impact on your odds of landing the job. So what is this magical, all-important question? And what steps can you take to prepare your answer before the day of the interview?

Why You?

Without further ado, here's the question that determine your candidacy: "What can you bring to this position and this company that no one else in the applicant pool can offer?" Here's the same question in a few other forms: "What do you have that nobody else has?" "We have fifty applicants for this job — why should we chose you instead of any of them?"

This question addresses the central task on your interviewer's to-do list. It's her responsibility to sort through these fifty resumes, interview some if not all of these applicants, and identify the one who can bring more to the company than any of the others. When she asks you this question, she's simply asking you to help her do her job.

Your Answer

Before the day of your interview, come up with a complete answer to this question that you can deliver to a listener in less than 60 seconds. Given this short time frame, avoid offering up a long laundry list of reasons. Instead, focus on your biggest strengths, what makes you stand out, and the ways you'll help the company achieve their goals.

Polish and practice every word of your answer and go over it several times with a partner or trusted friend. Think of this as a presentation. When this question comes your way, how will you make the most of your moment in the spotlight?

A Few Things NOT to Say:

Don't lay emphasis on skills, traits, and accomplishments that every person in the applicant pool will probably have. If the job post specifically requested a four-year degree in public health management – which you have – let your resume do the talking on that point. Other details to set aside for the moment include your lack of a criminal record, your punctuality, your friendliness, your professional demeanor, and your willingness to put in a full day of work every day. If you're excited about the job and ready to roll up your sleeves, that's great, but it doesn't set you apart from all the other candidates.

Here's What You CAN Include:

Here are four ways to stand out from the other applicants:
1. Explain your proudest on-the-job accomplishment in this field. Chances are, not everyone can claim a victory quite like yours. Briefly describe what you did or how you exceeded expectations, and then summarize what you learned from the experience.
2. Share the unique events or circumstances that originally sparked your passion for this work.
3. Explain how your commitment to this job and company will help move you closer to your own personal career goals.
4. Describe a focused area of very specific knowledge you possess that will support your success in this position.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you understand the basic shape your answer will take, polish this statement and rehearse it again and again until you can repeat it in your sleep. If you go into your interview feeling confident and prepared, you'll leave a positive impression on the hiring manager no matter what curveballs the interviewer sends your way.

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