• Mark Efinger

Targets and Arrows


By, Mark Efinger

The questions are irrelevant; it is YOUR answers that count?

Comb the Internet and you will easily find many different sites that offer you the “Ten most common Interview Questions” or 15, or 20. In fact I have published a similar list myself. Why? Because people think this is what they need to know. They feel that if they know what questions will be asked, they can get the right answers. Some sites actually offer to sell you a series of questions and the best, “Answers to Ace the Interview!” Do not buy these lists. Those answers will not win over interviewers. Too many times they have heard candidates rattle out rote versions of these, “Best answers.”

I have frequently asked corporate interviewers and admissions staff at many selective schools what they hope not to hear in interviews. The most consistent answer to this question is best paraphrased thus: “I do not want to hear, ‘What they think I want to hear.’ In other words, if I hear another memorized correctanswer, I might throw up.” Does this mean you cannot prepare? No, it means you must prepare even more carefully. You cannot learn the questions and spit out the pat answers.

To prepare carefully you must develop the skills to control the conversation. You must realize that it is NOT the interviewer who should steer the conversation; it is up to you, the interviewee. You will do this best by role-playing with a skilled coach over several practice interviewsonce you have learned the basic skills to employ. Good interviewers, actually, will not ask a series of set questions. Instead they will engage you in a gentle conversation, hoping to draw out the evidence they need to fill in the interview report form. Yes, there is generally a form. If the decision will eventually be made by a committee, (the case with all school interviews, and most job interviews) then the interviewer, generally, must file a report to the committee based on your interview. The report form will list certain criteria that the interviewer must rank you against. There are many systems used, but the result is similar. The interviewer is generally free to design questions or a discussion necessary to glean the evidence from you.

Criteria – your first step!

This article begins by stating that the questions are irrelevant. In fact, if you really could get the actual questions and the correctanswers, you would actually hurt your chances. What you need to focus on are these criteria. Once you have these, all you need do is steer the conversation, whether there are questions or not, so that you earn the chance to provide the anecdotal evidence from your life demonstrating that you, indeed, deserve high marks for each criterion. The great news is that while others are out looking for the questions, you can work intelligently to develop the criteria and your corresponding evidence. Many of these criteria are obvious, such as “work ethic” but with careful research the more subtle can be discovered. A good interview coach will help you with this critical task.

“What makes you unique?”


The criteria you finally decide upon are your Targetsand knowing these will help you steer the conversation. There are several mechanisms you can use to re-direct the conversation. These re-directs or clarifying questions are important to understand. But first, we must discuss how to handle the targets we have now identified.


Once you know the Targets, the critical criteria you believe are important to the other person; you must identify your best Arrowfor each target. An arrow is a short anecdote from your past experiences that will hit the bull’s-eye. In other words, you need to identify your best work ethic story, your best integrity story, your best judgment story, etc. one short story for each target on your list. Remember the idea of an arrow is to demonstrate that you deserve a high mark in this criterion. Any time that you can show clear evidence, you have hit the target squarely.

Steering the conversation to use all of your arrows.

During most interviews, you will need the ability to identify the targets in order to use your arrows. Whether the interviewer is an artful conversationalist or an awkward questioner, you must listen for opportunities to steer towards the targets. Your job is to use their questions, or the conversation, to empty your quiver of arrows into the targets, regardless of the quality of the questions. A good interview coach will help you learn the skill of asking clarifying questions that re-direct -- allowing you to casually control the direction of the conversation keeping the targets front and center so that you can utilize the arrows you know are necessary.

Success is an Empty Quiver.

When you leave the interview and get back home it is now time to assess how you did. Your first examination should be about the quality of Your Personal Story. Next you should review how many of your arrows you were able to put into the targets. Generally, the interviewer makes up his or her mind whether or not they “like” you in the first few minutes. These minutes were generally during your response to the open-ended question. (See the article “Developing Your Personal Story” on ISCA blog) For the rest of your interview time, the interviewers are proving themselves right? Does this mean that the remainder is unimportant? Not at all, this is the period in which the interviewer will be gathering the evidence to fill out the all-important form. This report must go to the rest of the committee, the hiring authority. Getting the form filled in right is just as important as winning over the interviewer in the first five minutes. It is your ability to get arrows into targets that will make the form glow - separating you from the competition. Isn’t that your goal?