How to Answer the Interview Question, “What Brought You Here?”

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“We were having a great conversation–there was back and forth, like a ping pong match–but way cooler.

We talked about our educational similarities, and the Director said she was impressed by my variety of work experiences. We discussed my ideas and qualifications, and I could tell that the company was a place that could use my energy.

Then, at about 2:30–I remember the moment because it seemed like time stopped and all I could hear was the sound of my heart pounding in my chest–the interview took a drastic turn.

My demeanor, my excitement for this interview, my hopes of getting the job, and ultimately my entire world, came crashing down with the innocent asking of one question, ‘So…what ultimately brought you to Fayetteville?'”

I hear stories like the one above time and time again. What varies, however, is the way military spouses choose to respond–from offering way too much information about every move and relocation, to apologizing, to not really saying anything at all.

Though most of us know that interview questions about our military affiliation or marital status are illegal, often it’s those seemingly innocent inquiries that trip us up. To an average job seeker, a simple question about your choice of residence would be a welcome opportunity to talk without fear of answering incorrectly–but to a military spouse–it can seem like an underhanded way of asking about our marital status.

This is not to say that all interviewers are out to get military spouses or are sneakily developing trick questions to fool us into saying things we don’t want to. Ultimately, hiring managers are just trying to find the best fit for their company. Think about if you were doing the hiring for your company. It would be your responsibility to the company and the rest of the workers to ask the questions that help select the right candidate.

As the person on the other end of the dialogue, however, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate, in just a few short moments, why it doesn’t matter what brought you to Duty Station X, but instead what you are going to do now that you are here.

So how can you do that?

Reframe Your Thinking Before the Interview

First, understand that the interviewer is not your enemy! When you look at them as someone holding all of the power, you immediately and unconsciously put yourself in the defense position.

Instead, consider again what you would ask if you were interviewing a potential employee. Or, think of a time when you actually were hiring someone–it could be a babysitter, a plumber, an electrician, a tutor or a hair dresser! What made you decide to hire that person for their services? How could those same qualities apply to the positions you are seeking? How can you then demonstrate the skills that you in fact desired?

Be Honest

I was shocked when a military spouse told me she was advised by an employee at a trusted career counseling center to lie about her marital status. No matter how much you want or need a job, I do not ever advise lying. Even if you land the job, you have to deal with how to address the fact you are actually married once you start the job. Your employers will find out about your military affiliation and you will be known as untrustworthy or lacking in integrity.

Redirect the Conversation

This is a great strategy that comes with practice. After you’ve answered the question, you frame why your relocation is a good thing, what it has done for you as a candidate and how it will impact the company you are interviewing with. The key is not wasting time on over-explaining or apologizing for your situation, and instead spending the valuable time you have on what your travels have taught you.

How have you handled difficult interview questions?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. As a paralegal on my third move, I’ve never felt the need to lie or mislead about my marital status or about the fact that my spouse is in the military. Some employers even see it as a positive! They know I won’t want to move jobs over such a short period so they know they will get 3-4 solid years out of an employee. Aside from that, most employers know that things happen and they aren’t depending on anyone to stay at a job for 20 years, especially in this age where job hopping isn’t always seen as a negative. Some states offer tax incentives for hiring military spouses, they can save on paying for benefits if you don’t require any, and your knowledge of how businesses like theirs operate all around the country is invaluable. I came to the article expecting a long explanation on how it is illegal to ask about status, so it was refreshing to read a real life way of dealing with this question in interviews. Bravo!

  2. The article was really great! I love how it starts to explain it, but I feel like it left me hanging a bit towards the end. The points are very useful for me right now, since I am looking for employment and have a potential employer, I can begin to put myself in the interviewers shoes and see what I would say.

  3. […] As the executive director of In Gear Career, I have heard a lot of military spouses talk about their perceptions of what employers must think of them. I have also heard real-life stories of what employers have SAID to them. These types of discussions always spark the debate about whether or not you should advertise the fact that you’re a military spouse. […]

  4. The trouble is this question leads them to receive protected information. They are NOT allowed to ask you about your marital status, it is illegal, but this question conveniently gets around that, depending on how you answer, and that’s NOT ok. Whether or not they do it on purpose or out of ignorance doesn’t matter, the fact is, if you answer them a certain way they get protected information which they should never have received and is not allowed to play a role in the hiring process.

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