When you are being interviewed for a job, remember that nobody cares about you. All they care about is what you can do for them. No matter how any question is phrased, it’s always about how your strengths, motivation and fit can help solve their problems. If you can’t convince interviewers you can solve their problems, they won’t hire you. If you convince them you can solve their stated problems, they could hire you. If you convince them you can solve their most important, hidden, underlying problems, they must hire you.

Bob Sloane and Tucker Mays’ two-on one-coaching program at OptiMarket helps executives find jobs faster. One of their many valuable suggestions is for executives in transition to identify interviewers’ “hidden needs” – the problems they need solving and not necessarily the problems they say they want solved.

Think drill bits, holes and barriers. As Theodore Levitt noted, people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit; they want a quarter-inch hole. Holes in turn are about removing barriers to something else so you can connect something, hang something or the like – the hidden need.

Yes, there are only three true job interview questions, getting at strengths, motivation and fit. And acing the only three true job interview questions generally involves thinking, answering the question asked and bridging to the answer you want to provide. You must do those to get into the consideration set. Going one level up to become the must hire candidate involves getting at underlying needs. This requires preparation, thinking on your feet and courage.

David was taking his Oxbridge Exam. At the time, his score on that exam determined the order of his admission into Oxford or Cambridge. It was an all-or-nothing, three question, three essay exam. If he failed, he did not get in.

David’s essays were all on Joseph Conrad, the author he had studied for the exam. He read the questions and wrote, “You have asked the wrong questions. If you were really interested in understanding (A, B and C) you should have asked (X, Y and Z). I will now answer the questions you should have asked.”

Big bet.

He got the top spot.


You don’t have a chance of getting at an interviewer’s underlying needs if you haven’t done your homework on the organization’s context and culture. You have to understand its history, its customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and social, economic and governmental context. You have to have at least an initial read on the behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment that make up its organizational culture. This requires real homework. It’s worth the investment for jobs you’re serious about.

Thinking On Your Feet

Thinking on your feet is a strength made up of talent, knowledge and skills. You don’t get to choose your talents. Different people learn differently. Some are analytical or empathetic, some feed off input or relationships. However you learn, apply that in the moment. Then leverage your problem solving knowledge and skills to think through what’s going on and what’s going on behind the scenes. This is hard – which is why it’s the difference between could hires and must hires.


At his Oxbridge exam, David was prepared and was able to think on his feet. He knew he could answer the questions asked appropriately and probably get in. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted the top spot and he had the courage to go for it.

Similarly, you could get the job by demonstrating how you can solve the interviewer’s known or stated problems. Striving to become the must hire candidate involves risking it all. It won’t work every time. But wouldn’t you rather be first choice sometimes than second choice most times?

1. There are only three true interview questions.

2. Answer the question asked and then bridge to.

3. Show you can solve their most important, hidden, underlying problems.

Click here for an overall summary of and links to my articles on Forbes, The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan book, and the 100-Day Plan for Interviews tool.