Are you misaligning your material?

Most people I meet are talented, intelligent, capable. They have the material to present a strong case at interview for their dream job. But they miss out on winning that job because they misalign their material. There are several ways people do this.

1. Responses too long

When you answer a job interview question this is not an invitation to tell everything you know. More is not better. Think One Minute Manager rather than War and Peace. A long answer will test the patience of your listener. They may start to wonder when you are ever going to get to the point. They may also think that you are wordy, and therefore not a good communicator.

What you need to do is stick to the question, use shorter sentences, give only the information needed to answer the question. Failure to do this may be because you haven’t grasped the question, don’t use a structure for your response, or pitch at the wrong level of responsibility.

2. Responses unstructured

Even if your content is weak, it can still sound acceptable if there is a structure that gives coherence to your material. Wandering around, repeating yourself, never covering what is asked for, all help to give the impression of being unfocused, vague, a loose thinker.

For behaviour-based questions (e.g. Give us an example of … Tell us about a time when …) use either the STAR or SAR structure. This structure works for most questions even if they are not behaviour based.

Any response tells a story. A good story has a beginning (sets the scene), a middle (what happened), an ending (they lived happily ever after, i.e. result).

Telling stories with structure helps to keep responses succinct.

3. Irrelevant responses

Where possible, responses need to be chosen based on what is relevant to the job. Talking about skills and experience that is irrelevant or of minor relevance suggests you don’t understand what it is you are applying for. Tailor responses by choosing examples that match what the job is about (duties, authority, responsibility).

4. Missing the sub-text

Job interview responses can be misaligned because you haven’t fully grasped why the question is being asked. Take the question: Why are you interested in this role? You could give a healthy list of reasons based on your years of experience and how exciting it would be to do the duties of this job.

But what the panel is interested in is your motivation and how you see yourself contributing (i.e. what’s in it for them). What is driving you away from your current role and towards this role? How do you see yourself making a difference in this new role? This last question is particularly important for managers in more senior roles. You’re not there just to get the work done. You’re expected to deliver results and make a contribution.

5. Low level responses

Pitching your material too low can also result in misaligning responses. Where there is a clear hierarchy of job levels, such as in the public service, you need to pick material that reflects the level of responsibility. Applicants can be too operational in their responses when they need to include material that shows team leadership, staff management, bigger picture thinking.

6. Forgetting value and benefit

While a response to a behaviour based question uses the STAR or SAR structure, with a clear ending on result, applicants can forget to include this element in other responses. Part of your role at interview is to highlight what value you offer, how your skills and experience will benefit the new section, manager, organisation.

When choosing material for a job interview, keep asking yourself: How will that be of benefit in this new role? What does this mean for my colleagues, team, executives, clients, stakeholders?

7. Unframed responses

Responses may need to be framed in the opening sentence to signal that there is potentially more that could be said but you have made a wise selection. Such framing indicates strategic, analytical and self-reflective thinking.

For example, to start a response to the question: What strengths do you bring to this position? A framed response would be:

There are a number of strengths I bring to this position. Based on my understanding of this role I’d like to focus on three that I think are particularly relevant.

This framing signals: I have lots of strengths. I’ve analysed the job and reflected on what strengths are of most value. I won’t take up all your time telling you every one of my strengths. I’ll highlight three and why they are important.

Another example. Who do you think are the key stakeholders in this role? A framed response would be:

Based on my understanding of this role I’ve analysed the stakeholders into two categories: primary stakeholders who are critical and secondary stakeholders. The primary stakeholders are …

This framing signals you have already thought about this issue. You have analysed the stakeholders and worked out two groupings.


In order to offer well-aligned job interview responses, your material needs to be relevant, structured, tailored, appropriately pitched, value-based, framed when necessary, and sub-text aware.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.