In a job interview, most people are going to feel at least a small twinge of pressure — pressure to come across as smart and capable. It would be odd if they didn’t feel that way. In a job interview, you’ve got a guy or a woman sitting across from you and basically judging you. You are judging them too, but it’s hard to shake the years of indoctrination we’ve all been subjected to.

Our indoctrination taught us that we must please the interviewer. Even if we are confident, easy-going people it’s hard to feel completely relaxed for the duration of a job interview.

That’s why when you’re interviewing with your hiring manager and he or she asks you “So, how would you solve my biggest problem?” we tend to feel pressure to give up our best ideas, right there in the interview.

You may be doing brilliantly in the job interview, digging into your hiring manager’s pain points and talking about meaty issues. That’s the ideal interview scenario. The point of a job interview is not to please the interviewer but to get into a real business conversation about what’s not working perfectly in the manager’s department right now.

A critical juncture in any job interview and particularly in a Pain Interview is the point where your hiring manager says “So, you seem to have a pretty good handle on the kinds of things we’re dealing with here. How would you solve our problem?”

If you are like most people, you’re dying to tell your hiring manager exactly how to fix his or her problem. You want to show the manager that you’re smart and knowledgeable. Don’t do it! There is no way to win that game. The diagram on the left shows why.

Once you share a great idea in a job interview, your manager will react to it. Their reaction will have little to do with the quality of the idea. Rather, your manager’s first question in his own head will be “Did we think of that idea already?”

If the company already considered your idea and rejected it, they think it’s a bad idea, and by extension that you’re not smart.

If they hadn’t thought up your idea on their own, your manager probably won’t react well to your idea when he or she hears it from you, even if the idea is brilliant. You don’t want to go on a job interview and make your hiring manager feel stupid.

If they’d already thought of the idea and they tried it and it didn’t work, they’re going to think the problem was the idea itself, not their execution of it. Like I said, there is no way to win in the “How Would You Solve My Problem?” tango.

If you get the job, then you can share every great idea you’ve got, but don’t do it on the job interview, even if the manager pressures you to spill the beans!

Here’s how you will handle the question “How would you solve my problem if I hired you?”

MANAGER: I can see that you understand my problem with the length of our Customer Support hold times. How would you bring the customer hold times down under to under two minutes if I hired you?

YOU: Great question. I’d start by understanding your hold-time issue better. There are a lot of possible and interrelated reasons for long hold times, from the script your customer service reps use when they answer the phone to the nature of the calls you’re getting and many other factors.

Your call-management system is just one aspect. Once I understand the issues, I will present you with two to three four options for reducing hold times — each one with a budget and timeline. You’ll give me the green light on one of them and we’ll be off and running.

MANAGER: Well, I’m happy to answer your questions about our systems right now. I’d love to hear your big idea for fixing our problem.

YOU (not taking the bait): I would like to dig into the issues with you but it would be irresponsible of me to say ‘Here’s what you need to do’ as we sit here today — that would not be a sound process. It would be a disservice to you. You and your team members are smart.

You’ve been looking at this idea. If there were a magic bullet for reducing hold times, everyone would have found it already. If you and I decide to work together, I’ll be excited to walk through your system and see what factors are contributing to your long hold times.

The way your auto-attendant greets customers and refers them to your website could be involved. The set-up instructions in your product manuals and packaging are undoubtedly in the mix.

It’s a fun puzzle to solve. What’s your take on my idea that five or six factors may all be contributing to your logjam?

MANAGER: It’s the most logical explanation I’ve heard yet. I haven’t had time to dig into it because like you said, it’s an analytical problem mixed with an understanding of our customers’ needs beyond each individual phone call. I see your point.

YOU: That’s my view, also. A purely numeric goal like ‘Reduce hold times to under two minutes’ has tendrils into the product itself, its usability, the messaging on your website and certainly the recording customers hear when they call. All of those issues and others are on the table. Is this hold-time issue in your top two or three concerns for 2016?

MANAGER: It’s number one. If I were to bring you on board, what kind of money would we be talking about?


Take a bow, Amazing Consultant, because you’ve done your job on this interview today. You got your hiring manager’s focus back on his or her greatest pain point, and that is what every successful Pain Interviewer must do.

You rule! Don’t give away the secret recipe on your job interview, but use your understanding of your manager’s Business Pain and a thoughtful walk-through of your process to reassure your next boss that you can relieve his or her pain once you’re on the job.

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