If I have heard it once, I have heard it at least a thousand times from candidates over the years. Whenever I counsel job-seekers about the absolute necessity of developing, memorizing, and then effectively delivering scripted answers to key questions that quite likely will be asked during important phases of a job interview, I usually get a response that goes something like this: “Oh, I can’t do that, it feels too ‘phony,’ too ‘fake,’ too ‘contrived.’ I always do much better when I just ‘wing it’ in interviews.”

In my professional experience as a long-time “headhunter,” nothing—absolutely nothing—could be further from the truth! Those candidates who “wing it” with answers to key job interview questions nearly always fall, almost immediately, into one of the many “traps” today’s hiring managers and human resources professionals routinely set for the unwary and un-coached job applicant. The usual result: These candidates irrevocably brand themselves as being among the very first to be quickly and permanently eliminated from further consideration.

As a matter of fact, I so strongly believe in—no, make that I am absolutely convinced of!—the necessity of memorizing, and then rehearsing, rehearsing, and then rehearsing some more, appropriate and scripted answers to key interview questions until they literally flow naturally off the tongue. My book, “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, is literally chock full of recommended scripted answers. I know, from professional experience working with thousands of candidates over the years, that these responses work, and work well. More important, candidates whom I have coached over the years, who did in fact adopt this approach and subsequently landed new jobs, can—and quite often do—personally attest to this fact!

Let me cite just one simple example of the type of “scripted” answer I am referring to here.

At some point, usually quite early, in most job interviews, this question likely will be asked:

“What salary are you currently earning (or were you earning at your previous position) and what are your salary expectations for this position?”

Sounds like a rather routine, quite logical question to be asked during a job interview, right? Well, not exactly. Almost always, this is what the hiring manager or the human resources professional is actually thinking and what his/her true motivation is for asking the question:

Since I already know the salary range that can be paid for this position, and the applicant probably doesn’t, maybe I can “flush” him/her out rather quickly, based upon his/her answer, and move on to the next applicant. If their expected salary is simply too high, they’re gone. If it’s too low, or even ridiculously too low, then they’re also gone because I will know I am dealing with an applicant who hasn’t done his/her “homework.”

An answer to keep you ‘in the game’

This is the type of answer we routinely coach our job candidates to use when asked the salary question, in order to significantly improve their chances of “staying in the game”:

“Mr./Ms. hiring manager, while salary is of course an important consideration for me, it is not the most important consideration here. What got me most interested in this position were the significant career opportunities that seem to exist.”

“My current salary is certainly within the appropriate range for my experience, training and education, and, if I should become the person you choose to fill this position, and in turn, if this position seems to be the next logical step in my career, then I know the salary will be more than fair and certainly competitive in the marketplace.”

Now, let me stop right here for a moment. I can already hear the computer keys of hiring managers and human resources professionals “clicking” and “clacking” as they prepare to send me emails that contain comments such as, “If an applicant gave me such a flippant answer during an interview, I can guarantee you they would be done right then and there.” Or, “If an applicant can’t give me a simple answer to a simple question like this, I wouldn’t waste any more time with them.”

And, you know what? There are indeed at least some (maybe many!) hiring managers and human resources professionals who would feel, and then would react, in exactly the same way! Significant to note, however, there are far more hiring managers and human resources professionals out there who definitely are savvy enough to recognize that the hiring process is indeed a “game,” with each “player” feeling out the other during much of the process, jockeying for position and trying to gain an advantage—and that’s particularly true during the early stages of the hiring “game”!

In my experience, the most frequent reaction to our coached answer is for the hiring manager or human resources professional merely to smile to himself/herself, chalk one up for the applicant for being professionally prepared, savvy themselves, and apparently somewhat more sophisticated than the average applicant, and then smoothly, and quite professionally, move on to the next interview question. (At least for the time being, that is.)

Think ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Broadway’!

How I overcome the resistance I nearly always encounter from candidates when we begin discussing the importance of scripting, memorizing and then implementing, appropriate answers to key interview questions, is by first asking them this question:

“Have you ever been to a movie, or attended a live stage performance?” “Well, sure,” they of course answer. “Do you think the actors are ‘winging it’ when delivering their lines?” I then ask. “Well, no . . . ,” they respond. “Do you think, at least during the film or play, that the lines being delivered by the actors come across as ‘fake’ or contrived’?”

Well, I’m sure you get the idea. The same general approach and the techniques used by actors and actresses to create believable characters to drive believable stories in films and plays with good dialogue, well executed, can also be effectively adopted and utilized by job hunters. Obviously, the “script” must be believable and appropriate, and certainly, much practice, much “rehearsal,” will be required to pull it off. But believe me, it certainly is do-able!

Once you have carefully scripted your answers to anticipated key interview questions, I strongly recommend that you then role play, continually and regularly, with family and friends. When you reach the point that your answers actually come across as “real” to them, you will know you are well on your way to success. Why? Because, typically, family and (real) friends tend to be brutally honest with you! They certainly will let you know when—and if!—you begin sounding believable and genuine.

The choice, as always, is yours: If you insist on “winging it” with your answers to key interview questions during job interviews, expect to be quickly branded as “just another, quite run-of-the-mill applicant looking for a job.” Come across as a professionally well-prepared, sophisticated, knowledgeable applicant and you can expect to branded as one who definitely deserves a second—and possibly third or fourth!—look, and quite possibly become the applicant ultimately selected for the position!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.