How would you answer the following question if asked in an interview?
“Teach me something complex in 5 minutes.”
The following answer was originally published on Quora by interviewer and hiring manager for Google, David Seidman. He’s graciously allowed me to publish it here under a new headline and format.
David Seidman’s answer
This is a great interview question and the answer can’t be faked.
Before you even send out applications, you should know your strongest skill, the thing you would compete on if you only had one. It might be your college thesis topic, your favorite project at work, or the job you held the longest.
To answer the question, think of something that is surprising about your field, something that most people in the field know but most people outside it don’t.
For example, in security, most people don’t realize how common and successful nation-state hacking is.
You should be able to state this in 1–2 sentences.
The reasons to use something surprising are that you will teach the interviewer something in the first two sentences and you will interest and engage them for the remainder of your answer.
Then, describe why people believe the incorrect thing.
What underlying facts do they believe to be true that are false?
How did they come to believe the false things?
What is the truth and how do we know it?
Did experts always know this truth or is it a recent discovery?
As you proceed, check occasionally to make sure your interviewer is familiar with any technical terms you use.
If you still have time, you can talk about the implications.
Are people afraid of the wrong things or not afraid when they should be?
What should be done and by whom?
How is this relevant to the company you’re interviewing with?
In the best case, your interviewer will want to hire you so they can learn more from you and so that you can fix the problem you just described for their company!
When I first saw this question, I wondered to myself how I would’ve answered this question if I’d been asked it in one of my previous job interviews.
The example that first came to my mind was one from my past experience working with songwriters and recording artists in the music industry: the process of how a song shoots up the charts and becomes a hit.
It’s something most people in the music industry understand, but people outside the industry don’t.
And a lot of it is very surprising to the outsiders. And very interesting.
Then I read David’s advice above and was glad to see I was somewhat on the right track.
I chose to post his response here because, as a career coach, I thought it was spot-on!
The biggest challenge with my example however is it would probably be difficult for me to make the songwriting process relevant to a traditional company in another industry.
But that would just give me the opportunity to show my creativity and my ability to connect the dots between things that at first glance seem irrelevant.
What are your thoughts on this question?
How would you answer it?
What skill do you possess you’d try to highlight in your answer?
How would you advise someone else to answer it?
I would love to hear yours and others’ thoughts on this topic, so please respond in the comment box below!