“Tell me something I don’t know!”
This is a question I loved to ask when I was interviewing candidates.
Think about it. It’s an incredibly open ended question. I’m inviting you to tell me literally anything, and hopefully surprise me with a compelling story, insight, or fact.
Of course you, the candidate, don’t know what I know! You can expect that I know a lot about my job, the company I work for, the industry I work in, the clients I service and the people I work with. These are all topics you would (should) have prepared for your interview, and yet the right answer is to steer precisely clear of these topics.
The reality is, I’m looking for an answer which is indirectly relevant to the job.
Telling me an odd statistic which has no possible connection to the role is not going to help you. Technically, you might have told me something I don’t know, but it’s not a smart answer that will score you top points.
So this question is a test of your own creativity and inspiration, and ability to say something interesting and valuable to me, under the pressure cooker situation of an interview.
When I ask this question, I’m looking for signs of lateral thinking. I’m interested in people who have the capacity to pull together interesting information from outside my business which is relevant for my business. It could be, for example, a story about a cutting edge technology which is impacting one industry but could easily be applicable to my industry.
It’s an opportunity for you to showcase your intellect, to demonstrate that you are perhaps widely read and able to see opportunities because you take a very expansive view of the world. Most hiring managers spend their lives stuck in the nitty gritty details of their day jobs, firefighting and all the rest of it.
You, however, are less likely to be encumbered by this micro detail, and should be able to find something interesting to share, something which could add value to me.
Whenever I used to prepare calls to my clients, I always went through a routine which included having something unusual to say to captivate my client’s attention. My job as a salesman was to speak to clients about the factors influencing bond markets, and how they should adjust their portfolios.
Saying the obvious things that were making the news headlines that day was pointless. My clients would have heard it already and I’d just send them to sleep – or they would just hang up the phone! No, I made a point of digging out some information which added to their understanding of the world, something that no other salesman would have told them.
I wanted to make every call unique, something that was memorable to the client – and then they would reward me with their business.
This is the thought process you need to have when getting ready for an interview. Find something interesting and unusual that you want to share. If your interviewer doesn’t explicitly ask “Tell me something I don’t know”, then find a way to slip your story into the conversation anyway. If you are good at holding a conversation, it will be a simple task to steer it in the right direction.
What makes this tactic in an interview so compelling is that there is science behind it.
Our brains are designed to be lazy. They are designed to disregard anything that looks normal, because normal is usually safe. Our brains much prefer to burn energy being alert for anything unusual, as that might represent danger. In his book Purple Cow, marketing guru Seth Godin tells us that if we drive past a field full of cows, we ignore it. However, if we drive past a field of purple cows, we stop, stare, and find it remarkable. Normal is invisible, don’t be normal. Be remarkable.
What’s more, our brains love to learn. Neuroscientists have discovered that whenever something fresh, unexpected or unusual happens to us, the chemical dopamine is released, giving us a sensation of being on a high. It also helps us remember the event. This is why we can barely remember the meal we had in front of the TV last week, and yet we can recall something that dramatically affected us in our childhood years ago. Think about how good we feel when someone is telling us a truly amazing and inspiring story. That’s dopamine being released into our brains. This is how we are hard wired.
For an in-depth discussion around dopamine and how it affects the brain, I recommend that you read this excellent article.
So if you can tell a story which is interesting, unusual, surprising and perhaps even unique, you will trigger a release of dopamine in your interviewer’s brain. They will feel a rush, and your story will instantly be burned into their memory – whether they like it or not!
And if you can interview memorably in this way, you’ve got a great chance of being remembered as the best candidate for the job.
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