You secured an interview with one of your targeted companies. You came prepared with Challenge Action Result (CAR) stories: examples of how, at different jobs, you increased productivity by 18 percent, or streamlined an organization to make a significant savings of 15 percent, or traveled through the snow to open the office early.
You’re prepared to talk about your contributions with facts and figures. You’re going to highlight your working style with carefully chosen examples. Yet, the interviewer opens the discussion with a question that puzzles you: “What makes you happy?”
How do you respond? You want to give an answer that provides the interviewer with information that is relevant to the job requirements, the company culture, and your fit for both. So, don’t answer off the cuff because the question seems so personal and is not really related to the job. Don’t assume the interviewer simply wants to learn what makes you tick. He or she may, but, first and foremost, it’s about the job.
“What makes you happy?” is one of a family of common tools interviewers use. It’s a behavioral question designed to assess your match for the job/organization and to get a sense of the factors that motivate you. Remember, statistics show that interviews are one of the least reliable methods for determining the right person for the job – only slightly better than randomly picking people off the street. Interviewers and recruiters try to optimize their methods as a result.
So, the best response is to keep the interviewer’s goals in mind and prepare potential answers in advance. Choose examples of events or times that make you happy with an eye to how they illustrate your fit for the job/organization and how they exemplify your motivations and capabilities.
In fact, the gold standard of job search books, What Color is Your Parachute? By Richard Nelson Bolles, is comprised of exercises designed to help you determine what makes you happy. Bolles’s theory is that you have to find out what activities, environments, and personality types make you the happiest. Once you match those to a job, success is sure to follow.
The exercises in Parachute are similar to CAR stories, but they’re oriented to personal events. For example, write down a time that you wanted to do something to make yourself happy, but an obstacle got in your way, then show how you obtained the desired result. In his book, Bolles gives an example of a father’s efforts to find happiness by trying to determine how to take a desired family vacation within a limited budget. The father creates a plan to travel by car, rather than by airplane.
Once you’ve determined your own happiness CAR story, be sure to explicitly relate the capabilities involved to the job description. For example, Bolles vacation story shows the interviewer that the father knew how to create a plan, make an economic analysis, and had a goal. You can use a similar story to highlight your own abilities to show the interviewer who you are.
My answer to the question “What makes you happy?” would be “listening to Bruce Springsteen while I’m driving, as loud as I can.” If, like me, listening to Springsteen’s music makes you happy, be prepared to make a clear connection to the job requirements and company culture. Explain that you listen to this music while driving, rather than in the house, to spare the feelings of your partner, or children, who love Rihanna, but really don’t have much use for Springsteen’s music. Explain to the interviewer that your quest for happiness is all about teamwork and consideration for the group.
You can say that you worked this out during a family council meeting: they can only listen to Rihanna in the car, or their rooms. You can explain to the interviewer that you used negotiation, teamwork, and commitment to fairness to make this deal with your family. You listen to Bruce because he’s a Jersey boy and you support local musicians. That shows you’re loyal, grounded in the community, and know the area well. You listen to loud music because you’re a dynamic person who believes that, if you listen to good music, you might as well listen to it loud. This shows an interviewer you have energy and are committed.
For more information about how to answer this and other behavioral interview questions, go to your local library to borrow copies of What Color is Your Parachute? and Mo Shapiro’s and Alison Straw’s book Tackling Interview Questions in a Week.