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The 3 Questions Most Job Seekers Flunk

There are three questions you’ll be asked in job interviews and job search networking situations–again and again. Answer them well and doors will open.

  1. “What are you looking for?”
  2. “Why are you looking?”
  3. “Would you you tell me a little about yourself?” (or “What do you do?”)

In a networking situation – by which I mean any social situation in which your career transition is mentioned!–your concise, smart, memorable replies will go a long way toward ensuring that your contacts can and will help you in your job search by providing information and/or introductions.

In an interview those answers are among the first impressions that start the interview off with a bang–or a sickening thud.

Your Objective: “What are you looking for?”

This one generally comes up in social situations. A vague answer like “Gosh, I’m really not sure,” may get you some sympathy, but it’s unlikely to get you any useful leads. Neither will long-winded rambling about three completely different occupational goals.

Practice an answer that’s clear and specific, including your target job, type of company and a few specific companies you’d be interested in. Indicate in a few words why that position is right for you.


“I’m looking for a marketing management role in a large Bay Area food or beverage company like Clif Bar, Peet’s, Ghirardelli or Jamba Juice. Since I’ve been working in sales and marketing at Safeway for over 10 years, that would be a natural step for me.”

This gives your acquaintance an opportunity to mention, say, that her sister works at one of these companies, or a company like it. This could lead to some productive networking.

“Why are you looking?” (or “Why did you leave?” or “What happened to your job?”)

Your answer to this question is often called your Objective–in other words, what you’re looking for next. An answer that’s brief, positive and forward-looking will make the best impression and show people that you’re ready for business.


“A decision was made to eliminate 85 positions, and mine was one of them. The bright side is that I’ve been wanting to move to a larger company where I could focus more on (special area of expertise), so this is an opportunity to explore that interest.”

Never go off on a long explanation of your company’s woes–or yours. I get it, having to leave a job can hurt. But a networking situation is absolutely not the time to look for sympathy! If you give the impression that you’re still depressed or angry about it, will people want to introduce you to their contacts? Probably not.

“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” (or “What do you do?”)

In a networking situation, you answer this with your elevator pitch, a super-short intro (maybe 10-30 seconds) that summarizes your qualifications in a way that’s positive and interesting. You may want to end with your Objective.


“I’m a product manager. Most recently I led the development of several cool new features of the Yada-You iPhone app for Silicon Tech Inc. Now I’m looking for … ”

What if you’re unemployed? You’re still a product manager, financial executive, business analyst. That’s your profession, even if you’re currently between jobs.

In an interview, your “Tell me about yourself” answer should be more complete, longer (maybe 30 seconds to a minute), and crafted to show why you’re the best person for the job. An effective answer will usually include the following:

  • A strong focus on your key selling points–what makes you stand out from the competition.
  • Just a little bit of career summary (maybe 1-3 sentences).
  • A little insight into your personality and motivation – what “makes you tick” as a professional.
  • A natural, conversational tone. Plan your general talking points, but don’t recite a memorized speech.
  • A smooth ending. Often, a question is the ideal hand-off: “How does what I’ve said so far match up to what you’re looking for?”

I mentioned three questions, but here’s a bonus tip! How to answer when people ask “How’s your job search going?”

Develop and practice good answers to these extremely common questions. You’ll have better networking conversations and more successful job interviews!


This article was originally published in November 2017, and has been updated.

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