As many times as you’re told to be honest and show your true self in interviews, this question might be one for which you ignore that advice. You will not want to respond to this question with a scathing put down of everything wrong with the company. If tact is not your strong suit, you will want to walk softly now.
And really, interviewers are not looking for you to solve their problems – yet. They just want to confirm that you can contribute to the solution, and that you won’t make problems worse. They want to see that you have done your homework before coming in and know something about the company. They want to hear that your ideas are creative and substantive, even if unfounded due to your lack of intimate knowledge about the company, to know that you can add value and perspective to the team. They also want to know that you have the confidence to speak up and won’t always just agree with what everyone says.
What Not to Say
Because you don’t know whose toes you could step on with the criticism you’ve asked to provide – maybe the interviewer is responsible for the problems you cite – there is real potential that you can lose the job on this question. It’s not likely as long as you don’t go off the deep end, but there is a chance, much more of one that most of the other vague, “surprise” questions that interviewers like to throw at candidates. So, let’s start by being careful:
- Don’t mistake this question as seeking criticism. It asks what they can do better; not what they are doing wrong. Therefore, insist on a positive approach by providing real, actionable tips that could improve the performance and reputation of the company as opposed to mere fault-finding.
- Unlike many of these types of questions, there’s no reason to hesitate before answering this one, as if it requires deep thought or that you’ve never considered it before. On the contrary, it’s best to quickly answer as if you have thought about this in the context of researching the company.
- Don’t let your answer sound canned. Just because you’ve researched the company in preparation for the interview shouldn’t mean that you anticipated this question and have an answer already formulated. It’s only a coincidence that you’d thought about a way to improve the company while researching it. Begin to speak quickly because you do have an answer, but explain your answer slower, as you seem to be thinking through how to explain it.
- Keep it as short as possible. You only need to demonstrate the talents mentioned above. Once you’ve shown that you have the skills they want, any more only increases your chances of saying something wrong.
- Don’t describe the obvious problems that anyone can see. That isn’t demonstrating that you are creative and will add value to their team. Even if the problem your idea improves is minor, if yours is a creative and innovative solution, you’ll sound better than the candidate who solves a big problem in a typical way.
- Don’t cite problems with their recruiting process. It doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve researched the company, and the chances are greater that the interviewer is part of that problem.What You Should Say
Of course, start with research. Find out as much as you can about the company, their culture, their products, their business model, sales presentation, etc. Read their press releases. Look for their attendance at trade shows and conference – there might be transcripts of presentations they made. If it’s a public company, see what the industry analysts have to say about them and their predictions of the future stock price. Then, formulate an answer to this question before you go to the interview. Be prepared.
As tempting as it would be to say that you don’t see anything wrong with the company – that’s why you want to work there! – this is not the time to be sucking up. Your goal for this answer is to sound insightful and confident and articulate. Your suggestions don’t have to be sound – you can’t be expected to know enough about the company to really have a great idea. And, if you’re interviewing with a small or mid-sized company, there may not be a lot of information to research any way.
You will definitely want to be diplomatic. Consider prefacing your response with a compliment about the company – for example, you might say, “Well, I do know that you have the best customer service in the industry – I’ve had to use it a couple of times and was very satisfied. On the other hand, however, your instruction manuals could really use an upgrade, with more pictures and diagrams, and it’d be nice if they were available online. Maybe post a YouTube of your more common self-repairs. If so, I might not have had to call your customer service.”
Make sure you offer a solution to the problem you imply they have. Don’t just literally answer their question with, for example, “You could improve the quality of your product so there aren’t so many recalls.” Describe a way to improve that quality. If you can’t, come up with a different improvement.
Your goal is not to solve one of their major problems – wait until after they hire you to do that. Your goal is to exhibit innovation, preparation, and creativity. A very minor issue works just fine for that purpose. What the interviewer is assessing is you, not the solution you recommend.
Explain the rationale behind your suggestion to show that you have a more complete understanding of their business and aren’t just cherry picking an obvious problem and stating an obvious solution. Again, the solution doesn’t have to be complex, just the thought process you undertook to arrive at it.
Close the Topic on a High Note
After explaining your recommendation, finish with another compliment of their organization. You don’t want to come off as a negative fault-finder. Instead, you are a team player who is always looking for ways to make the company better. Perhaps, you could express appreciation that the interviewer wanted to hear your ideas, and that you look forward to working for an organization that encourages employees to voice their suggestions – even those that are critical of current practices.