Answering Interview Questions Bottom Line Upfront

Several years ago, when I was in Minot, ND meeting with some AF JMOs, Susan, my wife, called me on my cell phone.  She started:  “Maeve (our daughter) fell off the monkey bars.  She took a hard landing and her arm twisted in a funny way.  She is at the hospital and has seen the doctor.”  She went on and on with details how it happened.  It seemed that her explanation was about 30 minutes, when in reality it was probably less than a minute.  It’s just that my heart was racing hearing the news, I was in the middle of an interview, and she still hadn’t gotten to the bottom line.  Was Maeve okay?  Finally, I asked, “Just tell me the bottom line.  Is she going to be okay?  How serious is this?”  She FINALLY answered, “She has a pretty significant fracture in her left arm.  They are going to have to do surgery.  But she is fine.  The arm just needs to be set and after a few weeks in a cast, Doctor Romanick says she will be just like normal.”  Sheez!  I wish she would have started the conversation with this. GirlBrokenArm

Susan and I joke about this now that Maeve is almost 16 and today can spike a volleyball pretty well with that arm, and but talking about this incident recently gave me the idea to write a blog post about the importance of answering interview questions bottom line up front.

Just like I wanted Susan to give me the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front), recruiters want the same from candidates’ interview answers.  Recruiters can easily get lost in an answer if the candidate does not immediately answer the question.  When the candidate starts the answer with background information and other details, but not the answer itself, the recruiter has no idea where the answer is headed. 

Here is how I like to illustrate this point when I am teaching the BLUF importance to the Cameron-Brooks Candidates.  Let’s say you ask me to go to dinner, but we have separate cars, so you ask me to just follow you.  You get in your car and you take off without telling me the name of the restaurant, the street address or the area of town.  You start turning left, then right, right again, then left; now I am in an unfamiliar area and I have no idea where we are.  I am lost.  However, let’s say you first tell me the name of the restaurant, area of town, a general idea of how we will get there, and the address.  Then, if your left turns and right turns confuse (sometimes candidates’ answer details do confuse recruiters just like the left and right turns), I still know where we are headed and I can quickly orient myself back to your route.

Recruiters may say, “Tell me about a significant accomplishment.”  An appropriate response is, “I led a team of 45 people from several different military specialties to distribute ammunition, fuel and food to a 360-Soldier unit for 3 months in Afghanistan.”  This is BLUF:  what you did and the result is easy to understand. 

If you start with, “Well, when I was in Afghanistan, my unit was in the central area conducting operations.  They had numerous missions every day requiring numerous supplies and materials.  It was an austere environment and the beginning of the fighting season.”  And, you continue on.  Step into the shoes of the recruiter:  he or she has probably had more than 5 or 6 interviews during the day, and the recruiter is trying to keep every candidate and answer separate and differentiated.  They want and need to follow you.  But, in this case, several sentences into the answer, they still do not know where you are headed. 

Susan and I now have an agreement that when we call the other with some critical news, we start with the bottom line up front.  A few years after the broken arm incident, when my same daughter fell and needed stitches, Susan called and said, “I just want you to know everyone is okay.  Maeve fell and hit her head and has about 6 stitches.  She is totally fine and eating a popsicle.” 

By the way, my daughter Maeve is no longer quite that clumsy and doing fine as a teenager!

Joel Junker