Top 5 Reasons Why Context Matters

Let’s imagine for a minute that it’s Friday and someone turned to me and asked me the random question, “Julie, what are your Top 5 Movies?”

I would think for a few moments trying to come up with a list that is true, relevant and not too revealing.

So, in no particular order: Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Fight Club, and Roman Holiday.

But if they had asked me “what are the Top 5 movies that truly made an impact on me”, then my list would change to: Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Midnight in Paris, Million Dollar Baby, and Little Miss Sunshine.

And again, if I was asked… “which movies are you absolutely powerless to not watch if they come on the television”, then my list would change again: Pitch Perfect, Notting Hill, Ratatouille, Happy Gilmore, and any of the Harry Potters.

Can you see why context matters?

Can you see why when you ask generic questions in an interview that don’t provide a bit more sense of what you are looking for then you will likely get the socially acceptable answer that is true, but at the same time is only aiming going to tell you what they feel you want to hear.

Like asking “what are your strengths?”


Let me tell you what you are likely to hear in an interview:

My strengths? My time management skills are excellent and I’m organized, efficient, and take pride in excelling at my work. I have received very positive results in all of my performance reviews. And I get along with everyone.

Is it a lie? No, probably not, but it’s likely an exaggeration because everyone knows that no one gets annual performance reviews. But the reality is that they have told you what they think you want to hear that will cover almost any situation.

What if you asked the same question with a bit more context. Let’s pad it a bit more:

What would you say are your strengths when working on projects for which you have been given little guidance and are in jeopardy of missing the timeline?

Okay then.

Sure I realize that most candidates are not going to admit that they suffer panic attacks/ scream at their team/ drink heavily, but there is definite less wiggle room and it is closer to what we want to know. They are going to have to dig a little deeper and be more specific.

Of course, there are those that refuse to be drawn in to these questions and never fully disclose for fear that you may not like what they have to say.

I mean, it’s like the movie question. Even if I was asked the question with more context…like “which movies would you never, ever admit to watching more than once”. I would never, ever admit that I have watched the Twilight series more than dozen times.

Never. Ever.

So what about you? What are you top 5 movies?


5 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons Why Context Matters

  1. Pingback: Best Blogs 15 November 2013 | ChristopherinHR

  2. I didn’t see this sentence coming and it totally made me laugh: ” it’s likely an exaggeration because everyone knows that no one gets annual performance reviews.” Great points, as always, and it reminds me how easy it is to get lazy in interviews and not insist that candidates be more specific.

    Oh, and my top 5 movies are I Heart Huckabees, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Royal Tenenbaums, Dr. Strangelove and The Fall

    • Thanks Jane – it is too easy to become complacent in how we do things and then we struggle with the results we get.

      As for your movie choices…although I know of all of them, I am (embarrassed) to say that I have not seen any of your Top 5! But now I have five new movies to check out.

      Thanks for reading & commenting.

    • LoL…Jane, I totally did a double take on that line as well.

      Well done, Julie. Love this post.

      And movies I’m absolutely powerless to not watch if they come on the television?

      Lord of the Rings (any of the trilogy, but usually The Two Towers)
      Breakfast Club
      Pitch Black
      Home for the Holidays

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