Answering my own interview question

I’ve been interviewing for an Ecommerce Executive and along with questions about the candidates skills and experience we had questions that tried to find out more about things like their interest in the area of work.

How do you stay up to date with what’s going on in the ecommerce industry?

This is a pretty standard interview question, I’ve been asked it in interviews, and if our candidates had answered, “I’m subscribed to Internet Retailing and Charity Digital News emails”, we’d probably have been pretty impressed. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that this question isn’t the real question, it’s one of those tricky inferred questions. And the inference here is not just to say how you stay up-to-date with your industry, but also what you do with that information, what processes do you have in place for being innovative and suggesting changes in your current role that keep the business moving forward.

My answer, having had a bit of time to think about it rather than having it sprung on me in an interview would not be a list of websites I look at or email newsletters I’m subscribed to. My answer would be about looking at what’s going on in the ecommerce industry as three horizons at different timescales.

The first horizon is “Now: What are the leading companies doing that we aren’t?” This might include things that we need to respond to as soon as possible like a Google search algorithm updates and things that we can’t do anything about like Content Marketing (because we don’t have the budget). The second horizon is “Next couple of years or so: What technology, methods and ideas are leading edge right now, might become mainstream, and might apply to us in the next five years or so?” This might include things like changes in consumer behaviour and the increasing growth of marketplaces, and how our company might respond. The third horizon is “Sometime in the future: What could happen and how might it affect things for us?”. These are the big maybes. They would include things like driverless delivery vans. They would affect the entire ecommerce industry (potentially making fulfilment much more cost-effective) but there isn’t really anything we as a company can do about it.

An answer like this shows that you are currently keeping up to date with what’s going on by dropping in examples of innovation, but more importantly it shows that you can create an approach to staying up to date rather than just making it up as you go along, and it shows that you think about how to convert what you learn into benefits for the business.