Interview Question: How Did You Impact the Bottom Line?

Job interview meeting
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Whenever employers are hiring new employees, they're always looking for candidates whom they know will make a difference for the company. To gauge your potential for adding value to the company, an employer might ask, "How did you impact the bottom line in your last job?"

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

When interviewers ask this question, they're trying to get a sense of something practical: the value you'll add as an employee. 

In some cases, that might be quantifiable. For instance, if you work in sales, you'll generate orders from customers. But for other roles, there might be other less concrete ways that you add to the bottom line. For instance, a copy editor will make sure that there are no errors in promotional materials. That might not directly add to the bottom line (but a company is more likely to get orders and generate sales if their ads aren't full of embarrassing typos). 

Interviewers also ask this question to get a sense that you understand the practicalities of the company—that is, they want to find out you have an understanding of what makes the business profitable, and which types of accomplishments are most valuable.

Understanding the Bottom Line

Before you can respond to this question, it helps to have an understanding of the "bottom line." Traditionally, this refers to an increase in revenue and/or a reduction of costs or expenses. Obviously, this is something that’s of interest to every company. However, you need to think more broadly about what the bottom line is for your particular field and job. 

The bottom line has different meanings for different fields. 

Here are some examples of what the bottom line means for different jobs:

  • For a potential recruiter, the bottom line might be the relative productivity of new hires or the longevity of those hires. A recruiter whose new hires only stay for a short time or aren’t productive isn’t helping the bottom line.
  • For an admissions representative, the bottom line might be the quality of candidates who end up applying to their institution. Quality may be defined by students’ grades and test scores, or how many eventually graduate from the institution.
  • For a quality control specialist, the bottom line might be a reduction in waste as part of the manufacturing process. It would be important to demonstrate specific examples of how the specialist worked to reduce waste.
  • For a clinical director at a hospital, the bottom line might be a lower rate of misdiagnoses, malpractice claims, or administrations of the wrong medicines. These are all crucial for a successful clinic.

How to Answer "How Did You Impact the Bottom Line?"

In preparing your answer, first, you need to determine what the bottom line was in your past jobs. Be mindful of how success was measured by your job and department.

Include a Quantitative Response if Possible

The optimal answer will involve some quantitative measure of success, like increasing sales or generating leads. 

If it's appropriate for the field, try to have some actual numbers ready to share with the interviewer. 

You should also substantiate your assertion by describing how you were able to generate those results. What exactly did you do that worked? 

Whenever possible, incorporate references to a critical skill that your prospective employer may be seeking. For example, if the employer is looking for a sales manager with training expertise, you might add that you "introduced a training program to help salespeople to uncover and address customer issues with our product."

To demonstrate how you brought about specific change, you'll need both a baseline for where things stood prior to your involvement as well as an indicator of your results. But, in some cases, a specific measurement will not be possible, and your response will be more qualitative.

When Results Aren’t Quantifiable

If the change you brought about was more qualitative than quantitative, then in order to be convincing, you’ll need to share evidence of how your efforts brought about a marked improvement, without any specific numbers.

One approach is to report the feedback of other people who were in authority. A good way to provide extra emphasis to these anecdotes is to have your past supervisors affirm their support for your accomplishments in their recommendation letters. Again, it will be important for you to explain your strategies for improving things and to cite skills that you applied to bring about the change.

Examples of the Best Responses

Example Answer #1

Customer satisfaction improved greatly, and my supervisor mentioned that the number and types of complaints were reduced, and positive feedback from clients had increased.

Why It Works: This response specifies an important achievement, and also mentions that it was valued by key people at the company. 

Example Answer #2

I increased sales in the Northeast region by twelve%. I achieved this result by implementing a customer service program that expanded repeat business.

Why It Works: This response shares a clear example of an advantage to the bottom line. 

Example Answer #3

While working in recruiting for ABC Company, I was able to fill roles 25% faster than the previous year. Also, the employees I hired stuck around for an average of 15 months (up from 1 year in the previous report). That's still less than we'd hoped for, but a big step up for a small startup company. 

Why It Works: This candidate provides two quantifiable results and shows how they were able to increase important metrics. 

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Give quantitative results if possible. If you can, share results that are measurable and directly affect the bottom line (that is, increased profits or decreased expenses). 
  • Show your abilities are valued by others. Talk about accomplishments that were called out by others as being valuable to the company. 
  • Highlight skills the company needs. If the company is looking for an increase in applicants, an improved workflow, or anything else that's tangible and measurable, share examples of how you've used these skills in the past. 

What Not to Say

  • Skip vague responses. If possible, avoid non-quantifiable responses — this is a time to share percentages or other numbers, if possible. If that's not relevant given your field, make sure you have a strong case for why this skill is something that'll affect the bottom line positively. 
  • Don't state the obvious. Go beyond tasks that are simple job requirements to something special, that you're uniquely qualified to provide. 

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Keep in mind that your interviewer will expect you to have some questions for him or her — about the company or the job you’re trying to get. Review this guide on job interview questions for the candidate to ask if you need a little help trying to come up with questions to ask the interviewer. 

Key Takeaways

SHOW HOW YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If possible, give a quantifiable answer, but if that's not doable, make sure your response shows the value of your work. 

HIGHLIGHT NEEDED SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Share examples of how you've performed relevant tasks. 

GO BEYOND THE BARE MINIMUM. Make sure your response highlights how you're uniquely suited to improve the bottom line (and doesn't just describe the bare minimum responsibilities anyone in the role would perform).