Friday, June 30, 2006

Questions They'll Ask in the Interview... and some good answers

So… Tell Us a Little About Yourself.
Almost all employment interviewers offer up this innocuous little grenade as part of their interview structure; and almost all candidates commit hara-kiri by entering into some long-winded diatribe of family, last vacation, hobbies, or how they ‘keenly admire that long-haired guy over in LegCo (that be, like, the Hong Kong government... or, at least what passes for government) for his courage.’

Sorry… but they want to know about you - the candidate - as a potential employee.

Actually, this should be relatively uncomplicated question to answer if candidates were creative enough to construct a strong marketing statement of themselves and their skills, which are applicable to the job for which they are interviewing. Sadly, few candidates I’ve interviewed in the last twenty years have ever been able to answer this question skillfully. In fact, ‘what would you like to know’ is often the best most candidates could put forward.

Therefore, candidates should teach themselves to answer this question with a well thought out statement that can be used from interview to interview:

‘In a nutshell, I’m an eight-year veteran of strong financial control and management with substantial experience gained in Big-4 public accounting and US multinationals.’

Picture that - an entire career condensed into one concise sentence that captures the most important aspects of a career. Followed by: ‘Recently, as financial controller, I completely restructured and sold-off, for profit, several previously loss-making units in the PRC.’

When stated properly this should pique interviewer interest to further inquire of the success, giving you an opportunity to further talk about the achievement.

At a minimum, it should set you up to get called back for second interviews - or better still, for job offers from employers impressed over ‘what you told them about yourself.’


What are your Greatest Strengths?
This question may seem like it came from secret recordings of a Jiang Zemin – Tung Chee-wah, 1st round interview session, but be prepared - you don’t want to come across as egotistical or arrogant. Nor is this a time to be humble.

Your key strategy here is to uncover your interviewer’s greatest wants and needs before you answer this question.

How to do this? Prior to any interview, you should have a list mentally prepared of your greatest strengths. You should also have, a specific example or two, which illustrates a given strength, an example chosen from your most recent and most impressive achievements.

Indeed, you should have this list of your greatest strengths and corresponding examples from your achievements so well committed to memory that you can recite them cold after being shaken awake at 2:30 a.m. from your seat in the Captain’s Bar (basement) at City Garden Hotel in North Point, Hong Kong. Then, once you uncover your interviewer’s greatest wants and needs, you can choose those achievements from your list that best match up.

As a general guideline, the ten most desirable traits all employers love to see in employees are:
  1. A proven track record as an achiever - especially if your achievements match up with the employer’s greatest wants and needs;
  2. Intelligence - management ‘savvy;’
  3. Honesty - integrity...a decent human being;
  4. Good fit with corporate culture - someone to feel comfortable with - a team player who meshes well with interviewer’s team;
  5. Likeability - positive attitude - sense of humor;
  6. Good communication skills;
  7. Dedication - willingness to walk the extra mile to achieve excellence;
  8. Definiteness of purpose - clear goals;
  9. Enthusiasm - high level of motivation; and
  10. Confident - a leader.

What are your Greatest Weaknesses?
Yowza! Keep your head about you when you answer this question - this is a terminator question, designed to shorten the candidate list. Any admission of a weakness or fault will earn you ‘A’ for honesty, but an ‘F’ for the interview.

Pseudo-acceptable Answer: disguise strength as a weakness. For example: ‘I sometimes push my people too hard. I like to work with a sense of urgency and not everyone is always on the same page.’ Unfortunately, while this strategy is better than admitting a flaw, it's so commonly used, it's transparent to any skilled interviewer.

Best Answer (and another reason it’s so important to get a detailed description of your interviewer’s needs before you answer questions): assure the interviewer you can think of nothing that would stand in the way of your performing in this position with excellence.

Then, quickly highlight you strongest qualifications. For example: ‘Naturally, nobody's perfect, but based on what I’ve just heard about this post, I believe I'd make an excellent match. I know that when I hire people, I look for two things most of all: Do they have the qualifications… and the motivation to do the job well? Everything in my background shows I have the qualifications and a strong desire to achieve distinction in whatever I take on. So I can say in all honesty that I see nothing that would cause concern about my ability or my strong desire to perform this job well.’

Alternate Strategy (if you don't yet know enough about the position to talk about such a perfect fit): instead of confessing a weakness, describe what you like most and like least, making sure that what you like most matches up with the most important qualification for success in the position, and what you like least is not essential.

For example: Let's say you're applying for a sales position. ‘Of course, given a choice, I like to spend as much time as possible in front of my prospects selling, as opposed to shuffling paperwork back at the office. Of course, I learned long ago the significance of filing paperwork accurately, and I do it conscientiously. But what I really love to do is sell.

Hmm… if your interviewer were a sales manager, this should be music to their ears.


Why did you leave your last Position / Why are you leaving your present Position?
Without doubt, these are feared interview questions. Of course, if your answer is, ‘I’ve only had two jobs in my career, have been promoted five times over a total of 10 years, can provide references from the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Hizzoner and Pope Benedict XVI and are currently looking for further opportunity, responsibility or growth,’ you probably won't have to worry.

However, if your answer is ‘the company went broke, management pulled a runner to Costa Rica and - along with 800 other staff – I came to work to find a burnt-out, empty building one Monday morning,’… welcome to the quagmire.

As prospective employers are not only trying to determine your strengths, but also to identify any red flags that may tag you as ‘difficult’ or ‘unacceptable,’ understanding what the interviewer is trying to uncover is key to successfully answering this question,’

Never be negative. Therefore, never criticize your previous industry, company, Board, manager, staff, employees or customers (no matter how much they may deserve as such). This would only make you sound like a complainer and the interviewer will question what you’ll say about them if, and when, you leave their organisation. In addition, stay away from explanations such as ‘conflicting management styles,’ ‘personality clash,’ or other like-phrases or words that may place your capability, reliability, or character in a bad light.

Never complain about workload. Instead, mention how you weren’t authorized in that position to make the decisions that would have allowed the department to run more efficiently.

If you were fired, don’t lie - it’s dishonorable – and easily established via side-channels. Regardless of the pain you feel, exhibit character by describing the firing openly, concisely and without resentment, from the firm’s viewpoint. By acknowledging you understand why the firing happened and how you may have made the same decision yourself if the position were reversed, your standing will rise greatly and, significantly, you will show that any hurt inflicted by the event has repaired.

Nonetheless, whatever your reasons for leaving an employer, state honestly what you wish to find in a new position and ensure you’ve prepared a list of reasons for leaving. Naturally, the best motivators will always be opportunity, responsibility, growth… and, of course, that reference from 'Hizzoner.'


Why Should We Hire You?
Astonishingly, this no-brainer is often an interview-terminating question because so many candidates are totally unprepared. Naturally, if you hem and haw or ad-lib… you’ll blow it. Equally so, if your best response is ‘well, I’ve been out of work for eighteen months, so I’m fit, tanned and well-rested, you can begin looking forward to a nineteenth month of being ‘between assignments.’

The answer most interviewers wish to hear is based on the fact you understand the requirements for the post by being able to offer up several examples where you have accomplished similar requirements at previous corporations, and are excited about doing them again, most likely at a higher-level, for their company.

An HR friend of ours asked this question recently to a shortlist candidate for a sales manager position. The candidate replied, with self-assurance, that she performed every responsibility in the job description over the past three years as a sales manager within a smaller company. She highlighted her strong communication and influencing skills, service orientation, technical knowledge of their product line, and fervent desire to work for the corporation. Needless to say, she received a job offer.

You may also want to express your ‘insider’ knowledge (gained through previous research and not on ‘what your friend said’) of your potential employer by discussing a few exciting initiatives or projects the company is doing (releasing new products, reporting record profitability, or starting a new enterprise). State the information in an upbeat manner as if you have known this information for some time. Indicate the company is one of the few you have selected to pursue because of their leading edge reputation.

Your closer to this question should be ‘that you are eager about applying your previous experience to assist the company get to the next level.’

How could they not say, ‘welcome aboard?’


Where Do You See Yourself In 3-5 Years?
Unfortunately, saying you want to be in the interviewer’s chair or drinking gin and tonics on the deck of your yacht while docked in Monaco Harbour may get you a slight chuckle, it probably won’t get you invited back for a second interview, let alone anywhere near being offered the job.

One reason potential employers ask this question is to know that you have long-term professional plans and that employing you might suit your needs as well as the needs of the organisation. An informed answer shows you have career ambitions and discipline to stick it out over the longer-term. This question gathers a lot of useful information: maturity, foresight, ambition, degree of preparation in career planning, and commitment to the organization and profession. It attempts to determine if you have prepared yourself for entering your chosen field and how does working with this particular firm fit into your professional development. It is geared to gauge how well you know yourself, whether you are floating along with whatever comes along or deliberately guiding your career in a specific direction.

Assuming that you will be promoted two or three times over the next several years, a good answer would be to envisage yourself working at whatever job is two or three levels above the job to which you are applying. You may also want to add that you understand promotions will be gained through hard work and not simply through tenure.

Alternatively, another good answer is ‘it’s difficult to predict where I’ll be in three to five years from now. However, what’s important is I’m given the opportunity to take on as much responsibility as the firm is willing to give me at my growing level of capability.’


Describe Your Ideal Company and Job
If you respond ‘I would like a job with a company that allowed me to telecommute entirely from home so I would never even have to get dressed,’ then look forward to seeing yourself as the next topic of discussion in that wonderful comic strip that pokes fun at all things ‘cubicle.’

By asking this question, the interviewer is seeking to determine how well your career goals match the position and their firm; to determine whether you have ‘organizational fit.’ They also want to know if you have an idea where you are headed career-wise; whether you’ll stick around for a while to become a valued employee, or whether the firm and/or you will soon wish you’d never heard of each other.

As such, to best answer this question, you have to be able to describe your career goals and how they best align with the job and the company's mission and objectives. Emphasize the goals or parts of your goals that are most related to the company and position.

State responsibilities and opportunities you know the job offers. As John F. Kennedy once paraphrased (when he wasn't wrapped up in all things blonde), focus not on what your employer can do for you, but on what you can do for your employer. Come across as looking for the chance to use what you have to offer - whether it’s creativity, an ability to cut costs, or strong management skills. Avoid sounding like someone simply in it for perks and prestige.

In closing, keep in mind that employers want to be courted as much as a job seeker wants to feel wanted. As such, you’ve got to let them know that you’re interested in not just any old job, but a job with their organization.


Why Do You Want to Work for Our Company?
(see also: Why Did You Apply For This Job and Why Do You Want It?)
This question is offered up to determine whether you have done your homework about the company or are using a scattered, shotgun approach to the interview process, and is your opportunity to hit the ball hard into the back of the net, thanks to a well thought-out answer and in-depth research you will have done before the interview. If you haven’t done your homework, you lose. If you have, you win big.

When the interviewers ask ‘why us?’ show how well prepared you are and state your case for why that firm is the right place for you.

On the industry-side, the best sources for researching this answer are in annual reports, the corporate website, contacts you know at the company or its suppliers, advertisements, articles about the company in the trade press. Just be sure you don’t overwhelm the interviewer with a dull recitation of facts and figures strictly gleaned from their latest accounts statement.

On the other hand, you may also have personal reasons for wanting to work for their specific company: older established company (possibly more traditional) or new (may be more progressive); family-owned, sole-proprietorship, or conglomerate; management style, or; how the company’s ‘corporate behaviour’ appeals to your values – all of which are valid thought-out reasons for wanting to join a specific company.

The key is to identify the type of firm that has more of what you want and less of what you don’t want and confirm this in your answer. It sounds simple, but so many people jump from job to job and always end up working for the same type of companies. If you hate politics and bureaucracy, but keep signing on with large companies, will you be happy? Size and type of firm both play key roles in job satisfaction.


Why Have You Been Out Of Work So Long?
This is a particularly difficult question… particularly if you’ve been sitting in your apartment on the 17th floor for the past several months being home-schooled by the Oprah Winfrey show (a sad commentary whether you're working or not). Unfortunately, most all interviewers often have a negative bias against job seekers who are out of work for an extended period (say, more than six months). Unfortunately, there is the perception - often incorrect - that the ‘presently employed’ and ‘short-term unemployed’ are more capable and more desired by companies and hiring managers than those who have been involved in a lengthened search.

Therefore, during this downtime, in addition to your ongoing job search, attend networking, professional, and social events, and volunteer your time with not-for-profit organizations. Not only will this keep you active and stimulated, they are also excellent sources of potential employers, information and business contacts. During interviews, highlight the above, inclusive of any courses you may have taught or taken, offers you may have turned down, and relevant consulting assignments regardless of how brief they might have been or if they were performed pro bono.

On the other hand, if your prolonged job search has been by choice, confirm confidently why this was so. For example: ‘after I left my last post, I decided not to take up the first opportunities that came my way. I decided to take the time to think about what I do best, what I want to do, where I’d like to do it and then identify those firms that could offer such opportunities and challenges.’

In addition, remain upbeat and constantly look for ways to reinvigorate and re-energize yourself; most interviewers are acute to signs of low morale.


Tell Me about the Strong and Weak Points of Your Current/Ex-Manager
The short answer to this question is ‘Don’t,’ especially when it comes to weaknesses. Tread carefully with this topic, particularly if you are speaking directly to the person who would be your future boss. In this specific case, the interviewer is trying to get you to open a Pandora’s Box, purposely gauged at measuring what amounts of dirty laundry you’re willing to unleash on your previous employer or manager.

The only rule we need to remember here is not to be negative. Highlight only the excellent points, no matter how gracefully you’re invited to be critical, or how ‘fair and balanced’ (hopefully not in the FOXNews context) the question may appear by asking for two sides of the coin.

Quite frankly, the interviewer doesn’t give a toss about your previous boss; they do, however, wish to know how trustworthy you are, and if you’ll criticise them if pressed to do so by someone in another company. Use this question as your opportunity to demonstrate loyalty to those you worked with or for, regardless of how much dislike you may be bearing inside.

Your best option here is to say something innocent, as, ‘I always enjoy working for someone fair and - if I’m deserving of respect - will show me respect.’ If an interviewer pushes for more information, ensure you don’t sound severe when describing what you look for in a good manager or negative when speaking of a past supervisor.

Leave the battlefield experiences out of the discussion and talk about the positive in the relationship… even if it was a Darth Vader – Yoda-like association. Discuss what you learned from your manager, since we often learn important lessons from even the most unpleasant of managers.


In Hindsight, What Might You Have Done Differently?
Life is full of mistakes and misgivings, misunderstandings and misdeeds, and, in our particular case, Miss-whatever-her-name-was. We’ve all made judgments of error in both our life and our careers, however, while the confessional may be an ideal place for such disclosures, the job interview is not.

This question is quite similar to ‘what are your weaknesses?’ in that it asks you to spotlight yourself in a less positive light. Therefore, as the question is directed at unearthing prior faults or problems that may affect your performance moving forward, your objective here is to not give the interviewer any information that would drastically reduce your chances for an offer.

Everyone in our base of Hong Kong has made at least one mistake, career or otherwise. As such, the key is to highlight a negative in a way that doesn’t damage your credibility.

For example, do not tell a Sales Manager of your disappointment of having not studied hard enough to pass the Bar examination and having had to pursue a career in sales.

A good answer (if is the case) may be: “I occasionally wonder if going straight to college or university after high school might have been a good idea. However, I waited until I had worked a few years, gained some experience and then earned a degree in Marketing. In hindsight though, it didn’t turn out so badly.”

If you do wish to highlight something you would have done different ‘on a job or project,’ select a minor mistake that, while relates professionally, was not a critical error, and emphasise what you learned as a result.

Also, refrain from answers that imply you wouldn’t be giving 110% to your new position.

Overall, accentuate you are a positive and assured individual, whose career has been consistent in learning and experience to date.


Are You Capable of Working Under Pressure?
It doesn’t take much reasoning to conclude the very fact they are asking this question indicates the job will involve working under pressure and to deadline… otherwise, they’d be enquiring as to how you managed the boredom.

For sure, though, it’s an easy question, with only one answer… an emphatic, ‘Indeed!!’

However, don’t leave it at that; view this as an opportunity to sell your value by following on with several questions of your own, such as: ‘how much pressure is involved in the post?’ and ‘what do you mean by pressure?’ Based on their explanation (tight corporate deadlines, manpower shortages, budget constraints, etc) provide a couple of related examples as to when you actually worked successfully under such pressure… inclusive of outcomes. Stress how you rose to the occasion, that you did not mind the stress, and, perhaps, even enjoyed it.

A sample answer may follow as such: ‘To be honest, I tend to find working under pressure invigorating. However, having said that, I also believe in managing and planning my time in order to avoid unnecessary deadlines.’

Also, short of the type of commitment that, say, Bruce Willis would accept in the ‘Die Hard’ films, you should also reiterate to potential employers of your willingness to endure travel or work long hours to do ‘whatever it takes to ensure organisational goals are achieved.’

Easy for us to say… but how exactly do we handle the pressures of the job? Organise work well in advance, sort your in-basket / emails according to priority items first and block out your calendar guarantee you have time to finish projects. Don’t try to do multiple things at the same time - constant multitasking takes a toll. Find outside interests away from the job – take on a new hobby, spend more time with friends or family.

And, get enough sleep… the pressure won’t know what hit it.


What Was the Hardest Decision You Have Ever Had to Take?
Worst possible response: replying with an ill-equipped or unrelated answer, such as…’Hmmm, I couldn’t decide whether to take the subway or a cab to get to the interview this morning. So, I went with the tram!’

When answering this question think about the context in which it is probably asked: it is highly unlikely the interviewer is not that interested in what your most difficult decision was – after all, we’ve all had to make hard choices - but more in hearing on how you arrived at your conclusion and the process(es) used to action such a decision.

Naturally, in management, we all have levels of difficult decisions to make; and, as we rise up the corporate ladder, the decisions become more complicated and generally have wider-ranging impacts and consequences.

As experienced managers, we’ve all made decisions that weren’t well received; however, managers who don’t, or won’t, make hard decisions undermine their managerial role in many ways - it may affect operations; the esteem in which you are held, or it may make you seem more a ‘yes-person’ than team manager.

Less experienced managers may be tough on poor performing staff or make other unpopular decisions, but they may also hold their own manager responsible for the decision, thereby distancing themselves from such decisions. Such an approach can cause staff to question manager capability, if not their word.

Experienced interviewers will make these assumptions if your answer is not framed and thought-out correctly.

As such, when searching for an example of your most ‘difficult decision,’ prepare along the following lines: mention a good case in point; explain why the judgment was not easy; detail the avenue(s) you took to reach the decision; the way it was executed; and, what benefit / experience you (or others) gained from the final decision.


Are You Willing To Travel / Relocate?
Dependent on your personal circumstances, this can be a wickedly difficult question. First-term managers, more often than not, relish travel or relocation early in their careers and will generally jump at such opportunities. Middle- to senior-managers, especially in SE Asia, on the other hand, accepts travel as a responsibility of the job; however don’t particularly enjoy such as it means time away from family.

Regardless of your circumstances or career agenda, if you answer with a definitive ‘no,’ your chances of moving forward on this job opportunity will, probably, grind to a halt quickly.

Therefore, what do you say if you’d really not prefer to relocate or travel, yet don’t wish to lose a chance of a job offer?

The best initial response is to discover, if possible, where you may have to relocate to, or how much travel is involved; then react to the question. If there’s no problem, acknowledge as such with enthusiasm.

If, on the other hand, you have reservations, there are a couple of approaches for handling this hesitation. One possibility is to keep your options open by keeping your qualms on travel to yourself in the early rounds of the interview process. Indicate there’s ‘no problem,’ then reassess the question again when an offer may be forthcoming. In addition, at such a time this particular offer does come through, you may - if fortunate - have other offers and can make a more satisfactory decision.

The rationale to this approach is: why dismiss an opportunity before it has chance to show it may develop into something potentially attractive, particularly if - three months from now - you’ve become a little more desperate? In hindsight, you may wish you hadn’t closed the door on relocation or travel.

Another approach to handling this question is to express reservation on travel (family, safety, suitcase mentality) but clearly assure prospective employers you’d be open to relocation or travel for the right opportunity.

Nonetheless, at the end of it all, the strategy you eventually choose will ultimately depend on how keen you are for the job, together with your own personal circumstances.


Have You Ever Had to Fire Someone?
Another innocuous question geared to sending you up, up and away, via the ejector seat, and into the darkened abyss of failed candidates somewhere out back of the office.

Que?

Because many interview questions are really structured as ‘questions behind questions.’ In this particular case, the interviewer is not simply querying if you can dismiss staff, but what your background in hiring is like (read: how many bad hires you may have made and/or hires you made that had to be rectified).

As such, to successfully answer this ‘question behind a question’ isolate the core intent of the question: determining (quickly) that the asked question is not what it appears; determining what the interviewer really wants to know; recognizing the interviewer’s real motive for asking the question, and; constructing your answer based on the concern.

For example, if you have a history of regularly firing people, you may be perceived as, for lack of a better phrase, a bit of a dictator. Therefore, don’t speak too proudly on how many staff you’ve sacked, unless, of course, it was completely out of your control and not a result of your weak hiring judgment or interpersonal skills.

When discussing dismissal, outline your belief that discipline and, subsequently, release should be fair, balanced and consistent in that the outcome should be appropriate for the situation. For example, explain it would be contradictory to give one staff a warning for arriving late every day in one week and dismiss another staff for leaving early every day the same week.

No-one likes to fire people and it is a rare manager indeed that has never had to dismiss someone. Unfortunately, firing people comes with manager territory and as you move up the corporate interview ladder you will be asked your views on this subject. Therefore, be prepared.


Why Have You Changed Jobs So Often?
An amazingly ‘individual’ question, invariably dictated through an interviewer simply reading your resume, and particularly poignant in our base of Hong Kong where, for many years the average tenure in the 25-35 year-old age bracket, with any given employer, was approximately eighteen months.

By asking this question, the interviewer wants to guarantee they are not simply a next stop on a ‘bus route,’ by ascertaining potential instability or a problem employee who cannot get along. Therefore, if you had regular job change in the past five or seven years, you will certainly be asked to explain why you left each organisation after a short tenure, as recruiting is costly for all companies.

Having said that, if you changed jobs frequently and were still invited to interview there must be some bizarre accomplishment or skill that attracted their attention. Identify these skills and prove to interviewers they made the right decision to meet you.

Reasons for leaving any company should be presented with a brief explanation in a confident manner. Do not provide excuses for departing; instead, state valid business reasons for your move. Be assured, should your application reach shortlist stage and an offer looms, you can be guaranteed references will be checked.

With respect to the late 1990s and early 2000s, economic news can rightly be cited as a reason for moving, as the .com period was significant in luring masses of employees to cash-laden start-ups with promises of wealth and stock options. Unfortunately, money ‘burned’ at disturbing paces causing momentous job losses and conga lines of staff to move from one ‘dot-bomb’ to another… generally resulting in another loss of job. Such a period of lunacy should be understood by most prospective employers.

Nonetheless, one advantage of recurrent job change is you should have learned new skills during short spells. Therefore, inform interviewers of applicable expertise learned and not so much the emotion of going from one employer to the next.


What Do you Look for when Hiring Staff?
Hhmm... "someone who can stay on my good side?"

Ooops. Close your briefcase and head for the door with the flashing exit sign directly above it.

In answering this question, by all means be honest, but frame you answer around the following three important elements: qualifications, drive and motivation, and cultural fit.

Can this individual do the job; are they qualified (including a willingness to learn new things and adapt to changing circumstances)? Will this individual do the work I assign them (to have high levels of drive and motivation)? Will the individual fit in with the culture of the organisation (that is to say, be able to get on with colleagues)?

Indicate these are the things you look for as a ‘basis for employment’ and go on to say these are the three elements you believe determine a person’s progress in an organisation. You may wish to confirm your belief that ‘these are things you yourself insist upon for success in the workplace.’

During candidate interviews, good interrogators place themselves in the candidate position in regard to the above three criteria by appreciating that no-one can truly be happy in their work if all three areas are not being satisfied.

Push this question further by indicating that, in your experience, hiring people also carries an element of ‘judgment and intuition’ about who will work out and who won’t. Indicate that staffing decisions are people decisions, and every one hire is unique.

Of course, even by using the above-mentioned elements as a basis for choice of employees, there will be cases where a hire didn’t work out. Therefore, be humble in this particular question by indicating as such, although, overall the above criteria has held you in good stead.


The $$ Question (What is Your Expected Salary?)
At the end of the day… when the dust has settled, yadda, yadda, yadda… as Ice Cube, likes to say: “it’s all about the Benjamins’ (or in our particular case, the Hongkong Bank notes). Sooner or later, be it during the first interview or deeper into the recruitment process, at some point, this question is going to be asked.

It is quite doubtful you will get a solid job offer in a first interview - your goal should be to generate a positive impression in order to be invited back – however, if the matter of salary is raised early on, we suggest a diversionary response to gain time to learn more about the position. An answer along the lines of: “at this stage, without a greater understanding of the scope of the position, it’s not possible for me to cite a figure. I can tell you what I’m currently earning, though.”

Remember, salary history is not salary expectation.

If, however, the interviewer pursues the salary issue before you’ve had a chance to comprehensively discuss your background and the job, you may have to cite a figure to avoid annoying the inter¬viewer and being eliminated from further contention.

Later during the interview process, when the question will be invariably raised, if you’re comfortable with all information provided to you about the position, now would be the time to delve into greater personal detail of your financial expectations.

Accordingly, be honest about what you’re presently earning - including non-cash aspects - and found your expectation on what you believe to be the estimated level of pay for the job and whether the new position is a promo¬tion from your current position. Importantly, consider any non-regular variables associated with the position, such as travel involved or any forthcoming projects that may place unusual demands on your time.


How Do You Deal With Difficult or Challenging People?
This is a ‘behavioral-based’ question (aka ‘situational’ interviewing) and is the 'soup de jour' of the hiring orbit. The service sector, airlines and hotels are particularly fond of such questioning as it allows candidates to pass (or fail) interviews through the discussion of actual actions in a variety of real-life or hypothetical circumstances.

Rephrased, this question may come as: ‘Tell me about a time when you had to manage a team of people who didn’t want to work together?,’ ‘how do you motivate your staff?’ or ‘what is your approach team-building?’

By asking such questions, the interviewer is looking for concrete evidence of your achievements and skills more than details of your job duties. Behavior-based questions require you to give hard indications of your skills, experience, and personal qualities and not to simply speak in generalities.

Being prepared with a number of good examples, a behavioral interview can be the best thing that could happen during your job search - the interviewer will get a complete picture of what you would do in a situation and, by extension, how you can add value. In addition, you will receive a clearer indication as to your potential employer’s needs and goals because the situations you’re asked to speak about are likely to reflect those currently existing in the organisation.

In answering this question, highlight the situation you faced, focus on the qualities you demonstrated in the situation faced and the actions you took to bring about particular results. If possible, link your past achievements to the needs of the employer (most employers will be honest about the potential work challenges faced by the successful candidate), as you have discerned from your pre-interview research or questions you have already asked during the interview.


May I Contact Your Present Employer for a Reference?
Oh... absolutely!! But, only if you’re applying for a job with the present Bush administration in the United States who, clearly, don’t take previous performance references too seriously, if indeed, even read them.

However, if you’re looking for a job on Planet Earth most of us conduct our job searches on a confidential basis; therefore, allowing an interviewer to contact your current employer is the absolute last thing you want to happen.

“But if I say no, won’t I be viewed as being uncooperative?” Not in the least; and any experienced interviewer will appreciate your concern… and the obvious damage it will do to your existing employment position: job seekers without references are job seekers without a job.

As job seekers, references are among the most valuable assets, and they must be protected and not shared until absolutely necessary. For instance, a small percent of applicant resumes include several references and in the hands of a less than scrupulous recruiter, such information could result in sales calls to these references. Believe us when we note, it will not be long before a reference connects the dots back to you, probably resulting in an embarrassing reference loss.

Generally, references are requested only from 2-3 finalist candidates at the end of the interview cycle. However, some interviewers request references early on - the rationale being to avoid entering into a protracted interview process should 1-2 references send out negative signals on an applicant. Therefore, if you’re asked to provide references early on, it is reasonable to ask HR or recruiters when and whom they will call. In closing, before you provide anyone with the name of a reference, notify the reference of the pending call to ensure they are available and then go ahead and provide the interviewer with contact information.


Don't you Believe you may be Overqualified for this Job?
Although it seems tactless, interviewers (and recruiters) frequently ask this question. Whether an interviewer may consider you inappropriately qualified for this position or not; the interviewers real reason behind asking this question is generally to alleviate one or two fears: (1) will you leave because you don’t find the position challenging enough, and (2) will you be unhappy with the salary we offer and either ask for more or leave for a higher-paying post?

Either way, as with any objection over your background, experience, qualifications, don’t see this as a sign of pending rejection; indeed, view it as an open invitation to highlight the advantages over the drawbacks.

Politely remind the interviewer how closely you match the requirements of the job, how much value you can add to the company’s growth (state some examples of how you can add value) and, of course, how near-orgasmic you are to work in a firm at the leading edge of their industry.
However, do not ‘boast’ about how much more you can do to increase the responsibilities or scale of the position - too many job seekers divulge all of their skills, and many are not important. If a potential employee details too many skills unrelated to the job, the interviewer might arrive at the following deduction: the candidate could become a threat or is actually overqualified and will quickly get bored.

Sometimes, the ‘overqualified’ question is a euphemism for age discrimination, concerns that you may be too expensive, or reservations that you will get bored and leave. If an employer thinks that you are overqualified, you may also ask them to explain why they feel that way. When you know what their real concerns are, you’re in a better position to address such reservations.


Why Did You Apply For This Job and Why Do You Want It?

“Well... I was just looking through the newspaper, and I came across your ad. Yours was the one with the coloured border, right?”

"Wrong again, Billy! Be gone and never pollute our doormat again!"

“Well… I have been targeting my search at major companies in this industry, and after seeing your ad decided to research your firm a bit further. I understand you’ve introduced several new product lines in the past few years and were impressed by your track record. Based on my career experience, I feel it could be a good fit.”

Brilliant (if we don’t say so ourselves)! A ‘class-A’ answer that not only answers ‘the question behind the question’ (did you just stumble upon our company, or did you put some thought and effort into making a choice to want to work with us? Have you done your homework?); not only demonstrating forethought, but segueing nicely into your own background and leading to the next obvious question: ‘tell us about that experience.’

As for ‘why do you want this job,’ the answer to this question is straightforward: simply state the responsibilities and opportunities you know the job offers and highlighting what you can do for your potential new employer. Come across as looking for the opportunity to use what you have to offer - whether it’s creativity, the ability to cut costs, widen margins, or provide strong management skills.

No matter which wording is used, the above question is geared to test your knowledge of their specific job and organisation. In describing what you know about the position and employer or in discussing why you have chosen them, let the interviewer in on your thought process. Demonstrate that you are making choices based on a thorough, logical thought process and based on accurate data and not simply that their ad appeared directly above ‘Garfield’ and ‘kind of caught your eye.


How Do You Feel about Working with Superiors who may be Less Intelligent or Competent than You?
This question may arise in some organizations where there is a distinct difference in education, knowledge, and performance levels between the 'old' versus 'new' blood. Older organizations that have undergone recent rapid expansion often face this issue. You need to indicate that you are prepared to work in this situation, if indeed you are. At the same time, this is a good opportunity to get some 'inside' information on the organization’s potential management problems.

Respond as such:

"I normally get along well with everyone in the organization regardless oftheir age, education, or experience. But quite frankly, I do have dificulty accepting poor performance, especially when it affects my work. If this is a problem here, I assume it is a management problem which will be dealt with by management. I expect to be evaluated according to my performance and that my performance would not be judged on the inabilities of others. Could you elaborate more on the nature of the situation I might encounter?"


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