Sunday, April 10, 2011

Interview Questions and Answers

What do employers look for in a potential employee? According to Thomas Freese in his book Sell Yourself First, they are looking for the person from among their pool of applicants, who has the most of the following qualities:

• Knowledgeable, experienced, savvy

• Likable, easy to get along with

• Organisation-focused, not self-serving

• Able to blend in easily with the existing organisational culture

• Quick learner with short ramp up time

• Able to offer new perspectives and fresh ideas

• Independent, motivated, hard worker

• Track record of success, combined with a dose of humility

• Positive attitude and commitment to excellence

• Have solid references.

The interviewers will ask questions to tease out these qualities, or the lack of it, from the interviewees.

The savvy interviewee would look for opportunities that the questions present to demonstrate that she has these desired qualities.

As Stephen Covey said, “If I am given 1 hour to chop down a tree, I will spend 50 minutes sharpening my axe.” So, the secret to interview success is to prepare well before meeting the interviewers.

So think up possible questions the interviewers might ask, if they want to check if you have the desired qualities.  Write out your answers to the possible questions.  Rehearse the answers. There is no need to memorise the answers but do rehearse it so that you will come across fluent, articulate, and confident. Find a friend to conduct a mock interview with you and give you feedback on your answers, and your performance.

So here are some possible questions, and the suggested approach to answering the questions based on Wayne D. Ford’s book The Accelerated Job Search. (You may not agree with all the suggestions; that’s perfectly fine. Write up your own answers as you see fit. The main point is to be well prepared with answers to possible questions that will help you stand above the other candidates.)

Desired Quality - Knowledgeable, Experienced, Savvy

Tell me about yourself.

Prepare a short statement about yourself before presenting yourself at the interview. Be careful that it does not sound rehearsed. Talk about things you have done, and jobs you have held that relate to the position you are interviewing for. Start with the item farthest back in time and work up to the present. Limit to 3 items, otherwise it will come across as rambling.

What experience do you have in this field?

Speak about specifics that relate to the position you are applying for. If you do not have specific experience, get as close as you can.

What do you know about this organization?

This question is one reason to do some research on the organization before the interview. Know their vision and mission. Find out where they have been, and where they are going. What are the current issues, and who are the key personalities?

Why do you think you would do well at this job?

Give several reasons and include skills, experience and interest.

What have you done to improve your knowledge in the last year?

Try to include improvement activities that relate to the job. A wide variety of activities can be mentioned as positive self-improvement. Have some good ones handy to mention.

Tell me about a time when you helped resolve a dispute between others.

Pick a specific incident. Concentrate on your problem solving technique, and not the dispute you settled.

Have you ever had to fire anyone? How did you feel about that?

This is serious. Do not make light of it or in any way seem like you like to fire people. At the same time, you have what it takes to do the right thing. When it comes to the organization versus the individual who has created a harmful situation, you will protect the organization. Remember firing is not the same as layoff or reduction in force.

Desired Quality - Likable, easy to get along with

What do co-workers say about you?

Be prepared with a quote or two from co-workers. Either a specific statement or a paraphrase. Joe, a co-worker at Smith Company, always said I was the most dedicated professional he had ever known. It is as powerful as Joe having said it at the interview herself.

Are you a team player?

Of course, you are a team player. Be sure to have examples ready. Specifics that show you often perform for the good of the team rather than for yourself are good evidence of your team attitude. Do not brag, just say it in a matter-of-fact tone. This is a key point.

What irritates you about co-workers?

This is a trick question. Think real hard but fail to come up with anything that irritates you. A short statement that you seem to get along with folks is great.

Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor?

Biggest trap of all. This is a test to see if you will speak ill of your boss. If you fall for it and tell about a problem with a former boss, you may well blow the interview right there. Stay positive and develop a poor memory about any trouble with a supervisor.

What position do you prefer on a team working on a project?

Be honest. If you are comfortable in different roles, point that out.

 Desired Quality - Organisation-focused, not self-serving

Why do you want to work for this organization?

This may take some thought and certainly, should be based on the research you have done on the organization. Sincerity is extremely important here, and will easily be sensed. Relate it to your long-term career goals.

How long would you expect to work for us if hired?

Specifics here are not good. Something like this should work: I’d like it to be a long time. Or, as long as we both feel I’m doing a good job.

What is your philosophy towards work?

The interviewer is not looking for a long or flowery dissertation here. Do you have strong feelings that the job gets done? Yes. That’s the type of answer that works best here. Short and positive, showing a benefit to the organization.

If you had enough money to retire right now, would you?

Answer yes, if you would. But since you need to work, this is the type of work you prefer. Do not say yes if you do not mean it.

What is more important to you: the money or the work?

Money is always important, but the work is the most important. There is no better answer.

Are you willing to put the interests of the organization ahead of your own?

This is a straight loyalty and dedication question. Do not worry about the deep ethical and philosophical implications. Just say yes.

Describe your work ethic.

Emphasize benefits to the organization. Things like, determination to get the job done and work hard but enjoy your work are good.

Explain how you would be an asset to this organization.

You should be anxious for this question. It gives you a chance to highlight your best points as they relate to the position being discussed. Give a little advance thought to this relationship.

Tell me about your dream job.

Stay away from a specific job. You cannot win. If you say the job you are contending for is it, you strain credibility. If you say another job is it, you plant the suspicion that you will be dissatisfied with this position, if hired. The best is to stay generic and say something like: A job where I love the work, like the people, can contribute and can’t wait to get to work.

Do your skills match this job or another job more closely?

Probably this one. Do not give fuel to the suspicion that you may want another job more than this one.

Why should we hire you?

Point out how your assets meet what the organization needs. Do not mention any other candidates to make a comparison.

Are you applying for other jobs?

Be honest but do not spend a lot of time in this area. Keep the focus on this job and what you can do for this organization. Anything else is a distraction. If you must mention other jobs, bring up only jobs that are consistent with why you are changing jobs and applying for this one. Congruence is the key. Any inconsistencies will be perceived as lack of honestly.

Desired Quality - Able to blend in easily with the existing organisational culture

Describe your management style.

Find out the organisational culture before the interview. Try to avoid labels. Some of the more common labels, like progressive, salesman or consensus, can have several meanings or descriptions depending on which management expert you listen to. The situational style is safe, because it says you will manage according to the situation, instead of one size fits all.

What qualities do you look for in a boss?

Be generic and positive. Safe qualities are knowledgeable, a sense of humor, fair, loyal to subordinates, and holder of high standards. All bosses think they have these traits.

What kind of person would you refuse to work with?

Mention only big issues. Minor objections will label you as a whiner. It would take disloyalty to the organization, violence or lawbreaking to get you to object.

What has disappointed you about a job?

Don’t get trivial or negative. Safe areas are few but can include: Not enough of a challenge. You were laid off in a reduction. Company did not win a contract, which would have given you more responsibility.

Would you be willing to relocate, if required?

You should be clear on this with your family prior to the interview if you think there is a chance it may come up. Do not say yes just to get the job if the real answer is no. This can create a lot of problems later on in your career. Be honest at this point and save yourself future grief.

 Desired Quality - Quick learner, with short ramp up time

How do you propose to compensate for your lack of experience?

First, if you have experience that the interviewer does not know about, bring that up: Then, point out (if true) that you are a hard working quick learner.

 Desired Quality - Able to offer new perspectives and fresh ideas

Tell me about a suggestion you have made.

Have a good one ready. Be sure and use a suggestion that was accepted and was then considered successful. One related to the type of work applied for is a real plus.

 Desired Quality - Independent, motivated, hard worker

Do you have any questions for me?

This is often the last question at the end of the interview. This is an opportunity to leave the interviewers with a good feeling about you. This could be the only thing they remember. So always have some questions prepared. To say you have no questions could throw you back into the faceless mass of candidates who also turned up in front of the panel.

You could ask where you will be an asset to the organization. What type of projects do they think you will be able to assist on? For example, ask, “If I am successful in my application, what are the likely areas of the project that I'll be looking into?”

Ask how soon will you be able to be productive? Hint that you are confident without coming across as presumptuous. Show that you can’t wait to start work by asking, “If I am successful in my application, when will I start work?"

 Desired Quality - Has a track record of success, combined with a dose of humility

What have you learned from mistakes on the job?

Come up with something, because to say you never made a mistake would strain credibility. Talk about a specific, well intentioned mistake with a positive lesson learned.

For example, talk about how you were working too far ahead of colleagues on a project, and thus threw coordination off. You’ve learnt to be more attentive to the challenges your colleagues face.

Do you consider yourself successful?

You should always answer yes, and briefly explain why. A good explanation is that you have set goals, and you have met some and are on track to achieve the others.

What kind of salary do you need?

A loaded question. A nasty little game that you will probably lose if you answer first. So, do not answer it. Instead, say something like, That’s a tough question. Can you tell me the range for this position? In most cases, the interviewer, taken off guard, will tell you. If not, say that it can depend on the details of the job. Then give a wide range.

 Desired Quality - Positive attitude and commitment to excellence

What is your greatest strength?

Numerous answers are good, just stay positive. A few good examples: Your ability to prioritize, Your problem-solving skills, Your ability to work under pressure, your ability to focus on projects, Your professional expertise, your leadership skills, your positive attitude.

Tell me about your ability to work under pressure.

You may say that you thrive under certain types of pressure. Give an example that relates to the type of position applied for.

What would your previous supervisor say your strongest point is?

There are numerous good possibilities: Loyalty, Energy, Positive attitude, Leadership, Team player, Expertise, Initiative, Patience, Hard work, Creativity, Problem solver

What motivates you to do your best on the job?

This is a personal trait that only you can say, but good examples are: Challenge, Achievement, Recognition.

What has been your biggest professional disappointment?

Be sure that you refer to something that was beyond your control. Show acceptance, and no negative feelings. For example, you are retrenched from a job you loved and in which you have invested a substantial part of your working life because your company closed down.

Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.

Talk about having fun by accomplishing something for the organization.

How would you know you were successful on this job?

Several ways are good measures: You set high standards for yourself and meet them. Your outcomes are a success.Your boss tell you that you are successful.

Why did you leave your last job?

Stay positive regardless of the circumstances. Never refer to a major problem with management and never speak ill of supervisors, co-workers or the organization. If you do, you will be the one looking bad. Keep smiling and talk about leaving for a positive reason such as an opportunity, a chance to do something special or other forward-looking reasons. For example, you wanted to move from a back end desk job to a front end operations job.

Have you ever been asked to leave a position?

If you have not, say no. If you have, be honest, brief and avoid saying negative things about the people or organization involved.

Are you willing to work overtime? Nights? Weekends?

This is up to you. Be totally honest.

Do you have any blind spots?

Trick question. If you know about blind spots, they are no longer blind spots. Do not reveal any personal areas of concern here. Let them do their own discovery on your bad points. Do not hand it to them.

If you were hiring a person for this job, what would you look for?

Be careful to mention traits that are needed and that you have.

Do you think you are overqualified for this position?

Regardless of your qualifications, state that you are very well qualified for the position.

 Desired Quality - Have solid references.

Do you know anyone who works for us?

Be aware of the policy on relatives working for the organization. This can affect your answer even though they asked about friends not relatives. Be careful to mention a friend only if they are well thought of.

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