Interview

A job interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they create dialogue and help clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities.

In addition the questions you ask serve to indicate your grasp of fundamental issues, reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial and challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of knowledge and commitment to the job.

Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or understanding of the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because the employer’s company has a piece of work that needs to be completed, or has a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that have proven to be very effective:

  • What’s the most important issue facing the company (or department)
  • How can I help you accomplish this objective?
  • How long has it been since you first identified this need?
  • How long have you been trying to correct it?
  • Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done? If so, what was the result?
  • Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?
  • Is there a certain aspect of my background you’d like to exploit to help accomplish your objectives?

Questions like these will not only give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, they’ll indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company’s objectives.

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Interview2

Experienced job seekers know there are four basic types of interview questions—and they prepare accordingly.

First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and so forth.

Resume questions require accurate, objective answers, since your resume consists of facts which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid answers which exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be opinionated, vague, or egocentric.

Second, interviewers will usually want you to comment on your abilities, or assess your past performance. They’ll ask self-appraisal questions like, “What do you think is your greatest asset?” or, “Can you tell me something you’ve done that was very creative?”

Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. “How would you stay profitable during a recession?” or, “How would you go about laying off 1300 employees?” or, “How would you handle customer complaints if the company drastically raised its prices?” are typical situation questions.

And last, some employers like to test your mettle with stress questions such as, “After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?” or, “If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?” or, “It’s obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time talking?”

Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while you’re under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered answers.

Remember, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so long as you don’t go over the edge. I heard of a candidate who, when asked to describe his ideal job, replied, “To have beautiful women rub my back with hot oil.” Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.

Even if it were possible to anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities, and your reasons for considering a new position; and to handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.

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interview_questions

Here are eight of the most commonly asked (and basic) interviewing questions. Do yourself and the prospective employer a favor, and give them some thought before the interview occurs.

  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • What are your personal and professional goals?
  • What do you like most about your current job?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What do you like least about your current job?

The last question is probably the hardest to answer: What do you like least about your current job?

I’ve found that rather than pointing out the faults of others (as in, “I can’t stand the office politics,” or, “My boss is a jerk”), it’s best to place the burden on yourself (“I feel I’m ready to exercise a new set of professional muscles,” or, “The type of technology I’m interested in isn’t available to me now.”). By answering in this manner, you’ll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across as a whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak negatively about others.

I suggest you think through the answers to the eight questions above for two reasons.

First, it won’t help your chances any to hem and haw over fundamental issues such as these. (The answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.)

And second, the questions will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy on an interview. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you come up with, maybe the new job isn’t right for you.

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money

During the employment interview, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked about your current and expected level of compensation. Here’s the way to handle the following questions:

Question: What are you currently earning?

Answer: “My compensation, including bonus, is in the high-forties. I’m expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the low-fifties.”

Question: What sort of money would you need to come to work here?

Answer: “I feel that the opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer.”

In the answer to the first question, notice the way a range was given, not a specific dollar figure. However, in a situation in which the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so forth.

With respect to the second question, if the interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you should also suggest a range, as in, “I would need something in the low- to mid- sixties.” Getting locked in to an exact figure may work against you later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you really want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer never comes. By using a range, you can keep your options open.

Don’t Come On Too Strong
Unless you’re pinned down in the early stages of the interview, the best time to talk about money is after you’ve established mutual interest. If you initiate a discussion about salary and benefits, you run the risk of giving the employer the impression that money is the most important reason for your job search.

From a tactical standpoint, it makes the most sense to build your value and exercise restraint before the subject ever comes up. The greater your asset value is in the eyes of the employer, the stronger your offer will be. The principal objective during the first and second interview is to explore the opportunity and your potential contribution relative to the goals of the department or organization. Focusing on the money only sidetracks the greater issue of whether you and the employer can be productive and happy working together.

Once you know the job fits—and the employer sees your value—you’ll usually be able to agree on a fair price for your services.

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There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long version.”

The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, “What was your most difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.

Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?

Let’s suppose you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, “What sort of sales experience have you had in the past?”

Well, that’s exactly the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience. Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s  neatly packaged.

One way to answer the question might be, “I’ve held sales positions with three different instrumentation companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like me to start?”

Or, you might simply say, “Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in instrumentation product sales with three different companies, and held the titles of district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my background would you like to concentrate on?”

By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized, and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.

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Success

Assuming you’re qualified for the job, the outcome of your employment interview will be dependent on your ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer.

You can do this by asking questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this manner, you’ll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your suitability for the job.

In addition to empathy, there are four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry you’ll share with the employer. They are:

Enthusiasm. Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open. Wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?

Technical interest. Employers look for people who love what they do, and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.

Confidence. No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.

Intensity. The last thing you want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.

Most employers are aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position, and will do everything they can to put you at ease.

Other Important Factors
Since interviewing also involves the exchange of tangible information, always make sure to present your background in a thorough and accurate manner and gather data concerning the company, the industry, the position, and the specific opportunity

A worthwhile interviewing goal is to link your abilities with the company needs in the mind of the employer so you can build a strong case for why the company should hire you. The more you know about each other, the more potential you’ll have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.

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Would you dump your life savings—every single dollar—into a single stock? Probably not; it’s far too risky to put all your eggs in one investment basket.

And yet, you’d be surprised how many people manage their careers with a single-stock mindset. They toil away, year after year, investing their talents in a narrow field of interest.

Until recently, this approach made a lot of sense. Conventional wisdom dictates that if you do one thing really well, you’ll never be out of a job.

But times have changed, and so have strategies. While it’s still true that a solid career is built on a foundation of position-specific expertise, it’s become increasingly important to maintain a balanced portfolio.

When employers look for talent, they typically settle for people with the proficiency to perform certain tasks. But what they really want—especially in today’s hyper-competitive market—is an adaptable breed of cat, whose broad-based set of skills crosses over into a variety of disciplines.

Want proof? Poke your head into any meeting room in which star performers are present. You’re likely to hear a sales manager exploring the potential of XML technology; or an engineer debating the virtues of a strategic alliance; or a CFO pondering the benefits of a co-branding opportunity.

In other words, as organizations flatten, more is expected from each individual contributor. Which means that versatility is not only fashionable, it’s become a key ingredient in modern-day career progression.

Now, I’m not suggesting you spread yourself so thin as to master nothing at all. But in order to reach top-percentile status in today’s rugged job market, you’ll need an expanded arsenal of skills to deploy.

To round out your resume, look for areas of weakness (or “blind spots”), and try to develop them into strengths. For example, if you’re a design engineer and you want to improve your company’s product or advance its market position, here are some issues to consider:

By gaining knowledge in areas that were formerly considered the domain of “somebody else,” you’ll increase your overall market value. The more you can offer a multiple spectrum of knowledge—rather than a single color of skill—the less likely you’ll be to paint yourself into a corner.

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resume-overkill

Nearly everything written about resume design concentrates on what you should put in. But let’s look at what should be left out, or at least minimized.

Item #1: Salary history or salary requirements.
I’ve never heard one good reason to mention your past, current, or expected salary. If you see a classified ad that says, “Only resumes with salary history will be considered,” don’t believe it. If your resume is strong enough, you’ll be contacted. Once contacted, be forthright.

Item #2: References.
If you have high-impact or well known professional references, fine. Otherwise, “References: Available Upon Request” will do just fine. Avoid personal references like your minister or your attorney, unless they happen to be Billy Graham or Sandra Day O’Connor.

Item #3: Superfluous materials.
When submitting a resume, avoid enclosing such items as your thesis, photos, diplomas, transcripts, product samples, newspaper articles, blueprints, designs, or letters of recommendation. These are props you can use during your interview, but not before. The only thing other than your resume that’s acceptable is your business card.

Item #4: Personal information.
Leave out anything other than the absolute essentials such as, “Married, two children, willing to relocate, excellent health.” By listing your Masonic affiliation, save-the-whales activism or codependency support group, you could give the employer a reason to suspect that your outside activities may interfere with your work.

Not long ago, I received a resume from a candidate who felt the need to put his bowling average on his curriculum vita. The person must have thought that kind of information might improve his chances of being interviewed. Given the choice, would I show his resume to an employer? Not a chance.

Remember, the greater the relevancy between your resume and the needs of the employer, the more seriously your candidacy will be considered. Say what you need to get the job—and nothing more.

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There are many deeply personal reasons to change your employment situation. However, from a purely strategic point of view, there are four good reasons to change jobs within the same (or similar) industry three times during your first ten years of employment:

Reason #1: Changing jobs gives you a broader base of experience: After about three years, you’ve learned most of what you’re going to know about how to do your job. Therefore, over a ten year period, you gain more experience from “three times 90 percent” than “one times 100 percent.”

Reason #2: A more varied background creates a greater demand for your skills: Depth of experience means you’re more valuable to a larger number of employers. You’re not only familiar with your current company’s product, service, procedures, quality programs, inventory system, and so forth; you bring with you the expertise you’ve gained from your prior employment with other companies.

Reason #3: A job change results in an accelerated promotion cycle: Each time you make a change, you bump up a notch on the promotion ladder. You jump, for example, from project engineer to senior project engineer; or national sales manager to vice president of sales and marketing.

Reason #4: More responsibility leads to greater earning power: A promotion is usually accompanied by a salary increase. And since you’re being promoted faster, your salary grows at a quicker pace, sort of like compounding the interest you’d earn on a certificate of deposit.

Many people view a job change as a way of promoting themselves to a better position. And in most cases, I would agree. However, you should always be sure your new job offers you the means to satisfy your values. While there’s no denying the strategic virtues of selective job changing for the purpose of career leverage, you want to make sure the path you take will lead you where you really want to go.

For instance, there’s no reason to change jobs for more money if it’ll make you unhappy to the point of distraction. In fact, I’ve found that money usually has no influence on a career decision unless it materially affects your lifestyle or self-identity.

To me, the “best” job is one in which your values are being satisfied most effectively. If career growth and advancement are your primary goals, and they’re represented by how much you earn, then the job that pays the most money is the “better” job.

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The best approach to putting the deal together is to decide whether you want the job before an offer is extended. This allows you to clarify whether the job suits your needs. Unless you’re motivated solely by money, it’s doubtful a few extra dollars will turn a bad job into a good one.

The term “bottom line” refers to the amount of compensation you feel is absolutely necessary to accept the job offer. If, for example, you really want $76,000 but would think about $75,000 or settle for $74,000, then you haven’t established your bottom line. The bottom line is one dollar more than the figure you would positively walk away from. Setting a bottom line clarifies your sense of worth, and helps avoid an unpredictable bargaining session.

I recommend against “negotiating” an offer in the classic sense, where the company makes a proposal, you counter it, they counter your counter, and so on. While this type of back-and-forth format may be customary for negotiating a residential real estate deal, job offers should be handled in a more straightforward manner.

Here’s how: Determine your bottom line in advance, and wait for the offer. If the company offers you more than your bottom line, great. If they offer you less, then you have the option of turning the offer down or revealing to them your bottom line as a condition of acceptance. At that point, they can raise the ante or walk away. And once the bottom line is known, you can avoid the haggling that so often causes aggravation, disappointment, or hurt feelings.

By determining your own acceptance conditions in advance, you’ll never be accused of negotiating in bad faith or of being indecisive. Whether you’re representing yourself or working with a recruiter, learning to differentiate between financial fact and fantasy will facilitate the job changing process.

If you feel the need to justify your salary request, you can itemize any loss of income that may result from a differential in benefits, geographic location, car expenses, and so forth.

Often, there are considerations aside from money that need to be satisfied before an offer can be accepted. Factors such as the new position title, review periods, work schedule, vacation allotment, and promotion opportunities are important, and should be looked at carefully.

You can use the this approach to quantify each consideration or “point” you need to satisfy as a condition for acceptance. Once you and the company settle on each point, you won’t need to go back later to negotiate “one more thing.” Knowing your bottom line puts you in a better position to get what you want, since you’ve established a set of quantifiable conditions needed for acceptance.

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