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Clever and Intelligent Questions to Ask on your Interview


Appendix 1


20 great answers to the toughest interview questions

Employers are looking for self-managing employees – people who are versatile, confident, ready and able to work with a team, and not afraid to roll up their sleeves, work long hours, and get the job done. “That’s me,” you chortle. Congratulations. But you won’t get the chance to prove yourself on the job without making it through the interview process.
Of all the tools in your professional arsenal, your ability to shine in one brief moment in time – your initial interview can make or break your chances for a second go-around, and, ultimately, dictate whether you’re ever given a shot at the job. I hope to spare you many of the indignities I suffered along the way, by helping you prepare for the interview of your worst nightmares – at a comfortable remove from the interviewer’s glare.

  1. So, tell me about yourself.
    Construct a well-thought-out logically sequenced summary of your experience, skills, talents, and schooling. But be sure to keep it tightly focused – about 250 to 350 words, chock-full of specifics – and tie your experience to the requirements of the position. It should take you no more than two or three minutes to recite an answer that features a brief introduction, key accomplishments, key strengths demonstrated by these accomplishments, the importance of these strengths to the prospective employer, and where and how you see yourself developing in the position for which you’re applying.
  2. What are your strengths as an employer?
    Let’s presume you have a singular skill for meeting even the most unreasonable deadlines. You are tenacious. Nothing can stop you. If meeting deadlines is a key job requirement, be sure to cite two or three pertinent examples from your experience. The more outrageous the deadline and Herculean your efforts, the more important it is to bring to the interviewer’s attention-at least twice.
  3. What do you want to be doing five years from now?
    Naturally, you want a position of responsibility in your field. But you don’t want to give the impression that you’re a piranha waiting to feed on the guppies in your new department. So, start humbly and then toot your own horn a bit.
  4. You should offer a balanced answer to this question, citing personal as well as professional examples. If this successes are exclusively job-related, an interviewer may wonder if you actually have a life. However, if you blather on about your personal goals and accomplishments, you may seem uncommitted to striving for success on the job.
  5. Why are you applying for a job in a field other than your major?
    Life doesn’t always turn out according to plan. Especially when you’re young, changes in direction are common, though hard enough to live through without getting grilled about them. But when the interviewer asks about one of your 180-degree turns, you’ve got to respond. So what do you do? You know you’ve piqued the employer’s interest enough to get an interview, right? So relax and answer the question. Keep it brief and positive: you’ve reexamined your career goals, and you’ve decided this is the career you want to pursue.
  6. Tell me about your last three positions. Explain what you did, how you did it, the people you worked for, and the people you worked with. This is a “shotgun approach” question, in part designed to see how well you organize what could be a lot of data into a brief, coherent overview of 3, 5, 10, or more years’ experience. Interviewer who ask this question, or one like it, are trying to flesh out your resume, catch inconsistencies, create a road map for the far more detailed inquiries to follow, and evaluate how well you edit your answer to match your experience and skills to the requirements of the job at hand. Try to highlight relevant experience and skills in a brief, coherent, positive answer and indicate a clear pattern upward: increased responsibility, authority, money, subordinates, skill level, and so on.
  7. Tell me about the best/worst boss you ever had.
    Most companies want to hear that you most enjoyed working for someone who was interested in helping you learn and grow, involved in monitoring your progress, and generous about giving credit when and to whom it was due. This question offers you an opportunity to accentuate your own experiences, accomplishments, and qualities. There are bad bosses out there, but a savvy candidate should be able to put a supervisor’s failures in a positive context. If you say your boss was “stingy with his knowledge,” you are accentuating your desire to learn. In the same vein, saying that a manager was “uninvolved” could indicate your desire to work within a cohesive team, just prepare – and practice – your responses ahead of time.
  8. What were the most memorable accomplishments at your last job? In your career?
    Focus on your most recent accomplishments – in your current position or the job you had just prior to this one. But make sure they are relevant to the position for which you’re interviewing. By letting the interviewer know that you are in the practice of regularly assessing your shortcomings, you will show that you are well on the way to overcoming them.
  9. Tell me about the types of people you have trouble getting along with.
    This could be a land mine for a candidate who responds too quickly, saying “pushy, abrasive people” only to find out later that the interviewer is known for being brusque. A general, vague answer, supplying little detail, indicates both a lack of analysis and a dearth of self-knowledge. Of course, you don’t really want to answer this question, which is why it was asked. Keep your answer short and answer and discuss what you have done to solve the “problem.”
  10. How do you handle change?
    Business is about change. In order to remain competitive, companies have to adapt to change in technology, personnel, leadership, business structure, the types of services they deliver, and even the products they produce. And their people need to change just as quickly. Choose an example of a change you faced that’s resulted in something positive. Try to show that you not only accepted change and adapted to it, but flourished.
  11. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
    The position for which you’re interviewing will dictate how you should shape your answer. Even if you do like interaction at work, don’t try to paint your environment as a bed of roses without any thorns. You know the old saying, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.” That goes for coworkers, too. Every job situation forces us to get along with people we might not chose to socialize with. But we must get along with them and, quite often, for long stretches of time and under difficult circumstances. Acknowledging this shows strength. Talk about how you’ve been able to get along with a variety of other people.
  12. Discuss how you try to anticipate problems before they occur and work them out before they get ugly. When conflicts can’t be avoided, you don’t back down, but you certainly try to be reasonable.
  13. How do you motivate people?
    A good answer will note how it “depends on the person,” then offer one or two concrete examples. A poor candidate will imply that all people are motivated by the same thing or can be motivated with the same approach, a kind of one-size-fits-all philosophy.
  14. Tell me about the last time you found a creative solution to a problem.
    This open-ended question encourages you to talk but clearly requires a focused, specific answer – the more detailed the better. Provide an answer that has a beginning, middle, and end, much like a good story: Here’s what happened, here’s what I did, here’s what I learned. Take appropriate credit for an accomplishment (reducing costs, increasing revenues, a creative solution, a tough sale), but be fair and honest enough to put your own contribution within the context of what your team/organization/boss/assistants did...and try to appear to be bending over backwards to do so. Most interviewers will favor a candidate who has been around long enough to make good and bad decisions, good and bad hires, good and bad choices.
  15. Obviously, no one wants to leave a job with which they are completely satisfied, but the last thing you want to do is appear negative or, worse, speak badly about your current employer. So handle your discontent (if that’s what led you here) very gingerly. The greater your unhappiness, the more careful you should be when talking about it. It will do you absolutely no good to confess to the interviewer that you lie awake nights fantasizing about putting a contract out on your current boss. Instead, use what management consultants call “visioning”: Imagine the ideal next step in your career, then act as though you are interviewing for that position.
  16. How would your coworkers describe you?
    Of course, they would describe you as an easy-going person who is a good team player. After all, you’ve found that “a lot more can be accomplished when people gang up on a problem rather than on each other.” Take words describing your strongest skills, greatest areas of knowledge, and greatest personality strengths … and put them in the mouth of coworkers and friends.
  17. Do you know much about our company?
    Toss out a few salient (and positive) facts about the company, and finish by lobbing a question that demonstrates your interest back into the interviewer’s court. Give a detailed answer that indicates the breadth of your research, from checking out the company’s Internet site to reading its annual report and becoming familiar with its products and services. Referring to a trade magazine article that mentions the company or, better yet, the interviewer, would be a nice touch, don’t you think?
  18. What interests you most about this position? Our company?
    You have your eye on more responsibility, more opportunities, the chance to supervise more people, and the chance to develop a new set of skills and sharpen the ones you’ve already acquired. And, of course, if they absolutely insist they’ll increase your salary, well, you certainly wouldn’t negative and say no! However, this is also the ideal time to show what you know about this company and how the position for which you’re interviewing can contribute to its success.
  19. What sort of salary are you looking for?
    You must have a pretty good idea of what your particular market will bear. If you don’t know the high and low salary ranges in your area (city and state) and industry, do some research. Make sure you know whether these figures represent just dollars or a compensation package that may include insurance, retirement programs, and other value-added benefits. Even if you’ve been out of a job for months, this is not the time or place to let your desperation show. Have confidence in your own worth. By this time, you’ve worked hard to sell the interviewer on your value as a future employee. Don’t undermine your own argument.
  20. Do you have any questions?
    Normally, this question occurs very near the conclusion of the interview. In fact, you may well assume that its appearance pretty much signals the end. Never, I repeat, never answer with a “no.” how can you make one of the most important decisions of your life – whether to work for this company, at this job – without knowing more? Even if you think you’re sold on the position and are clear on the responsibilities, you must speak up here. If you don’t, the interviewer will assume you are uninterested. And that can be the kiss of death even at this stage of the process.

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