Tag Archives: interview questions

Every conversation is an interview

Our office was small, 5 desks. We always wear office casual. Our interview style is casual. We ask a lot of tough questions, but we try our best to put candidates at ease.

A candidate was making some rather crude remarks about former coworkers. He shoveled up some really inappropriate dirt on some characters he knew. Finally he was told, “Saying things like that in an interview is going to keep everyone from wanting to have anything to do with you.”

He replied, “But this isn’t an interview.”

His mistake

You are in an interview anytime you talk with someone who can help you get a job. Use your interview manners when you talk to friends, acquaintances, recruiters, people in Human Resources and when you talk to a company President. Your friend who knows a manager in another company is interviewing you when you ask him to submit your resume. A recruiter is always interviewing people.

Some interviewers, like recruiters, require more in-depth information than others. Give it to them, but don’t show hatred. Don’t viciously gossip.

That doesn’t mean you should hide things, it means you should get over them. Let them go. Forgive. Forget. At the very least stop bringing horrible things up. 

A way to measure what to say

The measure of what you should say now, is what you imagine yourself saying about the situation in 5 or 10 years.

When you are looking for a job in 5 or 10 years you will not say much about the SOB’s at your last job. They won’t be worth the time. You may have to say why you left, but it will only take 20 seconds. 

When you paint someone with a hateful brush, you expose your hate. Your hatred, loathing or disgust is never pretty. Those who see it will always wonder when you will say the same things about them. A rabid vicious dog is never welcome in any neighborhood. So, why would someone want you, a vengeful, spiteful, nasty mouthed person, working on their team? 

Get on with your life. Forgive, forget. Concentrate on the good things you do. Remember, you are always in an interview.

Something to do today

Think about the negatives that come out of your mouth in an interview. Figure out a way to clinically describe bad things that happened without emotion. Figure out how to do it in 20 seconds. 

Turn your weakness into a strength to get the job

What is one of your weaknesses?

The candidate gave one weakness. He was prepared for that question.

The interviewer paused and frowned. He couldn’t remember what he had planned for the next question.

The candidate got nervous. Why did the interviewer pause? He blurted out another weakness. This one was a little more serious. He hadn’t prepared to offer more than one weakness. 

This caught the interviewer so off guard that he blinked a couple of times and furrowed his brow. 

The candidate couldn’t hold back. There was another weakness. 

The candidate fell apart. He added even more weaknesses. He talked himself out of a job.

Be prepared to talk about one weakness. For good measure, make it something that could be a strength, but that you take too far. It could be working late or being a perfectionist. Tell how you correct the weakness.

Then shut up.

Never give more than one weakness. Otherwise YOU will ruin your chance.

Something to do today

Prepare for the question, “What is one of your weaknesses.” Make sure you also include in your answer how you compensate for that weakness..

How to distract an interviewer with a red herring

Is a red herring good or bad? Obviously it can be either. A red herring distracts from an important point. Here is how it works.

Do you have something to hide? If it is a minor disqualifier, be prepared to talk around it. Let’s say you were five years in accounting, but only the last year of it in audit. They ask about how much time you actually spent in audits. You answer precisely, “I’ve been with Bolger & Smith CPA’s for five years. In the last year alone, I have done full audits of 12 companies in addition to my other duties.” The phrase, “In the last year alone,” is a red herring. Skillfully placed it diverts attention to the last year.

Were you fired for refusing to work any more overtime? First off, make sure there will be no overtime in the new job. When they ask, “Why did you leave,” 

you can reply, “My manager and I disagreed on a matter of service, which I will not go into.” Don’t say, “I was fired.” Don’t give a full explanation. When they press for details you can say, “My last manager was well qualified. We disagreed on a matter of service. I won’t go into it any further.” 

The red herring is your nobility in not tearing down your old manager. Make sure they see your loyalty and refusal to gossip. It makes you look good and distracts them from the issue of you being fired.

A red herring is not a lie. It is a distraction. If your distraction doesn’t work, either refuse to answer or tell the unvarnished truth. In the end, distraction is acceptable. A lie will get you fired.

Something to do today

If you have something to hide, write out tough questions. Write out three red herrings for each question. Practice them.

How to show personality and quality to get a job

Reading off of a sheet of questions, each interviewer takes a turn asking set questions. There are technical questions, motivation questions and team related questions. Which are the most important ones? Which are the red herrings?

If you interview with 5 people at a company, you will have to deal with 5 agendas. Each will have a different set of core values and competencies they are looking for. So how do you win?

Be yourself, but avoid dwelling on yourself.

Be yourself

Make sure your interviewers know one or two endearing things that make you different. For instance, I have ten kids and I am a Boy Scouts leader. That will set Bryan Dilts apart from other candidates and give me a personality. Do you have a computer network in your basement? Were you the top salesman of Girl Scout cookies as a kid? Mention one or two things that make you unique. Make sure NOT to mention politics.

Avoid dwelling on yourself

A quick mention of your one or two endearing qualities is all that is needed. Then it is time to mention past job performance. 

When asked about what you did, mention specific projects. You can say, “I was in charge of the budget,” or you can say, “While I was in charge of the budget we increased productivity 60% while increasing the budget only 20%.” That will catch their attention. As a salesperson you can say, “I sold to companies with over 2000 employees,” or you can get bonus points by saying, “In the last year I opened new accounts at 14 companies, each with over 2000 employees.” 

Don’t dwell on yourself. Dwell on the facts. Facts that demonstrate your value to your last company and the company you are interviewing with.

Their red herrings

You really have no hope of knowing which of their questions are red herrings. All you can do is refocus each question they ask on what you have accomplished in the past. Given a choice, most people would rather work with someone who will get things done rather than someone who answers the questions just like they are supposed to.

Ignore their red herrings and show them you are a big fish. They’ll want to reel you in and hire you.

Something to do today

Ask if you can help do interviews at your current company. You may be surprised what you learn about being interviewed by watching others in the hot seat and talking with your boss about them afterwards.

The salary question is illegal in MA

MA just passed a law making it illegal to ask your current or past salary before they have made you a job offer!

Here is the article.

I have to admit, I did not see that one coming.

Should you answer, “Where else are you interviewing?”

Spy asking Spying or helping?

Are they going to use the information to hurt you or to help you?

Who is asking you, “Where else are you interviewing?” That should change your answer.

During a police interrogation you answer questions differently than you do when you are talking to your spouse.  For example, “Where have you been?” can be more dangerous coming from one of those two sources.

There are two correct responses to the question, “Where else are you interviewing?”  If you are talking to a hiring manager or HR person, tell them.  Let them know what is going on. Give them details if they ask. It will most likely increase your desirability if they know others are talking to you.

If you are talking to a recruiter at an agency, you need to decide if you trust the recruiter.  Ask the recruiter, “Why do you want to know?”  After the recruiter acts defensive or offended, ask your real question, “Do you ever submit resumes to jobs you find out about from candidates?”

The recruiter should answer, “I will only submit a resume to a job you mention if I am already working on it, or if you tell me you are out of contention there.  I will never reduce your chances of getting a job by submitting competition unless I was already working on the job.”

Do you trust the recruiter?  If so, give him the details of your interviews. He can help you much better in your job search if he knows everything. All the recruiting trainers and over half the recruiters will play fair with you. They will not ruin your chances where you are already interviewing. If you have serious doubts about the recruiter, tell them you are interviewing, but not precisely where.

Basically, if someone will hurt you with the information, protect yourself.  If the information works to your advantage, tell them.

Something To Do Today

Evaluate every recruiter you work with.   Which ones do you trust?  Which ones are questionable?  Why? Trust your instincts.

I am going on vacation the week of the 4th of July.  I’ll be at a family reunion in Gila, NM and totally unavailable.

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Later:                          Why don’t they give you an answer, Yes or No?

The company’s reputation

Will you do anything we ask? – the interview question

waist deep in water

Will you really do “whatever it takes” ??

“Will you do whatever it takes to get the job done?” is a common interview question.

In “The Firm” a new lawyer finds the perfect job: great pay, wonderful benefits and  a really high flying lifestyle.  Then he finds out he is a part of the mafia and can’t get out unless he is the guest of honor at his own funeral.

Let’s get realistic.  Even in high flying corporate scandals no one is murdered.  If you feel you have to blow the whistle you can go to newspaper reporters and the police.  You will be safe physically.  Your only real worries are social and financial.  The company’s risk is to its very existence.  It can be destroyed just by bad press.  Also, legal action can take away any profit the company has had for years.

There is no reason to suspect that your employer wants you to do something illegal.  It is much more likely he wants you to work late.

Go ahead and be enthusiastic when they ask the question, “Will you do whatever it takes?”  The proper answer is to give examples of how you have gone the extra mile in previous jobs.  Tell when you worked late to finish projects or help a teammate.  Carrying a pager is a great example of doing “whatever it takes.”  Mention the inconvenient business trips.  The support you had from your family when you had to work late or travel is a valuable story.

I hate to go back to it, but, don’t mention when you did something borderline illegal.  Don’t assume they want you to do something immoral.  If they ask you to do something that is wrong, ask them to clarify.  Ask for examples.  If you are sure they are asking you to do something illegal, immoral, or fattening, refuse the second interview or the job offer. You can even bring it up with the CEO or the SEC.

Some people have been burned by a previous bad employer.  You may have been hired by a place with dubious morals. You are out now, or in the process of getting out.  Assume the best of the companies you are visiting.  Give examples of how hard you are willing to work to succeed. Focus on what you can do for the company.

Something To Do Today

Assume the best.  Ask for examples.

The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything. (J. W. von Goethe)

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Tomorrow:     Where else are you interviewing?

Later:              Why don’t they give you an answer, Yes or No?

The company’s reputation

The pause that destroys a job interview

shocked woman

It is not when YOU pause that destroys you.

Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.  (Muhammed Ali)

An interviewer said, “Tell me what your biggest weakness is.” The candidate gave one example.  There was a pause. The interviewer looked puzzled. Uncomfortable, the candidate gave another weakness.  The surprised interviewer sat for 10 seconds after that admission trying to gather his thoughts.  The candidate gave another weakness.  In all, the candidate gave six weaknesses.  The interview was over a few minutes later.  The candidate was not hired.

When you finish answering a question and the interviewer looks at you without saying anything, what do you do?  Do you start talking again?  No! Stop! Shut up!  You need to learn to outwait your interviewer.  If he wants more, let him ask. If he raises an eyebrow as if to say, “Is that all?”, then you should look puzzled or confident and wait for him to talk.

Most interviewers do not consciously use silence as a weapon.  They will be happier if you let the silence stretch.  They are gathering their thoughts.  Don’t interrupt them.  Let them have the time they need to feel comfortable.

Interviewers who purposely use silence will be impressed if you have the guts to let a silent break stretch to 30 seconds while looking them in the eye, occasionally glancing down to their hands.  To them it is a sign of self worth and assurance.

A big turn-off for many managers is someone who just can’t stop talking.  Make use of the old saying, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Something To Do Today

Practice talking and then being quiet.  Watch how the person you are addressing gets nervous. Just for today, don’t let them off the hook.  Be the strong silent type today.

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Tomorrow:     What are your weaknesses?

Later:              What do we have to pay you?

Why are you leaving your job?

Will you do anything we ask?

Where else are you interviewing?

Should you tell them where else?

Why don’t they give you an answer, Yes or No?

How to deal with interview traps

bear trap

Questions that are really interview traps can kill your chances

Thumb screws and the iron maiden are no longer considered proper interview tools. Nasty traps are rarely set for candidates.  The most common snare is a reasonable question or a pause that becomes the killing moment in an interview.  We’ll talk about pauses another day.

Reasonable questions that are dangerous include:

  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What do we have to pay you to get you to work here?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • Are you willing to do anything necessary to get the job done?
  • Where else are you interviewing?

When you get a dangerous question you should answer it accurately.  That doesn’t mean you need to go into a lot of detail.  Over the next few day we’ll touch on each one of these questions.  For now, remember to be brief.

Any one of these questions can bring out old job wounds.  Job wounds are things that happened at a previous job that you are afraid will happen again.  Get over them. This is a new company.  Don’t yell, whine or complain about the past.  If you have to mention something that is ugly, state the fact in one short sentence and stop.  Don’t explain.  Don’t fill in the details. Let your interviewer assume what he wants. You will find that their imagination is often more generous to you if you are extremely brief and only mention facts.

The secret to avoiding interview traps is to prepare an answer in advance.  Use that answer and avoid going into areas that are painful for you. Brevity is a key.

If all the world’s a stage, I want to operate the trap door. (Beatty)

Something To Do Today

Write down a one sentence answer to each of the questions above.  Next week compare those answers to the guidelines for each question.

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Next:     Pregnant pauses

Later:              What are your weaknesses?

What do we have to pay you?

Why are you leaving your job?

Will you do anything we ask?

Where else are you interviewing?

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2 critical interview questions you should always ask the hirer

The interviewer’s first worry (out of 7)

You may be talking yourself out of a job. Your resume and your interview may combine to scare the interviewer.  He may think he will lose control of his situation if he even makes you a job  offer.

The hiring manager for any job usually already feels out of control. Someone quit, or there is more work to do than his team can handle. He is losing control of his own time because he is being forced to review resumes and set up interview times.  He is feeling out of control.

Then you make it worse.  He looks at your resume and asks himself, “Why does this candidate want to come work for me? What does he have in common with other people who quit? Will he even accept the job if we offer it?

Will he even accept the job if we offer it?

That is the first huge question you have to remove from the hirer’s mind. There are two types of questions you can ask to help soothe the hirer.  Ask the first one in the middle of the interview. Ask the second one at the very end. The second question is critical.

  1. What do you like most about working here?

Your purpose is to convince the hirer that they have connected with you about what makes the company great.  Give them a chance to say what they like the most.  While they are talking about it, lean forward and listen intently.  If the hirer feels you like his explanation, he will feel a lot more comfortable that you will accept the job.

  1. Can I have the job?

At the end of the interview you have to be bold.  You have to ask for the job.  There are several ways you can put it.

  • This sounds like a great opportunity. I like the people, and the job sounds great.  Is there anything you have seen in me that would keep you from hiring me?
  • This is the exact job, company, and coworkers I have been looking for. Can we set up the next step in the hiring process right now?
  • I really appreciate the chance to talk to you. What a great job and company! I want to work with you. How soon can I start working here?
  • This has been great. Can I have the job?

You will notice that the last example above is the condensed version.  It is the shortest and most direct way to ask for the job.  However you say it, say it at the end of every interview.  Never forget it.

The will practically never make you the job offer, or set up the next step right then.  The point is to let them know you really really really want the job.

Remove all doubt that you will accept the job if a decent offer is made.  Do it by letting them know you are interested. If you ask some variation of question 1 and question 2, you will dramatically increase your chances of being seriously considered and hired.

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More on these topics is coming later:

You have to help them regain control before you are hired

In order to soothe your potential boss, you have to give them as much control as possible.  If you can prove a few basic things, they will hire you immediately.  You need to prove:

  1. You will take that job and keep it.
  2. You can do that job
  3. You won’t take too much training
  4. You will take the initiative to do things within their system
  5. You learn quickly
  6. You get along with all kinds of coworkers – good and bad
  7. You will quickly take other burdens off the boss’s back and give them back control.

How do you prove it?

We’ll talk about that over the next few days.