“It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret”
When do you think your interview begins? As soon as walk into the interview room, of course – right?
Your interview starts as soon as you’re given the day and time. This is when you need to start preparing. And preparing. And then prepare some more!
Preparation is what separates great candidates from merely good ones. And great candidates get great job offers!
If you get nervous before an interview (we all do!) the best cure is to be superbly prepared.
Preparation is so important that I’ve broken it down into what I consider to be the most important components:
• Company Research
• Prepare Your “Marketing Message”
• Know Thyself
• Prepare anecdotes
• Practice Answers to Difficult and Common Questions
• Prepare Questions for You to Ask
By and large, the candidates that prepare most for their interviews are the ones who get the best job offers at the highest salaries. If you remember nothing else about preparation, remember this: You must thoroughly research the company for which you are interviewing (say, do I repeat myself a lot or what?).
As a Hiring Manager, I’ve seen applicants approach an interview like they just woke up that morning and said to themselves, “I think I’ll go on a job interview today.” They then proceed to slop their way through the interview and email me a week later to ask if they got the job.
Instead of them doing a kick-ass interview, I just want to kick them in the ass!
Remember this: As an experienced hiring manager, I know if candidates come properly prepared within the first five minutes of the interview.
The prepared candidates can give me a well-thought-out, 30 to 60-second overview of their qualifications, which is usually the first question I ask. They can state their qualifications in terms specific to my job, as well as demonstrate a good working knowledge of my company.
Even if it’s just an entry-level or clerical job, you can – and should – be able to talk knowledgeably about the company. Being able to do this, while important for all interviews, is particularly impressive for these types of jobs.
I cannot overstate how important it is to do your homework about the company. It’s a major blunder to ask the Hiring Manager to tell you about the company. I expect you to be able to tell me what you know about my organization, so proper research is critical.
One of your major goals in an interview should be to have the ability to relate your skills and experience in terms that address the requirements of the job (which are almost always right there in the posted job description). Additionally, you should also be able to mention specific challenges and issues faced by that company and how your experience and accomplishments will help address them.
You need to be thorough enough in your preparation that you can do this in a smoothly and without hesitation. When you’ve done your research well, you’ll be able to tailor your answers with facts specific to that company.
Here’s what I mean. Pretend that you’re interviewing for a sales position. In researching the company, you find out that sales are down in the territory for which you’re interviewing.
You can now explain that you know that low sales are a problem in that territory and that the fact you increased sales in your last job means that you can solve that problem for them.
Now you’ve addressed a specific problem for that company, which is a very powerful way to answer any interview question. However, I seldom hear this in interviews and wish I could send a limo to bring me applicants that can pull this off.
When you become knowledgeable about the company, you can also ask questions specific to it when you get to the end of the interview and are asked if you have any questions. This is a massive opportunity that many applicants miss.
At this point of the interview, I usually get a general question or two about the job, or sometimes no questions at all. So, whenever I get a specific and relevant question about some aspect of my company, that’s an applicant I’ll remember.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time at that company if you get the job, so doesn’t it make sense to find out what it’s like in advance?
With so much information available online, there is no longer any excuse for doing inadequate research on any company for which you interview. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing not serious or professional enough to educate yourself.
The Company Web Site
So where do you get all this information? The first place to begin is that company’s website.
You should make yourself familiar with positive information about the company and their web site is where you’ll find it, along with much other information. You’ll want to look for the following things:
- The Hiring Manager’s name, plus any other members of the interview team that you’re able to discover. If the hiring manager is high enough in the organization, you may information about that person in “About Us” link that is almost always present.
Be as thorough as you can in scouring their website for information. If you’re lucky enough to find specific information about the hiring manager, that will help in your interview. You can also check the Linkedin page for that company, as it may include a listing of managers.
As to other members of the interview panel, try calling the HR department. They may be willing to tell you who will be on the panel if you ask politely, explaining that you want to be certain to get the names right.
- Search for the names of executives, key managers, and Board of Directors. Also search for those names on Google and Linkedin, as you may uncover some additional information about the company that’s not on their website.
- What is the company’s history? How long has it been in existence and has its name ever changed?
- Look for a “press releases” link. Press releases can be a very good source of just the kind of information that the company wants everyone to know. Pick out a few good quotes from the press releases and try to mention at least one of them in your interview. This is particularly effective in demonstrating you did your homework.
- Has there been a recent expansion, growth spurt, or reorganization that may have impacted operations?
- What is the primary market for the company and what is its customer base?
- What are the goals, objectives, and strategies of the organization and how do they affect its future plans?
- Is there a Board of Directors? Write down the names of the members.
- How large is that company currently and what are its plans for growth?
This research will help you pepper your interview answers with information specific and relevant to that company.
Google should always be the next source for your research. Look for any current news releases about that company. Has it even been in the news lately? What do critics and other websites say about the company or its employees?
For large companies, you may find an online forum or discussion group. If you do, be sure to scan it. Sometimes employees of the company hang out on these sites and post insights that you won’t find elsewhere.
What do the various financial reporting agencies say about the company? How large are its assets and how secure is that business?
Which areas of the company are doing well and which ones are struggling? Any information about possible layoffs, mergers, or expansion plans can give you ideas to help shape your interview answers.
For example, any areas that are struggling are a golden opportunity for you to talk about how you might be able to help them turn around.
Read their most current Annual Report, as well as the latest Prospectus.
You can find these publications on the websites of many large companies. Or, you may find them at your local library. As a last resort, try requesting a copy directly from the company itself. They will frequently be happy to send you one, although it can be quite some time before you get it.
These two documents provide much information about the opportunities, goals, strategies, and challenges faced by the company, as well as many other things it considers important.
The point of gathering all this data is to give you some clues about what type of employees they seek. Your goal is to appear to be one of those types in your interview.
Search Facebook and Linkedin
Search both these sites for the name of the Hiring Manager and any of the other members of the interview panel that you’ve been able to identify. If you find profiles for any of them, it may give you some valuable information or insights that you can use in your interview.
On LinkedIn, you may be able to find new hires at your target company who you can contact to ask for tips as to how they successfully passed their interview and got hired.
In addition, you might find some former employees of that company who recently left. They may be willing to share some personal insights about the company and what they are looking for in applicants.
A great feature of Linkedin is its Company Profiles information. If you have a Linkedin account (you do have one, don’t you?) you can search for a company.
If it’s in their database you can find people in your network who work there or used to work there. You can also display members who share connections with you.
This is an excellent way to find people you can contact for advice or information.
With Facebook (this also applies to Linkedin), even if you can’t find pages for the Hiring Manager, you may be able to find some for other key managers in that organization. This may provide some information about their personal likes and dislikes.
I’m frequently amazed – and occasionally shocked! – at the details people will post about themselves and/or the company at which they work.
If you’re able to find some common interests with the Hiring Manager, you can work it into your interview. We Hiring Managers are (almost) human and perk up when we hear in an interview that the candidate has something in common with us.
True story: I once interviewed (yes, Hiring Managers can be job applicants, too!) for an upper-level IT management position. Even though I was interviewing for an IT job, for the first half of my career I was actually on the business side of the house.
In doing my research before the interview, I discovered that, like myself, the CIO had a business background. During the interview, I made it a point to reference my business background when answering one of the questions and was rewarded by the immediate look of interest the CIO gave me. He commented that he too had a business background and felt that it made him a better CIO.
From that point on, we clicked, the remainder of the interview went particularly well and I ended up getting the job.
Finally, consider checking out some of the other social media sites, such as Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. These are changing all the time, so be sure to do a quick search on them for any manager’s names you’ve been able to identify.
If you know anyone who works for the company with which you have an interview or even someone who knows someone at that organization, that can be a goldmine of information for your interview.
If any of these people happen to know the Hiring Manager, now you’ve found the mother lode! You have a good chance of finding out exactly what the Hiring Manager’s hot buttons are and can tailor your answers to specifically address them.
Be sure to carefully read the job posting. It blows me away that many applicants either haven’t done this or haven’t retained what they’ve read.
Please remember this: As the Hiring Manager, I’m the one who probably wrote the job posting or at least gave the specific requirements to the HR person who did write it.
In other words, I tell you precisely what I’m looking for, so use that information!
It will almost always list the exact skills and experience requirements for the job. You should use this information in the interview to state your skills and experience in terms specific to the job requirements. The more you’re able to do this, the better you will look as a candidate.
Here’s an example. Let’s pretend you’re interviewing for a customer service representative job. If you see in the job posting that one of the desired traits is the “ability to handle difficult customers”, you can assume there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked to give an example of how you dealt with a difficult person.
Since you’ve carefully done your homework (you have, haven’t you?), you know this is a likely question and you can be prepared with a very specific example of how you successfully dealt with a difficult customer in your prior job.
But what if you’ve never been a customer service representative before? Then simply talk about how you handled a difficult person in some other environment.
What they are looking for with this question is good people skills. Even if you don’t think this question will be asked, you should be able to give several examples of your excellent people skills, as that’s a generic trait that all companies want.
This is an approach you can use for each skill in the job posting. Craft examples from your experience that show how you successfully demonstrated these skills. Stay focused on the requirements for that position and work into your answers how your experience and skills are a good match for those requirements.
Contact the HR person who set up your interview and ask for the names and titles of the people who will be on your interview panel. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask this question and you will frequently get an answer. Memorize those names. This will make it easier to attach each name to a face in the interview.
In my experience as a Hiring Manager, I estimate that more than 90% of the applicants I’ve interviewed knew very little about my company and/or had not bothered to research details about the position.
I will tell you straight up that if you come into your interview as the most prepared and knowledgeable (about my company) applicant, and you are otherwise qualified, the odds are good that you will make it to the next round.
You may even ace the interview so much that you are the only one who made it to the next round!
And If You Find No Information
If the position is with a relatively new company or a smaller company, you may find it difficult to find detailed information.
Although even a small company will likely have a website, it may contain only sketchy information. It frequently won’t be much more than the location, basic contact information, and a brief overview of their services.
For new organizations, even if they are large and have an extensive website, you may not be able to find out much more than what’s on that website. They may be too new to have many press releases or annual reports.
If this is the case, you’ll need to modify your preparation strategy. Here are two ways to compensate for a lack of company information.
First, do some basic research about the particular position for which you’re interviewing and develop some answers that show you’re a good candidate for that type of position.
For example, let’s say you have an interview at a small dental office for a receptionist position. Since there isn’t much specific information available about such a small business, your strategy should be to show you know how to be successful in that position for any company.
Here’s one way you might do that.
Mention an article you read recently that said 40% of the new customers for medical and dental clinics are a result of referrals from existing customers. In addition, over half of the existing customer referrals were a result of having a positive experience with front office staff.
In your interview, you can then stress that you always work hard to make sure patients are delighted with your service because you know how important customer referrals are to a successful dental or medical clinic.
This lets them know that you’re knowledgeable about what’s specifically important for that particular position and how you can help their business. This is a powerful way to demonstrate that you’ll well prepared, despite the fact there was no detailed information available about that business.
Regardless of the type of position, you should be able to find general information about what it takes to be successful. Finding an article like this is simply one way.
A second way to deal with a shortage of company information is to be able to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the industry that the company is in and that you’ll be able to successfully apply that knowledge to help it.
Here’s what I mean.
Now let’s say you will be interviewing at a small start-up technology company for an application developer position. After searching, you find there is little information available for that company.
Since it’s a technology company, you could stress that you’ve become familiar with how dominant the cloud has become and how you can help them with their cloud computing initiatives.
Alternately, you could talk about how you’ve analyzed social media as an application access and distribution point and that you can help support that aspect of their operation and strategies.
Or…substitute any other aspect of technology applicable to that specific business. Your goal is to highlight that you know the technology arena in which they operate and can articulate how you can help them grow and meet their objectives.
The point here is that you can’t let a lack of information about a company cause a lack of preparation on your part. You still must give the impression that you’re prepared and knowledgeable about the business they are in.
Another True Story, in case you still doubt the importance of doing your research.
While preparing for the interview for my current position (yes, Hiring Managers also occasionally have to find a new job for themselves), I conservatively estimate I spent more than 25 hours researching that company.
I took all the steps I describe above and went over my findings multiple times, to the point that I was able to comfortably match most of my experience and knowledge to some aspect of the company’s business strategy and goals.
This was an extremely competitive position and I was one of eight people to make it to the final round of interviews. I ended up as the one hired, even though my boss later told me that I was the least qualified candidate in terms of specific IT experience. What made the difference was that I was by far the best-prepared candidate and the one most knowledgeable about that company and that industry.
That’s exactly why I was hired.
As a result of my interview, they added a question about “company knowledge” to the standard list of questions asked. I’ve been on many interview panels since then and I mentally grin every time this question is used.
The key takeaway here is don’t scrimp on your research. As far as interview preparation goes, this is probably the single biggest piece of advice I can give.
You Need a Marketing Message
Look at this as a commercial about yourself. You should create a 30 – 60 second overview of your job experience, skills, and key accomplishments.
Okay, why the heck is this important? It’s important because it’s very likely your interview will begin with a question like this: “Tell us about yourself”. This is the perfect point at which to present the commercial you have prepared about yourself.
You may have heard this also called an ‘elevator story’ because it should be short enough to give during an elevator ride.
This should be a tight overview of your experience, your skills, and at least a couple of major accomplishments. Better yet, make them relate specifically to the position for which you’re interviewing (ideally, you’ll create a custom one for each interview).
You might ask why this is necessary, since you already submitted a cover letter and resume when you applied, which contained all that information. But this isn’t the point. What the Hiring Manager wants to hear is how you handle it when you’re asked to “Tell us about yourself”.
Plus, you may be one of several candidates being interviewed and the Hiring Manager may have only skimmed each resume. This is your chance to distill yours down to the most important and relevant-to-that-position parts.
Believe me, I appreciate it when a candidate can do this smoothly and in an articulate manner.
BUT PLEASE NOTE: your marketing message should NOT include anything about your personal life or hobbies. It should be strictly about your qualifications, experience, and accomplishments.
As a Hiring Manager, by and large I’m not interested in where you went to school, where you were born, how many children you have, etc. What I’m primarily interested in is whether or not you have the skills and experience to be the best job candidate.
Personal information may come into play in a final interview, but upfront you should focus on professional issues only.
Too often I see candidates struggle when talking about themselves and as a result, they can appear inarticulate and awkward. The key for how to avoid this is preparation and practice.
Once you’ve developed your marketing message, making certain that it includes only your most significant experience and accomplishments, read it out loud to yourself or, preferably, to someone you trust. Be sure to time it so that it’s more than 30 seconds and less than 60.
I know – this seems short, but you’ll find that those 60 seconds can seem like an eternity once you’re actually in the interview!
Final point: you don’t have to memorize this. However, you should review it enough that you can cover all the points comfortably and with no hesitation. You’ll know you’re ready when you’re able to do this smoothly and confidently.
By this, I mean that you’ve memorized everything – and I mean everything! – in your resume.
When I’m interviewing a candidate and watch them fumble a question that could be answered right off their resume, I’m always unpleasantly surprised. It sort of makes me wonder if someone else wrote their resume and they forgot to read it!
Even though I’ve read your resume, I want to hear you use the parts that apply to that question and be able to answer it articulately.
To do this, you MUST be completely familiar with what’s in your resume. The key to this is, of course, practice.
Look at the job posting, paying particular attention to the specific needs and requirements that are listed. Then, practice stating your skills, experience, and accomplishments in terms that are specific to those requirements.
Let’s take the example of a job posting for a Project Manager position. If a primary requirement is “seven years of large scale project management experience”, then when asked in the interview to recap your experience, you could say: “I have nine years of experience managing projects at ABC company, with budgets exceeding one million dollars, and productivity increased by over 25% as a result.”
This clearly demonstrates two things: that you exceed the job requirement for experience, and that experience produced successful results.
If you can give an answer like that for each requirement listed for that position, you will perform better than 95% of the other applicants.
Be Prepared With Anecdotes
Many candidates miss this tip.
I’ll frequently (and so will many other Hiring Managers) ask questions that require an example of how you handled a difficult situation or some other type of job challenge. These “behavioral questions” stump many people.
They will often begin with something such as “Tell me about a time when you faced/were challenged/had to solve the following situation…….” These can be difficult to prepare for because they can be about literally any subject.
However, they do tend to follow a pattern and usually revolve around asking you to describe one of the following situations:
• Your general approach to resolving conflict.
• Describing a specific difficult situation you faced and how you handled it.
• Giving an example of a problem employee you supervised or worked with and how you turned that relationship around.
• Telling me about one of your success stories.
Develop a good answer for each of these situations and it’s likely that one will fit.
Practice Answers to Both Common and Difficult Questions
At one time or another over the years, I’ve asked most of them. Not to mention that as a candidate myself I’ve been asked many of them!
It would be impossible to give you sample answers to all these possible questions and you shouldn’t want me to. The answers need to be in your words. However, what I can do is provide some general guidelines for you to follow when developing your answers.
I’ve given several common and frequently asked questions below. You should develop your answers in your own words for these questions. Once again, be sure your answers include your qualifications and accomplishments as they relate specifically to that job.
Be sure to have some good examples of your work and your accomplishments that apply to that specific job. Your answers to questions will be much stronger as a result. It’s one thing to say you can do something, but another thing entirely to be able to give examples of things you have successfully done.
Common Questions You Can Expect
There are some common questions that have a high possibility of being asked regardless of the type of company or position for which you’re interviewing. You should review them and develop your answers.
Be sure to write them out, so you’ll have something to refer to later just before your interview. They may not be asked, but it’s better to be prepared and this can even help you answer other related questions that may come up.
After you’ve written out your answers, commit the main points to memory so that you can answer smoothly in an interview. And remember: your answers need to specifically relate to either the job description or in some way to the company. These are things you should have already learned from your research.
You always need to personalize your answers specifically to that job.
Here are the most common questions you may be asked. After this, I’ll review the more difficult questions you may come across and give you some suggested answers.
- Tell us something about yourself.
- What would you say are your strengths?
- Tell us why you want this specific job.
- Why are you attracted to our company?
- Give us an example of an idea you had that was implemented.
- How would you describe your work style?
- Tell us about an instance where you dealt with conflict on the job.
- How would you describe your ideal work environment?
- What were some of the things you liked least about your last job?
- What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?
- What salary are you looking for?
- Tell us what you know about our industry.
- Tell us what you know about our company.
- Give us an example of when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work.
- What would you say was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
- Tell us the most difficult decision you had to make in your last position.
- Why do want to leave your current job?
- Tell about a time you did something wrong and how you handled it.
- Tell us how you will quickly establish credibility with the team.
- How do you keep yourself organized?
Common Sample Interview Questions for Managers
- What was the last major project you managed and what was the outcome?
- Give an example of when you have to give difficult feedback to an employee and how you handled it.
- How would you describe your management style?
- Tell us about a personnel problem on your team and how you handled it.
- How would your employees describe you?
- If you get this job, what are some of the goals you would set?
Three of The Most Difficult Questions That Are Commonly Asked
There are some interview questions so notoriously tricky to answer that they have tripped up many applicants and can even cost you the job. Even though everyone’s aware of them now, they still keep cropping up in many interviews and you should know how to handle them.
Here they are and, as a Hiring Manager, how I think they should be answered.
- “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”
I believe this to be a pretty stupid question. It doesn’t tell me anything about your skills, experience, or accomplishments. Despite this, it’s frequently asked just to see how you handle the answer.
The thing is, there isn’t a right answer. Its primary purpose is to determine just how well you can field a no-win type of question.
Here’s the secret to answering this one…don’t answer it!
Yep, that’s what I said! For heaven’s sake, don’t do what many applicants do and try to use the worn-out approach of taking a positive trait and stating it as a negative.
As in something like this: “My greatest weakness is that I’m told I drive myself too hard.” Let me say straight up that every Hiring Manager with any kind of experience will recognize this right away as a cliché answer you got from some interview article.
Here’s how I would love to hear this question answered.
“I’m sure we all have things we could improve about ourselves, but your position, as I understand it, plays to my strengths, not my soft spots. I don’t think there is anything in my background or experience that would prevent me from doing an excellent job for you.”
This answer is a great one because it doesn’t try to argue that you don’t have soft spots (‘soft spots’ not weaknesses!). What it does is get you out of the “admission” mode and turns the question into an opportunity to sell yourself.
Instead of specifically answering a no-win question, you made a powerful statement. You showed you can think on your feet and you gave an answer that skillfully avoids the land mine set by this question. You made a positive statement about yourself and didn’t stumble around trying to state a positive as a negative.
I can practically guarantee that no one else will answer like this. I would send a taxi cab for this kind of applicant.
But what happens if you run into a stubborn and narrow-minded Hiring Manager that insists on hearing you admit to a weakness (red flag: Is this a person you want to work for?) Here’s how I suggest you handle it if you’re forced into an answer.
Say that you will occasionally take on too many things at once, but that you work on keeping this under control by constantly looking to better your organizational skills.
Yes, this does admit to a weakness, although it can also be a good one to have. But it also makes a strong point that it’s something you’re working hard to improve.
- “Why are You the Best Person for This Position?”
Although this is a tough question to answer well, you want it to be asked. Why? Because it gives you the best opportunity to sell yourself using information and examples that may not come up in other questions.
What you want to do with this question is answer it by reviewing your major areas of accomplishments and experience as they relate to that specific position. Surprisingly, (at least to me) the majority of candidates fail to do this.
To be able to do this, you have to properly prepare before the interview. This means becoming thoroughly familiar with that job’s specific requirements, as they appear in the job posting. In addition, you need to research in advance and be very knowledgeable about that company.
By doing this, you’ll be able to explain how you’re the best person for that specific job because your skills, experience, and accomplishments are a good match for both the position and for that company’s goals and objectives. You’ll be able to quote exact qualifications from the job posting and show just how well you meet those qualifications.
In addition, as a result of your research, you’ll be able to mention some goal or strategy of the company and explain how your qualifications will support those goals.
Here’s an example. You’re interviewing for a sales representative position and while researching the company you found out that growth is one of their primary goals.
An ideal time to use this information is when you’re asked to tell them why you’re the best person for the job. You could smoothly respond with: “While researching your company, I saw that your number one objective is sales growth. That’s my primary focus too and in my previous position, I increased sales by over 25% in my territory, at a time when sales were flat elsewhere in the company. I can achieve the same results for you if you select me for this position.”
It makes no difference what the job or company is – always sell your qualifications and experience in terms specific to the job posting and the company itself. This is what I want to hear as a Hiring Manager – and so seldom do!
- “Tell Me About Yourself”
Talk about a loaded question! Although it looks innocent, it’s a land mine and I’ve seen countless applicants fumble this one.
How? Well, they’ll frequently simply recap their last few jobs and what they did. Or they’ll ramble on about their hobbies, where they went to school, how many children they have, etc., etc.
The bottom line is that none of this is relevant.
What you should do is sell your skills and experience briefly and succinctly in terms that show you are a viable candidate. The best way to do this is to have prepared your 30 to 60-second recap of those skills and experiences that are most relevant to that specific job.
This is the same “marketing message” to which I referred earlier. The most important takeaway is to tailor that 60-second overview so that It highlights you are a perfect fit for that job.
Be Careful! How to Handle Some Difficult Questions
Sometimes it just happens and you’re unlucky enough to have some of the following tough questions thrown at you. For the most part, they don’t really have anything specific to do with the job. They are more intended to probe your character and reveal how well you handle difficult and stressful situations.
As a Hiring Manager, I usually try to avoid these types of questions because I don’t find them helpful. But it’s not unusual for them to be asked, so it’s best to be as prepared as you can. Here are some common ones.
Question: “Tell me three positive things your last boss would say about you.”
How to Answer: You can use the same answer you created for the earlier question about your strengths. It’s just another form of that question.
Question: “What are some negative things your last boss would say about you?”
How to Answer: Don’t fall into the trap and recite a list of things you did wrong at your last job. How you should answer this question is to mention some minor mistake you made and then add: “But my boss would also tell you I learned from this mistake and as a result, I was a better employee .”
Question: “ Where do you see yourself in your career five years from now?”
How to Answer: I’ve had applicants who thought the best answer to this question was to say that in five years they’d like to have their boss’s job. This is the worst answer! You need to answer in a way that shows a decent level of motivation and ambition but doesn’t come across as a threat.
The best answer is to say that you hope to have moved up one level within five years and be within shouting distance of one more level. This shows a healthy amount of ambition while not coming across as wanting the Hiring Manager’s job.
Question: “What is your opinion of your previous boss?”
How to Answer: Careful! A wrong answer here will quickly kill your chances for the job. Do not – I repeat, do not – ever say a negative thing about your previous boss or your previous company. Why? Because the interview panel will automatically assume that if you criticize your previous employer, you’ll also bad-mouth any company for which you work.
Here’s how to properly answer: “My last boss was a mentor from whom I learned quite a bit.” This is general enough that it will fit almost any situation without being untruthful.
Even if your previous boss was a jerk, he could still have been a mentor for what not to do as a boss.
Question: “Give me an example of how you were able to make order out of chaos.”
How to Answer: I stumbled over this one myself while being interviewed many years ago. It’s a question many Hiring Managers like, so be ready for it.
To deal with this one, you should have a couple of examples ready that show you did things like these:
- Straightened out a mess when you took over a job from someone else
- Took a project that was in trouble and turned it around
- Redesigned a process that wasn’t working well
- Took over management of a dysfunctional area and turned it around.
You want to be able to cite any kind of experience that shows you took a mess and straightened it out. The type of experience doesn’t matter. You just want to demonstrate that you were able to “make order out of chaos.”
Question: “Give me five words that describe your character.”
How to Answer: This is another favorite of Hiring Managers. Since its intent is to reveal whether or not you’re a good fit for that job, the best way to answer it is with adjectives straight out of the posted job description.
Let’s take a case where some of the qualifications listed in the job description are:
- Have a good customer service attitude
- Can learn new things quickly
- Can get along with people
- Are an excellent team player
- Have a good work ethic.
The five words from these that you could use to describe your character could be: helpful, intelligent, friendly, supportive, and dedicated.
Your goal is to show that your character is an excellent match for the position. By carefully studying the job description, you’ll be able to field this question much more easily.
And Now Some Oddball Questions – Watch out!
Unfortunately, there are those interviews where you can be asked some off-the-wall type of questions. They are designed to see how fast and well you can think on your feet and if you logically approach things.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to these types of questions. My advice is to either:
- Give an answer that to the best of your ability is based on logic, or
- Give an answer that shows a bit of humor (used appropriately, most Hiring Managers will welcome this).
Here’s how I’d like to see some of these questions answered. These will at least give you some ideas as to how to approach these strange types of questions
Question: “If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?”
Possible Answer: (Yes, I know – a particularly dumb question but one that is still occasionally asked). Try this: You’d choose an elephant. They’re large, powerful, have few natural enemies, are fairly intelligent, and live a long time. This is a good, generic answer that will fit many job situations.
But let’s say you’re interviewing for a position where aggressiveness may be considered a positive attribute (many sales jobs fall into this category). For these, you may want something like: “My preference is to be one of the big cats – a tiger, lion, or panther, because I want to be at the top of the food chain.”
Question: “Explain how to tie a shoe, step by step.”
Possible Answer: This one is designed to see if you can visualize a process and then describe it simply and logically. It can be about any type of process. Handle it by simply visualizing the process in your mind and go through it step by step while you describe it.
Question: “If you had to be a tree, what type would you want to be?”
Possible Answer: (yes, this is just as dumb as the animal question, but it’s still asked). First off, avoid the urge to use the classic and cliché answer of wanting to be an oak tree because “they’re sturdy.”
Since you have to answer, try something a bit unusual: “I’d choose a Joshua tree. They’re attractive and extremely hardy – they don’t give up. They survive in harsh desert conditions where little else can and that’s what I like to be: tough.”
I believe this shows a realistic outlook on life and that you’re logical in your decisions. I can also assure you that no other applicant will give this answer (unless they’ve seen this website, of course!).
Question: “How many gas stations do you estimate there are in the United States?”
Possible Answer: First off, you aren’t expected to be able to give an accurate answer. That’s not the point. It’s designed to see how you logically arrived at your answer.
The question could be about almost anything:
- How many baseballs would it take to fill Yankee Stadium
- How many stop signs are there in Chicago
- How much paint would it take to repaint the Washington Monument, etc?
The key here is to start thinking out loud about how you would solve the problem.
Let’s take the gas station question. Here’s how you might talk it out: “Well, I live in a town with a population of 30,000 people and I estimate there are about 30 gas stations. This makes it one gas station for every 1,000 people. Since there are about 300 million people in the United States, there will be about 300,000 gas stations.”
Don’t worry about whether or not the answer is accurate. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is you arrived at that answer reasonably and logically. That’s really what they’re looking for and this is how you can approach any question such as this.
Question: “Tell me something about you that you don’t want me to know.”
Possible Answer: This is similar to the “What is your greatest weakness” question. It’s a land mine designed to trip you up and have you admit something about yourself that might indicate you aren’t right for the job. Don’t have this one blow up in your face.
Here’s how to answer it. Admit a relatively minor bad habit that you used to have. You might say you used to smoke but quit a long time ago, or perhaps you used to be overweight by 50 pounds until you started following a more healthy lifestyle, etc.
The trick here is to use a personal, not a business, bad habit and to be sure you use one that you have since corrected.
There are dozens of more oddball questions I could give you. Instead, I’ll advise you that the key to most of them is to use minor or innocuous things to answer anything negative that is asked and make sure your answers have some logic to them.
I will also tell you to not bother trying to develop and memorize answers to specific questions of this type. There are simply too many of them and since they are oddball questions, they will all be different.
The Best Interview Answer Ever
Of the thousands of answers to interview questions I’ve heard over the years as a Hiring Manager, there’s one that I consider to be the best answer ever. I’m now going to give it to you.
The question wasn’t an oddball one but it was a difficult one. In one form or another, it’s frequently asked in interviews.
The exact wording will probably vary, but it will generally go something like this: “Two senior executives give you something to do at the same time and you can only do one. How would you decide which one to do?”
A straightforward question, right? But, oh, so deceptively difficult to answer! How do you choose one executive’s request without angering the other executive? How can you keep them both happy when you can only satisfy one request? How do you avoid this becoming a CLM (Career Limiting Move) for you?
This is another question I was asked myself some time ago while interviewing for a management position. And I blew it pretty badly. I hadn’t considered this question in advance and was taken off guard by it. There is just no easy answer to the dilemma posed by this question.
At least that’s what I thought.
A few years after I bungled this question, I was on an interview panel for a middle-management position. Sure enough, this was one of the questions on the list.
The person we were interviewing was an amicable and seasoned manager who was doing quite well in the interview. I was curious to see how he handled this one.
He gave an elegant and simple answer: “I’d do the one that’s best for our customers.”
And there you have it – the best interview answer I’ve ever heard. A one-sentence answer to a very difficult question and it said it all. Who can argue about doing what’s best for the customer? What better reason is there for doing anything in a business that’s dependent on either external or internal customers?
This response could be an excellent one for many kinds of questions. It’s hard to go wrong with an answer that shows you recognize the importance of your customers, regardless of the organization for which you are interviewing.
Demonstrate a customer service attitude in your answers and watch the interviewers start nodding their heads! I know I do.
Prepare Questions That You Will Ask
It’s important to prepare questions you will ask at your interview. This shows the Hiring Manager that you are prepared and have given thought to the position.
Frequently, when I ask candidates if they have any questions, they will either ask one or two general, meaningless questions about the job or simply say they have none. This tells me they haven’t done much homework.
You should consider this an excellent opportunity to show just how well you’ve prepared and that you’ve given a lot of thought and consideration to the position and the company.
Prepare at least four or five thoughtful questions that are relevant to either the job or the company. But be sure that the questions aren’t obvious ones that you should already know the answer to if you’ve done your research.
Below are some general questions that can apply to almost any position, while still showing you have legitimate and thoughtful things to ask.
- “If I asked one of your employees to tell me the best thing about working here, what would they likely say?”
- “What can you tell me about the team I’d be working with? How long have you worked with them?”
- “How will success be measured?”
- “What are some specific projects I’ll be assigned?”
- “What things do you look for most in new employees?”
- “What are some things you like best about your job and the company? Why?”
- “What are the qualifications you see as most important for this position?”
It’s also best to have a question or two that shows you’ve researched the company. You can do this by asking about some aspect of their strategy, plans, or objectives. Or, ask for additional details about one of their press releases.
Once again, this shows your interest in the company and that you’ve done your homework. The majority of candidates miss this opportunity.
WHAT NOT TO ASK: any questions about salary and benefits. These types of questions should only be asked when and if you are offered the job.
Wrapping Things Up
You now know why preparation is so important.
You also know how to properly research a company, the right way to review your experience, how to answer difficult and oddball questions, and what questions you should ask at your interview.
To make sure you use this information, please promise yourself that you’ll complete the following checklist every time you get an interview.
- Do thorough research on the company.
- Write and memorize your 30 – 60 second marketing message, customized for that specific position.
- Prepare anecdotes to use in your answers to those difficult “behavioral” questions. Make them specific to that position. Then practice how you might answer these types of questions.
- Create and write out your answers for the common questions, again making them specific to that position.
- Create several thoughtful questions that you will ask at the interview.
Isn’t this a lot of work? Yep, it sure is. However, it’s what the best-prepared candidates will do – and they are your real competition.
And it’s how you pull off a kick-ass interview.