Job Talk: Handling the standard set of interview questions
Dear J.T. & Dale: I've gone on some job interviews, and the one thing they have in common is that the interviewer has a sheet of questions, sometimes a fold-out sheet. One interviewer said, "We know that you can do the job, but we have a list of questions from HR that we have to ask." My point is that you don't get to make a sales pitch to sell yourself. — Marco
DALE: Here's why HR pushes for standard questions: Without a list to stick to, many hiring managers end up spending the interview talking about themselves. Further, it's tough to compare candidates if each interview goes off in a different direction. Without consistent information across candidates, the hiring decision comes down to "gut feel," and most guts feel like hiring the person most like the person outside the gut, which is no way to optimize a department's resources.
J.T.: So, expect to encounter lists of questions. Sadly, all the lists vary. Sometimes you can find an inside contact or use a site like GlassDoor.com to learn what kinds of questions they'll ask; but for the most part, the best you can do is prepare and learn from each subsequent interview.
DALE: Speaking of which, I recently was helping my niece prepare to interview for a job she covets. I told her we'd do mock interviews, but to prepare for those, I told her the first resource to grab is a piece by J.T. that she boldly named "The Best Interview Preparation Tool Ever." You get it when you register for the free articles at www.careerealism.com. You'll find J.T. herself, on video, and a first-rate list of questions that will help you practice. The interviewer still might throw in some offbeat topic you haven't thought through. If so, just say, "That's an unusual question ... let me think." If nothing comes to mind, you can always respond with a question: "That's a tough one — have you heard any good answers?" Yes, you'll be passing on that one question, but you'll still come across as open and eager to learn.
J.T.: And what about it — did your niece get the job?
DALE: She got it, and she's already started.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: A few months ago, I was fired from my job as a surgeon, basically (according to them) because of some continuing limitations caused by an injury at work that required two surgeries and was covered by workers' compensation. After returning to work after my second surgery, and doing a darn good job, if I may say so, officials of the hospital started harassing me, and finally fired me. As if that were not bad enough, I have been looking for work, and my old employer has done everything they can to blackball me. Any suggestions? — Thomas
J.T.: First, get someone to do a reference check on you. You need to find out exactly what is being said by your former employer. If they are wrongly damaging your reputation, a cease-and-desist letter might solve the problem. Meanwhile, connect with colleagues, and let it be known that you want to be working again. Tell them the experience has taught you how much you value working, and now you are fully recovered. By spreading the positive message, you can help offset the negative press you are getting from your former employer.
DALE: Yes, the answer is networking, as it so often is. But here's a twist: Don't network only about new jobs, but also about the old you. Just maybe there was something else going on besides the injury. When you approach old colleagues, tell them that you are not just looking for a new job, but a new start. Ask questions like, "I'm trying to figure out how to improve my relationships and my skills — what two or three things should I work on first?" Most people will automatically say some version of "Don't change a thing," so follow up with: "Thanks, but we can all get better. What could I work on?" Make your colleagues into allies in your personal evolution, and they'll help you in surprising new ways.
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