Category Archives: Interviewing

How to answer, “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

And a sample story.

You might have had to motivate someone to do their work, whether it was a coworker or subordinate. They might have been the bottleneck that was holding up a major project. This is frustrating, especially if you like to finish projects before the deadline, nonetheless on time.

Motivation

Employers are also sensitive to this conundrum because projects finished late cost money

Further, someone who consistently fails to do their part of a project is a major problem who will most likely have to be let go; and this is a huge cost the employer must undertake. Estimates put the cost of a bad hire at 30 percent of the person’s first annual salary.

Therefore, you should expect to be asked this question during an interview: “Tell us about a time when you had to motivate someone.”  This is a common behavioral-based question.

Four thoughts to keep in mind when answering this question

Although this is a tough question to answer, there are four thoughts to keep in mind that will help you answer this question:

  1. Interviewers want to see how you’re going to respond to difficult questions.
  2. Understand why the interviewers are asking the question.
  3. Have your (short) story ready.

For details about how to successfully answer behavioral interview questions, read—Tell Me About a Time When You Failed and Smart Strategies to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions.

How to answer a behavioral-based question

The last thought–have your story ready–is what I’ll address in this article.

A vague answer is not going to impress interviewers. In fact, it might eliminate you from consideration. Remember, this is a problem employers struggle with, so interviewers want a specific answer.

What’s important in answering this question is to go into the interview with a specific situation in mind. This is the beginning of your story. The remaining parts of your story are: your task in the situation, the actions you took to solve the situation, and the result.

The acronym is STAR. Keep in mind to guide you through your answer. Let’s look at a STAR story to answer: “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

Situation

Our company was going to participate in an annual trade show at the Javits Center in New York City. The date was approaching in two months.

Task

As the manager of marketing, it was my responsibility to coordinate the trade show. There were several details I had to handle, including making hotel arrangements for sales and the VP, coordinating transportation for our booth, writing content for social media and the website, and additional duties.

It was up to the sales manager to notify our partners, OEMs, and VARs that we were attending.

Actions

Three months before the show, I sent an email to the manager of the sales department asking him to begin the process of sending out the emails. I received no reply at that time.

A week later I called to remind him that the emails had to be sent out in order to give our partners enough time to schedule the event into their calendars. He said he would get on it immediately.

A week after that I ran into him in the lunch room, where I asked him how the emails were going. Sheepishly he told me he hadn’t gotten to sending them. This was making me nervous, and I think he realized it.

Later that day, I went to his office and told him that other trade shows were happening around that time and we had to get confirmation from our partners that they were going to attend ours. I hoped he would understand the gravity of the situation.

By Friday of that week, the emails still hadn’t been sent out, so I decided that he needed some motivation. It’s not like me to go over people’s heads when I can handle the situation myself.

On Monday I crafted an email to VP of sales and marketing telling her that all the task for the trade show were handled, save for the emails that our sales manager had to send out. Then I asked the sales manager to come to my office to review it. I told him that the email was going to be sent out by the end of the day.

Result

This was all the motivation he needed. By the end of the day, he sent out the emails to our OEMs, VARs, and partners. There were a handful of our partners who said they couldn’t make it because they weren’t given enough notice, but most of them were looking forward to it.

The sales manager came to me a week later to apologize for not sending out the emails in a timely manner and appreciated me not going to my VP about the matter. I told him I could help him with his time management skills, and he thanked me for the offer.

Bonus

What I Learned

I learned that I should have been more persuasive earlier in the process. I acted too slowly. I also learned that I can motivate my colleagues without having to get upper management involved.

Read One very important component of your behavioral-based interview answer.

The bottom line

Anticipate that you will be asked behavioral questions in interviews. As usual, the best defense is a good offense—have examples of how you have handled this situation, structured as STARs (plus Learning) so you can clearly present both the situation and the positive result from your action, demonstrating your ability to successfully motivate others to support your employer’s goals.

This article originally appeared on www.job-hunt.org.

Photo: Flickr, Jesper Sehested

 

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One very important component of your behavioral-based interview answer

Interviewers want proof of what you’ve accomplished or failed to accomplishment. You can achieve can prove your assertions by delivering a well crafted stories. You’ve probably heard of the STAR formula. You’ll use this formula to guide yourself through telling your story.

Learnlock

The four-letter acronym stands for.

S: situation faced at work.

T: your task in the situation.

A: actions you took to solve the situation.

R: the final result/s.

However, there is one component of your story that will bring your story round circle. Can you guess what it is?

The letter to remember is“L” which stands for what you learned from the situation. This letter is an important component in your story because, as mentioned above, it wraps up your answer.

The scenario

In an interview you’re asked the common behavioral-based question, “What has been you toughest challenge thus far in your career?” Here is an abbreviated answer you might give.

S: The university needed consistent branding across departments.

T: My task was to oversee the process; a process that took a year to complete.

A: The actions I took were to:

  1. assign a task force to help make this process happen;
  2. decide on consistent colors and fonts for signage, the university website, and peripheral materials;
  3. ensure all of this met the board of directors expectations.

R: It was a long process, but the president of the school and the board of directors were extremely impressed. All was completed on time and under budget.

Ending your story with what you learned

As said earlier, your story isn’t complete. The interviewer wants to know what you learned from the experience. This is a time which will require self-reflection, not a trite answer because you’re happy with your success story.

Your learning statement should be relevant to the STAR story and company’s needs. It should also be brief. Here is an example of how you might, bring the story round circle.

“What I learned from this experience are threefold. First, I can lead a large project with a large number of pieces.

“Second, I learned that I can be an effective leader of many departments. I know this is an important part of this role.

“Third, attention to detail is imperative, especially when thousands of banners, business cards, pen and other swag are being produced. I made this a top priority.”

Every area of this answer adds value to the candidate. It shows the ability to lead, attend to details, communicate between departments, organize and set priorities, among other skills. In other words, it gives you the opportunity to add more value to your story.


Using the STAR formula is a great way to show proof of what you assert, but to really hammer  your answer home, you should tell interviewers what you learned from the situation faced at work.

Photo: Flickr, Jenna

 

9 articles that can help you understand introverts in the job search and life

When you learned of your introversion, did you feel a sense of pride or dread. I hope it’s the former, because I am proud to call myself an introvert. Let me correct myself: I’m glad to have a preference for introversion.

man research

One fact that’s important to comprehend—and may give you some solace—is your ability to assert your energy across the spectrum of introversion and extraversion.

In other words, you can demonstrate the traits of an extravert—such as being outgoing and gregarious, excelling at small talk, burning the candle at both ends, managing employees, etc.

Extraverts, the same applies to you. You can be great listeners, take moments to reflect, be alone without being lonely, enjoy writing rather than speaking, etc.

The majority of these articles are about challenges introverts face, but some of them also address the challenges extraverts face. Both dichotomies have their own challenges.


Brainstorming: does it work for introverts?

As an introvert I consider brainstorming sessions a waste of time if there is no semblance of order and structure. I grow weary of meetings that resemble a social gathering. However, a well-run meeting that covers all the topics in a quick manner can be extremely effective.

5 phases of an extravert’s journey to landing interviews

This article is a follow-up to 5 phases of the introvert’s journey to landing interviews. I figured, why not talk about the folks on the other side of the isle?  Read both articles.

5 phases of the introvert’s journey to landing interviews

Interviews are tough for introverts and extraverts, but some believe introverts have a tougher time at interviewing. There are ways introverts can make interviews easier and succeed in wowing employers. Read about them here.

Two areas where self-promotion is important for introverts

One challenge introverts might face is being able to promote themselves in the job search and at work. This post addresses how they can promote themselves.

6 reasons why introverts prefer to write

Introverts generally prefer writing over, say, talking on the phone. It gives them the opportunity to think about what they would like to say in their own time. In addition, they don’t get overpowered by loquacious people, something they don’t enjoy.

5 places introverts need to get away to recharge their batteries

This post is not about the job search, per say; but it is about how introverts use their energy. When it comes down to it introversion is about energy, energy they have to be around people.

3 vital areas where Extraverts can improve their job search

What did I say in the intro? This compilation of posts doesn’t only address introverts; it also addresses the challenges extraverts face. If you’re an extravert, I dare you to read this post.

8 awesome traits of the introvert

This post is a blast from the past but is still relevant. If you’re an introvert, read it to learn about your greatness. If you’re an extravert, learn more about introverts.

2 great reasons why introverted job seekers should walk

Introverts find various ways to carve out the time to reflect. Mine is walking. Yours may be hiking, yoga, going to the gym, taking a ride, etc. Imagine doing what helps you to reflect.

How to answer, “Tell me about a time when you persuaded your boss.”

And a sample answer.

Rarely will anyone say behavioral-based questions are easy to answer. They require a job candidate to recall a time when they performed a skill successfully, or unsuccessfully, and then tell a story about performing the particular skill.

Persuasion

The story must be specific and succinct, which are two challenges some job candidates struggle with. To this point, many people I’ve interviewed try to deliver a general, long-winded answer that doesn’t hit the mark. This is not what interviewers are looking for.

The four thoughts candidates need to take into consideration are:

  1. Interviewers want to see how you’re going to respond to this difficult question.
  2. They want to see self-awareness/honesty.
  3. Understand why they’re asking the question.
  4. Have your story (short) ready.

I go into detail in a previous article on these considerations in a previous post.

Let’s look at a behavioral-based question whose purpose it is to determine a candidate’s ability persuade her boss: “Tell us about a time when you convinced your boss to adopt an idea that he disagreed with.”

Using the S.T.A.R formula you begin your story.

Situation

Our company was using Microsoft Excel to keep track of our customers’ orders and appointments, but the process proved to be inefficient. It was becoming laborious to enter customer information, and the sales department complained that accessing it was too difficult.

Task

As the sales operations manager, it was my responsibility to find a solution for this antiquated process.

Actions

I knew we needed a better process, so I approached my boss to explain that we needed a true CRM software. His reply was that we didn’t have the money, nor the need for CRM software. I wasn’t going to argue with him. I needed to prove my point.

First I called our main competitors to see what they were using to organize their customer transactions and appointments. At least nine out of ten were using CRM software. And most were willing to tell me the brand they were using.

Salesforce was being used by the five of our competitors. Hubspot was was second with two, and Zoho and Agile were the others.

I knew my boss wouldn’t go with Salesforce just because it  was the leader of the pack. He would want to know why it would be the best fit for our sales and marketing department.

I conducted thorough research on the four products, including one called Kintone, which was in the top ten for security. The others didn’t list that information. I knew we needed a product that would store customer data, track customer interaction, track leads, and most importantly be user friendly for the sales team.

After two weeks of researching products and talking with salespeople, I narrowed the list to three software, based on reputation; overall customer interaction; ease of use; and, of course, price.

I asked my boss if I could have half an hour of his time to discuss my CRM proposal. He reluctantly agreed. When he entered the conference room, he was surprised to see a PowerPoint presentation I created shining on the screen.

At the conclusion of m presentation, he paused for what seem like hours and finally asked me which software I would suggest. I said Salesforce, but he liked Zoho better.

Result

We implemented Zoho CRM, which over two years improved efficiency by 50%. I know this because I tracked the hours the staff had used with Excel and later used with Zoho.

Bonus: lesson learned

I learned that the way to persuade my boss was to show him what I proposed, rather than get into a heated debate. This is how I have and will continue persuading my bosses to agree with my suggestions.

This article originally appeared on Job-Hunt.org.

Photo: Flickr, Henrik Therkildsen

 

20 steps to take during your job search

How should the job search be conducted? Everyone has their own idea. In this article, I present my idea of the steps job seekers should take to secure a rewarding job. Hint, I don’t feel that writing/updating your résumé is the first step. I think there are variables to consider. 

job seeker balck and white

One thing for sure is that no two job seekers are alike; thus, no two job searches are alike. How you conduct your search is going to be different than the next person, so you might skip some of these steps or embrace all of them.

1. Forgive yourself

If you haven’t already forgiven yourself for being laid off, let go, or forced to quit, it’s not too late. You may be experiencing guilt, self-doubt, anger, and despondency to name a few. When I was laid off from marketing, I remember going through all of the aforementioned feelings. Now I think it was all wasted energy.

If you are having a difficult time forgiving yourself, considering seeing a therapist, especially if these destructive feelings are hindering your job search. Most health insurance policies cover mental health. Look into the health insurance you or your spouse is purchasing.

2. Take a short break

I advise a few days off after you’ve lost your job. You need time to get your head straight. Your emotions will be frazzled. There’s also taking care of your finances, e.g., applying for unemployment. You may want to catch up on medical appointments that you’ve put off because your were too busy while working.

However, if you’re newly unemployed, now is not the time to take a three-month vacation with severance your company gave you or vacation time you’ve accumulated. This will put you behind the eight-ball in terms of getting into the job search and showing a gap on your résumé.

3. Dive into your job search with gusto

Now that your break is over, it’s time to put a concerted effort into your job search. Determine how you’re going to conduct your job search. Make a plan or have someone help you create a sound plan for your search. Many job seekers make the mistake of searching for work online as their only means.

I advise my clients that the methods of searching for work that are most successful from best to worst are: face-to-face networking, attending professional affiliations, utilizing a recruiter or staffing agency, combining LinkedIn with face-to-face networking, and using job boards. You don’t have to use all of these methods, as you don’t want to spread yourself thin.

4. Let others know you’re out of work

As simple as this sounds, plenty of job seekers are reluctant to tell their friends, neighbors, relative, former colleagues, etc., that they’re out of work. Not only should you not feel embarrassed, you are missing opportunities to network.

Most people understand that people sometimes lose their job. It’s likely they have also lost their job. It’s a known fact that people want to help you, so let them. Give them the opportunity to feel good about themselves for helping you. Look at it this way.

5. Be good to yourself

You’ve heard of work/life balance. I believe there’s also job-search/life balance. In other words, don’t burn out during your job search. In a recent job club meeting, I asked the members what they did during the Christmas holiday. Many of them talked about making connections with valuable recruiters.

But the ones who also impressed me were the ones who said they took some time off to decompress, sprinkled in with some job searching activities. You must remember that there are other important aspects of your life, such as family, friends, and events that you otherwise would have put off.

6. Don’t play the numbers game

At times I have to remind job seekers of this destructive practice, where they will say, “In a month I’ll have been out of work for more than a year.” Obsessing over the time you’ve been out of work will hurt your morale and, therefore, your job search.

Everyone’s situation is different. Your friend who is searching for an entry-level position will most likely land a job faster than you, if you’re looking for executive-level roles. In general, the average time it takes to find a job is 26 days, but again this depends on level of position and demand for your position.

7Know thyself

It’s important to possess self-awareness, if you want to conduct your job search effectively. This means thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What does this spell? SWOT. That’s right, do a SWOT analysis on yourself.

I have my attendees do a partial SWOT analysis in some of my workshops. I tell them to do a complete one on their own. You should write down 10 or more strengths, five weaknesses, three opportunities, and three threats. This will give you a better sense of what you can capitalize on and areas you need to overcome.

8. Take time to think about what you really want to do

All too often job seekers will settle for the next job that comes along. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. This stage in your life is a great time to reflect on what will make you happy.

If it’s a career change, think about how your transferable skills can make the transition easier, despite not having all the job-related skills. One woman I worked with had previously worked for Hewlett Packard in marketing. She joined our career center as a grant writer. Eventually she became the director of our Workforce Investment Board.

This article points out various self-assessments you can take to determine your interest.

9. Conduct some labor market research (LMR)

Now, you need to gather LMI on job availability, determining which skills are in high demand, and what salaries employers are offering.  One site that gives you a broad sense of your value in the labor market is Salary.com.

But the best way to gather LMI is by speaking with people in the know, who might include other job seekers or people who will grant you networking meetings, better known as informational interviews.

10. Create a list of companies for which you’d like to work

This is difficult for many people. The sharp job seekers understand the value of keeping a going list of 10 to 15 companies they research. This is also part of your LMR. Your research can tell you which companies are in growth or decline.

You also should identify important players in the companies, hiring managers, directors, VP, CEOs, etc. LinkedIn is ideal for identifying key players in your target companies. Networking is even better, providing you have the right connections.

11. Write your résumé and LinkedIn profile

Now it’s time to write your résumé. When others jump immediately to their résumé and LinkedIn profile, they’re flying blindly. They haven’t self-reflected, thought about what they want to do, and conducted their LMR.

To write your résumé right, you’ll write a tailored résumé for each job you can. A one-fits-all résumé won’t do it; it certainly won’t pass the applicant tracking system (ATS). Employers don’t want to see a grocery list of duties; they want to see relevant, quantified accomplishments.

Read this article to learn more about how to write your LinkedIn profile.

12. Networking is still your best method of looking for work

Approach connections who work for your target companies or people who know people who work for your target companies. Many job seekers have great success using LinkedIn to make connections at desired companies.

I strongly encourage my clients to attend professional association events, where they can network with people who are currently working. Those who are working might know of opportunities for you, or at the very least provide you with some sage advice. To find an association, Google your industry/occupation and your location. Here’s one I found for marketing.

15. Research, research, research

This part of your job search can’t be emphasized enough. One complaint I hear from hiring authorities is the lack of research candidates do. One hiring manager told me a person came to an interview and told the group that he was happy to be invited to (Company X), but he mistakenly called their company by the wrong name. Oops.

Be sure to research the position, company, industry, and even the people conducting the interview. Going to the company’s website is fine, but dig a little deeper. Read press releases and talk with people who work for the company at hand. One figure said 40% of candidates do one to five minutes of research before the interview.

14. Be prepared for tools employers are using, such as Applicant tracking systems (ATS)

The ATS eliminates approximately 75 percent of the applicants for a single job. It is a godsend for recruiters and HR, who are overburdened with résumés to read. However, for job seekers, it’s an impediment.

To be among the 25 percent that pass the ATS, you’ll have to write a résumé that is keyword rich. Unfortunately many candidates don’t know about the ATS and don’t optimize their résumés. Your best bet is to write keyword-rich résumés that are tailored to each job.

Jon Shields of www.jobscan.co explains the ATS in great detail in this post.

15. Pre-employment aptitude and personality tests

Employers have come to rely on aptitude and personality tests that can determine the candidates who’ll advance in the hiring process. Some employers will swear by them, believing that the software can do a better job of screening individuals than their own HR and recruiter.

Employers use pre-employment tests because they are objective and fair across the board—each candidate answers the same questions—and they’re a good indicator of job-related skills. These tests also measure character traits like integrity, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, etc.

This article talks about the most common types of pre-employment tests.

16. Telephone Interviews

Hardly new, the telephone interview is typically the first type of interview you will encounter to get to the face-to-face interview. The interviewer has two main objectives: getting your salary requirement and determining if you have the job-related skills to do the job.

However, you need to expect not only the aforementioned questions, but more difficult questions, such as situational and behavioral-based. Telephone interviews have also become more numerous. It’s not uncommon for someone to participate in three or more telephone interviews before getting to an in-person interview.

17. Skype interviews

Skype interviews are common these days. Employers use them to save time and, ultimately, money. As well, interviewers get to see your facial expressions and body language. They are akin to in-person interviews, save for the fact that candidates aren’t invited to the company. This means candidates must nail the following areas:

  1. Stellar content and demonstrated enthusiasm through your answers and body language.
  2. Professional attire. Dress as though you’re going to a face-to-face interview.
  3. All the mechanics are in check, such as lighting, sound, and background.
  4. Look at the webcam, not at the interviewer/s. Looking at them will make it seem like you’re not making eye contact.

Skype interviews may, in fact, be the final interview, which makes it even more dire for job candidates to be prepared for them. This is particularly true if interviewers are situated all over the world.

18. Video interviews

Job candidates are given a number of questions to answer and are timed during the session. At no point do they see the interviewer/s, unlike a Skype interview. My clients who have participated in video interviews say it’s like talking to a wall.

This might be a bit unnerving, but don’t let it rattle you. Have you ever answered interview questions while looking in the mirror? Think of it this way and you’ll be fine. One more thing, look at your computer’s webcam while answering the questions, just as you would for a Skype interview.

Matthew Kosinski from www.recruiter.com. rates the top five video interview platforms in this post.

19. Finally you make it to the big ball, the interview

Chances are you will have to interview in person with companies multiple times. Employers are being very selective because hiring the wrong person can lead to loss in money, time, and possibly customers. For this reason, you need to present your best self. First impressions do matter.

More to the point, the content of your answers need to answer one question, “What value can you bring to the employer?” Your experience and accomplishments have been stated in your written communications and during pre-interviews, but all needs to be reiterated while talking with interviewers.

Read this seven-part series on Nailing the interview process.

20. It’s not over until you follow up

All your good work goes to waste if you don’t follow up after a networking event; informational meeting; being invited to join someone’s LinkedIn network; and, of course an interview.

A thank you note is required after an interview. Not just a form note, but a unique note for each person with whom you interviewed. You had a group interview with four people, you send four separate notes. Try to make each special by mentioning a point of interest discussed during the interview. Yes, email is preferred.


One more: it’s never too late to volunteer

Look, I’m not trying to sell you out. It’s a proven fact that volunteering is an effective way to land a job. Consider these four reasons:

  1. You improve your skills or gain new ones. For example, you’re a webmaster and volunteer to revamp an organization’s website to learn ColdFusion.
  2. It is a great way to network. If you volunteer in the proper organization, you can make connections with vendors, partners, customers, and others in your industry.
  3. You’ll feel more productive. It’s far better than sitting at your computer for six hours a day applying online. As I tell my clients, get out of your house!
  4. It’s a great way to pad your résumé. Volunteerism is work, so why not include it in your Experience section.

Photo: Flickr, worldentertainments center

Keep 8 rules in mind when answering why you were fired

And five possible reasons why you were fired, plus how to explain why.

Interviews are not something most people relish, especially if they have to address the fact that they were fired. (I prefer the term, let go.) The fact is that people are let go, good people. So the revelation will come when an interviewer asks, “Why did you leave your last job?”

why fired

The reason interviewers ask this question is obvious; they want to know what caused you to leave your previous position. It’s only natural that they’re curious. Wouldn’t you be curious if you were trying to decide whether to hire someone?

Of the three possible scenarios for leaving your previous company, the toughest one to explain, by far, is why you were let go. But you can answer this with more success if you keep eight important rules in mind.

Eight rules to follow when answering this question

Rule 1: Know your story. Because this question will be asked every time, you shouldn’t be caught off guard when it is. My experience interviewing people has shown me that many people haven’t thought of how to answer it.

Rule 2: Keep it short. Whereas a typical question can be answered within 90 seconds, this question should be brief. Think 20-30 seconds at most; hopefully shorter.

Rule 3: Be calm when delivering your answer. Don’t show emotion and body language that shows you’re uncomfortable. The old saying, “Don’t let them see you sweat” applies here.

Rule 4: Don’t bash your former employer. The reason for this is simple; most likely you’re talking with a potential manager who is trying to see if you’re going to be a fit.

Rule 5: Show self-awareness. Interviewers find it refreshing when candidates tell the truth, rather then lying about why they left their last position. For example, “I was looking for a better opportunity” doesn’t make sense if you have no job in hand.

Rule 6: Own it. Don’t place blame on others. Some of my clients tell stories about how the team failed to complete a project on time, but don’t explain their fault in the process.

Rule 7: Prove what you’ve learned from the situation. If the reason why you had to leave was due to your downfall, be honest about it while also demonstrating remorse without being emotional.

Rule 8: Have an ally on your side. If possible, let someone in the company speak to your excellence. My esteemed colleagues, Virginia Franco and Sarah Johnston, advise that you don’t go it alone.

Five common reasons why you were let go

There are various reasons why you may have been fired, but here are five common reasons why people must leave their previous company against their free will. Keep in mind that the following reasons will not keep you from getting hired.

You were not qualified for the job

In this case, it’s not your fault you were let go, unless you lied about your abilities. Assuming you were completely truthful, the fault lies on the employer. The interviewers didn’t do their homework or didn’t know what projects were coming down the road.

“When I was hired for the position, my employer realized six months later they needed someone who knows Pivot Tables in Excel and could use them without any training. To my manager’s credit, she apologized for not knowing this. There were no hard feelings. From now on, I’ll make sure I’m not getting into a similar situation.”

You under-performed

You may have been given goals that were unrealistic, goals most people couldn’t meet. In some cases upper management doesn’t understand what happens on the front lines. Here’s where you need to refrain from bashing your past employer.

On the other hand, the goals set forth may have been doable, but you “fell down on the job.” Here is an example of this scenario:

“I had to sell a product that was struggling against another top paint brand. For three years, I was doing well, but sales began to slip from seven percent growth year after year to slightly under zero percent growth. My VP told me I was no longer meeting expectations. We left on good terms, and he’ll be happy to be a reference for me.”

You made a mistake

Mistakes happen. Some environments are prone to mistakes; they’re part of occupation. However, some mistakes are more detrimental than others, and an employer may not see them as forgivable. Here’s were self-awareness (rule 5) is important to demonstrate. As well, explain what you’ve learned from your mistake. Here’s an example of an assignment completed late:

“As the senior software engineer in the team, I failed to realize how long this one would take and didn’t put enough time into it. This was a high exposure product, so the VP wanted this data storage software shipped on time. Unfortunately, it shipped two weeks late and wasn’t featured in a top trade magazine. I learned a valuable lesson from this: not to take deadlines lightly. In fact deadlines are 10 yards beyond the finish line, not the finish line.

Your boss was a tyrant

This is a very hard one to explain. You don’t want to bash your prior boss (rule 4), but you also don’t want to take full responsibility for this terrible situation. I can’t tell you how many people have confided in me about their difficult bosses; their stories so vivid that I believed them.

How do you explain this without going into vivid detail? How do you refrain from getting emotional (rule 3)? It’s a tough one I have a hard time explaining to my clients. I’ve had one terrible boss in my career, yet he wasn’t bad enough that I was let go or wanted to quit. Without going into too much detail, you could explain this reason like this:

“Prior to my most recent boss joining the company, I had a boss who I worked well with. My new boss had a different style of leadership (meaning he was a bastard), which I was unaccustomed to. Suffice to say I learned a great deal from both managers and am prepared to work with bosses of various styles.”


When answering this question, remember to keep the eight rules in mind:

  • Rule 1: Know your story.
  • Rule 2: Keep it short.
  • Rule 3: Be calm when delivering your answer.
  • Rule 4: Don’t bash your former employer.
  • Rule 5: Show self-awareness.
  • Rule 6: Own it.
  • Rule 7: Prove what you’ve learned from the situation.
  • Rule 8. Have an ally on your side.

The reason you were let go may be one of the five I mentioned above. Keep in mind that many people get let go from their job; you’re not unique. So don’t lose confidence in yourself.

Photo: Flickr, Patricia Adam

Be ready to prove that you can do what you’ve written on your résumé

Even though I had delivered hundreds of workshops, where I currently work, I still had to deliver one when applying for the workshop facilitator position. Sound confusing? You see, prior to applying for the role, I was delivering workshops as a disability navigator.

Teaching

I was in essence grooming myself for the role I now hold. Strike that. Now I also meet one-on-one with clients, as well as conduct workshops. I love the diversity, so the extra work is no problem.

In my interview workshop one attendee asked if having to perform a skill, such as what I described, for an interview is normal. I told her that it might not be commonplace, but it’s a great way to find the right candidate, along with asking behavioral-based questions and tough technical questions.

Situational interviews are smart

When you think about it, would a company hiring a truck driver without making a candidate actually drive a truck? Of course not. Why would it be any different for a software engineer to program in Java Script in an interview? Or a teacher lead a lesson on earth science to high school students?

Many articles have been written on how to answer tough interview questions. But let’s consider putting a day of questions away and instead having candidates perform in certain situations. There is more value in this for the mere fact that candidates must prove they can do what they’ve written on their résumé.

For a lack of a better cliche, “The proof is in the pudding.” The candidate delivers on his promise. He wrote on his resume that he can write compelling copy. A situational interview makes him prove it. A product or service is described; now he needs to write compelling copy for the website. This can be done at home or on the spot.

More than a few employers have discovered days after hiring an administrative assistant that he can’t, in fact, perform a task like creating pivot tables in Excel. Had the employer conduced a situational interview, they wouldn’t have come across this problem.

The circumstance would be more dire if a company hired a project manager without having said person present a 30, 60, 90 day plan of how she would oversee the implementation and follow-through of a testing software and hardware product.

Preparing for a situational interview

I’m sure you’ve heard about preparing for an interview—I mean really preparing—a bazillion times. You’ve been told you need to research the position, company, and industry. And if you’re really on top of it, you’ll research the people whom are interviewing you.

I asked one of my former clients how he would prepare for a situational interview. The surprise on his face was evident. Would he actually have to do that? He might. As a social media manager, he might have to write a 30, 60, 90 day plan on how he would develop a social media campaign.

The best case scenario and fairest of all is being told before an interview of the project a person has to complete, but this isn’t always the case. Like a truck driver who has to drive a dump truck, you might have to deliver a technical training class.

Ideally you know someone who works in the company for which you’re interviewing. You could ask that person if he knows how the interview process will  go. Your mole tells you the last person had to write a 30, 60, 90 day plan on the spot. Having a mole in the company who can provide you with this information is ideal, but often not possible.

You might reach out to the hiring team and ask if you’ll be participating in a situational interview, stating that you want to be as prepared as possible. Sound desperate? Perhaps. Maybe they’ll tell you; maybe they’ll leave you in the dark.

If you have no inside information, carefully comb through the job description to determine which of the requirements are most important. For example: top of the list is, “Analyze and track operational and financial metrics.” You might predict that you’ll have to perform part of this task, either before, during, or after the interview.

Preparation might not be an option

At the very least, you need to know that these types of interviews exist. They’ve been around forever, it seems. I had to create a flyer for a workshop program when I applied for a job in career development. Of course I busted my ass doing it. In the end, I didn’t get the job, and the organization had the results of my hard work. Hmm.

One of my clients was told specifically by HR that he wouldn’t have to solve a software problem in an interview. However, the hiring manager had different ideas. In the interview, he was told to go to the whiteboard and solve a problem.


One of the secrets of doing well in an interview, any type of interview, is expecting anything. Don’t be surprised by the types of questions asked, and don’t be surprised if you have to prove what you assert on your résumé.

Photo: Flickr, Marilyn Kaggen