Tag Archives: Interview Process

Nailing the interview process, part 6: answering tough interview questions

Addressing employers’ three areas of concern.

You’ve been invited in for a face-to-face interview. You feel this job is great for you. You like the variety of responsibilities and have heard great things about the company. You’ve done everything right so far – and now it’s time to answer some tough interview questions.

group-interview-2

In order to do this, however, you’ll have to rely on the extensive research you’ve done on the company and position.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer is looking for three criteria in their next employee: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And will you fit in?

Given this framework, you should be able to predict some of the questions that will be asked in the interview. Let’s address the three criteria:

Can You Do the Job?

Many employers consider this factor the most important of the three. Do you have the skills, experience, education, and/or licenses to handle the responsibilities of the position? Can you hit the ground running?

Questions related to this criterion can be quite challenging. One question you’re likely to receive will be delivered in the form of a directive: “Tell us about yourself.” To answer this effectively, you’ll need to share your elevator pitch.

You may be asked a situational question like, “How would you develop a social media campaign for our company?” Answering this type of question requires knowledge of the needs of the company, as well as some role-relevant technical knowledge (in this case, the functions and uses of various social media platforms.)

Will You Do the Job?

This component speaks to your motivation and enthusiasm, two traits that are necessary to overcome obstacles on the job. Employers feel those who are motivated will be the highest achievers in the future.

You may get a situational question such as, “How would you approach a project that is a week behind schedule?” Here, the interviewer is interested in the steps you can take to get the project up to speed, not necessarily your success in finishing the project.

More difficult are the behavioral questions, which ask you to recount scenarios from previous roles. For example, a behavioral version of the previous example question would be, “Tell us about a time when your team was a week or more behind in finishing a project. What measures did you take to get the project up to speed? What was the result of your team’s actions?”

Here, the interviewer is looking for a story, so you should use the STAR formula: situation, task, action, and result. (More on this below.)

Will You Fit In?

In addition to your ability to do the job, employers also want to know if you will be a fit for the company culture. They want to know that you will work well with others, particularly your potential supervisor.

This is where emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes critical. Defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” EQ may account for as much as 75 percent of job success, according to some sources.

Savvy interviewers will use behavioral-based questions to determine your “cultural fit,” which ultimately depends on your EQ. Sometimes, interviewers will specifically look for certain soft skills commonly mentioned in job postings, such as written and oral communication, teamwork, social skills, creativity, and/or integrity.

You’ll need to prepare for questions that address these soft skills and others. The best way to do that is practice your stories for behavioral interview questions like “Tell us about a time when you won back the trust of a customer.”

To answer the question, you’d use the same STAR formula I mentioned earlier.

A Primer on STAR Answers

If you’re not totally sure how STAR answers work, let’s take a look at an example.

If an interviewer asked you to describe a time you needed to win back the trust of a customer, your STAR answer might look like this:

1. Situation

One of our longstanding customers had left us prior to my arrival at Company X. I had heard the customer was unhappy to the point where he decided he no longer needed our services.

2. Task

My vice president wanted me to persuade the customer to return. As the new manager of a group of five furnace technicians, it was my mission to win back this customer.

3. Action

To begin, I first had to understand what made our customer unhappy, so I asked one of my subordinates who was close to the situation. He told me it was because the person who previously worked on his furnace did shoddy work and wasn’t responsive.

Armed with this information, I called our customer to introduce myself as a new manager of the company and to ask him why he was unhappy with our service. At first he was justifiably angry, telling me he would never use us again. He revealed that his furnace was never cleaned and that it still smoked.

This was going to be a tough one, based on the tone in his voice. I listened to what he said and told him I really couldn’t blame him for being upset. I agreed with him that he wasn’t treated properly. I was going to make it right.

“Too late,” he told me. He was going to go with a competitor of ours. He hung up before I had the chance to talk with him further.

I decided to go unannounced to his house to introduce myself. I was met with, “Boy, you’re persistent.”

I apologized for coming without warning and asked him if I could look at his furnace. He didn’t seem to mind and told me to go to the basement through the back.

“But I ain’t paying for nothing,” he told me.

“Fair enough,” I told him. “We want to regain your trust, and if I can’t fix what’s broken, I wish you the best.”

I am still sharp with my technical skills, so I was sure I could fix his furnace and win back his business. I spent two hours fixing what was broken – namely, the exhaust pipe was full of soot, which required vacuuming. In addition, the oil pump had to be replaced. This was not news our customer wanted to hear, but he was happy I was honest with him, and he appreciated the work I had done. He also said the former technician didn’t catch these problems – or didn’t care.

When he asked what he owed me, I told him there was no charge. I just wanted to be assured that he’d stay with our company.

4. Result

The customer told me that I had regained his trust. He also said he appreciated my honesty and my concern that his furnace would be fixed right the first time. He returned to our company.


In the above story, you see how the job candidate proves his ability to provide customer service. Of course, the interviewer will ask more questions about customer service, and further questions will likely explore both positive and negative outcomes.

Remember that it’s not only the technical skills you have to focus on. You must also think about times you’ve demonstrated motivation, teamwork, and other soft skills.

Check back part seven, when we’ll be discussing how to follow up after an interview.

This post originally appeared in Recruiter.com.

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Nailing the interview process, part 3: research, research, research

You’ve heard it over and over again: you need to do your research before an interview. Why? Because:

  • When you do your research, you’re more prepared.
  • When you’re more prepared, you’ll be more confident.
  • When you’re more confident, you’ll do better.

Research

The last thing you want to do is wing it in an interview. You’ll fail, especially if the interviewer is good at their job.

What, exactly, should you research before your interview? Here are four areas the interview will likely cover:

1. The Position

This should go without saying. Most of the questions an interviewer poses will address the position, so you’d better know your stuff.

The most obvious resource here is the job description. A well-written job description should provide valuable information like the skills and experience required for the position. Descriptions will often list these things in order of priority.

Go to the “Required Experience” section of the job description first. Note the list of skills and experience and the order of priority.

You can take your research on the position further by talking with someone who works in the company to which you’re applying. Ask if there are any additional requirements not listed in the job description. You may uncover key requirements that were not mentioned in the listing.

2. The Company

One of the top pet peeves of interviewers is when candidates do not know much about the company. Interviewers want to know you’ve taken the time to research the company, and they want to know you’re truly interested in working for the organization.

The very least you can do is visit the company website. Most company websites will feature an “About Us” page. Read this first. The site will also likely have a “Products” and/or “Services” page. Read these, too. If the company is global, it may list its locations and the functions each performs.

The problem with company websites, however, is that the content they feature is all marketing content, engineered to paint the organization in the most positive light possible.

You’ll never get the whole truth about a company through its website, unless the company is publicly traded. In this case, the website will have annual reports that will reveal more objective information on financials, shareholder information, etc.

It’s a good idea to reach out to people you know in the company for more information about it, particularly the culture.

3. The Industry and Competition

Top candidates will know about the industry in which the company operates. This is information you can gather from labor market research websites, such as Glassdoor.com, Salary.com, and O*Net OnLine. You can always turn to Google, too.

With sites like these, you can gather information on occupations, salaries, the skills employers are looking for, and available positions in your area. Glassdoor is a particular favorite among job seekers, as it features employees’ reviews of their own employers.

You can also check out SpyFu to learn about how an employer advertises and its intended audience. Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are also useful as well.

As mentioned earlier, public companies are required to share press releases and annual reports. Read the documents of your potential employer’s competitors. If you can cite your desired company’s competition’s statistics, you will impress the interviewer very much.

Once again, it’s important to reach out to people who work in the company to which you’re applying. They will probably have a good sense of who the relevant competitors are based on the department you’re targeting.

4. The Interviewers

Finally, you’ll want to research the people who will be interviewing you.

If you have the names of said people ahead of time, the best tool is LinkedIn. Even if you don’t know the names of the people who will interview you, you can use the site’s “Companies” feature to find people in various departments.

For example, if you are applying for an accountant position, search the company using the keywords “accountant, manager.” You will see the company’s accountant managers.

Read through their profiles to see what you have in common with them. It could be that you attended the same school, you enjoy the same activities, you volunteered at similar organizations, or something else. During the interview, try to talk about what you learned about the interviewers when given the opportunity.

Not to sound like a broken record, but you really should reach out to someone you might know in the company to ask about the person or people who will be interviewing you. They may be able to give you great information about your interviewer’s likes and dislikes.


Researching the mentioned areas will put you an advantage over the other candidates. to show off your research, mention it explicitly. Begin sentences by saying, “While I was researching the competition, I learned …”.

Remember, when you’re prepared, you’ll do well in the interview.

Check back next week, when I’ll be talking about the importance of practicing for your interview.

This post originally appeared in Recruiter.com
Photo: Flickr, Rahul Panja

6 ways to interact with one of the most important people in the interview process

Receptionist

Who is one of the most important people in the interview process? The recruiter? Sure they’re important; you go through them to get to the interview.

Human Resources? They’re important, as well. Like the recruiter, you may have an initial phone interview with them.

The hiring manager? Definitely important. They make the final decision. You don’t have the goods, you don’t get the job.

There’s one other person you may not be considering. That person would be the office guardian.*

Why the office guardian is so important in the interview process

Read the following brief story which illustrates why the office guardian is important in the interview process.

A job candidate was applying for a position at the organization for which I currently work. He called for directions to the career center, which is common practice; however, he was so belligerent that he reduced our office guardian to tears.

Apparently this man thought he was all that and could treat our office guardian like a third-class citizen. This was a huge mistake on the candidate’s part.

This interaction was relayed to the director of the career center. He took it upon himself to promptly call the applicant to tell him not to bother coming in for the interview, and lectured the candidate on how NOT to treat one of an organization’s most important assets.

If you’ve never considered the importance of the office guardian, than you should change your thinking. Whether you’re applying for a CEO, vice president, middle management, or individual contributor position, you damn well better treat this person with respect.

How to interact with the office guardian

1. Getting the call for an interview. In some cases—especially at a small company—the call for an interview may come from the office guardian. Answer the phone professionally, e.g., “Hello, this is Bob McIntosh. How may I help you?”

Then thank the office guardian for calling and that you look forward to the interview and hopefully meeting as many people at the company as possible.

For good measure, ask the office guardian to restate their name. And repeat their name to show you’re paying attention.

2. Calling for directions or the agenda. As depicted in the story above, calling for directions is appropriate, and most likely the office guardian can provide the best possible directions, including when rush hour occurs, or if there’s road construction along the way.

You were astute enough to ask the office guardian for the interview agenda, including who will be present in the interview. The office guardian gladly disclosed the information, giving you an advantage for the interview.

Make the office guardian feel special for the help they’ve given you.

3. Meeting the office guardian. This is it. The time you’ve been waiting for, the interview. So the question is when the interview actually begins. You guessed it: meeting the office guardian. They are your first point of contact. Here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Smile, but don’t overdue it. You don’t want to come across as insincere.
  2. Extend your hand, especially if the office guardian is a female, and initiate eye contact.
  3. Say, “I’m Bob McIntosh. I’m here for the interview for the marketing specialist position. Please don’t announce me until they’re ready to interview me. By the way, Steve, I appreciate the directions you gave me. I made it here without any trouble. Thanks!” Saying their name shows you payed attention during the phone call.
  4. If the office guardian asks if you’d like water or coffee, say that you would if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. (Some suggest against accepting a drink, but I feel if you’re thirsty, accept it.)
  5. You may want to ask for the interviewer/s business cards before the interview begins. If the office guardian doesn’t have them, thank them anyways, always being polite and grateful for their help.

Go into the interview and kick ass!

4. Dropping by unannounced. This rarely succeeds. However, one of my customers stopped by the HR department of a bank to deliver a pain letter. She was greeted with warmth, asked if she’d like to meet the HM, and promptly left.

Her introductory letter was well received. She was offered an interview and landed the job. This is one of a few instances I’ve heard that yielded a positive result. I don’t discourage it, but be ready for rejection.

5. Saying good bye. Make sure you say good bye to the office guardian, even if it means waiting for them to return from a task. Say, “I just wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to thank you for all your help. I hope we have the opportunity to work together in the future.”

You may have forgotten to ask the office guardian for the interviewer/s’ business cards. This is your opportunity to get them if the office guardian has them. If they don’t have the business cards, simply ask if they can clarify how to spell the interviewer/s’ names.

6. The thank you note. You may not have considered sending the office guardian a thank you note. This would be a mistake. Because the office guardian is an important part of the interview process, they deserve to be thanked as well.

Whereas you might send a unique email to the interviewer/s, I suggest you consider sending a thoughtfully written thank you card. The reason for a thank you card, as opposed to an email, is that cards can be hanged on cubicle walls for everyone to see. They’re a reminder of the good work you’ve done.


I hope after reading this, you realize how important the office guardian’s role is in the interview process. No, they don’t conduct telephone interviews. No, they don’t ask difficult questions in the face-to-face interview.

But they do observe your first impressions and if asked what they think, they will give an honest account of your first impressions, over the phone and in person. Do the right thing; treat the office guardian with respect.


*Instead of calling this individual the receptionist, I’m referring to them as the office guardian. I could be snarky and call them the “gatekeeper,” but this would be derogatory.

Photo: Flickr, vperkins