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Preparation for Interview Questions
Generally, the Interviewer will ask two types of questions: Substance and Poise questions. The suggested broad guidelines will enable you to tailor your responses to your situation and improve your interview performance.

Substance Questions
A "substance" question asks for background, facts, figures, education, and achievements. Answer with concrete information in a short, logically planned sequence. You are being evaluated on your knowledge and experience --what you did and what you know. Typical "substance" questions include:

  • What are your major accomplishments so far?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Describe your management/selling/planning style.
  • How do you solve problems? Give me an example.
  • What's your educational background? How does it qualify you for this job?
  • Describe your ideal job for me. (Be sure you can describe "what" you want to do. This can "blow you right out of the water" if you are fuzzy on your answer.)

Poise Questions
A "poise" question is asked to find out who you are, and if you would fit in with the company culture. You're being assessed on your personality, how well you handle yourself in difficult situations, and your ability to think on your feet. Answer with confidence and frankness. Typical "poise" questions include:

  • What kind of people do you enjoy working with?
  • How do you handle interpersonal disagreements?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • What causes stress for you? How do you handle it?
  • What's been the biggest disappointment in your career?
  • Define the word "success."

There's a special category of poise questions called negative/positive or "hand grenade" topics. The questioner really doesn't care so much what you answer as how you answer. If you lose your cool, act threatened or answer evasively it's a clue to dig deeper. Try to answer these negative questions by showing your positive side.   Never let the interviewer get you to lapse into anger, gossip, or griping during an interview. The best tactic is brevity.

Typical "negative/positive" questions include:

  • What's your greatest weakness?
  • Have you ever been fired? Why?
  • Tell me about your worst boss.
  • What did you dislike most about your previous job?

Twenty Questions You Should Know How to Answer

  1. Tell me about yourself. Most often this is an early, warm-up question. Answer briefly (at most two minutes), covering education, work history and recent career. Don't waste your best points at this stage, but you can hint at them.
  2. What do you know about our organization? This is where your research comes in. Know something, but not everything. If possible, mention something new (product, an advertisement, expansion, etc.). Show interest.
  3. Why do you want to work for us?  Your answer should show that you know something about the company and why you are considering the opportunity. Be positive.  Discuss their opportunity and not your current position.
  4. What can you do for us that someone else can't? This question is an open invitation to sell your self. Cite examples, use action words, and help them understand that you are the right professional for their situation. Quantify your achievements and accomplishments with facts and figures.
  5. What do you find most attractive about this position? Least attractive? Mention three or four positives (opportunity for personal growth, exercise creativity, cultural environment, etc.). The benefits program may be good, but you will lose points by stressing them here. A minor problem might be mentioned (I like to ski, and now I'll have to travel a bit further, or equally lightweight negative).
  6. Why should we hire you? Your ability, your experience, your energy --see questions two and four for framework.
  7. What do you look for in a job? This is the flip side of question six. You want to be able to use your ability and energy in a growth situation.
  8. Define the position for which you are being interviewed. Be brief, stressing responsibilities. If you do not fully understand the position, say so and ask for more particulars. Say one of your objectives in the interview was to develop a very clear idea of the position. Note: Be very careful in your answer to any question about your level of interest in a "possibly different" position; the interviewer may be testing whether you are simply looking for a job, or are focused clearly on the opportunity that attracted you to the interview.
  9. How long will it be before you make a contribution? Be realistic. A salesperson sells from day one, and an engineer should be an engineer from day one: short term, you pull your own weight, but after six months or so you should start making more major contributions.
  10. Are you a good manager (supervisor)? Do you have upper management potential? Cite one or two examples. If you are in the early stages of your career, talk about traits in role models that you are trying to emulate.
  11. What do you look for when you hire? Skills, initiative, energy, and compatibility. All of the above should be tied to achievements and accomplishments of the individual.
  12. What is the most difficult thing about being a manager (supervisor)? To plan and execute something worthwhile on time and within budget through motivation and management of yourself and others.
  13. What important trends do you see in our industry? The more experience you have, the more likely the question. Answers could be along technological, economic, regulatory, societal lines.
  14. Why are you leaving your current job? Be positive. Stress opportunity and growth related reasons. Don't talk about money; don't belittle your present employer.
  15. How do you feel about leaving your accumulated old benefits? You are opportunity driven, not security focused.
  16. What do you like best about your current job? Least? Be careful and positive. Like more things than you dislike. One of the dislikes could be lack of opportunity, new product dearth, etc. Don't characterize your soon-to-be-old company as rotten.
  17. What do you think of your present boss? Be positive about him/her. Be brief and get off the subject.
  18. What do you feel is the right salary for this job? What will it take for you to accept this job? The best way to answer the question of salary is to NOT answer it. By throwing a dollar figure out you will do one of two things. One, you will under-price yourself and have to live with a lower offer than you could have received, or two, you will overprice yourself and not receive an offer based on being too pricey or unrealistic expectations.

    Here is an example of how to answer the question of salary ... (Mr./Ms./Mrs. Employer), the primary reason I am here today is to understand the opportunity at (Company XYZ) and I do envision an opportunity. At the end of our meeting, if you have an interest in me I would like to entertain your strongest offer.  You are sending a powerful message. You are telling the employer you are interested in one offer --their strongest or very best offer.

    Some other responses to the question of salary:
    • Your best answer is that you are trying to learn about the opportunity now, not what it pays.
    • You need some quiet time to think after the interview sessions so that you can fully understand the opportunity in both the short and long term. 
    • If you are unable to duck a direct answer, reply that you currently make $XXXXX and that any new opportunity should command some premium.
  19. What are your long-range goals? Don't talk about too many, and sprinkle in a clearly realistic short-term goal or two. Stick to professional goals, unless specifically asked for others.
  20. How successful do you think you have been so far? Present a positive and confident picture of yourself --don't exaggerate. Quantify whenever possible and answer in terms of achievements and accomplishments.

These questions are adapted from "Parting Company: How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully" by Morin and Cabrera. For a more broad treatment of interviewing, consult it and/or other books that are thoughtful and insightful on the subject.

Twenty Questions You Should Ask
Below are questions for you to ask at the end of each interview. The answers you get will help you answer questions from some of the other interviewers.

You should have more questions than anyone has the time to discuss. If you have none, you probably don't want this job. Before you ask questions first, credit the interviewer for already answering unasked questions. Ask your questions in the same style as the interviewer used. Not all questions apply to all situations.

The first five questions in this section are very powerful and will elicit answers that give you a great deal of information.

  1. What are some of the major short and long-range objectives of the company?
  2. What are two or three characteristics that the company finds attractive about itself?
  3. What outside influences affect your company's growth?
  4. What are some of the common denominators of some of the successful employees of this company?
  5. Do your employees understand that you are going outside to fill this position? Why do you believe that the existing team will play ball with a newcomer?
  6. What do you believe are two or three principal strengths of the company?
  7. What is the corporate culture? What is the chief binding force among the people of the XYZ Company?
  8. What challenges do you see for yourself and the company over the next three to five years?
  9. From the kinds of things that we have talked about, where do you see a good fit between my qualifications and the position? Are there any areas where you need some information to strengthen fit? (Answer any and all concerns as completely as possible.)
  10. Let's say that this opportunity is right for me. From your vantage point, what is the most important thing I have to accomplish in the first year?
  11. How important are new products to achievement of the company's goals over the next three to five years?
  12.  What is your XYZ Company management style?
  13. In what period of time would you expect a very solid contribution from me?
  14. If I should have questions of you in the next day or two, may I call you directly?
  15. What is the company's attitude toward outside events such as attendance at professional meeting or community involvement?
  16. How is individual performance evaluated throughout the company?  How often?
  17. Is the company growth strategy through internal development of new products or through acquistions?
  18. Why did you come to work for this company? Have your expectations been realized?
  19. What career path can I expect, given good performance?
  20. This is a growing company; what strategies do you think contributed most importantly to that growth over the last five years?

Special Questions
The interviewer may ask a question(s) which should be dealt with carefully, with poise and honesty:

    Salary Requirement Questions
    If you are asked about your salary requirements, avoid naming a salary figure if at all possible. An acceptable response would be "Mr./Ms./Mrs., you're aware that my current salary is $XXXX per year. I am quite sure your company salary program will provide me with incentive needed to join your company and relocate my family." Naming a salary figure prior to having all the facts about the job, company, area, and having had the opportunity to reflect on what you have seen and heard, would be unfair to you, the company, and your family. Put it in your own words, but try not to commit yourself.

    Illegal or Offensive Questions
    Broadly defined, illegal questions are those concerning possible discrimination in hiring. There can be no questions regarding race, creed, political affiliation, national origin, marital status, or age. Offensive questions mean exactly that --purely offensive or distasteful. Never allow yourself to be embarrassed by an insensitive questioner. Your best tactic is to look the person straight in the eye and ask, "I don't understand why you are asking that question. Could you explain why, please?"

Be Concise
The decision to hire somebody is a very fragile exercise. It's a combination of information, chemistry, timing, need and fit. The prepared candidate presents a focused response to questions. Clear, concise answers allow the interviewer to zero in on the information needed to make decisions. Extraneous information, thrown in with no rhyme or reason, just confuses the whole process. Pay particular attention to your wording. Don't babble, a common fault when under stress.

Be Honest
Absolute, 100 percent honesty is an unbreakable rule. You need not blurt out every negative about your life in the first ten minutes! This is not a confessional after all. But if a negative in your background comes up, be honest. You will not regret it!

Interviewing is meant to be an exchange of information, not a battleground. Don't approach the meeting in a defensive manner. Expect courtesy and you'll undoubtedly get it. Your preparation and professional behavior will present your credentials in the best light. That's the easy way to win an interview.

If you have interviewed effectively, you have obtained the additional information you required about the company and the position in order to make a decision. You have maximized your chances of being a candidate selected to receive the offer. Assuming the offer is made, you will be equipped to decide promptly on it. Thus, the effective interview is a key to making a successful change of position.

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