Answers to Interview Questions – Part One
Answers that Win Job Offers
Do you know the best answers to use for both common and uncommon job interviewing questions? Would you like to know the answers that win the most job offers? Then you are in the right place. How do I know these answers are the best?
• Because I spent more than twenty years counseling and advising executives, managers and others who had been downsized, outsized, right-sized, riffed (‘Reducation in Force’), terminated, laid off, even ‘fumigated.’ Yes, I swear, that was what one company told those they let go – you have been ‘fumigated.’
• Because as a senior corporate executive and executive coach, I have written dozens of training manuals and presented numerous seminars on “Interviewing Skills for Managers.” I have heard or have asked almost all the questions, and have learned which answers are terrible or trite or meaningless or superlative. That’s what this is all about – superlative answers to common and uncommon interviewing questions. Answers that can win you that job offer.
This answer is guaranteed not to win a job offer.
Now I have taken a short sabbatical from interviewing dead celebrities (Genghis Khan), very weird animals (proboscis monkey) and psychic vegetables who rhyme to share what I have learned with you. This is the first in a series of hubs designed to give you the proven best answers to the interviewing questions you are most likely to encounter.
But first, I want to share the strangest and most uncommon interview question I was ever asked. And my answer.
Great Interview Answers
Tell Me about Myself
“Tell me about myself.” I was interviewing for a senior executive position in marketing and that had to be the most unusual question I ever heard from an interviewer. We had been chatting for just a few minutes when he asked it. What in the world did he mean? Was he trying to ask, “Tell me about yourself,” and he got confused? It was post–lunch and he may have imbibed a martini … or two.
In order to buy some time to ponder, I repeated his question: “Tell you about yourself?” And he repeated his question again, “Tell me about myself.” That was it.
Okay, I silently said to myself, enough with the stalling tactic, I’ve got to answer his question. I looked around his office quickly to pick up some more visual clues and then replied something like the following:
“You appear to be an experienced and savvy interviewer (a few compliments can’t hurt) because you smiled, got up from your desk and came to meet me at the door to shake hands, to help establish rapport and put me at ease. Then you led me to a seat in one of two chairs in front of your desk and you sat down in the other one. This eliminated the barrier of the desk.
You also appear to be very organized, (I refrained from using the term, ‘anal’) with several folders stacked neatly on the side of your desk, and no other miscellaneous paperwork to be seen. The folder you are now holding may contain my resume.
There is a photo of an attractive (fair-looking) woman with two children on your desk so if this is your office, that may be a photo of your family. Your posture is exceptionally good so you may have spent time in the service.”
Because his question was so unusual and I was completely unprepared to answer it, I have never forgotten that question nor the interviewer. I realized afterward that asking me that unexpected question did help to establish rapport quickly. Our interview lasted more than one hour. When the interview ended, I asked why he had asked that particular question.
His reply: “I wanted to see how well you respond to a situation which is unrehearsed – it helps me see several things: how perceptive you are, how well you communicate, and if you can think on your feet.” Since then, I always use that question and that approach when I am interviewing someone.
And oh, yes, I did get a job offer.
When you interview someone, please be my guest and feel free to ask, “Tell me about myself.”
Interview Question #1 - Tell Me about Yourself
Do you know why this question is so popular with interviewers? The answer is simple. But first, take this short Interviewing Quiz. Twelve interviewing questions are listed below. Let’s role play. You are an interviewer and you are interviewing an applicant. Write down the numbers of the questions you should not ask a job applicant to avoid discrimination charges.
7. Where were your parents born?
8. What is the origin of your last name?
9. What kinds of health problems do you or have you had?
10. Do you rent or own your home?
11. Have you ever been a member of a union organization?
12. Have you ever been arrested?
1. What year did you graduate from high school?
2. (To a female) Would you like to be called, “Miss, Mrs. or Ms.?”
3. Will you continue to work once you start a family?
4. How many children (or grandchildren) do you have?
5. Do you have reliable child care?
6. What does your spouse do for a living?
Is this discrimination or what?
The Illegal Questions
Which numbers did you write down for questions you should not ask? If you wrote: “all of them,” you are correct. When you have the opportunity to interview, please do NOT ask any of these questions. They can get you in trouble. They are the so-called “illegal questions” – questions that could be considered discriminatory.
Note: The questions themselves are not illegal. But if you ask one of them and the candidate does not land the job, he or she may be able to show that the failure to hire decision was based on their answer.
To refresh your memory, here is a list of the areas involved in the “illegal questions” – the questions knowledgeable interviewers are careful not to ask:
Age … Race or color … Marital status … Number of children … Occupation of spouse … National origin … Religion … Sexual orientation … State of health … Disabilities … Financial affairs … Memberships in organizations … Criminal record.
Now, finally, here is the simple answer why interviewers are so fond of the question, “Tell me about yourself … “ It is the easiest and safest way to elicit personal information without asking any discriminatory questions.
The Answer to: “Tell me about yourself”
You – “What specifically would you like to know?”
Interviewer (who will not give up) – “Whatever you would like to tell me about yourself … “
Note: This is the opportunity you have been waiting for. You have prepared your own half-minute commercial, practiced it beforehand and can now recite some of the reasons you are the best person for the job based on your education and previous accomplishments.
You – “Would you like to know more about the awards I won in my last position … my achievements as Director of … the manual I wrote about … the number of new employees I trained …?” State your case assertively with confidence.
Keep it impersonal and businesslike, elaborate on your achievements that fit this job, and do NOT divulge personal information that you do not wish to share.
Note: Be careful. If the “Tell me about yourself” question doesn’t get enough juicy personal information, you may be asked at some point later in the interview: “What else should I know about you?” Describe more of your accomplishments or recent learning experiences.
The next hub in this series (Part Two) will focus on the two job interviewing questions almost every interviewer will ask and the best answers for you to give to: “What are your strengths?” and “What are your weaknesses?”
Favorite interviewing joke #1
The guardian for a mentally ill relative was interviewing the Director of a well-known mental institution. The first question he asked was, “What are the criteria which define whether or not a patient should be institutionalized?”
“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub with water. Then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub.”
”I see,” said the guardian. “A sane person would use the bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”
“No,” said the Director, “a sane person would pull the plug! Do you want your bed near the door or the window?”
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2011. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"
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