ALC Consulting

June 27, 2009

Interviewing—Answering the Tough Questions–Part 1

Filed under: Contracting,Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 3:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

For many people, an interview is faced with as much anticipation as a visit to the dentist. They view it as a necessary step to getting a job.

Depending on who does the interviewing, it can be a very painful experience, that’s for sure. Are you interviewing with an HR professional or a hiring manager?

Does it make a difference? Absolutely.

Most HR people are not familiar with the skills needed fill a position; after all, they have it right in front of them. They really don’t know what a lot of the acronyms mean, but they can talk their way through it. Hiring managers are the worker bees. They know what the job entails, because they work with the team and know how things work in the company.

Anyway, here are some typical questions that you will get almost all the time (with my editorial comments).

  1. Tell me about yourself.

    No, the interviewer doesn’t want to know your life story, just do you have the skills and background to program, design, write or whatever.

    Strategy:

    Use this question to discover the employer’s greatest need. Say something like, “I have a number of accomplishments, I’d like to tell you about, but in order to make the best use of our time together and talk directly to your needs. To help me do that, could you tell me more about the most important priorities of this position? All I know is what I (heard from the recruiter, read in the job description, etc.).

  2. What are your greatest strengths?

    Hokey at best. Try to keep your cool here.

    Strategy:

    Try to set a balance between arrogance and humility. Mentally you should have prepared a list of your 8 greatest strengths and you want to get them into the mix during the interview, according to Scott Olsen of The Olsen Group in Portland. But if you answered the previous question properly, you will know what they are looking for.

  3. What are your greatest weaknesses?

    This question is designed to shorten the candidate list. Either you get an A for honesty, but an F for interview.

    Strategy:

    Disguise a strength as a weakness. For example, “I sometimes push myself too hard,” or “I’m a nitpicky editor.” A problem with this strategy is that it is so widely used that it may come across as so canned to the interviewer.

    Another way to handle it is to go back to the needs identified by the interviewer as important and work them into the conversation. If you were applying for a sales position, you could say. “If given a choice, I’d like to spend as much time as possible in front of my prospects selling, as opposed to shuffling papers back at the office. Of course, long ago I learned the importance of filing paperwork properly, and I do it conscientiously. But what I really love to do is sell.”

  4. Tell me about something you did—or failed to do—that you now feel ashamed of.

    This is a trap! No interviewer should be asking a question like this. It’s none of their business. Some inexperienced interviewees get caught here, and use this as an opportunity to unburden themselves of a long ago incident that is way too personal. Don’t use the tactic by some members of a previous administration to declare they have no regrets.

    Strategy:

    Say that you practice some self reflection at the end of the day, and that if you recognize something is awry, you try to remedy it as soon as possible, and by doing that, you don’t let the garbage pile up.

    Next: More Tough interview Questions

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