It is a common best practice for job seekers to prepare to put their best foot forward in an interviewer. They will do research on the company and the position. They will practice common interview questions. Based on the job description they will consider likely behavioral interview questions and practice their responses. They should also talk with their networking contacts about the company, the department and the role. In spite of all this careful preparation, many candidates neglect to prepare for the critical aspect of interviewing the interviewer.
A major goal of the interview is for both parties to assess fit. They only way the candidate can do this effectively is the have questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Here are some valuable questions to consider:
Why is this position open at this time? If it is a new position, you want to understand what business needs supported approval of a new position. If it is a replacement, was the person promoted and they are backfilling the position or did the employee leave? If the employee left, how long were they in the position? How frequently is this position open? You are seeking insight into the business need for the job, the success of people in this job and how this job is treated within the organization.
How will you evaluate success in this position in the first three, six and twelve months? You want to know if they have clear expectations of what success looks like and how it is measured. Are they realistic about the time it will take to ramp up in this new position?
Why did you choose to join this company? What keeps you here? Asking a general question about what the culture of the organization is like with likely get you a general answer. When you personalize it you will hear a much more honest response.
How does this organization develop staff? No one will promise you a promotion in so many months, and if they do it is likely a red flag. Instead ask about how they invest in their staff to prepare them for future opportunities. Do they provide training or support outside training? Are staff members encouraged to attend relevant conferences? Is there any type of mentoring program?
Ask about the future of the business Do enough research to understand key growth initiatives and ask a relevant question that results in valuable information while also demonstrating that you did your homework. Maybe it relates to a recent press release or a new product but you need to identify something that feels relevant and ask a specific question.
A job candidate can nail their responses to the interviewer’s questions but may not get the job if they are not also interviewing the interviewer. In addition to the valuable insights you gain to help you assess fit, you are also demonstrating your interest and your preparation.
Job candidates tend to focus their interview preparation on researching the company and the interviewers while also preparing their responses to “tried and true” interview questions and behavioral questions. This preparation is all critical to success on the interview. However candidates must also be prepared for the unexpected if they hope to shine in the interview.
Why do employers ask unusual questions or ask candidates to respond to mini-case situations? All other interviews are focused on your past performance and the hiring managers are trying to use that data to anticipate how you will perform in their new role. Case and unusual questions offer the employers and opportunity to see how you think and how you perform under pressure. It is less about finding the right answer and more about how you think and logically process the information.
Advice for Success in Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions
- Be well prepared for your “tried and true” questions and have several stories prepared that you can use to address a variety of behavioral questions. The better prepared you are for these questions the less disruptive the unique questions will be.
- Have key facts in your head in round numbers. US population and world population for example. Know key facts about the company and the industry.
- Practice answering unique questions in advance. Use online lists of questions to test yourself. Practice case questions in advance. The more you practice the better you will perform in the interview.
Examples of Unusual Questions or Mini-Case Situations
- “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?” This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions. What information do you need to put your hands on? How would you use that information? What kinds of questions do you need to ask? You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
- “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process. The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month. He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning.” What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer? Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
- “What would you do if the major project you were working on had a deadline of next week to the senior VP and the team can’t agree on next steps?”
- “What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers?” I actually had an employer ask this of our students and students enjoyed thinking of creative solutions. It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem. Students who could not provide any response did not advance in the process.
- If you could be an animal, what type would you be and why? Clearly no right or wrong answer but they want to see how you think on your feet.
- “How many cars would be in the parking lot in our ABC store on a Thursday morning between10 and 12?” Think about what you need to know about their business and that location. Think about the categories of cars that would be there. Make assumptions and explain your thought process.
- “How many replacement tires are sold in the US in a given year?” Use round numbers to talk through your assumptions and make an informed guess.
- “What was your favorite thing to play as a child?”
At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the candidate will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.
Remember, employers are assessing not only your skills to perform the job but also you fit with their team and the company.
Congratulations, you got the interview! Clearly the hiring manager saw something in your resume and cover letter than earned you a coveted interview slot. Now the challenge is to sell yourself.
It is important to do your research on the company so you have insightful questions prepared. You can also practice answering commonly asked interview questions to help you be prepared. But, it is often the questions they don’t ask directly that make or break the decision. Being aware of those questions and how they impact your responses can be critical to your success.
Interviewers will ask a lot of questions about your past work. They may also ask behavioral questions to see how you handle certain situations. Bottom line, what they really want to know is:
- Why they should hire you?
- What you can do for them that others can’t?
- How well do you fit their organization and team?
Ensure that in your responses to questions about your work, education, skills etc. that you are really answering these underlying questions. Articulate clearly the skills, expertise and experience you bring that would enable you to succeed in this position. Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the job and the company. While they are assessing your fit with their team you need to form your own opinion of how well you fit the culture of the company and the specific work team.
Focus on your transferable skills. Highlight the results you delivered in your previous work. Results are much more important and impactful than responsibilities. Clearly articulate your skills that differentiate you from other candidates. Use your passion and enthusiasm as a differentiator. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your strong interest by having questions prepared, having held networking meetings with employees of the company, identifying alumni within the organization, and your knowledge of what’s going on in the company and the industry.
To assess fit think about what environment enables you to do your best work. Are you a team collaborator or an individual contributor? What do you need from manager? How would your current manager and colleagues describe you? Do you research in advance about the culture using online resources and your networking contacts and seek to confirm that information in your interview by observing how people work together. It can be very revealing to arrive a few minutes early and watch the interaction or lack there off among the employees.
When considering your answers to interview questions, be sure to frame your responses in light of what employers really want to know. A great way to end your interview is to ask, “what concerns do you have about me as a candidate for this position.” While it can be scary to hear what they consider obstacles, asking the question demonstrates your strong interest and gives you an opportunity to address those issues or concerns. You can leave the interviewers with a very positive impression on your way out the door.
Job descriptions are often a wish list of all the skills and experience they hope to find in the perfect candidate. You may not have everything on their wish list but clearly they saw something of value on your resume if you are invited to interview. As you research the company and prepare your questions for the interviewer as well as practice your responses to anticipated interview questions, don’t forget to prepare for the objections.
There are few absolutely perfect candidates out there so it is likely the interviewer will have some objections or concerns. If you have multiple interviewers, they may even have different concerns. You will address those objections more positively if you are prepared for them. To anticipate objections, review the job description in detail and highlight any qualifications that you do not meet or any experience you do not have. Think about how you would address each item if your asked. Some general advice includes:
Do Not Apologize – Never apologize for skills or experience you do not have. They had your resume and chose to speak with you. Focus instead on what you do have, how the skills are transferrable or even your track record of learning new systems, industries, whatever.
Embrace the Opportunity – Giving you an opportunity to address the objections is truly a gift. Instead of leaving them worried about some aspect of your background, they are offering you the opportunity to address it proactively. If you ae prepared to do so this can strengthen your candidacy. Never get defensive, just address what you do bring to the table and how you would add value to the company in this role based on the skills and experience you do offer.
Confront the Elephant in the Room – Sometimes you will be doing fine in the interview, the conversation is flowing and things start to wrap up when you realize no have voiced any objections or concerns. Instead of thinking that means you got the job, you need to confront the issue so you have an opportunity to address it. Maybe they are not asking because they assume there is something critical missing and you will not advance. Don’t leave things to chance. Ask the interviewer if they have any concerns about your ability to make an impact in this role. That way, if they do have concerns, it puts on them on the table so you have an opportunity to address them. Better to address any concerns they have than to leave them hidden.
If you can anticipate possible objections and enter the interview prepared to address them, you are more likely to be successful. It also helps to keep your confidence intact throughout the interview if you are prepared to address the concerns.
One of the most frequently used interview questions is the standard, “tell me about yourself.” It can take other forms such as “walk me through your resume” or “what do I need to know about you?” but the interviewer is handing you an opportunity to tell your story. How you answer this single question can have a significant impact on the overall outcome of your interview.
You are the expert on you so this should be an easy question but many people struggle with it. They are not comfortable talking about themselves and focusing on their accomplishments. It is important to remember that this is what your competition for the job is doing so you need to be well prepared to address this question.
Remember, the interviewer is focused on your professional story, not your life story. Do not begin with when you were born! Resist sharing the details of elementary school, junior high and high school. The interviewer really doesn’t need to know about your parents’ divorce, problems with your siblings or other life details. Focus on your professional life. Focus on the highlights.
Focus on your career and tell your story emphasizing key skills and accomplishments. This is an opportunity to highlight the things you are most proud of in your career and also to focus on what is most relevant to the hiring manager’s needs. Don’t use your entire response talking about how successfully you worked on your own if the hiring manager needs someone who can work as part of a team.
Use this as an opportunity to explain your career transitions. What did you accomplish in the specific job and what skills did you develop. Why did you leave and what did the new opportunity bring as challenges. Tell your story focusing on your continued growth and development. Focus on key skills you developed or enhanced.
This should not be a half hour, rambling response. Practice answering this question so you are prepared to do it professionally and succinctly. Make the interviewer want to ask follow-up questions and learn more about specific projects.
Most interviewers want to know why you are seeking to make a job change and what about this particular company and opportunity appeals to you. You must be prepared to address this in the course of your interview.
You applied for their position so obviously you are looking to make a change. You need to be prepared to address why you are seeking to make a change. It is important to present your reasons without bashing your manager or current company. Maybe there really are some problems at the company, but don’t come across as a complainer. No one wants to hire another company’s problems. Talk about what you learned in that role and why you are seeking an opportunity to help you build additional or different skills and experience. Maybe you are looking to focus on a different industry or different role. Have a story of what you are seeking to gain and how you will leverage your transferable skills.
If you have no answer for this question you are telling the interviewer you have no plan for your career and no awareness of the skills you need to develop and enhance for success. Sharing a strong vision for your career and an awareness of your skills can be a strong differentiator in your interviews.
Why This Job?
This is your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and this specific opportunity. Show them you have done your homework by demonstrating insight into what the company does and how you contribute to that mission. Focus on your transferrable skills and how you could add value in this specific role. Being well prepared with knowledge of the company and the role demonstrates to the interviewer that you have taken the initiative to do your homework. It shows interest and a strong work ethic.
Interviewers will expect you to be able to address these questions succinctly and in the process of answering these questions you can successfully differentiate yourself from the competition.
During the process of interviewing for a new job, it is critical that you ask questions during the process to demonstrate your interest and engagement. However, there are certain questions that should NOT be asked in an interview.
- What is the salary? It is critical that you sell the hiring manager and team on the value you bring to the position. Asking about salary early in the process can negatively impact your advancement in the process. Focus on earning their interest first. They will bring up salary at an appropriate time during the process.
- What are the benefits? For the same reasons as with the salary question, don’t get ahead of yourself. You need to sell yourself for the position before you worry about benefits.
- When will I be promoted? Once you have successfully sold the value you could bring to the position you may want to ask what the manager would consider success in that role after the first year. You may ask about possible career progression. Do not specifically ask about being promoted. It comes across as arrogant to assume that you will be promoted. Promotions are based on merit but may also be dependent on business needs and budgets.
- Can I work from home? Can I work flexible hours? Unless the job states that it is a virtual position or flexible hours, assume that it is in the office during regular business hours. In many companies you have to prove yourself before you can be considered for working from home or with flexible hours. Get the job first and show them what you can do.
- What does your Company do? This question or any other question that could be answered by a five minute review of their website clearly demonstrates that you were not interested enough to do even a basic amount of preparation. If you are not taking the opportunity seriously, why should they seriously consider you? Any question that shows you didn’t prepare or that you weren’t listening is not going to land you the job.
Use the interview to demonstrate your transferable skills, the value you bring to the position and your passion for the opportunity. Sell yourself first before you worry about salary, benefits and flexibility. This will help you increase your success on interviews.