Troubleshooting Difficult Interview Situations (page 5)
Tricky Questions the Top 25 Interview Mistakes the 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions and How to Get Another Interview after You've Been Declined
NOT EVERY INTERVIEW is ideal: There are times when you get thrown off by a question or panic because you haven't been able to convey what you wanted to say. You might feel the need to correct something you've said or even change the course of an interview, but you don't know how. An interviewer may ask a question about your private life, your previous job, or your family background that you are not prepared for. Any of these situations can result in a disappointing interview.
Fortunately, there are ways to salvage interviews that go off course. The best strategy for steering the conversation away from dull, dead-end, or uncomfortable topics is to learn as much as you can about the job and the company ahead of time and prepare success stories and specific questions for your interviewer. If you've read about recent events or trends that might impact the company, or if it has developed a new product or service that might influence the job, talk about it. Ask questions. Try to keep sending the message that you showed up for the interview because you are interested in the job. Remember that an interview is a two-way process: If you give the interviewer the impression that you are bored or ill prepared, you will not get the job. On the other hand, if you are interested and engaged, your interviewer will likely match your enthusiasm.
So, if you feel that things are not going your way, take responsibility for the outcome. If you're interested in the job, you want to leave feeling that you did everything to put your interviewer at ease and convince him that you are the best-qualified person for the position.
This article arms you with information and strategies to help you anticipate tough questions, formulate responses, and get an interview back on course. With preparation, you should be able to go into any interview feeling confident and without fear of surprise or embarrassment. Preparation is the key: By researching and rehearsing what is likely to be asked, you are free to answer unanticipated questions with less stress and more confidence.
Getting Unstuck: Changing the Course of an Interview
You've showed up for your interview feeling alert and reasonably comfortable. The conversation was going well, but now the atmosphere has changed and your confidence is slipping. This can happen for a number of reasons, some of which were discussed in the introduction to this chapter, but in most cases, an interview goes off course because:
- You have trouble answering a question
- Your interviewer is giving you a lot of information but not asking questions, and you're not sure how to convey your qualifications
- You wish you had answered a question differently
- You feel rushed by the interviewer
- You feel that the tone of the interview has changed
- You are asked unexpected or illegal questions
The next sections offer advice on how to handle each of these situations.
Problem #1: What to Do If You Don't Know the Answer
Remember that most questions interviewers ask have no right or wrong answer. Agood interviewer asks lots of open-ended questions that leave plenty of room for a variety of responses. But if you find that the http://www.education.com/admin/content/entries/edit/reference/all/59852/only answer you can give to a question is "I don't know," relax. It's a temporary setback. You can always ask for clarification from the interviewer by saying, "I'm not sure that I understand the question. Would you mind restating it?" or you can ask that you come back to the question at the end of the interview.
If you have no information to add to an "I don't know" answer, you can always try adding a question of your own. For example: The interviewer has just asked you whether you know anything about the cosmetics division of the company. You might respond: "No, I don't. What part does it play in the major scheme of things here?" This response tells your interviewer that although you don't have the specific information she wants, you are nonetheless curious about the big picture. Your interest in learning more about the company's operations is a good sign and will not be lost on your interviewer.
It's one thing to feel dejected by an "I don't know" answer, but it's another to look it. If you hang your head, shuffle your feet, look terrified, or freeze up to the degree that you can't hear, let alone respond to, the next question, you will compromise your professionalism. So, even if you don't know the answer to a question and can't add either information or another question to it, don't let yourself get stuck. Stay poised and alert and wait for the next question.
It is important to remember that your interviewer is not trying to trap you or make you look uninformed. You can be sure that you and the interviewer share the same objective—to exchange information effectively, pleasantly, and in a timely fashion. Both of you have a vested interest in keeping the flow of conversation easy and open.
Sometimes, your conversation with an interviewer may drift or come to a complete stop. To re-focus the interview, ask questions or use your resume as a guide to highlight your strongest qualifications and assets.
Problem #2: How to Create Opportunities to Present Your Credentials
Sometimes an interviewer focuses on the company or the position without giving you many opportunities to talk about yourself. In these cases, the best thing to do is to turn the interviewer's approach into an advantage. If the interviewer seems most comfortable talking about the company, start asking questions about it. For example, if the company has changed direction in the last year, ask your interviewer what led to the change of direction. At some point, you will exhaust the subject. But, by then, your summaries of information and the questions you've asked will demonstrate not only that you've been listening, but that you've taken the time and initiative to research the company.
In addition, there is an acceptable way to interrupt. Everyone pauses, no matter how briefly, at the end of a sentence. When you hear that pause, make a statement about yourself that relates to what the interviewer just said. Look at the following example:
Interviewer: The company has grown so much in the last several years. We spend a lot of time communicating to our employees about our new business developments and new products.
You: I have some experience in that area. Last summer, I worked as a market researcher in a company that was promoting a new paint product. One of my tasks was to figure out how to get product information to the salesforce on a timely basis. I conducted interviews with the sales reps and they told me they wanted an electronic newsletter, which I initiated. It was quite popular and eventually became an internal newsletter as well.
At this point, the interview can go in one of two directions:
- The interviewer is ready to hear about you
- The interviewer thinks the interview is over
If the interviewer is ready to hear about you, highlight your accomplishments by making a connection between yourself and what you've learned about the company. For example, if the company has taken a bold initiative to capture a new market this year, tie it into a story about risk taking. Perhaps you can tell the story of how you devised an unusual promotion that doubled the number of subscriptions to your college literary magazine. Or perhaps you have another story to tell that emphasizes a tough decision you had to make, or a strategy that paid off. The point is to link your own risk-taking experiences with the needs of the company. Think back to some of the other points your interviewer made about the company and try to match your success stories to some of them.
On the other hand, if the interviewer gives you the message that the interview is winding down, don't leave before getting in at least one or two of your success stories. You might say, "Before I leave, I'd like to tell you a couple things about myself that relate to what we were talking about." Then launch into a success story.
For example, perhaps your interviewer has just mentioned that the company is expanding its services to include foreign markets, such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Costa Rica. This is the perfect time to mention that you are bilingual. Maybe you majored in Spanish. Perhaps you even spent a semester in South America on a work-study program and can describe some of your experiences in the South American business world. Choose stories that show your interviewer you understand the challenges of doing business with another culture and that you have the skills to meet those challenges.
We all learn by making mistakes. If possible, don't schedule your first interview with the job you want most. As you get more interview practice, you will feel more confident, know what kinds of questions to expect, and learn how best to present yourself. Practice your skills in informational networking interviews or in roleplays with a friend or mentor in the business world.
Problem #3: How to Say What You Want to Say
Your interview is going well, when your interviewer asks, "What accomplishment are you most proud of?" You've prepared an answer to this question, but you have a sudden attack of nerves and draw a complete blank. You rack your brain and finally come up with a story, although you know it doesn't really show off your strengths. As soon as your interviewer asks the next question, you remember the story you had prepared. What do you do now?
If you've accidentally misspoken, continue with the interview and try not to let the statement throw you off track. Talk about your skills and accomplishments and ask questions, but wait to the end of the interview to correct a misstatement. After you've thanked your interviewer, tell her that you've been thinking about the way you answered one of the questions, and that you would like to expand on it quickly before you leave. If you don't realize that you misspoke until after the interview, you can always include the corrected answer in a thank-you note.
Problem #4: What to Do if You're Feeling Rushed
Occasionally, you may feel rushed by your interviewer. Perhaps something has come up—a deadline or a meeting—and your interviewer's body language and verbal cues say: "I don't have much time." Or maybe your meeting has been delayed for some reason—perhaps the interviewer is still speaking with another candidate—and there isn't much time for your interview.
If you've scheduled back-to-back appointments or if your lunch hour at your current job is coming to a close (which means that you won't have enough time for this interview), simply say that you need to reschedule. What you do not want to communicate is disappointment, frustration, or, especially, anger.
Instead, reiterate your interest in the company and in the position. Be understanding. Reassure your interviewer with a comment, such as "Unfortunately, I have another appointment in 30 minutes. It will be no trouble at all to reschedule the interview. I understand that appointments are sometimes delayed by other meetings or emergencies." Showing that you can be flexible in this situation will work to your advantage.
Salvaging a rushed interview takes a little more work—and confidence. Suppose your interviewer says, "Usually I take an hour for these interviews, but I only have 20 minutes." Take control of the process by asking, "What elements of my background would you most like me to talk about in the time we have?" If the interviewer begins talking, track where he or she is going. For example, the interviewer might want to discuss employment history, or your college major. After you've given a concise response, it would be perfectly appropriate for you to mention that there are only a few minutes left. At this point, you could ask, "What are the most important things for me to tell you about myself in the time we have left?" If you know yourself and your success stories well, you will have no trouble finding one or two to illustrate those things.
Problem #5: How to Deal with a Change in the Tone of the Interview
Say the interview has been going well, but now your interviewer has been called out of the room. When she comes back, she has a different demeanor and the mood in the room has definitely changed.Obviously something has happened. Once again, try to be flexible. Perhaps you could say, "If we're short on time, would it be helpful for me to tell you anything else about myself in particular?" In other words, take a proactive stance. Try to save the interview, but be diplomatic, especially if your interviewer is still visibly upset. Don't say, "What happened to you?" Communicate that you are aware that something has changed and offer to make things easier.
If the conversation has petered out or become too uncomfortable to move forward, suggest that you meet again another time. You could broach the subject in this way: "If you would prefer to meet at another time, I would be more than happy to return when it is convenient for you."
Problem #6: How to Handle Surprise or Illegal Questions
What if you're in the middle of an interview when you discover that you'd be working the third shift if you got the job? The challenge here is not to spill your coffee or burst out with, "Really? Nobody told me!"
Instead, try to be as calm as possible and say something that won't take you out of the running, such as:
- "I wasn't aware of that. Can you tell me more?"
- "How often and for how long would I work a late shift?"
- "Is that the permanent schedule, or would it apply only to the first 90 days?"
In other words, keep the lines of communication open before you decide the job isn't for you.
Anumber of state and federal laws make it illegal for interviewers to ask questions about your marital status, sexual orientation, age, nationality or ethnicity, or religion. On rare occasions, such questions may arise (usually because the interviewer is not aware that the question he or she asked is illegal).
Think about how you will handle such a question if it comes up. You might ask how the information relates to the job, tactfully change the subject, or even answer the question if you feel comfortable doing so. For more information on illegal interview questions, visit the website of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at www.eeoc.gov. Many of the websites listed in Appendix B also provide information on illegal interview questions.
Finally all employers need to know if potential candidates can work the scheduled hours for the open position. You may get the question, "Does anything prevent you from working from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Friday?" Although this question is perfectly legal, it can cause a candidate to disclose unnecessarily personal information about marital status, religious practices, or child or elder care. You must answer this question honestly.
If your religious observances prevent you from working certain hours, you need to tell the interviewer when you're asked that question. However, you should also add that in the past, your religious practices have not interfered with you completing your class work or work with former employers. Be prepared to back up that claim with a list of references that will support your statement.
Top 25 Interview Mistakes—and how to Avoid Them
Familiarize yourself with the list that follows so that you know which actions are inappropriate, what comments to avoid, and what not to forget. You will be glad you did—it could mean the difference between getting hired and getting passed over.
- Don't be late. Be sure to allow yourself ample time to get to your interview. Be sure to factor in unexpected circumstances, such as train delays or heavy traffic. If you know you're going to be late, get to a phone at all costs so you can let your interviewer know—and apologize.
- Be prepared to describe your experiences. An interview is a test—and you should never walk into a test unprepared. Take time to prepare your success stories, and think about how you would handle the questions your interviewer might ask. Practice describing your experiences aloud or conduct practice interviews with friends.
- Don't answer questions with only a "yes" or "no." Your interviewer needs to get to know you, and that will be very difficult if you don't volunteer information about yourself. Be sure to support your answers with stories and examples.
- Don't fidget. If you are tapping your foot, playing with a bracelet on your wrist, or constantly shifting in your seat, you won't look professional. And if you don't look professional, you won't get hired.
- Don't speak too quickly. You may want to get in a lot of information, but you don't want to speak so fast that your interviewer can't understand you. Take a deep breath before you begin answering questions and slow down. Conduct a practice interview with a friend to make sure that your speaking voice is steady and even.
- Make eye contact. If you avoid making eye contact, you will be unable to establish a personal connection with your interviewer. You should be attentive and engaged in what your interviewer is saying.
- Research the company. Q: "What do you know about our firm?" A: "Uh … not much." Answers like this will not get you hired. Similarly, when your interviewer asks if you have any questions, you don't want to answer with, "Yeah. What exactly does this company do?"
- Don't lie. Don't lie about or embellish your job experiences or academic record. Your interviewer is going to check these things. If an interviewer catches you lying, you won't be hired. If your employer finds out about your misrepresentation after you've been hired, you will be fired.
- Make sure you answer the question asked. You want to use your success stories in the interview, but you should be careful to always answer the question being asked. Don't be so intent on launching into a story that you avoid the question altogether—your interviewer will notice.
- Don't reveal too much. Your interviewer is neither your best friend nor your therapist. She wants to learn about the skills and qualities you will bring to a job. She does not want to hear about your personal life or problems.
- Make sure you "sell" yourself when you answer questions. You should answer questions in a way that demonstrates the qualities that will serve you on the job. If ou are asked how your best friend would describe you, don't say, "She thinks I'm a fun person and that I have great fashion sense." Instead, say something like, "I think my best friend would describe me as loyal and dependable. People always know that they can count on me."
- Don't speak poorly of or belittle past job experiences. Disparaging other employers or jobs will make you sound unprofessional, negative, and hostile. And it will make the interviewer wonder what you would say about his or her company to others. Try to focus on what you learned from other jobs.
- Don't dress too casually. Your interviewer wants to hire a responsible professional. Make sure you look like one.
- Be sure to ask questions about the company. By asking some good questions, you will prove that you are interested in the job—and that you were motivated enough to research the position and the company.
- Don't forget to send a thank-you note. Demonstrate your professionalism and courtesy by sending a note. You will also be more likely to stand out in the interviewer's mind with this reminder of the interview.
- Be sure to thank the interviewer at the end of the interview. In the business world, a little courtesy goes a long way. Your interviewer will appreciate and notice your good manners.
- Don't forget to bring a few extra resumes to the interview. You may be asked for another copy of your resume, and you may have to submit an extra copy with any forms you have to fill out. Make sure that you're prepared.
- Be sure to prepare a list of references. Type up your references (with contact information) for your interviewer. Your interviewer will not be interested in taking down all the names and numbers by hand, and it will be an inconvenience if you have to send the information at a later date.
- Don't forget your interviewer's name. You should always bring a note pad (preferably in a professional leather portfolio) to an interview. Write down the interviewer's name if you think you won't be able to remember it. Thank the interviewer by name at the end of the interview.
- Don't go to an interview on an empty stomach. Remember when you took your SATs? You were probably warned not to take the test without eating, even if you usually skipped breakfast. The same goes for interviews. You will feel more alert if you've had a nutritious meal, and you won't get hungry if the interview ends up lasting much longer than you had anticipated. And, of course, you won't have to worry about your stomach rumbling in the middle of a question.
- Don't use filler words and slang. Nothing makes you sound more unprofessional than peppering your speech with like and y'know. Likewise, nothing will alienate your interviewer more than dropping slang into your responses. If you can't speak like a professional, your interviewer will question whether he or she can trust you to interact with clients or supervisors.
- Don't chew gum, eat, or smoke. These are obvious no-nos.
- Don't answer your cellular phone or pager. Turn off your cell phone or beeper before you get to the interview.
- Don't interrupt the interviewer or talk excessively. Don't ramble or go off on tangents. You want to tell your stories and give the interviewer a good sense of your accomplishments, but make sure you don't cut the interviewer off or preclude her from asking questions. She has limited time to speak with you.
- Don't freeze up. Relax! It's only an interview. If you're well prepared, you should feel confident and stress free. Smile and be yourself. Your interviewer wants to hire a person, not a robot.
Experiencing the occasional tricky question or unexpected situation is inevitable. But if you think about how to approach—if not resolve—some of these situations beforehand, your chances of doing well and perhaps even acing an interview will be that much better.
The secret is to stay relaxed and not to let temporary setbacks erode your confidence. Most potential problems are easily avoided if you maintain a poised and professional state of mind. You can even approach an embarrassing or difficult situation so that it works for you instead of against you. In the working world, tricky or delicate situations arise constantly; therefore, you might want to think of your interview as a test of how well prepared you are to handle them.
By rising to each new challenge, whether it's thinking your way around a difficult question or putting a positive spin on it, you demonstrate your ability to adapt and be flexible—two skills that are well worth developing. Finally, taking a proactive stance to steer an interview away from inappropriate queries shows that you know how to take initiative and at the same time conveys persistence and endurance, qualities that will serve you well in the working world.
How to Handle Tough Questions
Although many interview questions are straightforward and easy to answer, you will also face a number of tough questions. Tough questions are questions that require thoughtful, thorough answers; they are questions that you don't necessarily expect or are difficult to prepare for. They probe more deeply into your claims than other questions.
The purpose of these questions is to make sure you're answering consistently, to uncover additional information about your skills and accomplishments, and to gauge how well you think on your feet. It's important to know how to answer them well, because you will be asked these kinds of questions many times over the course of your professional life.
You will face a number of difficult questions during your job search. Exhibit 7–1 lists a few of these questions, which you should think about before you go on any interviews. The next sections of this chapter discuss other tough questions that are typically asked in interviews, as well detailed strategies for answering them, followed by discussion of how to go about getting a second interview if you don't get the job. The emphasis here, however, is on succeeding—and if you are alert, well prepared, and primed to think on your feet, you will accomplish nothing less.
"How Would We Benefit by Hiring You?"
Every employer wants to know what you can offer. What will some of your contributions be? Just because you're a recent college graduate doesn't mean that you don't have enough experience or skills to be valued as an employee. In fact, many of the skills you learned in school are valuable in the workplace. For example, you probably worked on countless group projects; therefore, you know how to work effectively on a team. And if you participated in extracurricular activities you undoubtedly had to manage your time wisely between your family, friends, schoolwork, and other outside activities.
Depending on where the question about "what you can contribute" comes up in the interview, you can decide how many of your success stories you want to use. While you're scanning your memory for an answer, you can say, "Well, there are three things I believe I can contribute … " Why three? Because it genuinely helps to think of a number—especially when you're stumped on a question.
Selecting a number—usually two or three—is a cue that focuses your mind, keeps you from freezing up during an interview, and organizes your thoughts. By the time you've selected a number and begun your answer, you should have a clear mental image of your list of success stories: Now, quickly select the two or three that best display your skills and talents.
Don't repeat a success story that you have used before. If you've already told a story about your leadership skills on the job, but you want to highlight your abilities as a leader, choose a new story that shows you in another leadership role. Perhaps you were the captain of a sports team or ran a college club. Ideally, each of your success stories will illustrate a variety of skills; so, if you've already used your primary "leadership" stories, you should have other examples that demonstrate leadership abilities.
"What Are You Looking for in a Job?"
This can be a tough question, depending on when it is asked. If the question comes after you've been told about the job, and you know what the challenges are, you are ahead of the game. However, if you are asked the question before you've learn the job's specifics, your response will have to be a more general.
Sometimes a prospective employer will ask you about the kind of job you want, or the challenges that interest you, as a screening question at the beginning of an interview. The point is to see if your expectations match what the job has to offer. If you've been given details about the job, you can match them with the high points of your resume and some of your success stories; but if you don't really know what the job is all about, you can't effectively link it to specific stories or skills. For example, if you are highly extroverted and social, you might be tempted to say that you're looking for a people-oriented job. Having said that, you may learn that the job actually involves little daily contact with other people.
If you find yourself in this situation, don't assume that the interview is over. Keep answering every question to the best of your ability. You may still be offered the job, in which case you will need to learn more about the responsibilities and weigh the pros and cons of the position. Or, you may discover that there is another open position in the firm of which you weren't aware.
If you don't have a strong sense of the challenges or requirements of the job, but would like to buy time to learn more, keep your answers to questions about what you're looking for as open ended as possible. Go back to the ten–point chart you made when reading Chapter 3 (Exhibit 3–3), and choose some of the more general criteria for your ideal job. Almost any prospective employer will be happy to hear that you want to take on more responsibility, learn new skills, or gain a thorough knowledge of a particular field or industry.
"Why Are You the Best Person for the Job?"
If your interviewer asks why you are the best person for the job, it's important to link your reasons to information about the position and company. It may be that your technical skills, industry experience, and leadership abilities make you an ideal candidate for the job. Or perhaps you have the creativity, diligence, and interpersonal skills necessary to succeed at a particular company. The best answers to this question will contain at least three points that highlight your skills and career objectives.
"What Is the Hardest Thing You Ever Had to Do?"
Telling a success story about one of the most difficult things you've ever had to do—outside of the usual academic challenges of being a student—should focus on an action; something you had to do to overcome an obstacle or solve a problem. Asuccess story that has anything to do with being an outsider or being thrown into a new or difficult situation where you had to sink or swim would be perfect for this question.
For example, did you ever have to make the transition from living in a small town to living in a big city? What about being in a foreign country as an exchange student, and dealing with another culture or language? Your first day as a summer intern in a law firm might have posed a huge challenge; or maybe as a nurse's aide in between your sophomore and junior year, you had to rise to the challenge of working in the emergency room and overcoming your fears.
Your story can be personal, but once again, focus on the facts and the actions you took. For example, maybe you helped your family respond to a financial crisis by taking on an after-school job. One of the hardest things you may ever have had to do is achieve a certain level of excellence in order for your sports team to compete in a national or international contest. Describe what you did to overcome the problem. Any example or story you can tell that illustrates your determination, resilience, and perseverance will speak to this question.
"What Are Your Strengths?"
It should come as a relief to answer this question. After giving so much consideration to your accomplishments and the things of which you're most proud, you should have no trouble talking about the personal qualities you admire most about yourself. One approach is to focus on work strengths, such as organizational skills, ability to work in teams, or problem solving. Or, you might talk about traits such as tenacity, maturity, or patience. If you're particularly proud of your ability to communicate well or think creatively, weave these characteristics into the stories you tell about yourself.
Enjoy answering this question. You should have plenty of good stories to draw on, especially because you have devoted so much time to thinking of your own success stories. In order to prepare for this question, you might want to think about how your close friends or family members might describe you; you could even ask them for some suggestions.
"What Are Your Weaknesses?"
The biggest mistake you can make in answering this question is saying, "I don't think I have any weaknesses that will affect my job performance." We all have shortcomings, and you will not be penalized for revealing one or two of yours. If you have given this question some thought, you should have no trouble answering.
The old advice was to choose a "bad" quality that is actually quite "good" in the context of a job. For instance, you may decide to say: "I tend to work hard until the job gets done, and sometimes I shortchange my relaxation time." Although this approach can sometimes be successful, be careful if you try to use it. Interviewers are on to this trick and will notice if you're not sincere or avoid revealing any flaws. Also, many people try to use this technique, and answers sound repetitive and disingenuous. Don't be afraid to be honest. Instead, consider the following story.
Two great answers:
I was interviewing for a job in broadcasting. My interviewer had trouble framing one of her questions and finally asked, a little hesitantly, "What do you think you most need help with at work?" I wasn't sure what she wanted, and I asked her to clarify the question. She said, "I'm really trying to ask you what your weaknesses are. But I don't want to hear another candidate say, 'I'm too much of a perfectionist' or 'I'm such a hard worker that I don't give myself enough time to relax.'"
I was very honest about admitting my faults in some areas, and I made sure to demonstrate what I was doing to improve my shortcomings. I could tell that she appreciated my sincerity. And best of all, I got the job.
"I think one of my weaknesses is that I'm not outgoing when I first meet people or get thrown into a new situation. I like to take some time to step back and assess a situation before jumping in, and people sometimes mistakenly think I'm very shy or aloof. I've worked hard on being more outgoing, though. Now, in any social situation, I try to talk to at least one unfamiliar person right away.
"Where Would You Like to Be Five Years from Now?"
Of all the questions interviewers ask, this is probably the toughest one to answer, because the world is changing so fast. It's hard to know where we will be one year from now, much less in five. However, there are some good strategies that might help you answer this question.
First of all, the real objective behind asking the question is to see whether or not you have goals. The second objective is to get a little insight into your achievement orientation. In other words, do you want to be doing the same thing in five years? Do you want to be promoted? Do you want to become a manager? What are your aspirations?
In addition, this question tests your strategic thinking ability: Have you thought about your career path? Does this job fit into your longrange plans and career goals? Do you genuinely want to learn about and succeed in a particular industry, or do you just see getting a job as a means to pay your rent?
If You Have No Idea about the Future
To answer the question truthfully—especially if you've just graduated from college—you can always qualify your answer. For example, you might answer the question in the following way.
I imagine the world will be quite a different place in five years. So, it would be hard for me to know exactly what job I wanted. But there are things I want and expect from my professional life: I would like to keep doing interesting and challenging work. I would like to be recognized for my hard work and promoted to the next level. And I want to continue to build my skills no matter what direction I go in professionally. I'd like to keep learning and growing.
If You Know What You Want
If you already have a strong sense of what you want to do—if you want to manage people, for example—it's perfectly acceptable to say: "In five years, I hope to have some experience at managing a staff." This answer tells the interviewer that you are goal oriented, set realistic time frames, and prefer a management rather than a technical specialist track. It does not make you sound too eager or pushy.
If You Want to Start Your Own Business
Turnover negatively affects businesses. Between recruiting costs, benefits, and training, your employer will make a significant investment in you and your career. So interviewers are going to try to evaluate how long you will stay with the firm. One way to do that is to ask if you've ever thought about starting your own business.
You will have to be a little savvy about your answer while maintaining your integrity. For example, suppose you're interviewing for a job with a technology consulting firm, but you know, in the back of your mind, that you want to be running your own business in five or six years. It would not be a good idea to say, "I want to get this consulting experience so that I can start my own business."
However, it would be politically savvy to say, "I'm interested in learning about consulting and I'd like to work in a broad spectrum of industries." You could even say, "Eventually, I'd like to be a specialist in the technology industry." This answer is not only truthful but goes a long way toward assuring your prospective employer of three important things: that you are in the right field, that you want toenhance your skills as a consultant, and that you see yourself specializing in a certain area. You've been honest without revealing your ultimate goal, which, eventually, is to leave your employer. But save that conversation for a few years down the road.
Some companies that value innovation may ask, "Did you ever want to start your own company?" These companies want to hire entrepreneurial people who are always thinking of creative products and services. If your answer is "yes," be prepared for a follow-up question that requires you to describe your business idea. Your answer will be evaluated on its uniqueness, its relevance to the marketplace, and how well you've thought it through.
"What Accomplishment Are You Most Proud of?"
Here's another opportunity to discuss your accomplishments in a more personal way than you might have discussed earlier. In this case, you can talk about the most difficult or the most challenging of your work and academic achievements, or focus on something that will tell your interviewer something about your values. What do you really care about and admire yourself for doing?
For example, in a recent job interview, John, a sports writer, used the example of finishing the New York City Marathon as his proudest moment. From the outside, John's achievement doesn't appear to be job related, but if you look at it more closely, his story reveals personal qualities that any employer would value in an employee. First of all, completing a marathon requires discipline—it takes months of diligent training to run a 26-mile course. John's story also demonstrates an ability to schedule time effectively and focus on achieving a goal. He also shows that he is comfortable with competition—even if that competition is his own best running time. For a prospective employer, these qualities translate into an image of a hard-working and dedicated person who takes pride in his work and would be a valuable addition to the staff.
"What Would Be the Ideal Company for You?"
To prepare for this question, return to the ten-point chart you made in Chapter 3 (Exhibit 3–3) and take a look at your list of work requirements. When a prospective employer asks you the kind of a schedule for which you're looking or if you're interested in a training program, how will you respond? Do you want to work for a small company or a big one? Do you want client contact or hope to work closely with other team members? Does it matter to you if the company contributes to the community? When an interviewer asks this question, part of the motivation is to discover if you have an interest in the big picture. Will you fit into the larger context? Consider the following answers.
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