Managing Poor Interview Questions With A Buzz.

Ha!  My granddaughter flunked her first driver’s licence road test. “Winning” on two counts as  as Charlie Sheen would say. First, she won’t be driving, and second, my wife Linda taught her how to drive.  How much fun am I going to have with that?  Of course none of this was my granddaughter’s fault.  It was the fault of the “teacher”, and of course the tester.  The poor thing sounded just like one of my candidates lamenting the fact that the interview would have gone much better had the interviewer been somewhat competent at conducting an interview.  Now I know this will be hard for you to believe, but I’m going to suggest that you do as I say, and not as I do.  Take the high road and maintain the belief during the job search process that there are no bad interviewers, only those that may be inexperienced.  You need to think of each interview question as an opportunity to demonstrate your value through an accomplishment or strength. Every response must build towards ensuring that the interviewer is left with no option other than to advance you to the next step in the process, whether that be  another interview or a job offer.  For the most part the inexperienced interviewer will be the one that asks the questions that will create the highest degree of discomfort for you.  Below you’ll find some tips on how to handle these situations.

The unprepared interviewer.

The unprepared interviewer probably hasn’t read your resume and perhaps does not have a copy. This is a lay-up. Simply hand over a copy of your resume, and ask them if it would be acceptable to walk them through a bit of your history. After hitting a couple of value based items ask them, “based on your expertise, how would have advised me to improve my results?”  You have off- loaded their work, and made them feel like an expert.  Continue down this path  until the interviewer becomes more assertive in controlling the interview.

The inexperienced interviewer.

The reality is that there are many managers and executives that are not  schooled in the interview process.  They are excellent at sales or finance or engineering, and there are  instances where they “tell and sell” about themselves or the company rather than interview.  Again this is easy.  They are giving you all the answers to the quiz.  Make as many notes as you can.  Don’t get frustrated. Be an active listener and paraphrase when you can.  Just nod, and let them keep talking.  Eventually a non-stop talker will stop.  Now is the time to ask questions and describe your value as it relates to the company and the position based on everything you’ve just heard.  Now, let’s look at some of the general questions that an inexperienced interviewer my ask, and then how to deal with them.

“Tell Me about Yourself.”

This question is not a question, but a request for information readily available on the resume. Take advantage of this situation by making your response a sound-byte summary of information that is specifically targeted to the job you’re interviewing for. Don’t focus on your personal life unless asked.  Maybe it was an attempt at an ice-breaker, but it is also a softball question, so hit it out.

Try this: “My background has been centered around preparing myself to become the best financial consultant I can become by specifically preparing myself in the following ways.  After completeing my degree in Accounting, I received by MBA, and focused on tax and treasury earlier in my career, and have since focused on the cost and operational sides of busines

” What is your greatest weakness?”

The answer used to be centered on spinning a weakness into a strength.  That has worn out its welcome.  Other approaches include offering a weakness that is inconsequential to the job or denying that you have any weaknesses that would stand in the way of your performing the job effectively.  You’ll be seen as shallow, and lacking credibility.  Everyone but me has a weakness.  Talk about an area that was once a weakness but that you have worked to improve.

Try this:

“I tend to be a perfectionist who has had trouble delegating tasks to others, but I’ve come to see that teamwork and capitalizing on everyone’s strengths is a much more effective way to get the job done than trying to do it all myself.”

“Why should I hire you?”

The question really is: “Why should I hire you above all the other candidates?”   This is where you need to just nail your total value proposition to describe what sets you apart from other candidates. The interviewer must understand, and feel that an investment in you will have a positive return and be justified.

Try this:

“Your organization has an engineering leadership need, and I have the ability to meet that need.  Beyond that I offer additional skill sets in the areas of  general management, lean manufacturing, and cost accounting.  I understand you need engineering leadership; however, I have demonstrated the ability of being a sound business leader that just happens to manage an engineering function.”

Illegal Questions.

It’s illegal to ask about age, marital status, children, childcare arrangements, etc.  Employers still  come up with subtle ways to ask, such as by inquiring about your opinion of how much overtime or absenteeism is too much. Just address the concern behind the question.

Try this:

“There has never been anything in my personal that has interfered with my ability to provide great value for my previous employers.  You should expect the same for your company.”

“What are your salary expectations?”

Interviewers often ask early in the process what salary you are looking for. You can be quickly eliminated by over or under valuing yourself.  The best tactic for salary questions is to delay responding to them until after the employer makes an offer.

Try this:

“I applied for this position because I am very interested in the job and your company, and I know I can make an immediate impact once on the job, but I’d like to table salary discussions until we are both sure I’m right for the job.”

“Why were you terminated from your previous employer?

It’s uncomfortable. Don’t lie about it, but don’t dwell on it either.

Try this:

“My manager and I had significant philosophical differences on the direction of a large project as well as the resource requirements needed.  We achieved what needed to be done, and met the expectations of the customer.  It was in the best interests of all concerned that I move on and seek other opportunities.”

“Why are you looking to leave your current employer?”

Even if you haven’t been fired, responses about fit with the company and differing views from your manager also apply here.  Always speak positively present employer even if your experience has not been positive.

Try this:

“I am very grateful for the opportunities that my current employer has provided me with.  They have allowed me to provide for my family, and to learn to apply many new tools and skills.  However,  there are limited opportunities for growth, and I need to ensure that I have positioned my career path well in order to continue to provide for my family.”

“Where do you see your career in two to three years?

Strike a balance of  ambition, and your desire to be working at this company long-term.  It’s not inappropriate to mention a personal goals, and you can certainly mention professional development away from work, continuing education, etc.

Try this:

“If offered this opportunity,  my focus will be on creating value there until such time as leaders within the organization feel that I might be a candidate for another position.”

So the bottom line on managing inexperienced interviewers and the questions that they pose is that you stay focused on your primary goal.  Demonstrating your value.

Buzz Smith is SR Curmudgeon and VP Consulting Services for OPI National Outplacement.  OPI National Outplacement and Career Transition Services Located in Knoxville, Tennessee.  37923.  865-531-9154.


About Buzz Smith

Welcome. My name is Charles “Buzz” Smith and I’m the SR Curmudgeon of Consulting Services at OPI National Outplacement. My role, in addition to agitating our sales personnel, and consultants is to take the lead on delivering outplacement and career transition services that are effective. I blog about career stuff when my wife of 40 years, Linda banishes to the garden.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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