Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tackling tricky interview questions
Arvind Sharma

THE following ‘difficult’ questions are common to most tricky or adversarial interviews. In order to convince the interviewer that you are the best person for the job, you must prepare and rehearse your answers meticulously. Study the job description and the candidate profile; research the company; and match your skills and accomplishments to the employer’s requirements.

When preparing your answers, consider what each question is designed to find out about the candidate’s suitability for the position on offer.

Why are you leaving your current job?

The employer is seeking to identify problems you have had in the past that you may carry over into your new job. Always cite positive reasons for joining and leaving a company. Never criticise your previous employer or work colleagues. Avoid statements that may convey a negative impression of yourself or your ability to get on with others. State that you are looking for a new challenge and briefly explain why you see the advertised position as an important step forward in your career.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

This particularly tricky question requires painstaking preparation and rehearsal. The interviewer is looking for evidence of critical self-assessment and a commitment to continuous self-development. Stress specific job-related strengths and accomplishments. Select one weakness that could be viewed both as positive and negative, e.g. you are a perfectionist who tends to work too long hours. Show, by particular example, how you have successfully addressed this tendency. Make sure you portray yourself in a positive light. Never mention a weakness that is directly related to the job for which you are being interviewed.

“Tell us about yourself...”

This question usually comes towards the middle of the interview or at the very beginning to help start things off. If it seems like a very straightforward question- it is. However, do not make the mistake of thinking the interviewer wants to get to know you on a personal level. Interviewers ask this question in order to find out about your strengths and weaknesses and how they may affect your work performance. So, instead of telling them what you like to do on weekends, you might want to say something like “I am very sociable and I get along with all kinds of people.” An answer like that would show that you work well with others and you are probably fairly easy to get along with.

Whatever you do, do not stress too much about the actual questions. A lot of times, a first impression has more to do with the way you conduct yourself than the things you actually say. If you come in with pre-rehearsed answers and a script-like presentation, you probably will not win them over. But if you are asked a question that you were not prepared for, but you handle it well, you are exhibiting both sincerity and “grace under pressure.” Now that you understand the meaning of these questions, you should be able to come up with some personalized answers. Keep in mind that they ask these questions to get an idea of who you are, not to put you on the spot. If you ever feel like you are being asked an unfair or inappropriate question, you always have the option to leave the interview and turn down the job. But in most situations, the person is just trying to get to know you a little, so let them!

The interviewer wants to know how well-suited you are to the job and how you can benefit the company. Spend no longer than two minutes answering this question. By analysing the job description and carrying out detailed company research in advance, you will have a clear idea of the ideal candidate. Focus on your skills, qualifications, and accomplishments that relate to the advertised position. Remember that the company has a problem and they are looking for the best solution. Prove to them that you can solve their problem better than anyone else.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

This question is designed to determine your career plan. Have you well planned short-term and long-term career goals? Is the advertised position consistent with these? If hired, are you likely to commit yourself fully to the company or will you seize the first opportunity to move on? Show that you have a structured way of establishing goals. Demonstrate the importance of the job on offer as part of your career progression. Stress that you are ambitious, but realistic. Let them know that you plan to develop professionally within the company and to work energetically to obtain promotion.

Why do you want to work for our company?

The interviewer is trying to discover how much you know about the company. Once again, detailed company research will pay handsome dividends when it comes to answering this question. The candidate who displays a knowledge of the company and an awareness of the challenges it faces is more likely to be selected than the tongue-tied interviewee who looks perplexed when asked why he or she wants to work for that particular company.

You should find out as much as you can about the company’s organizational structure; its financial history; its range of products, goods or services; its aims and objectives; its philosophy and culture; its trading methods; its history, current position, and future developments; its competitors; its training programmes; its attitude towards its customers; its achievements; and any problems it may have. Tailor your answer in terms of their needs not yours.

Why should we employ you instead of the other candidates?

The interviewer wants to know what unique quality makes you the best person for the job. To differentiate yourself from the other candidates, you must show that you have researched the company thoroughly and studied the job description. You should be prepared to demonstrate clearly how your skills, qualifications, and accomplishments match the employer’s specific needs. It is important to convey genuine enthusiasm for the post.

How much do you expect as salary?

This is undoubtedly is a very sensitive question. If this question is put to you, there is no need for you to feel bashful in stating the salary you expect. Bear in mind that it is your legitimate right to do so. There is nothing improper about it. In such a situation, you must make the preparations relating the salary expectation logically and rationally. Usually the amount depends upon what you are getting in your present job. A 25 to 30 per cent increase would be considered as reasonable. Try to find out from friends, or relatives, or employees of the organisation about the salary range. It is well known fact that many organisations mention salary range in the advertisement itself. On the other hand, many employers state that salary is subject to negotiation. This gives you enough flexibility to bargain there are occasions when a candidate says; I shall expect what ever you offer. Make it a point never to give such an answer. This shows that you have no sincere intentions of making any significant contribution to the organization.

What is your greatest achievement so far?”

They are not just trying to find out what kinds of things you are good at. Interviewers ask questions like this because they are trying to find out about your values.

The way you answer this question reveals how you see the world. The things that are of value to you contribute to your overall personality, which has a lot to do with your work habits.

For example, if the position requires the applicant to have more education than learned skills, you might answer by saying you are most proud of your college or graduate level degree. This shows the interviewer that you have a solid understanding of what they’re looking for in an employee and you might be a good fit as well.

Be positive. Say that you like what you have heard about the company and the way they treat their staff and customers. Stress that you are confident that you can make a meaningful contribution.