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Here are some thoughts on interviewing…
In general there are two types of job interview:
evaluation by an HR Manager
meeting with the line manager or line director
The structure of these two interviews tends to be very different as they generally have different objectives.
Section 1 – The HR Manager interview
The evaluation by an HR Manager tends to follow a fairly structured format, asking questions designed to assess the caliber of the candidate and the validity of the candidates resume. Frequently they are accompanied by psychometric and / or IQ tests.
Typical questions an HR Manager might ask include:
Career / motivation questions
Tell me about yourself.
Give me an overview of your career to date.
Why did you study X at University?
Why did you choose this career?
Did you always want to be an accountant (for example)?
What did you learn from your degree / MBA that is most useful to you?
What other careers did you consider?
Why did you join your present company?
Were there any other job offers that you turned down? Why?
There was a gap between job A and job B. What were you doing at this time?
Why did you leave Y Company?
What do you like least about your present job? Most?
What is the most difficult aspect to your present job?
Why do you want to join our company?
How do you see your career progressing in the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? 10 years time?
What other offers are you considering?
Personal qualities / characteristics
What do you consider your greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
If I asked your boss/subordinates/colleagues/friends about you, what would they say? How would they describe you?
What type of people / situations annoy you?
How would you describe your leadership style?
What characteristics do you look for in a good boss? Have you had a boss like this?
Can you describe a situation where you had to persuade someone to do something they didn’t want to do? How did you handle that situation?
Give an example of where you have had to manage a conflict. How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome?
Give an example of where you have had to manage a member of your team who is not performing.
Give an example of where you have led a team to achieve an objective.
Give an example of where you have had to lead a group to reach a consensus. What were the main difficulties in achieving consensus?
Have you ever been asked to do something you didn’t want to do? How did you handle that?
Do you always achieve your objectives? What has caused you not to achieve objectives in the past? How have you managed this situation?
Give me an example of a project that you were managing that didn’t go as you planned. How did you resolve the situation? Looking back, what would you have done differently?
Have you ever done anything you regretted? What would you have done differently?
What achievement are you most proud of? Why was it a success? How did it benefit the company? How did you directly contribute to its success? How could it have been even better?
What does your husband/wife/partner do? How do they feel about your move?
Are you prepared to travel / work overseas? How often / how long?
What do you do when you are not working?
Some questions are very broad while others are very narrow. For questions such as “tell me about yourself” it is good to rehearse a general response to this type of question ahead of the interview (time yourself). Decide before the interview at which point in your career you wish to begin – do you want to start with the decisions that shaped your academic / early career (if they are relevant), or do you prefer to focus on your more recent career achievements.
Either way, be concise and look for clues from the interviewer as to whether you are taking too long in your answer. Give the interviewer an opportunity to interrupt and ask follow up questions.
Always try to highlight achievements / abilities that you wish the interviewer to remember – be clear on how they benefited the company – quantify the benefits where possible.
For more specific questions – make sure you answer the question asked and not a different question… don’t be afraid to pause and think about your answer for a few seconds – silence always makes the interviewee much more uncomfortable than the interviewer – but do not be afraid to pause if it helps you construct a better response.
Avoid criticizing your previous company or boss directly. If required, talk about how things could have been better not what was wrong.
Practice the ‘example questions’ above ahead of the interview. Most of them are common-place – you will be expected to be able to provide examples of these situations without too much problem.
Beware questions that tempt you into an obvious lie! Everybody has weaknesses – try to choose one that can be considered a strength. Similarly, most people have probably failed to deliver an objective at some point in their life or have been involved in a situation that didn’t go to plan. Pretending that you haven’t is naïve and gives the impression that you are only prepared to give answers that the interviewer wishes to hear.
Remember the interviewer is looking to assess:
How you react under pressure when asked difficult questions
Whether what you said on your resume is true
Does your personality fit the company and the team that you will be working with
Each of these aspects are equally important. If you do well under 1 and 2, it will get you to the next round, but ultimately it is 3 that will be the basis of whether you are recruited or not.
A note about interviews with Management Consulting companies
Note: For management consulting related jobs, there are also case interviews. These are a unique format of hypothetical cases that are designed to assess your reasoning ability. If you are interviewing with a management consulting company, you are strongly advised to research and practice case questions before the interview (there are many web-sites that offer tips and sample questions, including Harvard Business School).
Section 2 – The Line Manager / Director Interview
Interviews with a Line Manager or Director are usually much less structured than those with an HR Manager. They will vary considerably depending on the level of the position, the experience the interviewer has at interviewing, the company culture etc. Generally they are much less stressful than interviews with an HR Manager and you should use this fact to help you try to relax a little more and focus on establishing a rapport with the interviewer(s).
Line Managers will rarely, if ever, ask you the type of questions that you will find in the HR Manager section above – although if they do, at least you will be well prepared for them! Invariably the line manager loves to speak about themselves and what they are trying to achieve. This gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your excellent listening skills and ask relevant questions – questions that show you understand the environment they are describing and are very well equipped to help them achieve their objectives.
Often the interview will be rambling, long-winded exchanges that stroll through your resume, asking you to elaborate on various periods in your career. While they are unstructured, do not miss the opportunity to make sure that every time you speak about a point in your career, you are showing the interviewer how relevant it is to his position.
For more senior positions, it is likely that you will be expected to demonstrate your strategic abilities and apply your experience to analyze the company’s situation. This is where you finally get the chance to shine and show what you can do and it will probably come as a blessed relief after all the guff you have had to listen to…
The questions below are aimed at interviewing an HR Manager, but many can be easily adapted to your own situation…
Typical questions a CEO might ask:
What value does HR bring to my Company? Why do I need an HR department?
How do I get the best out of my people?
During such a time of difficult change, how will you attempt to maintain morale?
If I wanted to change the culture of this company, how would you go about it?
What experience do you have in company wide communication?
How can we better use technology?
How would you structure the objective setting process?
What’s the best way of handling the unions?
Isn’t this 360 degree feedback process just the latest bureaucratic management baloney? What benefit does it bring the company?
Why this job?
How soon before you want my job?
Strategic & Business Knowledge
Are you a visionary? Paint me a vision... (ie tell me what you think this company can become).
What do you think of our products? Our marketing? Our brand image? Our service? What would you change?
What’s your analysis of our position? How do you view our position in the market place? What recommendations would you make for improving our competitiveness?
What trends do you see in this industry?
What would you change about your existing company? Why didn’t you change it?
How do you see the economy changing over the next 18 months? 5 years? What do you think interest rates / inflation / exchange rates / stock market are going to do?
Do you agree with outsourcing? What circumstances would you recommend it?
How is technology going to impact our business over the next few years?
What do you see as the cultural differences between the USA and Brazil? How does this affect the way you operate? What can we learn from Brazil?
What do you think of the political situation…
Interviews with Headhunters
By definition, an interview with a headhunter is a screening interview. If they have contacted you, then they have a specific position in mind they are looking to fill for a client. If you have contacted them, then they may be interviewing out of courtesy, or because you were recommended to them by someone they trust, so the dynamic is different – they may have nothing they are considering you for specifically and are just trying to get to know you better to see if you are someone worth keeping on file.
The format of the interview will likely have elements in common with both the HR interview and the line manager interview, so don’t be surprised if they throw a question at you like – ‘Tell me your greatest weakness’, or ‘What do you consider your greatest achievement’. But they will also spend time outlining the client’s situation and what the client is looking for and gauging your interest.
How you respond will largely depend on your circumstances. If you are in work already, then you hold a lot of bargaining power and life is much easier. Your fallback option if nothing comes from the interview is that you carry on working in your current role. If you are not working however, there are some things you can do to help create a positive impression.
Relax! Easy to say, but confidence sells. Smile, give a warm handshake, don’t fidget, pay attention to what the interviewers is saying, and ask appropriate questions when the opportunity arises. All common sense, right?
Be ready to talk about how you are keeping yourself busy. Sure, you want to discuss your achievements in your last job and demonstrate your strengths and abilities, but don’t give the impression that you are just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Describe what you are doing to get back into the workplace – the contacts you are calling, the courses you a taking to make yourself more competitive, the research you are carrying out into your area of interest, how you are keeping up to date with the latest trends in your industry, the routine you have managed to establish – this all demonstrates that while you may have temporarily found yourself at a disadvantage, you have the means and the confidence to find a suitable opportunity quickly.
Build rapport – research the interviewer ahead of the interview – look them up on LinkedIn – find out what their area of specialization is and then use this information to ask them questions about their area – what trends they are seeing in the market place, they types of assignments they are working on currently, what advice they would have for someone looking to work in the role you are seeking.
Be humble but be straightforward – be clear about your strengths, and what it is you feel you have to offer. But don’t pretend you have strengths or experience that you don’t have. Headhunters see thousands of resumes and interview hundreds of candidates – they can smell bs very quickly.
Show an interest – find out as much you can about the position and the situation of the company that is recruiting. Look for where your experience fits and help the interviewer make the connection. Ahead of the interview identify the ‘take-aways’ – the three or four points you want the interviewer to remember about you – and make sure you get a chance to highlight those points during the interview.
Don’t be afraid to seek clarification. If you are not clear on something, ask the interviewer to repeat, or better still make a statement as to what you have understood and invite the interviewer to correct you if you are wrong. E.g. “So from what you’re saying I sense that the company is not looking for a short term boost to revenue but for a longer term strategy that will reposition their products in the market place.”