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Copyright © 2005 by Vicky Oliver Cover and internal design © 2005 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems— except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Oliver, Vicky. 301 smart answers to tough interview questions / Vicky Oliver. p. cm. Includes index. 1. Employment interviewing. I. Title: Smart answers to tough interview questions. II. Title: Three hundred one smart answers to tough interview questions. III. Title: Three hundred and one smart answers to tough interview questions. IV. Title.
HF5549.5.I6O38 2005 650.14'4--dc22
2005008423 Printed and bound in the United States of America
BG 10 9 8 7 6
This book is dedicated to my grandmother Margaret. May she rest a little more peacefully,
knowing that I finally wrote something in addition to advertising copy.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: How to Prepare for the Most Harrowing Forty-Five Minutes of Your Life: The Job Interview
Chapter 1: Start with the Basics: Answering the Easy Questions
Chapter 2: Give Us One Good Reason Not to Hire You
Chapter 3: You’re Too Old, Too Young, Too Seasoned, Too Green, Too Female
Chapter 4: The Impossible Questions
Chapter 5: How to Ace the Personality Test
Chapter 6: None of Your Business (Or, Are You Really Allowed to Ask Me That?)
Chapter 7: Good Cop/Bad Cop Routines in the Interviewing Game
Chapter 8: Questions from Another Galaxy, Far, Far Away
Chapter 9: So You Were Fired
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Chapter 10: Your Turn
Chapter 11: If I’d Only Said X Instead of Y, I’d Be Hired (Or, How to Change Your Answers after the Interview)
Chapter 12: Special Situations
Conclusion: How to Snag the Job of Your Life in Forty-Five Minutes
Appendix: Job Websites
About the Author
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Writing is a solitary activity. But behind every successful writer is a team of people without whom the book would have never been made. My heartfelt thanks to:
Charlie Schulman, for believing in this project from the very beginning and for introducing me to “the second Charlie,” Charles Salzberg.
Charles, thank you for always meeting me for lunch at a moment’s notice to discuss random writer emergencies, and for introducing me to the indomitable June Clark.
June, thank you for your energy, drive, dogged persistence, and especially for introducing me to Bethany Brown.
Bethany, thank you for touching this book with your fantastic editing insights and for introducing me to the wonderful world of publishing.
How to Prepare for the Most Harrowing
Forty-Five Minutes of Your Life:
The Job Interview
In today’s “buyer’s market” jobs are scarce, and hundreds of candidates compete for all too few positions. Companies have been forced to become incredibly selective as they sort through resume after resume from scores of qualified candidates. Due to other forces in the marketplace, glowing references do not carry nearly as much weight as they used to. As a result, the interview has become more like a final exam in college or even graduate school, complete with trick questions, curveballs, and ludicrously tough questions designed to shake out the applicant “plum tree” by deliberately putting candidates on the spot.
While the average interview still lasts for approximately forty-five minutes, it could well be the most harrowing forty-five minutes of your life. Interviewers no longer tend to ask “How well do you respond to pressure?”; they seek to determine it for themselves instantly, in your very first meeting, by mercilessly tossing you into a simulated pressure cooker situation.
How do you prepare for today’s new, rigorous, psychologically draining interview? You need to treat it like the final exam (or trial) that it really is, and study for it.
The purpose of this book is to give you a quick reference guide to the 301 questions you are most likely to hear, and a way to answer them with intelligence, passion, and a certain flair that will help you best your competitors. Tips, brief analyses of why these techniques work, and helpful suggestions on how to rise above the pack will be peppered throughout.
Make no mistake: in order to prevail, you are going to need to trounce your competition. With all of the layoffs that have taken place during the past few years, it’s entirely likely that the company where you really want to work will be interviewing people from several different levels to fill the position you seek. You could be competing against someone with three times your experience, or conversely, against someone who can do the job at half your salary level.
How do you get over the hump? How do you convince this organization that you are the ideal candidate for the job, and to hell with the competition? Here are the 10 critical steps that you need to
take to ace your first interview, so that you can move on to your second, third, and fourth interviews (at which point, hopefully, they’ll offer you the job already).
Top 10 Ways to Nail the Interview 1. Breathe deeply, and try not to panic. That was easy. Phew! 2. Try to set up your meeting for one full week (five business days) from the time that you first receive the call to come in. Your tendency will be to go for an earlier meeting to “get it over with.” Do not yield to this instinct. You will need the time to prepare for your meeting. (Of course, if the interviewer insists on an earlier date, graciously accept it.) 3. Do your homework. Get on the Internet, and pull every article you can find about the company. Don’t just read the articles; study and dissect them. Start crafting a “master list” of questions of your own about the company, based on the information that you unearth. 4. Go wider and deeper. Look up the company’s website. Obtain past Annual Reports from the organization, and review them as if your life depended on it. Buy trade publications from your field; and brush up on what the company’s competitors have been doing. Be certain to add some of this competitive information to the list of questions that you are preparing to ask in your interview. 5. Call any contacts that you have from the company, and start gently picking their brains about your upcoming interview. Ask your contacts about initiatives that are taking place in the organization right now; find out about the management structure; figure out where your interviewer is on the internal “totem pole.” If you don’t know anyone in the company, call any contacts you have in competing organizations to learn what they know about the company. Go out for drinks with them at night; treat them to dinner if necessary. Do not ignore this important step! 6. Review the questions and answers in this book thoroughly. Then, very importantly, change the answers a bit to reflect your own situation. (You never want to come off as “textbook”; rather you will need to be you, at your most charming self.) Add the questions and answers from this book that you feel you are most likely to be asked to the “master list” of questions that you are creating. 7. Write down your goal. Isn’t that simply to get the job, you ask? Yes, of course if it is, but phrase your goal in a way that is very specific to the company. “My goal is to land a job as vice president of Customer Relations at the ADR Corporation, and to make $XXX,XXX a year.” (You will know the perfect salary level based on the research you’ve already done on the organization.) Studies show that writing down goals helps people achieve them faster. Try it; what do you have to lose? 8. Review your “master list” of questions, answers, company history, and competitive insights every single day until exactly fifteen hours before your interview. Lock yourself in a quiet room in your house or apartment if you have to, and ask yourself the questions (and state the answers) aloud. This simple step, which so many candidates fail to do, can help you memorize your answers in advance. Won’t that sound canned, you wonder? No, it won’t. When you really know
your material, you will actually c