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Overcoming Common Job Interview Challenges

Date: 26/08/2014

Bad Interviewer.

Not every professional who conducts job interviews with candidates knows how to conduct an interview effectively. In fact some are downright lousy at it.

A bad interviewer might be disinterested, unprepared. He or she might dominate the interview by doing all the talking or might ask inappropriate and illegal questions. The unprepared interviewer hasn't read your resume or can't even find a copy and offer this disorganised interviewer a copy of your resume.

Be an attentive listener and listen to the interviewer's every word. Try to get a word in edgewise by leaning forward and opening your mouth slightly, if that doesn't work, even a nonstop talker will eventually ask if you have any questions. At that point, you can ask questions or describe your fit with the company and the position based on the mental notes you've been making.

The "Tell Me about Yourself" Question.

This is the most commonly asked question, yet still rattles interviewees. The trick is to make your response a summary of information that is specifically targeted to the job you're interviewing for (Sell yourself!)

Example: "My background to date has been around preparing myself to become the very best consultant I can. I am an undergraduate student in finance and accounting at Griffith University. My past experience has been in retail and higher education, both aspects have prepared me well for this career."

The interviewer is not looking for your autobiography and probably is not interested in your personal life unless aspects of it are relevant to the job you're interviewing for.

The "Weakness" Question.

The wisdom about responding to "What are your weaknesses?" used to be that the candidate should spin a weakness into a strength.

Example: "I'm a perfectionist and don't believe anyone can do the job as well as I can, so I sometimes have a hard time delegating." That type of response has, however, worn out its welcome with interviewers.

Here's how you could change the example above, "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.

"The "Why should we hire you?" Question.

The unspoken part of this question is: "Why should we hire you, above all the other candidates?" This is your chance to shine, describe what sets you apart from other candidates.

The employer makes a significant investment in hiring and training you, tell the interviewer that this investment will be justified.

Example: "I sincerely believe that I'm the best person for the job. Like other candidates, I have the ability to do this job. But beyond that ability, I offer an additional quality that makes me the very best person for the job. Throughout my career, I have consistently strived to become the very best I can become. The success I've attained in my management positions is the result of possessing the qualities you're looking for in an employee."

 "Off-the-wall" Questions, also known as "Wild Card" or "No-Right-Answer" Questions.

Occasionally you'll be asked an interview question that certainly doesn't seem to have anything to do with the job -- for example, "If you were an ice-cream cone, what flavour would you be?" Interviewers often ask these oddball questions to see how quickly you can think on your feet and whether you can avoid becoming flustered. Still others are amused by the range of creative -- and not-so-creative -- responses they receive.

Don't let an off-the-wall question rattle you. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and respond the best way you can.

Illegal Questions.

It's illegal to ask about age, marital status, children, childcare arrangements, and the like, but employers still do. It's best to address the concern behind the question rather than the question itself by saying something like: "There is nothing about my personal status that would get in the way of my doing a great job for your company." While it may also be tempting to point out the illegality of the question, doing so likely won't endear you to the interviewer.

Salary Questions

As a screening device, interviewers often ask early in the interview what salary you are looking for. If you ask for more than the employer is willing to pay (or occasionally, on the flip side, undervalue yourself), the interviewer can eliminate you before spending a lot of time with you. That's why the best tactic for salary questions is to delay responding to them as long as possible. Try to deflect salary questions with a response like 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."

Questions about Being Terminated from a Previous Job.

It's always uncomfortable to be asked your reasons for leaving a job from which you were terminated. Don't lie about it, but don't dwell on it either. You could explain that you and the company were not a good fit, hence your performance suffered. Or that you and your supervisor had differing viewpoints. Emphasize what you learned from the experience that will prevent you from repeating it and ensure that you will perform well in the future.

Questions about Reasons for Leaving a Current Job.

This question is similar to the previous question, even if you haven't been fired. Responses about fit with the company and differing views from your supervisor can also work here, but remember never to trash a current employer. Always speak positively about past and present employers even if your experience has not been positive with them. Another good response in this situation is to say that you determined you had grown as much as you could in that job and you are ready for new challenges.

Questions about the Future.

Interviewees are often asked, "Where do you see yourself in five (or 10) years?" Strike a delicate balance when responding to this kind of question, with just the right mix of honesty, ambition, and your desire to be working at this company long-term. It's not totally inappropriate to mention personal information but focus mainly on professional goals. Mention your career and company goals first, and then mention marriage and family at the end if needed.

Your response could be: "I hope to stay at the company and expect that in five years, I'll make a significant advance in the organisation."

Job-seekers need to think of each interview question as an opportunity to showcase an accomplishment or strength. Every response should build momentum toward convincing the interviewer that you deserve to advance to the next level, whether that level is another round of interviews or a job offer.