Thursday, April 26, 2012

A job interview can make anyone feel like a dummy

Ever been stumped by a question during a job interview?

We've all been there and know it can be nerve-wracking preparing for interviews. Sure, the questions are all about you, but what exactly are the questions? You never know until you get there.

A new "For Dummies" book by nationally syndicated columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy aims to ease the pain of those unknown questions by helping job candidates prepare for them.

Kennedy's "Job Interviews for Dummies, 4th ed.," (John Wiley and Sons Inc., January 2012, 318 pp.) offers help for those interviewing for jobs of all types. Scroll down for information on how to win this book.

Kennedy says recruiters often report that "high numbers of job seekers blab negative information without realizing they're making a farewell address to a job opportunity."

Not to worry. Here's a sneak peek at the advice Kennedy is offering in Chapter 24 of "Job Interviews for Dummies":

"Job interviews are still those crucial meetings that seal the deal on who gets hired and who gets left on the outside looking in," says Kennedy. “And with any good job interview come questions that always seem to trip us up.”

10 Tricky Job Interview Questions to Watch Out For:

  1. Why have you been out of work so long? How many others were laid off? Why you? This could cause you to reveal that there’s something wrong with you that other employers have already discovered. The interviewer is fishing to determine whether there was a layoff of one and you were it. Or whether your former manager used the theme of recession and budget cuts to dump groups of second-string employees. “Any direct answer to why you were included in a reduction in force is risky because anger toward your former managers could pop up, raising doubt about your self-control,” says Kennedy. “A better idea: Punt. Shake your head and say you don’t know the reason, because you were an excellent employee who gave more than a day’s work for a day’s pay."
  2.  If employed, how do you manage time for interviews? The real question is whether you are lying to and short-changing your current employer while looking for other work. “Clearly state that you’re taking personal time, and that’s why you interview only for job openings for which you’re a terrific match,” advises Kennedy. “If further interviews are suggested, mention that your search is confidential and ask if it would be possible to meet again on a Saturday morning.”
  3. How did you prepare for this interview? Translation: Is this job important enough for you to research it, or are you going through the motions without preparation, making it up as you go? “The best answer?” says Kennedy. “You very much want this job, and of course you researched it starting with the company website.”
  4. Do you know anyone who works for us? The friend question is a two-way street. “Nothing beats having a friend deliver your résumé to a hiring manager, but that transaction presumes the friend is well thought of in the company,” notes Kennedy. “If not—ouch! Remember the birds-of-a-feather rule: Mention a friend inside the company only if you’re certain of your friend’s positive standing.” 
  5. Where would you really like to work? Doing what? The real agenda for this question is assurance that you aren’t applying to every job opening in sight. “Never, ever mention another company’s name or another job,” says Kennedy. “A short ‘Hire me!’ answer is a version of: ‘This is the place where I want to work, and this job is what I want to do. I have what you need, and you have what I want. I can’t wait to get to work here.’”  
  6.  What bugs you about coworkers or bosses? Develop a poor memory for past irritations. Reflect for a few moments, shake your head, and say you can’t come up with anything that irritates you. Continue for a couple of sentences elaborating on how you seem to get along with virtually everyone.“Mention that you’ve been lucky to have good bosses who are knowledgeable and fair, with a sense of humor and high standards,” advises Kennedy. “Past coworkers were able, supportive, and friendly. Smile your most sincere smile. Don’t be lured into elaborating further.” 
  7. Can you describe how you solved a work/school problem? This forthright question is tricky only in the sense that most job seekers can’t come up with an example on the spot that favorably reflects on their ability to think critically and develop solutions. “The answer is obvious,” says Kennedy. “Anticipate a question about how your mind works and have a canned answer ready. A new graduate might speak of time management to budget more time for study; an experienced worker might speak of time management to clear an opportunity for special task force assignments.” 
  8. Can you describe a work/school instance in which you messed up? The question within a question is whether you learn from your mistakes or keep repeating the same errors. A kindred concern is whether you are too self-important to consider any action of yours to be a mistake. “Speaking of mistakes, here’s a chance to avoid making one during your job interview,” notes Kennedy. “Never deliver a litany of your personal bad points. Instead, briefly mention a single small, well-intentioned goof and follow up with an important lesson learned from the experience.” 
  9. How does this position compare with others you’re applying for? Are you under consideration by other employers now? The intent of these questions is to gather intel on the competitive job market or get a handle on what it will take to bring you on board. “You can choose a generic strategy and say you don’t interview and tell, that you respect the privacy of any organization where you interview, including this one,” says Kennedy. “Emphasize that this company is where you hope to find a future and ask, ‘Have I found my destination here?’” 
  10. If you won the lottery, would you still work? This question goes to your motivation, work ethic, and enthusiasm for work. “The ‘Hire me!’ answer is this,” says Kennedy. “While you’d be thrilled to win the lottery, you’d still seek out fulfilling work because working, meeting challenges, and scoring accomplishments are what make most people happy, including you. Say it with a straight face.”
What to Say When You’re Uncertain. If a hardball question comes at you out of left field, try not to panic. Take a deep breath, look the interviewer in the eyes, and comment that it’s a good question you’d like to mull over and come back to. The interviewer may forget to ask again.
 “As with most things, in the world of job interviews, practice makes perfect,” says Kennedy. “Familiarize yourself with these tough questions. Ask a friend to conduct a mock interview where you answer only tricky questions. Once you’ve had enough practice, the real deal will be a breeze.”

Here's a link to the publisher's website for the book. There you can download a PDF of the first chapter.

Need some more advice? Want to win the book?

I think any information that will calm you down before a job interview is ultimately a good thing. If you would like to "win" my brand new paperback review copy of the book, simply comment on this post with your email address. If you're selected as winner (at random, of course), I'll contact you to find out where to mail the book. If no one comments or otherwise claims the book it will be donated to the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

About the Author:

Joyce Lain Kennedy is a nationally syndicated careers columnist. CAREERS NOW appears twice weekly in newspapers and on websites across the United States. She is the author of seven career books including Resumes For Dummies®, 6th Edition and Cover Letters For Dummies®, 3rd Edition.

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