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Non-Standard Answers to Standard Questions, Part II

In an article I wrote for back in 2015, I covered a lot of ground on how to answer some of the standard interview questions.  The editor recently asked me to add more material to that article, and now we’ve covered even more ground on some serious questions.  For your convenience, I’m sharing the new material for this article below (use the provided link above to see original material, too).  As always, feel free to comment or add your own experiences.

How did you find this job?

You may have found the opportunity through research on ideal jobs where you can make the most impact and hope to grow professionally. I would also hope you looked for companies that you feel meet your standards for corporate culture, investment in employees, successful business model (or perhaps giving back to community), and any other aspects you feel are important to you. Make sure you can go into a little detail on what you found in your research.

The “job” may have found you instead. In that case, you can say you were contacted by HR or a recruiter who felt you were a good fit. But don’t leave it there. You should still mention you did your homework and verified that this is right for you—as a potential contributor to the company’s success, and as a good match for what you’re looking for in an employer.

Why do you want this job?

There should be a heartfelt answer on this one. Your gut should be giving you the answer. Although, if it is about money, location, work schedule, benefits, and other factors not tied to actual role, you may want to think a little more about your answer. All those reasons are not important to the hiring manager. They want to hear that this job is exactly what you’ve been thinking about as a next step in your career. Of course, the follow-up question they’ll ask is: How so? Be prepared to answer that with your rationale for how this job meets your professional needs and how you can contribute at your highest potential while in this role. People want to feel like their work means something. There is nothing wrong with sharing that feeling in a thoughtful way.

Why do you want to leave your current job?

This can be a deal-breaker question. Obviously, if you say you hate your current boss or company, the interviewer will naturally believe you will hate them eventually. If you say, the compensation or role is below your standards, they will again assume the worst.

Although these may be legitimate reasons to leave a job, there must be other reasons, too. Your current company or department may have become unstable (hopefully the interviewer’s company is very stable). Your current employer may not be able to offer you any professional growth (the interviewer’s should be able to do this). Do you see a pattern here? Highlight a reason that the hiring manager cannot be concerned about.

Of course, if you have an issue that is very important to you that could be a deal-breaker (like company culture), you can mention it. Just be prepared for them to take one extreme or the other. For example, maybe you only want to work for companies that buy from vendors in your home country. The hiring manager will let you know if their company does this. And if they don’t, I guess the interview is over.

Why did you quit your last job?

This is a tough one. Typically, one should not quit a job until they have another. Life doesn’t always allow that to happen. Did you quit because you couldn’t spend enough time looking for your next job? Perhaps the company you worked for was close to shutting down and you didn’t want to waste valuable time waiting for the last day of operation.

Certainly, there are common reasons that are understood as necessity: had to move to a new location for various reasons; family or health reasons; unbearable work conditions (careful here, as already discussed).

The key to answering this question is to keep it short and don’t feel the need to expand to include a lot of details.

Why were you fired?

This is another danger zone. This is not the time for defending yourself with a long story about you being the victim. If you made a mistake, you are going to have to try and minimize the severity of the situation. An argument with a boss could be described as a difference in opinion. Not following orders because your moral compass told you not to could be described as “taking the high road.” Just be careful not to cast blame on others. Consider including a “silver lining.” Did you learn a lot from the experience and now possess knowledge that will mitigate the chances of this happening again?

If you were part of a layoff, this is different from being fired. It was likely a financial decision and you were part of a group that was targeted as part of budget cuts. Layoffs are typically not personal—they are just business. Hiring managers know this (and likely have been involved in one at some point in their career).

Explain your gap in employment

I’ve dedicated a whole article to this topic. The bottom line is you should make sure to paint a picture that you were productive, improving yourself, helping family, or something constructive. Hiring managers don’t want to hear that you felt it was time for a “long-awaited break from the rat-race.” Or time to recharge your batteries. The first thought that will pop into their heads: When is your next break coming? Probably in the middle of a big project we’re working on.

Do you have any questions?

My simple advice is: yes, you better have questions. When I hired people to work on my teams in the past, I expected interviewees to have questions. This is a chance to “interview the interviewer.” In essence, to learn about the company, the role, the corporate culture, the manager’s leadership style, and a host of other important things. Candidates who are genuinely interested in the opportunity, ask these types of questions. Those who don’t ask questions give the impression they’re “just kicking the tires” or not really too concerned about getting the job.

When given the floor to ask questions, you should realize the interview is not over yet. Good candidates know this is another time to shine. It is imperative that you ask questions that do three things:

  1. Show you did a little research about the company.
  2. Mention something else (related, but interesting) about you.
  3. Will have an interesting answer or prompt a good discussion.

After you have had a chance to ask your questions, you will want to validate that you are an ideal candidate for the job. To do this, you should probe into the minds of the interviewers and see if there are any concerns they have about you. The key question to do this can be along the lines of:

“After discussing this job, I feel as if I would be a perfect fit for it. I’m curious to know if there is anything I said or DID NOT say that would make you believe otherwise.”

The answer you get to this question may open the door to mentioning something you did not get to talk about during the interview or clarify any potential misconception over something that was covered. You may not get a chance to address shortcomings in a follow-up interview—it is imperative to understand what was missing from the discussion while still in the interview.

May 22, 2017 - Posted by | Interviewing 101, article

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