Some interview "questions" are not really questions at all but a test of your skills. Candidates applying for technical positions may be asked to solve a series of problems. A librarian may be asked to list the corresponding decimal numbers for a variety of nonfiction subject areas. An office manager may be required to compose a sample letter to a customer. Whatever your field, be prepared to be tested on the knowledge you claim to have, and ensure that if you claim it, you own it.
Some tests you may be asked to complete have nothing to do with your skills but with your personality. This type of testing is becoming more widely used to determine if you will be a good fit with the company culture or if the employer is looking for a certain type of personality. An executive may look for an assistant that has a very different psychological profile to help her in the areas that she is weak. Whatever the reason, you may find yourself facing a bunch of small circles labeled A, B, C, D, and a number two pencil.
If you are absolutely opposed to taking this type of test, you can refuse, but this may disqualify you from the running. Ask what the purpose is for the testing, who will see it, and if you will have access to the results. Answers to these questions may help you decide what your preference is. If you take the test, remember that many of the questions are designed to trick you; for example, the same type of question is asked numerous times with different wording. In the end, though, most companies are simply looking for a stable individual to join their team and to see if the psychological profile matches what the candidate says about him or herself.
In addition to any number of other questions you may be asked, some are likely to be directly related to where you are in your career, your educational background, and your interests. Be prepared to answer questions along the following lines:
- How long did it take you to complete your degree? Why?
- Did you work your way through college?
- What did you like the most/least about your summer employment?
- Have you ever had conflicts with a boss? Did you like your previous boss?
- Are your grades indicative of your potential?
- Why did you choose your major? Why did you choose this career path?
- What attracts you to this company? Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What did you learn from your volunteer experience?
- What would your professors/previous bosses say about you?
- Why should we hire you over someone else?
- What can you contribute to this position immediately?
- How long do you think it will take you to be comfortable in this position?
- What other positions in the company are of interest to you?
- How long do you think you will stay with the company?
- Tell me about your technical expertise.
- Do you plan to pursue further education?
Again, many of the questions are designed to trip you up or make you say more than you intended to. For example, the answer to "Where do you want to be in five years?" can have multiple effects. On the one hand, the interviewer wants to know if you will leave for another company after this one has invested time and money in training you. On the other hand, he or she may also be fishing to see if you want his or her job down the road. The interviewer may also be looking to see if you provide a more interesting answer than "in management" or "in a leadership position."
Have a good grasp of your work and educational history and concrete examples to provide when answering questions. Freddie Cheek of Cheek & Cristantello Career Connections (http://www.cheekandcristantello.com) offers some very helpful suggestions when answering questions. One technique is "answer plus one." This technique allows you to answer the question asked but also introduce an additional skill or selling point that you want to be sure to mention during the interview. Say that you are a recent graduate and want to discuss your project leadership skills, but the question you are asked about is what kinds of relevant coursework you took during college. You could say, "I took list classes, AND as the project leader of a parking lot design team (name project) in Civil Engineering 401 (name of class) I was able to direct our team to develop the only project later used and developed by the city." This way you answer the question but also demonstrate that you have leadership skills, something you would not have mentioned had you answered by just listing courses.
Cheek also recommends a similar technique, "trait plus answer." This technique is used when discussing "soft skills," or personality traits, that are easy to talk about but rarely quantified in an interview. This technique allows you to say, I'm [name soft skill] because I do [name action demonstrating the trait]. For example, you may include somewhere in an answer, "I'm trustworthy because I regularly work with large amounts of money unsupervised in my role as sales associate." Cheek says, "Validate the skill by backing it up with actions, duties, and responsibilities that you provide."
The final recommendation from Cheek is to present ways in which you are a job filler. In other words, show that you meet the needs of the company. Ask the interviewers to describe the ideal candidate, and then speak to how you meet the requirements. Ask what the other candidates have been lacking, and show that you have those skills. Ask about the main projects that will be taking place immediately in the position, and then talk about how your experience is directly related to that kind of work. Employers want to know what you can do for them. Use these techniques not only to demonstrate what you can do, but also to help control the direction of the interview in your favor.
For additional information on the types of questions that may arise during the interview process, review the blog archives at Career Thought Leaders (http://www.careerthoughtleaders.com/)