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TRAPS: You don't want to give a specific number. Make it too low, and you may not measure up. Too high, and you'll forever feel guilty about sneaking out the door at 5:15.
BEST ANSWER: If you are in fact a workaholic and you sense this company would like that, say you are a confirmed workaholic, that you often work nights and weekends. Your family accepts this because it makes you fulfilled.
If you are not a workaholic: Say you have always worked hard and put in long hours. It goes with the territory. In one sense, it's hard to keep track of the hours because your work is a labor of love; you enjoy nothing more than solving problems. So you're almost always thinking about your work, including times when you're home, while shaving in the morning, while commuting, etc.
TRAPS: Being unprepared or citing an example from so early in your life that it doesn't score many points for you at this stage of your career.
BEST ANSWER: This is an easy question if you're prepared. Have a recent example ready that demonstrates either:
TRAPS: Not having any or having only vague generalities, not highly specific goals.
BEST ANSWER: Many executives in a position to hire you are strong believers in goal-setting. (It's one of the reasons they've achieved so much.) They like to hire in kind.
If you're vague about your career and personal goals, it could be a big turnoff to many people you will encounter in your job search.
Be ready to discuss your goals for each major area of your life: career, personal development and learning, family, physical (health), community service, and (if your interviewer is clearly a religious person) you could very briefly and generally allude to your spiritual goals (showing you are a well-balanced individual with your values in the right order).
Be prepared to describe each goal in terms of specific milestones you wish to accomplish along the way, time periods you're allotting for accomplishment, why the goal is important to you, and the specific steps you're taking to bring it about. But do this concisely, as you never want to talk for more than two minutes straight before letting your interviewer back into the conversation.
TRAPS: May also be phrased as, "What salary are you worth?" or "How much are you making now?" This is your most important negotiation. Handle it wrong and you can blow the job offer or go to work at far less than you might have gotten.
BEST ANSWER: For maximum salary negotiating power, remember these five guidelines:
TRAPS: Beware - about 80% of all interviews begin with this "innocent" question. Many candidates, unprepared for the question, skewer themselves by rambling, recapping their life story, delving into ancient work history or personal matters.
BEST ANSWER: Start with the present and tell why you are well-qualified for the position. Remember that the key to all successful interviewing is to match your qualifications to what the interviewer is looking for. In other words, you must sell what the buyer is buying. This is the single most important strategy in executive job hunting.
So, before you answer this or any question, it's imperative that you try to uncover your interviewer's greatest need, want, problem or goal. To do so, make sure you take these two steps:
Then, ALWAYS follow-up with a second and possibly third question, to draw out their needs even more. Surprisingly, it's usually this second or third question that unearths what the interviewer is most looking for.
You might ask simply, "And in addition to that?...." or, "Is there anything else you see as essential to success in this position?"
This process will not feel easy or natural at first, because it is easier simply to answer questions. But only if you uncover the employer's wants and needs will your answers make the most sense. If you practice asking these key questions before giving your answers, the process will feel more natural and you will be light years ahead of the other job candidates you're competing with.
After uncovering what the employer is looking for, describe why the needs of this job bear striking parallels to tasks you've succeeded at before. Be sure to illustrate with specific examples of your responsibilities and especially your achievements, all of which are geared to present yourself as a perfect match for the needs they have just described.
TRAPS: Believe it or not, this is a killer question because so many candidates are unprepared for it. If you stammer or ad lib, you've blown it.
BEST ANSWER: By now you can see how critical it is to apply the overall strategy of uncovering the employer's needs before you answer questions. If you know the employer's greatest needs and desires, this question will give you a big leg up over other candidates because you will give better reasons for hiring you than anyone else is likely to, reasons tied directly to their own needs.
Whether your interviewer asks you this question explicitly or not, this is the most important question of your interview because they must answer this question favorably in their own mind before you will be hired. So help them out! Walk through each of the position's requirements as you understand them, and follow each with a reason why you meet that requirement so well.
Example: As I understand your needs, you are first and foremost looking for someone who can manage the marketing of your book publishing division. As you've said, you need someone with a strong background in trade book marketing. This is where I've spent almost all of my career, so I've chalked up 18 years experience exactly in this area. I believe that I know the right contacts, methods, principles, and successful management techniques as well as any person can in our industry.
You also need someone who can expand your book distribution channels. In my prior post, my innovative promotional ideas doubled, and then tripled, the number of outlets selling our books. I'm confident I can do the same for you.
You need someone who can give a shot in the arm to your mail order sales, someone who knows direct mail and email marketing. Here, too, I believe I have exactly the experience you need. In the last five years, I've increased our email order book sales from $600,000 to $2,8000,000, and now we're the country's second leading marketer of scientific and medical books.
Every one of these selling "couplets" (their need matched by your qualifications) is a touchdown that runs up your score. It is your best opportunity to outsell your competition.
TRAPS: This question tests whether you've done any homework about the firm. If you haven't, you lose. If you have, you win big.
BEST ANSWER: This question is your opportunity to hit the ball out of the park, thanks to the in-depth research you should do before any interview.
Best sources for researching your target company: annual reports, the corporate newsletter, contacts you know at the company or its suppliers, advertisements, articles about the company in the trade press, and financial websites, like Hoovers.com.
TRAPS: As in all matters of your interview, never fake familiarity you don't have it. Yet you don't want to seem like a dullard who hasn't read a book since Tom Sawyer.
BEST ANSWER: Unless you're up for a position in academia or as a book critic for The New York Times, you're not expected to be a literary lion. But it wouldn't hurt to have read a handful of the most recent and influential books in your profession and on management.
Consider it as part of the work of your job search to read up on a few of these leading books. But make sure they are quality books that reflect favorably upon you, nothing that could even remotely be considered superficial. Finally, add a recently published best-selling work of fiction by a world-class author and you'll pass this question with flying colors.
TRAPS: Giving an unprepared or irrelevant answer.
BEST ANSWER: Be prepared with a good example, explaining why the decision was difficult, the process you followed in reaching it, the courageous or effective way you carried it out, and the beneficial results.
TRAPS: This could be a make-or-break question. The interviewer mostly likes what he sees, but has doubts over one key area. If you can assure him on this point, the job may be yours.
BEST ANSWER: Here the concern is not that you are totally missing some qualification, such as a CBC certification, but rather that your experience is light in one area.
Before going into any interview, try to identify the weakest aspects of your candidacy from the company's point of view. Then prepare the best answer you possibly can to shore up your defenses. To get you past this question with flying colors, you are going to rely on your master strategy of uncovering the employer's greatest wants and needs and then matching them with your strengths. Since you already know how to do this from question #1, you are in a much stronger position. More specifically, when the interviewer poses an objection like this, you should:
Then review the areas of your greatest strengths that match up most favorably with the company's most urgently felt wants and needs.
This is a very powerful way to handle this question for two reasons. First, you're giving your interviewer more ammunition in the area of this concern. But more importantly, you're shifting his focus away from this one, isolated area and putting it on the unique combination of strengths you offer, strengths which tie in perfectly with his greatest wants.
TRAPS: Answer with a flat no and you may slam the door shut on this opportunity. But what if you'd really prefer not to relocate or travel, yet wouldn't want to lose the job offer over it?
BEST ANSWER: First, find out where you may have to relocate and how much travel may be involved. Then respond to the question. If there's no problem, say so enthusiastically.
If you do have a reservation, there are two schools of thought on how to handle it. One advises you to keep your options open and your reservations to yourself in the early going, by saying, "No problem." Your strategy here is to get the best offer you can, and then make a judgment whether it's worth it to you to relocate or travel.
Also, by the time the offer comes through, you may have other offers and can make a more informed decision. Why kill off this opportunity before it has a chance to blossom into something really special? And if you're a little more desperate three months from now, you might wish you hadn't slammed the door on relocating or traveling.
The second way to handle this question is to voice a reservation, but assert that you'd be open to relocating (or traveling) for the right opportunity.
If the company really wants you, saying this can induce them to sweeten the pot or hire you in a capacity that doesn't entail relocation or travel.
The answering strategy you choose depends on how eager you are for the job. If you want to take no chances, choose the first approach.
If you want to play a little harder-to-get in hopes of generating a more enticing offer, choose the second.
TRAPS: The worst offense here is simply being unprepared. Your hesitation may seem as if you're having a hard time remembering the last time you were creative, analytical, etc.
BEST ANSWER: If you have a list of your greatest and most recent achievements ever ready on the tip of your tongue, it's easy to present any of your achievements in light of the quality the interviewer is asking about. For example, the smashing success you orchestrated at last year's trade show could be used as an example of creativity, or analytical ability, or your ability to manage.
TRAPS: If you say "Yes" and elaborate enthusiastically, you could be perceived as a loose cannon in a larger company, too entrepreneurial to make a good team player, or someone who had to settle for the corporate life because you couldn't make a go of your own business.
Also, too much enthusiasm in answering yes could rouse the paranoia of a small company, indicating that you may plan to go out on your own soon, perhaps taking some key accounts or trade secrets with you.
On the other hand, if you answer "No, never" you could be perceived as a security-minded drone who never dreamed a big dream.
BEST ANSWER: Again it's best to:
In general, if the corporate culture is that of a large, formal, military-style structure, minimize any indication that you'd love to have your own business. You might say, "Oh, I may have given it a thought once or twice, but my whole career has been larger organizations. That's where I've excelled and where I want to be."
If the corporate culture is closer to the free-wheeling, everybody's-a-deal-maker variety, then emphasize that in a firm like this, you can virtually get the best of all worlds, the excitement of seeing your own ideas and plans take shape, combined with the resources and stability of a well-established organization. Sounds like the perfect environment to you.
In any case, no matter what the corporate culture, be sure to indicate that any desires about running your own show are part of your past, not your present or future.
The last thing you want to project is an image of either the dreamer who failed and is now settling for the corporate cocoon, or the restless maverick who will fly out the door with key accounts, contacts, and trade secrets under his arm just as soon as his bankroll has gotten rebuilt.
Always remember: Match what you want with what the position offers. The more information you've uncovered about the position, the more believable you can make your case.
TRAPS: Seems like an obvious enough question; Yet many executives, unprepared for it, fumble the ball.
BEST ANSWER: Give a well-accepted definition of success that leads right into your own stellar collection of achievements.
Example: "The best definition I've come across is that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.
"As to how I would measure up to that definition, I would consider myself both successful and fortunate." Then summarize your career goals and how your achievements have indeed represented a progressive path toward realization of your goals
TRAPS: This question seems like a softball lob, but be prepared. You don't want to come across as egotistical or arrogant. Neither is this a time to be humble.
BEST ANSWER: You know that your key strategy is to first uncover your interviewer's greatest wants and needs before you answer questions. And from Question 1, you know how to do this.
Prior to any interview, you should have a list mentally prepared of your greatest strengths. You should also have a specific example or two that illustrates each strength, an example chosen from your most recent and most impressive achievements.
You should have this list of your greatest strengths and corresponding examples from your achievements so well committed to memory that you can recite them cold after being shaken awake at 2:30 AM.
Then, once you uncover your interviewer's greatest wants and needs, you can choose those achievements from your list that best match up.
As a general guideline, the 10 most desirable traits that all employers love to see in their executives are:
TRAPS: Beware - this is an "eliminator" question, designed to shorten the candidate list. Any admission of a weakness or fault will earn you an "A" for honesty, but an "F" for the interview.
PASSABLE ANSWER: Disguise a strength as a weakness.
Example: "I sometimes push my people too hard. I like to work with a sense of urgency and everyone is not always on that same wavelength."
Drawback: This strategy is better than admitting a flaw, but it's so widely used that it's transparent to any experienced interviewer.
BEST ANSWER (And another reason it's so important to get a thorough description of your interviewer's needs before you answer questions): Assure the interviewer that you can think of nothing that would stand in the way of your performing in this position with excellence. Then, quickly review your strongest qualifications.
Example: "Nobody's perfect, but based on what you've told me about this position, I believe I'd make an outstanding match, I know that when I hire people, I look for two things most of all. Do they have the qualifications to do the job well, and the motivation to do it well. Everything in my background shows I have both the qualifications and a strong desire to achieve excellence in whatever I take on. So I can say in all honesty that I see nothing that would cause you even a small concern about my ability or my strong desire to perform this job with excellence."
Alternate strategy (If you don't yet know enough about the position to talk about such a perfect fit): Instead of confessing a weakness, describe what you like most and like least, making sure that what you like most matches up with the most important qualification for success in the position, and what you like least is not essential.
Example: Let's say you're applying for a sales position: "If given a choice, I like to spend as much time as possible in front of prospects selling, as opposed to shuffling paperwork back at the office. Of course, I long ago learned the importance of filing paperwork properly, and I do it conscientiously. But what I really love to do is sell." (If your interviewer were a sales manager, this would be music to his ears.)
TRAPS: One reason interviewers ask this question is to see if you're settling for this position, using it merely as a stopover until something better comes along. Or they could be trying to gauge your level of ambition.
If you're too specific, for example, name the promotions you someday hope to win, you'll sound presumptuous. If you're too vague, you'll seem rudderless.
BEST ANSWER: Reassure your interviewer that you're looking to make a long-term commitment, that this position entails exactly what you're looking to do, and what you do extremely well. As for your future, you believe that if you perform each job at hand with excellence, future opportunities will take care of themselves.
Example: "I am definitely interested in making a long-term commitment in my next position. Judging by what you've told me about this position, it's exactly what I'm looking for, and what I am very well qualified to do. In terms of my future career path, I'm confident that if I do my work with excellence, opportunities will inevitably open up for me.
TRAPS: The employer may be concerned that you'll grow dissatisfied and leave.
BEST ANSWER: As with any objection, don't view this as a sign of imminent defeat. It's an invitation to teach the interviewer a new way to think about this situation, seeing advantages instead of drawbacks.
Example: "I recognize the job market for what it is -- a marketplace. Like any marketplace, it's subject to the laws of supply and demand. So 'overqualified' can be a relative term, depending on how tight the job market is. And right now, it's very tight. I understand and accept that.
"I also believe that there could be very positive benefits for both of us in this match.
"Because of my unusually strong experience in ________, I could start to contribute right away, perhaps much faster than someone who would have to be brought along more slowly.
"There's also the value of all the training and years of experience that other companies have invested tens of thousands of dollars to give me. You'd be getting all the value of that without having to pay an extra dime for it. With someone who has yet to acquire that experience, he'd have to gain it on your nickel.
"I could also help you in many things they don't teach at the Harvard Business School. For example, (how to hire, train, motivate, etc.). When it comes to knowing how to work well with people and getting the most out of them, there's just no substitute for what you learn over many years of front-line experience. Your company would gain all this, too.
"From my side, there are strong benefits, as well. Right now, I'm unemployed. I want to work, very much, and the position you have here is exactly what I love to do and am best at. I'll be happy doing this work and that's what matters most to me, a lot more than money or title.
"Most important, I'm looking to make a long-term commitment in my career now. I've had enough of job hunting and want a permanent spot at this point in my career. I also know that if I perform this job with excellence, other opportunities cannot help but open up for me right here. In time, I'll find many other ways to help this company and in so doing, help myself. I really am looking to make a long-term commitment."
NOTE: The main concern behind the "overqualified" question is that you will leave your new employer as soon as something better comes your way. Anything you can say to demonstrate the sincerity of your commitment to the employer and reassure him that you're looking to stay for the long-term will help you overcome this objection.
TRAPS: This is often asked by an experienced interviewer who thinks you may be overqualified, but knows better than to show his hand by posing his objection directly. So he'll use this question instead, which often gets a candidate to reveal that, indeed, he or she is looking for something other than the position at hand.
BEST ANSWER: The only right answer is to describe what this company is offering, being sure to make your answer believable with specific reasons, stated with sincerity, why each quality represented by this opportunity is attractive to you.
Remember that if you're coming from a company that's the leader in its field or from a glamorous or much admired company, industry, city, or position, your interviewer and his company may well have an "Avis" complex. That is, they may feel a bit defensive about being second best to the place you're coming from, worried that you may consider them bush league.
This anxiety could well be there even though you've done nothing to inspire it. You must go out of your way to assuage such anxiety, even if it's not expressed, by putting their virtues high on the list of exactly what you're looking for, providing credible reasons for wanting these qualities.
If you do not express genuine enthusiasm for the firm, its culture, location, industry, etc., you may fail to answer this Avis complex objection and, as a result, leave the interviewer suspecting that a hot shot like you, coming from a Fortune 500 company, just wouldn't be happy at an unknown manufacturer.
TRAPS: A tough question if you've been on the beach a long time. You don't want to seem like damaged goods.
BEST ANSWER: You want to emphasize factors that have prolonged your job search by your own choice. Example: "After my job was terminated, I made a conscious decision not to jump on the first opportunities to come along. In my life, I've found that you can always turn a negative into a positive IF you try hard enough'. This is what I was determined to do. I decided to take whatever time I needed to think through what I do best, what I most want to do, where I'd like to do it, and then identify those companies that could offer such an opportunity. "Also, in all honesty, you have to factor in the recession. "So between my being selective and the recession, the process has taken time. But in the end, I'm convinced that when I do find the right match, all that careful evaluation from both sides of the desk will have been well worthwhile for both the company that hires me and myself."
TRAPS: You want to be well-rounded, not a drone. But your potential employer would be even more turned off if he suspects that your heavy extracurricular load will interfere with your commitment to your work duties.
BEST ANSWER: Try to gauge how this company's culture would look upon your favorite outside activities and be guided accordingly.
You can also use this question to shatter any stereotypes that could limit your chances. If you're over 50, for example, describe your activities that demonstrate physical stamina. If you're young, mention an activity that connotes wisdom and institutional trust, such as serving on the board of a popular local charity.
But above all, remember that your employer is hiring you for what you can do for him, not your family, yourself, or outside organizations, no matter how admirable those activities may be.
TRAPS: An easy question, but you want to make your answer believable.
BEST ANSWER: Absolutely! Then prove it with a vivid example or two of a goal or project accomplished under severe pressure.
TRAPS: Blurt out "No way, Jose" and you can kiss the job offer good-bye. But what if you have a family and want work a reasonably normal schedule? Is there a way to get both the job and the schedule you want?
BEST ANSWER: First, if you're a confirmed workaholic, this question is a softball lob. Whack it out of the park on the first swing by saying this kind of schedule is just your style. Add that your family understands it. Indeed, they're happy for you, as they know you get your greatest satisfaction from your work.
If however you prefer a more balanced lifestyle, answer this question with another: "What's the norm for your best people here?"
If the hours still sound unrealistic for you, ask, "Do you have any top people who perform exceptionally for you, but who also have families and like to get home in time to see them at night?" Chances are the company does, and this associates you with this other, top-performers-who-leave-no-later-than-six group.
Depending on the answer, be honest about how you would fit into the picture. If all those extra hours make you uncomfortable, say so, but phrase your response positively. Example: "I love my work and do it exceptionally well. I think the results speak for themselves, especially in (mention your two or three qualifications of greatest interest to the employer)." Remember, this is what he wants most, not a workaholic with weak credentials. "Not only would I bring these qualities, but I've built my whole career on working not just hard, but smart. I think you'll find me one of the most productive people here.
"I do have a family who likes to see me after work and on weekends. They add balance and richness to my life, which in turn helps me be happy and productive at work. If I could handle some of that extra work at home in the evenings or on weekends, that would be ideal. You'd be getting a person of exceptional productivity who meets your needs with very strong credentials. And I'd be able to handle some of the heavy workload at home where I can be under the same roof as my family. Everybody would win."
TRAPS: This is a tough question because it's a more clever and subtle way to get you to admit a weakness. You can't dodge it by pretending you've never been criticized. Everybody has been. Yet it can be quite damaging to start admitting potential faults and failures that you'd just as soon leave buried.
This question is also intended to probe how well you accept criticism and direction.
BEST ANSWER: Begin by emphasizing the extremely positive feedback you've gotten throughout your career and, if it's true, that your performance reviews have been uniformly excellent.
Of course, no one is perfect and you always welcome suggestions on how to improve your performance. Then, give an example of a not-too-damaging learning experience from early in your career and relate the ways this lesson has since helped you. This demonstrates that you learned from the experience and the lesson is now one of the strongest breastplates in your suit of armor. If you are pressed for a criticism from a recent position, choose something fairly trivial that in no way is essential to your successful performance. Add that you've learned from this, too, and over the past several years/months, it's no longer an area of concern because you now make it a regular practice to ... etc.
Another way to answer this question would be to describe your intention to broaden your mastery of an area of growing importance in your field. For example, this might be a computer program you've been meaning to sit down and learn, a new management technique you've read about, or perhaps attending a seminar on some cutting-edge branch of your profession.
Again, the key is to focus on something not essential to your brilliant performance but that adds yet another dimension to your already impressive knowledge base.
TRAPS: Watch out! This question can derail your candidacy faster than a bomb under the tracks -- and just as you're about to be hired!
Reason: No matter how bright you are, you cannot know the right actions to take in a position before you settle in and get to know the operation's strengths, weaknesses, key people, financial condition, methods of operation, etc. If you lunge at this temptingly baited question, you will probably be seen as someone who shoots from the hip.
Moreover, no matter how comfortable you may feel with your interviewer, you are still an outsider. No one, including your interviewer, likes to think that a know-it-all outsider is going to come in, turn the place upside down and with sweeping, grand gestures, promptly demonstrate what jerks everybody's been for years.
BEST ANSWER: You, of course, will want to take a good, hard look at everything the company is doing before making any recommendations.
Example: "Well, I wouldn't be a very good doctor if I gave my diagnosis before the examination. Should you hire me, as I hope you will, I'd want to take a good hard look at everything you're doing and understand why it's being done that way. I'd like to have in-depth meetings with you and the other key people to get a deeper grasp of what you feel you're doing right and what could be improved. "From what you've told me so far, the areas of greatest concern to you are (name them). Then do two things.
Ask if these are, in fact, the major concerns. If so, reaffirm how your experience in meeting similar needs elsewhere might prove very helpful.
TRAPS: You don't want to come across either as a hothead or a wimp.
BEST ANSWER: Give an answer that's suited to both your personality and the management style of the firm. Here, the homework you've done about the company and its style can help in your choice of words.
Examples: If you are a reserved person and/or the corporate culture is coolly professional: "I'm an even-tempered and positive person by nature, and I believe this helps me a great deal in keeping my department running smoothly, harmoniously, and with a genuine esprit de corps. I believe in communicating clearly what's expected, getting people's commitment to those goals, and then following up continuously to check progress.
"If anyone or anything is going off track, I want to know about it early. If after that kind of open communication and follow up, someone isn't getting the job done, I'll want to know why. If there's no good reason, then I'll get impatient and angry, and take appropriate steps from there. But if you hire good people, motivate them to strive for excellence, and then follow-up constantly, it almost never gets to that stage."
If you are feisty by nature and/or the position calls for a tough straw boss. "You know what makes me angry? People who (then fill in the blanks with the most objectionable traits for this type of position), people who don't pull their own weight, who are negative, people who lie, etc."
TRAPS: Being unprepared for the question.
BEST ANSWER: Speak your own thoughts here, but for the best answer, wave them around the three most important qualifications for any position:
TRAPS: Unless you phrase your answer properly, your interviewer may conclude that whatever you identify as difficult is where you're weak.
BEST ANSWER: First, redefine difficult to be challenging, which is more positive. Then, identify an area everyone in your profession considers challenging, and in which you excel. Describe the process you follow that enables you to get splendid results, and be specific about those results.
Example: "I think every manager finds it challenging to motivate the troops in a recession. But that's probably the strongest test of a top manager. I feel this is one area where I excel.
"When I see the first sign that leads may slip or that channel enthusiasm is flagging because of a downturn in the economy, here's the plan I put into action immediately..." (Followed by a description of each step in the process -- and most importantly, the exceptional results you've achieved.)
TRAPS: Another tricky way to get you to admit weaknesses. Don't fall for it.
BEST ANSWER: Keep this answer, like all your answers, positive. A good way to answer this question is to identify a cutting-edge branch of your profession (one that's not essential to your employer's needs) as an area you're very excited about and want to explore more fully over the next six months.
TRAPS: Sometimes an interviewer will describe a difficult situation and ask, "How would you handle this?" Since it's virtually impossible to have all the facts in front of you from such a short presentation, don't fall into the trap of trying to solve this problem and giving your verdict on the spot. It will make your decision-making process seem woefully inadequate.
BEST ANSWER: Instead, describe the rational, methodical process you would follow in analyzing this problem -- with whom you would consult, how you would generate possible solutions, choose the best course of action, and monitor the results.
Remember, in all these type of "What would you do?" questions, always describe your process or working methods, and you'll never go far wrong.