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“Fitting Your Way” through the Interview Process

June 3, 2010

During my last transition, I’ve discovered some things that should help your interview towards a more successful landing.  While going to many workshops, listening to different approaches, and coaching potential interviewers from all walks of life during mock interviews, almost all make the same mistakes during our practice sessions:

  • They don’t sell themselves enough with their passion.  I’ve never chatted with a person who I thought oversold me – that should tell you something.   [tweetmemesource=”@Aidan_Foley” only_single=false]
  • They don’t provide a clear quantifiable roadmap of how they can contribute.  You must become the position you are applying for – if they are looking for A, B and C, don’t offer X, Y and Z.
  • They give canned responses.  Don’t be a robot; have a good handle on the topic, but don’t come across rehearsed.  You need to be distinctive (in a good way) during an interview to be remembered.

In this discussion, I’m going to describe 7 very common behavioral “fit” questions, and the mistakes that I’ve experienced in these practice sessions over, and over, and over again.  These “mistakes” happen to all of us, but if you can be keenly aware of them, maybe you won’t be trapped by them.

1. Please take a minute and run me through your resume.

Also asked as:

~ Tell me some of the key things I need to know about your background.

~ Highlight some of the most interesting aspects of your Resume.

~ Give me a Cliff Notes on your story, and how you ended up here today.

The mistake:

Focusing on too much trivial items.  This includes extracurricular activities in your freshman year of college, summers spent backpacking through Europe, and where you were born.  By focusing too much on the trivial stuff, you make 2 mistakes:

~ You demonstrate your lack of priorities.

~ You waste crucial time that could be spent highlighting your “fit” for the position.

2. Do you think you’d make good leadership material, and why?

Also asked as:

~ What skills do you think are needed to succeed in this position?

The mistake:

Missing the opportunity to promote yourself!  This question really has 2 parts to it: 1) Describe some of the Rock Star qualities of You in this position, and 2) Show me that you possess and/or have demonstrated those skills in the past.  The 2nd part is always implied, and sometimes asked.  If not asked, it’s your responsibility to answer it anyway.  By no means should you brag, but it’s perfectly alright to give an answer such as:

“One of the skills that successful Project Managers needs is the ability to identify deliverables, and execute to the schedule.  In my former position with Company X, it was my responsibility to determine what is required, who should work it, who’s available to work on it, how long it should take, and determine the best plan to achieve the desired results.”

3. Can you describe a time you had to deal with a difficult boss?

Also asked as:

~ Have you ever disagreed with your manager?  How did you resolve the conflict?

~ Explain a situation where you worked under someone you didn’t like, or get along with.  How did you both address the situation?  What was the outcome?

The mistake:

Don’t give the “we talked about the problem, and as a result, everything became much better” explanation.  This answer is bad for several reasons: 1) Everyone gives that answer, 2) No one really believes it, and 3) It doesn’t give any insight on the actual quantifiable events that resolved the situation.  This is where the best interviewers really separate themselves.  They prepare for interview questions like these well ahead of time, really working out the specifics to tough questions – while still delivering the responses in a natural, conversational manner.  To answer this question well, you’ll need to craft a good response.  Get specific about the conflict issues, about your viewpoints, and those of your boss’s, and exactly what compromise was achieved.  It’s ok to admit partial failure, but also add what you learned from it.

4. Tell me about your greatest weakness

Also asked as:

~ In feedback from prior managers, where did they say you needed the most improvement?

The mistake:

Don’t give a “strength disguised as a weakness.”  (Though I’ve used this approach because the conversation warranted it.)  An example would be: “I tend to do take on too many responsibilities, and sometimes I can’t deliver everything as promised.”  Be genuine in your response, and describe a real weakness.   My general advice here is to include a specific situation, and describe 1-2 takeaways from your experience, especially what you would do different the next time that same situation arises.

5. Describe a scenario where you lead a team in the face of a major obstacles, and what was the outcome?

Also asked as:

~ When have you lead a team through a big challenge?

~ Explain a time when your team wasn’t doing well, and how you helped the team succeed.

The mistake:

An answer filled with phrases like:

~ ”I decided to …”

~ ”My answer was to …”

Too often, people forget that the point of this question is to highlight your TEAM, and your TEAMwork abilities – not to highlight your personal greatness.  The best responses to this question should be framing your role as a facilitator.  You proposed an idea that broke the impasse, or You pushed the team out of its missing its milestones, and into action.  The conflict, and resolution should always be framed in the context of what the team did together to get something accomplished.

6. Why do you want to work here?

Also asked as:

~ What interests you about us?

~ Why are you interested in us over our competitors?

The mistake:

Giving a response even close to the following: “I really like the people because they seem smart, friendly, and hard-working.”  Mentioning the people is fine.  It’s a safe component of a good answer.  The problem is not mentioning any specific situations, encounters, or qualities that would be unique to the firm in question.  Instead of the above, say something like:

“At an informational meeting, I had the chance to met Bill Smith, an Engineer at your office.  We ended up chatting for a couple of hours over coffee on a couple of occasions.  Over the last 3 weeks, we stayed in touch, and he spent some time answering my questions about Company X, reviewing my resume, and helping me prepare for this interview.  I’ve never met a person as considerate, and insightful as he is.  I consider the opportunity to work with people like that to be a great asset.”

7. What’s motivating you to apply for this position?

Also asked as:

~ Why are you interested in transitioning to our company?

The mistake:

Being overly negative when discussing your former company, former boss, and/or career choices.  In fact, I think the best responses avoid direct criticisms altogether.  When you’re too negative, interviewers will wonder 2 things: 1) If you hate it so much, what took you so many years to switch jobs, and 2) If you’re that unhappy, couldn’t the same change happen to you now?

Bonus Tip 8. Relax, Dress, and Act to fit in.

Also asked as:

~ What should I wear to the interview?

The mistake:

It’s been recommended that you dress one level up.  I like the approach to find out from the organizer of the interview, and to ask what you should wear?  What do others wear on a typical business day?  While it’s important to make a great 1st impression, wearing a suit & tie (or dress for women) to an event where your interviewers are in jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps, will simply put everyone on edge.  It’s your job as an interviewee to put everyone at ease, take a deep breath, and relax, so you can explain why you are the perfect “fit” for the open position.  Call me crazy, but I think now-a-days “fit” is more important than “knowledge.”

The 7 questions above, and variants on them, will make up at least 75% (if not more)  of the questions you’ll face in the behavioral part of an interview.  Practice your own responses, avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to landing your next position!

What unique questions have you’ve encountered during your interviews, and how did you respond?  Thanks!

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