Interview Guidelines - Part 5 - Online Article

Question 1

Are you willing to relocate or travel?

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”. You strategy here is to get the best offer you can, 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 of this opportunity before it has 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. 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.

Question 2

Do you have the stomach to fire people?  Have you had experience firing many people?

TRAPS: This “innocent” question could be a trap door which sends you down a chute and lands you in a heap of dust outside the front door.  Why?  Because its real intent is not just to see if you’ve got the stomach to fire, but also to uncover poor judgment in hiring which has caused you to fire so many.  Also, if you fire so often, you could be a tyrant.

So don’t rise to the bait by boasting how many you’ve fired, unless you’ve prepared to explain why it was beyond your control, and not the result of your poor hiring procedures or foul temperament.

BEST ANSWER: Describe the rational and sensible management process you follow in both hiring and firing.

Example: “My whole management approach is to hire the best people I can find, train them thoroughly and well, get them excited and proud to be part of our team, and then work with them to achieve our goals together.  If you do all of that right, especially hiring the right people, I’ve found you don’t have to fire very often.

“So with me, firing is a last resort. But when it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done, and the faster and cleaner, the better.  A poor employee can wreak terrible damage in undermining the morale of an entire team of good people.  When there’s no other way, I’ve found it’s better for all concerned to act decisively in getting rid of offenders who won’t change their ways.”

Question 3

Why have you had so many jobs?

TRAPS: Your interviewer fears you may leave this position quickly, as you have others.  He’s concerned you may be unstable, or a “problem person” who can’t get along with others.

BEST ANSWER: First, before you even get to the interview stage, you should try to minimize your image as job hopper.  If there are several entries on your resume of less than one year, consider eliminating the less important ones.  Perhaps you can specify the time you spent at previous positions in rounded years not in months and years.

Example:   Instead of showing three positions this way:
  6/1982 – 3/1983, Position A;
  4/1983 – 12/1983, Position B;
  1/1984 – 8/1987, Position C;
  …it would be better to show simply:
  1982 – 1983, Position A;
  1984 – 1987 Position C.

In other words, you would drop Position B altogether.  Notice what a difference this makes in reducing your image as a job hopper.  Once in front of the interviewer and this question comes up, you must try to reassure him.  Describe each position as part of an overall pattern of growth and career destination.

Be careful not to blame other people for your frequent changes.  But you can and should attribute certain changes to conditions beyond your control.

Example: Thanks to an upcoming merger, you wanted to avoid an ensuing bloodbath, so you made a good, upward career move before your department came under the axe of the new owners. If possible, also show that your job changes were more frequent in your younger days, while you were establishing yourself, rounding out your skills and looking for the right career path.  At this stage in your career, you’re certainly much more interested in the best long-term opportunity. You might also cite the job(s) where you stayed the longest and describe that this type of situation is what you’re looking for now.

Question 4

What do you see as the proper role/mission of…
  …a good (job title you’re seeking);
  …a good manager;
  …an executive in serving the community;
  …a leading company in our industry; etc.

TRAPS: These and other “proper role” questions are designed to test your understanding of your place in the bigger picture of your department, company, community and profession….as well as the proper role each of these entities should play in its bigger picture.

The question is most frequently asked by the most thoughtful individuals and companies…or by those concerned that you’re coming from a place with a radically different corporate culture (such as from a big government bureaucracy to an aggressive small company).

The most frequent mistake executives make in answering is simply not being prepared (seeming as if they’ve never giving any of this a though.)…or in phrasing an answer best suited to their prior organization’s culture instead of the hiring company’s.

BEST ANSWER: Think of the most essential ingredients of success for each category above – your job title, your role as manager, your firm’s role, etc. Identify at least three but no more than six qualities you feel are most important to success in each role.  Then commit your response to memory. Here, again, the more information you’ve already drawn out about the greatest wants and needs of the interviewer, and the more homework you’ve done to identify the culture of the firm, the more on-target your answer will be.

Question 5

What would you say to your boss if he’s crazy about an idea, but you think it stinks?

TRAPS: This is another question that pits two values, in this case loyalty and honesty, against one another.

BEST ANSWER:   Remember the rule stated earlier:  In any conflict between values, always choose integrity.

Example:  I believe that when evaluating anything, it’s important to emphasize the positive.  What do I like about this idea?” “Then, if you have reservations, I certainly want to point them out, as specifically, objectively and factually as I can.” “After all, the most important thing I owe my boss is honesty.  If he can’t count on me for that, then everything else I may do or say could be questionable in his eyes.”

“But I also want to express my thoughts in a constructive way.  So my goal in this case would be to see if my boss and I could make his idea even stronger and more appealing, so that it effectively overcomes any initial reservation I or others may have about it.” “Of course, if he overrules me and says, ‘no, let’s do it my way,’ then I owe him my full and enthusiastic support to make it work as best it can.”

Question 6

How could you have improved your career progress?

TRAPS: This is another variation on the question, “If you could, how would you live your life over?”  Remember, you’re not going to fall for any such invitations to rewrite person history. You can’t win if you do.

BEST ANSWER: You’re generally quite happy with your career progress.  Maybe, if you had known something earlier in life (impossible to know at the time, such as the booming growth in a branch in your industry…or the corporate downsizing that would phase out your last job), you might have moved in a certain direction sooner.

But all things considered, you take responsibility for where you are, how you’ve gotten there, where you are going…and you harbor no regrets.

Question 7

What would you do if a fellow executive on your own corporate level wasn’t pulling his/her weight…and this was hurting your department?

TRAPS: This question and other hypothetical ones test your sense of human relations and how you might handle office politics.

BEST ANSWER: Try to gauge the political style of the firm and be guided accordingly.  In general, fall back on universal principles of effective human relations – which in the end, embody the way you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.

Example: “Good human relations would call for me to go directly to the person and explain the situation, to try to enlist his help in a constructive, positive solution.  If I sensed resistance, I would be as persuasive as I know how to explain the benefits we can all gain from working together, and the problems we, the company and our customers will experience if we don’t.”

POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: And what would you do if he still did not change his ways ?

ANSWER: “One thing I wouldn’t do is let the problem slide, because it would only get worse and overlooking it would set a bad precedent. I would try again and again and again, in whatever way I could, to solve the problem, involving wider and wider circles of people, both above and below the offending executive and including my own boss if necessary, so that everyone involved can see the rewards for teamwork and the drawbacks of non-cooperation.”

“I might add that I’ve never yet come across a situation that couldn’t be resolved by harnessing others in a determined, constructive effort.”

Question 8

You’ve been with your firm a long time.  Won’t it be hard switching to a new company?

TRAPS:  Your interviewer is worried that this old dog will find it hard to learn new tricks.

BEST ANSWER:  To overcome this objection, you must point to the many ways you have grown and adapted to changing conditions at your present firm.  It has not been a static situation. Highlight the different responsibilities you’ve held, the wide array of new situations you’ve faced and conquered.

As a result, you’ve learned to adapt quickly to whatever is thrown at you, and you thrive on the stimulation of new challenges.

To further assure the interviewer, describe the similarities between the new position and your prior one.  Explain that you should be quite comfortable working there, since their needs and your skills make a perfect match.

Question 9

May I contact your present employer for a reference ?

TRAPS: If you’re trying to keep your job search private, this is the last thing you want.  But if you don’t cooperate, won’t you seem as if you’re trying to hide something ?

BEST ANSWER:  Express your concern that you’d like to keep your job search private, but that in time, it will be perfectly okay.

Example: “My present employer is not aware of my job search and, for obvious reasons; I’d prefer to keep it that way.  I’d be most appreciative if we kept our discussion confidential right now.  Of course, when we both agree the time is right, then by all means you should contact them.  I’m very proud of my record there.

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