I’m not sure what the logic of the set piece job interview is. If you read between the line it looks more and more like a sick sadistic game intended to put the candidate in his place with very little to do with the actual job. The thinking seems to that the candidate must be strained to the breaking point because that’s the only way to see if they are a “fit.” Being a fit is now more important than the actual job. This is a system that rates conformity above performance and socialization above talent.
The poor job seeker has to go through this thing with no real way to prep and no real way to gauge how well they did. Interview after interview, the same questions, the questions that never have any relationship to the actual work. Always with the grading sheet. Which the poor job seeker never sees. What do they do with them all. No matter how good you are at the job, no matter how hard you work, it always comes down to the grading sheet.
Just check out this post. It’s typical. The interview questions and the advised responses.
#1 Tell me about yourself
This is a very simple question that often turns even highly confident candidates into rambling wrecks. We cannot stress enough that you must not attempt to wing this question. Incoherent, messy, and overly long answers reveal a lack of forward-planning and clear thinking that will have you marked down.
It’s tempting to structure your answer chronologically: ‘I graduated in X, then interned at Y, and spent three years working in Sales for Z…’. It’s better than rambling, but it’s far too boring and wastes time on irrelevant parts of your work history.
A much better approach is to use this as a chance to explain how you can best relieve the company’s pain points. Career Coach Melissa Llarena says you need to conduct a brief SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the firm:
‘The goal during this analysis is making connections between the SWOT points that surface and your skills. Specifically, nirvana is when you can articulate how you can help them capitalize on an opportunity, curtail a threat, amplify a strength, or mitigate a weakness through the use of your talents.’
As a quick tip, check out the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile to see if you have any common ground: similar interests, rival universities etc. All of these points are conversation starters and gives you a chance to build rapport and stress your fit.
#2 Why do you want to work for this company?
This will often be the among the first questions asked in a screening interview and, like ‘tell me about yourself’ will set the tone for the rest of the interview. It needs to be answered well.
To answer this well you should try to avoid generalities. HR professionals get seriously tired of hearing how people ‘love the product’, ‘are impressed by the culture’, and ‘want to work with the best people’. Everyone says these things.
Try, instead, to get specific: is the company well-known for a certain management technique? Is it going through a period of rapid change and new product development? Is it expanding into new markets? Focus in on something unique to the company and explain how that excites you. Company culture research before the interview will help you with this!
#3 Why are you leaving your current job?
HR professionals can be quite blunt sometimes, and that’s certainly true when they ask this. Basically, they want to know if you left under your own steam or whether you were pushed, whether your departure was honourable or dishonourable.
This is definitely a question to script a little in advance — even if you’re moving on simply because you’ve finished the projects you were hired to complete at your previous job and the work has become mundane, you need to be prepared to say this quickly and articulately. Long pauses will imply that you’re hiding something and make the interviewer think twice.
It’s fine to be honest, though. HR will have heard it all, and will very likely understand: if you’ve reached a promotion ceiling, you’re after more money, or you’re not getting on with your manager, these are all ok to raise. Be careful with your wording, though, as it doesn’t land well when candidates very negative about their current employer.
#4 If you were hired, how soon could you start?
Questions like these are often asked, but still surprise candidates who don’t expect this to be asked directly. HR, though, want to filter by a whole range of factors and aren’t interested in handing over a shortlist of candidates that can’t start within the hiring managers required timeframes.
Try to avoid enthusiastically replying with ‘right away!’. If you’re not currently employed you’ll appear worryingly desperate, and if you are, then your willingness to disrespect your notice period will be a cause for concern.
Give a calm and factual answer along the lines of needing to complete your notice period, wrap up a few things and potentially start within X weeks. It’s often too early to give a specific date, so don’t feel pressured into giving one.
#5 What salary are you looking for?
This is a common question HR ask, and it is also a common place for candidates to get tripped up. Remember, no matter how friendly and reassuring the person you’re speaking to seems, they still have the best interests of their firm at heart.
If you start casually throwing around large numbers at this stage, you’ll be assumed to be in it only for the money. By all means let them know the outline of your current package and explain that you’re looking in the same area (or a little above if you’re going for a promotion), but don’t get into specifics.
If you’re pushed to name numbers, we suggest giving a relatively broad range. If you give a specific figure, it makes negotiating later down the track very hard either on your own or through a recruiter. By offering a broad range, it answers the question directly and gives you plenty of ‘wiggle room’ later down the line.
Here’s a stack of links to the usual interview questions and what these people see as answers. The problem is that the whole thing is based around playing a game. The poor candidate gets scored on how well they answer rote questions and probes. There’s one advice that stands out. In order to make things work, lie and hope you don’t get caught.
Here’s the questions. Click the links to see what they expect the job seeker to do. In every case it comes down to give the person on the other side what you think they want to hear.
I was going to Fisk these, but what’s the point. The best thing to do, if you are being gatekeeped, is walk out. No company is so special that you need them. Look at it this way, if they are treating you like this before you are hired, how are they going to treat you after you are hired. Frankly, if at this point if you can’t derail the conversation, politely say your good byes and leave. That goes double if this a prescreen and they won’t let you talk to the actual people who you would be working for. Here’s how I would like to answer the questions, but HR types don’t have a sense of humor.
The fact is that the whole thing is a lie. These questions aren’t intended to actually figure out the things they really need to know. they are intended to stress you out and put you under pressure that works to their advantage. That’s why they pressure you about money right in there with the rest of the stupid questions.
This advice for a “killer interview” is pretty good, even though only one of the killers actually refers to the interview. Doing research and scoping out the interview site are givens, when you can. Dressing up is too, though you may want to watch how you do that. I bought a suit from Brooks Brothers for interviews and while it’s a nice suit, it’s outside the “dress for the job you want” for engineering jobs. And follow up.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t powerless. No matter how much they pressure you, you can win. In fact, by using these sorts of tactics, they’ve already lost. This isn’t a game and you have more to lose than they do. All they lose is money. You lose the time you wasted with them, the stress, the stifled creativity and you get none of that back. You don’t have to play the game where you only lose.