Conventional Wisdom FAQ (2/5 - Job Interviews)

Q-2.1 What is the purpose of a job interview?

An interview is a two-way street. An eager candidate that acts desperate enough to accept a job without research comes across as just that -- desperate and/or insincere.

It sometimes happens that the company extends a job offer to the candidate, who declines to accept it because of something s/he's learned during the interview. This is better for both sides, than if s/he took the position and resigned in a few months.

Don't assume that the second, third or fourth interview is just a formality, even if your prospective superior told you so. You can give such a bad impression to your superior's superior that she'll veto his choice.



Q-2.2 How do I prepare for the interview?

Practice a lot with a family member, a friend, or a recruiter, answering the questions in Q-2.6 and any realistic technical questions you can think of. Some candidates find it helpful to be video- or audio-taped during a practice interview, and to review their answers later.

Find out as much background information as you can about the company and its products/services, corporate culture, mission, organizational structure, affiliations, challenges, and competitors, even if it looks like useless trivia. Use WWW, periodicals databases, trade magazines, reference books, so you can impress the interviewer with intelligent question and discussion. Don't memorize numbers (such as sales figures) but be familiar with their product line and the recent media coverage.

If you know someone who works for the company, ask them about all of the above, as well as working conditions and benefits.

It gives a very good impression to the interviewers when they tell you, "One of our flagship products is the Pneumatic Gizmorizer," and you say to that, "Of course, I read it was voted Gizmorizer of the year by the Gizmo Monthly."

If the company is publicly traded (US), it must file annual and quarterly financial reports that are available on the Internet and give relevant figures such as the number of employees, sales, earnings. Many of these figures are useful only to an accountant. You can also call up the company's stockholder relations department and request a copy of their annual report. It will generally describe their product line and plans for growth. The section called "Management Analysis and Discussion" is often very useful for a job candidate.

Try to learn about the persons interviewing you (publications and patents, if applicable). If the interview is arranged by a third party recruiter, s/he may be able to answer some of your questions.

Ask what kind of questions you will be asked, so you can be prepared. Ask how many people will speak to you, their names and titles. Prepare a list of questions you want answered (see Q-2.10) and write them on a piece of paper.



Q-2.3 How do I dress for the interview?

That depends on the position, but it seldom hurts to be formal. When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to ask. Asking, "Should I wear a business suit?" when you arrange the interview on the phone is easy and quite appropriate. If the company's offices are nearby, you can drop by and see how the employees dress.

Your appearance is the first thing the interviewer notices about you, so it should be as favorable and professional as possible. Your grooming should be immaculate, with hair and nails clean. Stress may cause sweating and body odor. Watch out for bad breath --- you may not notice it, but the interviewer will. If appropriate, clean and press your clothes, comb your hair, scrape your chin, and shine your shoes.

A note for men with long hair: if you observe that all men in the company dress conservatively and wear their hair short, then you should either cut yours or not waste your time interviewing there. If the hair is not a problem, then make sure it's clean and neat. A ponytail can help.

It's difficult (but possible) to overdress for an interview. A cocktail dress for a woman or a tuxedo for a men would probably be inappropriate. Business attire may look silly, for example, at a software development shop where everyone dresses casually. However it's much worse to underdress (e.g., wear jeans when everyone expects you to wear a business suit). Unless told otherwise, men should wear a business suit and a conservative tie (stripes are good; cartoon characters aren't), and a woman should wear a daytime dress or business coordinates. Even if you expect to dress much less formally to work, don't wear shorts and sneakers to an interview. For example, someone interviewing for a tennis pro job would not be expected to wear tennis whites and carry a racket to the interview. Most companies view a job interview as a very formal affair, not unlike a funeral. Sometimes a technical person, who normally dresses casually, is asked to dress up because she'll interview a candidate that day.

The dress code is an important part of an organization's culture. Being overdressed or underdressed at the interview can indicate that you don't really know what the potential employer is about. If you dress in a similar vein to the employees, you are subtly projecting the image that you are already "one of the team".



Q-2.4 When should I arrive for the interview?

Don't be late. Leave yourself enough time margin to allow for traffic and other delays. Remember that you're supposed to meet the interviewer at the designated time, not just enter the building. Some time may be required to negotiate entry with security guards, wait for the elevator, etc. If you arrive more than ten minutes early, hang out elsewhere. Camping out in the reception area can be annoying. If you have extra time, drop by the bathroom and check your appearance.

If you're running late, make every effort to call and tell them to expect you late. If you expect to be more than half an hour late, offer to reschedule for another day.



Q-2.5 What are some common job interview tips?

Know the interviewer's name, title and phone number, in case you need to call and reschedule.

Know the company's address and the directions for getting there. If possible, try to drop by the day before to know the route.

Take with you:
  • A pen and some paper to take notes
  • Several copies of your resume (you may interview with a team of people, don't make them share one resume); you may bring a longer version of the resume than the one that got you the interview.
  • Notes for the application form (you may be asked to list your employment history in more detail than you normally remember, such as dates and addresses of past employers and names and phone number of past managers).
  • Your list of references (you probably won't remember their phone numbers or e-mail addresses if you're suddenly asked for them)
  • The list of questions you want answered, least you forget to ask them.
  • The list of points (usually, your qualifications) you want brought up.


Don't chew gum (this may seem obvious, but some candidates do chew gum);

Don't smoke or drink alcohol, even if invited, before and during the interview (remember, these recreations leave a lingering odor).

Don't sit down until invited. Sit where you're asked to sit. Some h.r. people intentionally place candidates in uncomfortable seats. If you're really uncomfortable (e.g., light shining in your eyes), ask to move.

If you're being interviewed in someone's office, respect her personal space and don't lay out your belongings (coat, pads, pens, etc) all over her desk. Many people prefer to conduct interviews in conference rooms, rather than their own offices, for this reason.

Don't ask for refreshments (unless you're coughing and need a glass of water to compose yourself); do accept if offered (the host may want one for herself, but be reluctant to get one for herself and not you).

Do have a firm handshake (this applies to both men and women). If your palm gets sweaty (because you're nervous), wipe it discretely on your pants/skirt.

Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. Use positive vocal qualities and positive facial expressions. Don't look out the windows/at the artwork/ at your notes while the interviewer is talking to you.

Listen attentively. Smile, nod your head, and lean forward to show that you're listening. (Most people do this when they're listening, unless they're tense.) Laugh when appropriate, but avoid making jokes, even if the interviewer does.

Stay enthusiastic, even if the interviewers become hostile. Their job is to elicit honest answers, not to be supportive. Some take it further and make it a "stress interview".

Walk into the interview briskly, with upright posture. Stand and sit straight. Don't slouch. Don't cross your arms or legs. Don't put your feet on the desk, even if the interviewer does.

Avoid fidgeting with your hair, clothes, or accessories. If you're nervous, try taking deep breaths (inconspicuously).

Avoid scheduling interviews for Friday afternoon or Monday morning

Be sure that your answers are clear, concise, and relevant to the questions. Be positive about yourself and others. Avoid criticizing anyone.

Answer questions with complete remarks. Avoid one- and two-word answers, but don't ramble either.

Find out what qualifications the company seeks, then prove that you have them by citing appropriate accomplishments and episodes from your experience. Stay focused on what the interviewer thinks is important. Don't volunteer new information about yourself until you get some sense of whether it will count for you or against you.

Don't interrupt the interviewer. Answer questions after they're asked. Keep your answers short and to the point. Do not ramble. Once the interviewer is satisfied with your answer, try to stop talking and wait for the next question. Let the interviewer control the conversation.

Don't use profanity, even if the interviewer does. Also avoid vague language like "y'know", "I mean", "sort of", and "like, that kind of stuff".

Immediately after the interview, before you forget, write down whatever information might be useful later: the questions that confounded you, new information that you've learned about the company, etc.



Q-2.6 What are some common job interview questions?

The first few questions are often small talk intended to put you at ease, like "Did you get stuck in the traffic?". Don't go into a lengthy discussion, since no one really cares. Do try to relax. It's easier to evaluate a relaxed candidate, and they also make better impressions.

The rest of the interview questions address the following concerns:
a) Are you capable of doing the job (technically and personally)?
b) Will you "fit" into the team?
c) Will you last in this position and with this employer?

Examples of technical questions asked in various fields are beyond the scope of this document. Generally, technical questions are comparable to essay-type found on a final exam for a college-level course.

Definition questions: when an interviewer asks for a technical definition, she is, hopefully, not testing whether you've memorised a reference book, but is assessing your communication skills: would you be able to explain this if asked by a junior person who really doesn't know the answer? Here, a brief answer that barely shows that you know what you're talking about is not the best.

In addition to the technical interview specific to each field of endeavor, a candidate should be prepared to answer these common h.r. questions:

* "Tell me about yourself."

You should expect this question, or a variant of it, and prepare a short speech. Split your answer into:
a) work and study background. Talk about your work experience, skills, education, and goals that relate to the job for which you're applying.
b) your personal life, leisure, and home activities. This is entirely optional; hobbies other than competitive sports are seldom of interest to the interviewer, and your marital status is probably irrelevant.

"How would you describe yourself?"

Discuss positive, work-related attitude. E.g., suggest that you get along well with people, are committed, loyal, etc.

"How would someone who knows you well describe you?"

Put all the positive things you said about yourself into your co-workers' mouths.

"Describe your best friend and what s/he does for a living. In what ways are you similar or dissimilar to your best friend?"

Interviewers assume that best friends are alike, so this is another way of asking you to describe yourself. Describe a person they'd like to hire.

"What was the last book you read? What was the last movie you saw?"

Name a non-fiction self-improvement book (e.g., one about time managemenet) and a popular, non-controversial movie.

"Why do you think you are the best applicant for the position? What makes you unique?"

Emphasize the qualities that you don't expect most other candidates to have. Don't put down other candidates (e.g., "I suppose most other people you've interviewed didn't know X as well as I do" is not a nice thing to say even if you are the world's greatest expert on X).

"How do you habdle the least interesting or least pleasant tasks of a job?"

A good answer might be, "Every job in this field has routine tasks, which have to be done, too. Doing them is part of the satisfaction of doing the job well. They make the chances to be creative even more satisfying."

"Do you manage your time well?"

"How well do you handle change?"

"How do you go about making important decisions?"

"What factors are important to you in a job?"

"What kind of work environment do you prefer?"

"To what managerial style do you respond best?"

"For what type of organization do you want to work?"

"What would you ideally like to do?"

"How does your ideal job stack up against the description of the job you're applying for?"

"How do you feel about: pressure, deadlines, travel, relocating, overtime, weekend work?"

Sound as flexible as possible. If the job description doesn't call for these, you probably won't see them. The company wants to know that you can be counted on in an emergency.

"Do you have a geographic preference? Are you willing to travel?"

"How do you evaluate success?"

"How do you define failure?"

"What do you like to do in your spare time?"

"Do you work well under pressure?"

Of course, all candidates say yes. Be prepared to give an example where you performed well in a stressful situation not caused by your own procrastination or failure to anticipate problems.

"Do you anticipate problems well or merely react to them?"

"Would you describe yourself as a risk-taker, or someone who plays it safe?"

* "What are your major strengths/weaknesses?"

Try to answer such negative questions with a positive response. For example, say, "Some people consider me a perfectionist," or "I'm too detail-oriented. I always try to get things right." An employer will be happy to put up with such "weaknesses". Saying, "I don't have any weaknesses worth mentioning", indicates that you don't know yourself very well (poor self assessment). Something like, "I get angry when people don't work as hard as they should, but I see very little of that at my current job," is good too.

"How do you compensate for your weaknesses on the job?"

Saying something like, "I'm not as organised as I'd like to be, so what I now do is to use checklists. I've found this a great help," shows that you not only realise you have a failing, but have successfully used a strategy to combat it. Other examples: "I tend to take on too much myself, so I'm trying to delegate more." "I'm impatient with delays, so I'm trying to learn more about the process to anticipate holdups in the future." "I think I may be a workaholic, so I'm reading books on time management."

Don't ever admit to any quality that hampers job performance, such as laziness, procrastination, or lack of concentration.

"If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be?"

"What are the skills you most need to develop to advance your career?"

"What do your supervisors tend to criricize most about your performance?"

"How did you do on your last performance appraisal?"

* "Have you done this type of work before?"

Link your transferrable skills directly to the employer's needs, especially when their applicability may not be obvious.

"What have you learned from your previous work experience?"

"What were your most memorable accomplishments in your last job? Of your career?"

Focus on your most recent accomplishments, relevant to the position you seek.

"Have you recently established any new objectives or goals?"

"Do you know ?"

Avoid answering "no" to such questions. Instead substitute strength for weaknesses: describe your proficiency in similar tools and packages, and express confidence that you can quickly attain proficiency in this one.

"Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?"

"How did you get along with your former boss and co-workers?"

"How do you generally handle conflict?"

"How do you behave when you're having a problem with a co-worker?"

"The successful candidate will work alongside some highly trained people who have been with the company for a long time. How will you fit in with them?"

Display your eagerness to learn from co-workers.

"What did you enjoy most / least about your previous job?"

Avoid being negative.

"Describe your best and your worst boss?"

For the "best" boss, you might say that you enjoyed working with someone who was interested in helping you learn and grow, involved with monitoring your progress, and generous about giving credit when it was due. If this is true, then you're lucky.

For the "worst" boss, avoid accusations that might reflect badly on you. E.g., saying that a boss always looked over your shoulder makes the interviewer question why you couldn't be trusted to work independently. On the other hand, saying that a former boss was "stringy with knowledge" accentuates your desire to learn.

"Looking back on the experience now, do you think there was anything you could have done to improve the relationship with that one bad boss?"

Use this opportunity to demonstrate your experience and maturity.

"What were your typical duties in your previous job?"

"If you could have made improvements in your last job, what would they have been?"

"Did you inaugurate any new procedures / systems / policies in any of your past positions?"

Demonstrate your creativity. List all the great ideas you've had which couldn't be implemented due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., no financing).

"What kind of people do you work with best?"

"How many days a year did you miss at your last job? Why? How is your health?"

"What do you do to stay in shape?"

"Do you have any physical problems that may limit your ability to perform this job?"

This is a perfectly legitimate question - you shouldn't apply for a data entry job if you're suffering from the carpal tunnel syndrome. On the other hand, health problems that don't affect your ability to perform the job are none of the employer's business.

"What kinds of decisions are most difficult for you?"

"What do you like to do in your free time?"

Any sports or community activity is a plus, but don't mention activities that might result in a long sick leave, or contraversial (hunting or religious prozelitizing).

* "Are you still employed at the last firm listed on your resume?"

"Have you ever been fired? Why?"

Stress what you learned from the experience.

"Why did you leave your last job?"

Don't badmouth your former employer, even if he deserves it. Unfortunately, being fired/laid off reflects negatively on a candidate even if the layoff had nothing to do with his performance. An acceptable answer would be, "I was one of the 5,000 people laid off when the sales fell."

"Why are you looking for a new job?"

"Why are you looking to leave your present job?"

Don't be negative. Don't criticize the existing position. One good answer is, "I like my present job very much, but my potential for growth is limited because of its size." Reassure the interviewer that you're not running away from anything.

"Will your present company be surprised that you leave?"

"If you don't leave your present job, what do you think will happen to your career? How far do you expect to advance with your present company?"

Remember the adage: "There's no better time to look for a new job than when you're happy with your old job." Don't sound like a desperate refugee. Say, "Assuming that I'm not the successful candidate for this position..." and convince the interviewer that you can make the most of the employment situation you said you want to leave.

"If you have these complaints about your present company, and they think so highly of you, why haven't you brought these concerns to their attention?"

A suitable answer might be: "We talk quite openly about soe of the problems we have in keeping good performers."

"When would you be available to start?"

If you're currently unemployed, you can start right away. If you're currently employed, you should give two weeks' notice to your present employer. You should consider taking a short vacation, since you won't have any vacations for some time after starting on a new job.

Meanwhile, you can offer to come on evenings and weekends to familiarize yourself with the new position.

"May I contact your current employer?"

No. It's too likely to get you fired. You can say, "Sure, you can, after we've come to an agreement. I think it's best if they hear about it from me first."

* "How long have you been looking for a job?"

Employers are prejudiced against candidates who have been on the market for some time and haven't found anything. You can't hide your having been unemployed, but if you're still working, always say that you just started looking. Otherwise be prepared to explain why you haven't received or accepted any offers.

"What were you doing since you left your last job?"

If the break between the jobs was relatively long, it's better to say that you deliberately took some time off to be with your family or to learn new skills.

"Have you been interviewing at other places?"

"Have you received any other offers?"

It's better to say, "Yes, I had an offer from X, but it wasn't right for me. I'm glad that I didn't accept, since now I have a shot at this position." than to say "No, none of the 20 places I've interviewed with made me an offer".

However it's not safe to lie and claim to have received an offer when you didn't, since the employer may be able to check your claim.

"Describe the best person who ever worked for you or with you."

This reveal the candidate's sensitivities.

"What kind of people annoy you most?"

Candidates usually mention traits that they do not possess. One good answer is, "I'm too impatient with mediocre and slow workers. I don't expect to ever accept poor work, but I'm learning to be more patient."

"What makes you angry/lose your temper?"

"What kind of people have trouble getting along with you?"

If you answer none, the interviewer will not believe you. One good answer is, "People who don't work as fast as I do resent it."

* "Give me an example of your creativity, problem-solving ability, initiative, willingness to work hard, reliability."

This is known as a behavioral question. A traditional hypothetical question ("How would you address an angry customer?") calls for a theoretical answer ("I'd be patient and polite"), which may not represent what you'd do in a real situation. Behavioral questions ask for specific examples of past experiences, often negative, which are supposed to predict your future behavior in similar situations. They deal with "probes", such as: assertiveness, clarification, commitment to task, dealing with ambiguity, decision making, interaction, leadership, management skills, communication skills, organizational skills, problem solving, team building and others. One can prepare for such questions in advance by thinking of specific relevant examples (both successful and unsuccessful) for each probe. These examples may also be cited in response to non-behavioral (hypothetical) questions, and be more credible than theoretical answers.

"What was your greatest failure?"

Try to think of a failure that happened early in your career and/or had nothing to do with the job you're trying to get.

"What are the toughest problems you have faced, and how did you handle them?"

"Give me a specific example of a time when you didn't meet a deadline."

These are all variations of behavioral questions.

* "Suppose your boss left an assignment in your mailbox and left for a week. You can't reach him, and you don't fully understand the assignment. What would you do?"

This is an example of a situational question. Take a minute to think and to weight the alternatives. The correct answer is probably to approach your boss's boss for clarification, making sure that your question does not reflect badly on your boss.

"Suppose your boss tells you to do something in a way that you know is dead wrong. What do you do?"

The correct answer is probably to propose the alternative in the most deferential way possible, or to ask a knowledgeable person - not your boss's boss - for advice; but if he insists, do it his way.

"What would you do if you were unfairly criticized by your boss?"

The correct answer is probably to explain your point of view to him later, after the atmosphere has calmed.

* "If you had the last 10 years of your life to live over again / if you could start your career all over again, what would you do differently?"

"What was the biggest mistake you've ever made in choosing a job? Why?"

Unless you're looking for a complete change of career, you can say that you wouldn't change a thing. Don't say, "I wish I had never gotten into this field, but I guess now I'm stuck." Do say, "I regret I didn't go into this direction sooner. I started in a different field that I really liked, but later I found that I really loved this field." Or: "I regret that I left that job because I was impatient for a promotion, and later realized that I could have learned more."

The following questions are often posted to recent graduates:

"Why did you choose this school? Why did you choose your major/minor?"

Your answer should demonstrate that you were focused and didn't make these important decisions at random.

"Which classes and subjects did you like the best? Least? Why?"

Emphasize the classes relevant to the job you're seeking. If you're an engineering major applying for an engineering position, it'll hurt your chances to state that you preferred history classes.

The courses you mention as your least favorite should not be related to the job. Try to complain about the subject, rather than about the professor (authority figure) or about having to do too much work.

"If you were to start college all over again, what courses would you take?"

Talk about the changes in your course selection that would have produced a better candidate for this job. At the same time, mention how courses unrelated to your career were valuable to your development.

"What did you learn from your internships?"

"Do you think your grades are a good indication of your academic ability?"

"In what courses did you get your worst grades? Why?"

"Can you explain these bad grades on your college transcript?"

A suitable answer might be, "I overextended myself that semester and didn't cope very well, but you can see that I did much better in the subsequent semesters."

"Describe your most rewarding college experience."

"Have you participated in any extracurricular activities? What have you learned from participating in them? Why did you choose them?"

This question calls for "competitive sports" and "teamwork".

* "Why did you decide to seek a position with this company/organization?"

Having done your research, you can speak knowledgeably about the company, its goals, and how its goals match yours, a subject dear to the manager's heart.

"What do you know about our firm/organization? What criteria are you using to evaluate a particular firm/organization?"

Emphasize being focused. Saying that you don't know much about the company gives a very bad impression. You should have done your homework.

"How can you contribute to this company in this job?"

"What interests you most about this job? This company?"

Now is the time to demonstrate that you've done your homework and to ask intelligent questions, showing your familiarity with the company.

"What have you heard about our company that you don't like?"

Avoid responses related to the job you're after. E.g., say that you heard of a layoff a few months ago, and you hope that it's all over.

"What aspects of the job I've described appeal to you the least?"

"You don't know X. How do you intend to learn what you need to know to perform well in this job?"

Demonstrate that you have a plan, such as reading books or going to seminars.

"What do you feel an employer owes an employee?"

Do not discuss legal and moral responsibilities. A good response is, "I hope that your company will be respectful of me as an employee; however I know that sometimes organizations face tough decisions that may require confidentiality and affect employees. That's business."

"This is a much larger / smaller company than you've ever worked for before."

If the company is larger, then you're looking for growth opportunities and new areas of knowledge. if the company is smaller, then you're looking for a less bureaucratic organization where decisions can be made quickly.

"What would you like to accomplish if you're hired for this job?"

"What are you looking for in your next job?"

This question gauges the candidate's interest in the position.

"What was the most interesting job or project in your career?"

The answer shows whether the candidate likes challenges.

* "How did you get along with your co-workers, supervisor, and clients/ customers in your last job?" (Meaning: "Will you get along with my group?")

Mention briefly and in a positive way any jobs you've had with similar environments.

* "How long do you plan on keeping this job if you get it?"

"What do you hope to be doing in 3 years? What are your career goals for the next 5 years? The next 10 years?"

Most employers don't want to restart the search process too soon. E.g., "If you hire me, I'll leave this lousy, boring job as soon as I find something I really like, or as soon as I learn enough about your business" is definitely the wrong thing to say, even if it's true. A good evasive answer is: "This depends on my performance on the job and the opportunities for growth."

However some employers do expect turnover in junior, temporary, or dead-end positions. It's OK to say that you hope to outgrow this job eventually.

If the job allows for growth, a good answer might be: "I feel confident that I'll take on progressively more managemenet responsibility in the future, which suits me fine."

"You seem to be overqualified for this position. Why do you want this job?"

The interviewer is concerned that you'll leave this job as soon as something better comes along. Emphasize your long-term commitment to the job..

"After being with the same organization for so long, do you think you'll have trouble getting used to another?"

This is the opposite concern, and is usually unwarranted. Even though the candidate stayed with the same firm, she probably had different bosses, interacted with different people, and performed different tasks.

"You've changed jobs quite frequently. How do we know you won't leave soon after we hire you?"

"You've only had your present job for a short time, and you're already looking to leave?"

Emphasize that you want to stay and grow with the same company, and that you had intended to stay with the previous employers. You can say that you had trouble defining your career goals at first, but now you are quite sure of your direction. You can also say that you left previous positions only after realizing that moving on was the only way to increase your responsibilities and to broaden your experience.

"You didn't last very long at X. Why did you leave?"

Answer honestly and professionally, even if you were fired or quit in anger. Avoid showing anything negative about yourself, your work, or your ability to get along with others. Don't criticize your former employers or co-workers.

* "Are you interested in promotional opportunities?"

"How do you work with others? Are you a leader or a follower?"

In other words, do you have the potential to manage others?

"Would you like to have your boss's job? Why or why not?"

Saying yes indicates you're ambitious and interested in career advancement. Saying no indicatesdoubts or reservations, at least about job in question.

"Have you managed people in any of the positions you've held?"

Even if you haven't had people reporting to you, or the authority to hire or fire anyone, you can talk about your consensus-building or project leadership roles.

"Have you been in charge of budgeting, approving expenses, and monitoring progress against financial goals?"

Even if the answer is negative, you can talk about your purchase approval authority - what was the largest purchase you could sign off on without anyone else's approval?

"Have you ever hired anyone? Why did you choose them?"

Even if you haven't, you can say: "On several occasions I was asked to give technical interviews to prospective applicants. I also tried to determine whether they would be team players and would get along with other people in the department."

"Have you ever fired anyone? Why?"

* "What are your salary expectations/requirements?"

Try to postpone this discussion until a job offer has been made. If asked, provide a salary range.

"What was your salary at your last job?"

What the employer really needs to know are your salary expectations for your new job; your last salary is irrelevant. It's OK to answer this question by saying how much you want to be paid if you get this job. If your last salary was higher, the employer might assume that you won't be happy about the pay cut. If you last salary was much lower, the employer might offer you a smaller raise. Under these circumstances, you might firmly state that your last salary is irrelevant to the job you're interviewing for.

* "Is there anything you would like to say to close the interview?"

See Q-2.12. In particular, it's wise to ask the interviewers if they have any reservations about hiring you, and to deal with them then and there.

You will probably won't be asked all of these questions, and be asked some questions not on this list as well. Be ready to argue your case.



Q-2.7 What about interviews over a meal?

Avoid ordering "messy" dishes that need to be eaten by hand.

It's very awkward, but possible to take notes on a notepad during a meal. If you must take notes, bring a small pad and/or write everything down after the table is cleared.

Don't drink alcohol, even if your interviewer does.

Avoid ordering the most expensive or the cheapest dish. Try to order in the same price range as your host.

Don't talk with your mouth full. If the interviewer asks you a question, swallow your food before answering (don't spit it out).

Don't offer to pay for the meal.



Q-2.8 What about being brought over to another city for an on-site interview?

The company pays for airplane fare, hotel, car rentals/taxi, meals, etc. Thus, local candidates are more likely to be invited for an interview.

Most companies won't pay for phone calls made from the hotel room, room service, pay-per-view movies, etc. If you are being reimbursed for the phone calls, then making expensive long distance calls will hurt your chances of a job offer. Charge all calls not related to this particular interview to your home phone number instead. Be careful about over overcharged when calling from any hotel. Use a calling card and a reputable long distance company.

Likewise, treating yourself to lavish meals at the interviewer's expense may hurt your chances for a job offer.

If two or more companies want to bring you for an interview to the same city, you should let both companies know. They will probably arrange to split the costs. Trying to bill more than one company for the same expenses has resulted in legal action in the past.

It's acceptable to ask if your spouse can come with you to see the new city on the second, but not on the first interview.

Usually, the interviewer arranges hotels, car rentals, etc in advance, so you don't have to pay. Some small companies have been known to tell the candidate to submit an expense report for an on-site interview to they'd be reimbursed; then renege on the promise if the candidate is not hired.



Q-2.9 What are some common "job fair" hints?

TK - to add KPD's writeup

Job fairs (career fairs) are gatherings where many entry-level candidates meet with recruiters from one or more organization for brief interviews. Most job fairs involve face-to-face contact, but Internet job fairs over the IRC are becoming more common.

Things to bring along:

Many copies of your resume. Cover letters are not needed, since you are presenting it in person. Recent graduates should have their school transcripts. In some fields it's useful to bring along samples of your work; a list of/recommendation letters from your references; evaluations (such as student evaluations); and books to refer to if a technical question arises. Bring many copies of any materials you plan to give away; it's better to waste a few dollars on extra copies than to run out.

A notepad and several pens to take notes as you talk to the recruiters.

A briefcase (not a knapsack, not a plastic bag) to carry all of the above, plus the materials and business cards you'll collect from the recruiters.

Before you stand in any lines, walk around the entire fair, see who's present, and plan which recruiters you want to talk to. Pick up the literature from the companies you're interested in; these often run out early, and make useful reading while you wait in lines. If a recruiter tells you that the displayed materials are only for candidates they already have an interest in, you can respond, "I'm planning to stand in line and want to learn more about your company during the wait," or reconsider whether you want to talk to them anymore.

As you stand in line to talk to a recruiter, try to listen carefully to what s/he's telling the candidates in front of you. The same questions will probably be posed to you in a few minutes and you'll have more time to think about the answers. You may also hear another candidate being told that the company is not currently interested in a his skillset, which happens to be similar to yours. It may mean that you shouldn't waste your time standing in this line, or it may really mean that they didn't like only this particular person, but might be interested in you.



Q-2.10 What about phone interviews?

It's becoming more common to interview candidates over the phone. Both technical and general h.r. interviews are conducted this way.

Screening candidates by phone is highly efficient, and costs less than bringing a candidate over in person. Technical interviews over Internet Relay Chat (IRC) are becoming more common too. Also some companies require the candidate to write down all the answers in the technical part of an in-person interview.

Usuallly, someone calls in advance to tell you to expect a phone call around a certain time. If you get a surprise call while you are not prepared or are in the middle of something else, you should ask to be called back at a mutually agreeable time - or offer to call back later.



Q-2.11 How do I handle personal questions that I find offensive and irrelevant?

Don't overreact. Say, "Why do you ask?" or "I don't understand what this has to do with the job being offered and would prefer to delay discussing my personal life until both of us have determined a mutual interest in my candidacy for this position". Surprisingly often, interviewers are simply unaware that certain questions are illegal in their jurisdictions. For example, asking a young female candidate, "I suppose in a couple of years you'll want to get married and start a family?" may result in legal problems for the employer; but then she won't get this job. She may instead calmly explain that after spending considerable time and money on college education she is keen to pursue a career at this time in her life, which addresses the interviewer's concerns (even though this is none of his business).

A few other examples of inappropriate questions:

"Is this an name?"

"This is a Christian company. Do you think you'll fit?"

"Are you a family man / woman?"

"What is your birth date?"

Note that age, like race, can be easily observed.

"Do you have any physical disabilities?"

Disabilities that don't affect your job performance are none of their business.

"What's your economic status?"

An employer may ask what you're currently earning, but not your assets, liabilities, and creadit rating, with some exceptions.

"Have you ever served in the military?"

You are not required to give the dates of your military services or the type of discharge you've received if you don't want to.

"Have you every been arrested?"

Under most circumstances, the employer is not entitled to know about arrests that did not result in convictions.



Q-2.12 What questions can I ask during the interview?

The candidate who answers questions but doesn't ask any is seen by an interviewer either as shy, or not terribly interested in the job. Asking well-formulated, intelligent questions demonstrates your knowledge, maturity, and interest in the organization. Thus, if you want the job, ask a few questions, even if you think you already know everything. Avoid asking for information that is readily available from the firm's literature (showing that you haven't researched it).

"Do you have any reservations about hiring me?"

(A perfect closing question. If there are any, try to deal with them then and there.)

"What exactly would you like me to accomplish in this position?"

"What would be my specific duties and responsibilities? Do you have a formal job description?"

"How many hours a week do you expect me to work?"

"What projects would I work on at the beginning?"

"Can you describe a typical day or week in this position?"

"What are the training and educational opportunities?"

"Please tell me about the people with whom I'll be working most closely."

"Please describe the typical path of an X in this company."

"How much contact and exposure to clients/customers is there?"

"How often are performance reviews given?"

"Has your company had any layoffs or reductions in the last few years? How was this department affected?"

"What new projects has this department/organization/firm undertaken recently?"

"What are you company's future plans and goals?"

"Could you describe your ideal candidate for this position?"

"How many people are you still interviewing?"

"How soon will you make a hiring decision?"

"I'm quite interested in employment with your company, but in case I'm not hired, would you know of anyone else that may be interested in a candidate with my qualifications?"

Even if you don't get a job offer out of this interview, you may get some fresh ideas on where else to submit your resume.

"How have those who have had this job in the past advanced in the organization? If they left, why?"

You may want to delay asking such probing questions until after you get the offer. At this point the company is unlikely to withdraw the offer, while too many questions before may scare them.

These questions may help you learn the details about the company that you didn't learn during your research of it:

"How did your company first get into the business it's in?"

"Your company has a well-respected product line [or service]. Tell me how it earned its reputation."

Try to sound interested, not negative, when you ask questions about the company.

"I'd like to make sure we cover everything that's important to you."

Try not to discuss money or benefits during the initial interview. Surprisingly many companies are willing to negotiate the benefits package (e.g., give more vacation time) after they've established that they want this candidate.

Don't ask irrelevant and trivial questions, like (in most situations) "What's your procedure for ordering office supplies?"

Don't say things like "I would accept your offer only if my first choice doesn't take me," even if this is true.

Q-2.13 After the last interview, I've though of a few more questions to ask. Should I call the company and ask them?

Probably not. Write down your questions and wait until the company expresses further interest in you. If and when they call you again, pose your questions. If they don't call you, then the questions are moot.

(There are exceptions to this rule if time is of essence, e.g., if you must give an answer to another job offer.)



Q-2.14 Do some people really write thank-you notes after job interviews?

Studies suggest that about 10% of candidates send thank-you notes after being interviewed. Thank-you notes may improve your chances of being hired since they establish you as a person mindful of manners and easy to work with, and give you an opportunity to remind the interviewer of the good fit between you and the company.

If you choose to write a note, be very brief. Most people will take note of the fact that you sent a thank-you note, but never bother to read it in detail. Don't include any questions, which should have been discussed during the interview. If the employer is still interested in you, you'll have a chance to ask them during the next interview. However if you neglected to mention certain points during the interview, didn't feel an answer was comprehensive enough, or, indeed, didn't know an answer, the thank-you letter can correct that last impression -- if it gets read.

The note should be a brief statement of appreciation for the time the interviewer spent with you. You may also include an expression of continued interest and enthusiasm in the job, a recap of your strengths that are consistent with the requirements of the job, and a request to meet again.

It's equally acceptable to e-mail the note (if you know the interviewer's e-mail address), or to type it, or to send a handwritten postcard. A typed (printed) letter is preferred for a very formal company. Thank-you notes are supposed to be sent to every person you've met during the interview, after each interview, within a week after the interview.

Even if you're not interested in the position, consider sending a thank-you note to the person primarily responsible for showing you around for the day and interviewing you, and mention the other people who spent time with you. It's good manners. You may become interested in that position in the future and a thank-you note leaves a good impression.



Q-2.15 How soon after the interview can I call/e-mail to find out about my status in the hiring process?

It's a good idea to ask during the interview when the hiring decision will be made. If you call and are told that the decision has not been made yet, ask when you should call again. If the employer has not given you a specific time frame for getting back to you regarding the position, two weeks is an appropriate time to wait before calling to find out the status of your applications. It's uncommon these days for the company to contact the unsuccessful candidates to tell them they weren't hired. Therefore there's nothing wrong in your calling to find out.



Q-2.16 If I'm not hired, how do I ask why?

If you can get someone to talk to you on the phone, ask: "I plan to continue interviewing for this type of position. Do you have any suggestions that would increase my chances for success in similar positions?"

If your interview was arranged by a 3rd party recruiter, the company probably explained to the recruiter in detail why you weren't suitable (so that he would submit more suitable candidates in the future). If the recruiter refuses to tell you why you weren't hired, consider dealing with another recruiter. After you spent your time on a job interview, you're entitled to the feedback.
« Back to MedZilla Articles