“How did I blow it? Let me count the ways”. It’s all about THEM, not about you. Shocking, I know, and possibly even unfair, but there ya go. The company has a position it wants to fill. “What made you apply?” “What do you have over other candidates?” It’s either HR that’s asking, in which case they’re thinking bigger picture of whether you’ll fit into the company culture, as well as their wanting to make the line manager happy that they found someone for the department. Or it’s the department interviewing in which case all they care about is filling their job with someone who can do it, doesn’t annoy everyone and will stay in the department for ages so they don’t have to replace.
So, how do you answer their general questions? With specific answers that relate to what THEY need. None of this, “I want a challenge” rubbish. Wrong for two reasons – they don’t CARE what you want and they don’t want someone who finds the job challenging i.e. difficult for the first six months. They’d rather find someone who can be productive by Monday morning coffee-break.
You want to find a position where your skills, experience and (fill in appropriate adjective depending on job) mentality will be recognized and appreciated, and where you, for your part, can learn and grow in the job. LEARN AND GROW IN THE JOB – fabulous phrase, shows that you’re not just thinking of the next year till you start looking again.
Extra answers like, “I also would like a stable company because I don’t like job-hopping” are good too. “I love the work you do as a not-for-profit, helping the underprivileged, so it would be awesome to be using my skills and experience to help a worthy cause.”
Is this buttering up the potential employer? Yup. And it’s what they want to hear.
You’re so keen to impress that you know the answer to their question that you blurt out something as quickly as possible, in fact sometimes, gosh, so enthusiastically the interviewer hasn’t even finished speaking. (Side note – happens all the time. Just say sheepishly, “Oops, sorry”). You have a good few seconds to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it. It might seem like a lifetime to you but a few seconds to the interviewer, while you’re looking at them, clearly thinking through an answer, won’t even be noticed. He or she will in fact be bright enough to know you’re thinking through how to give the best answer.
What if you don’t know the answer? W-e-l-l, it depends on the circumstances. If it’s a question about the company/company products and you don’t know because you didn’t do enough homework (I’m calling it homework. The world calls it googling, for heavens’ sakes.) then ‘fess up. “Sorry, I thought I’d done my homework but that one passed me by.” If it looks as though you did NO homework, you might as well forget that job….
If it’s something about work practices, specific skills you’ve said you have/they want, then try to be concise, don’t burble on for the sake of talking, and give an example of how you’ve done something identical, or at least vaguely similar if you haven’t in fact done what’s been talked about. The interviewer will remember the example, rather than a bland generalization about how fabby your organizational skills are.
If a quizzical look comes over the interviewer’s face, and you think, “Oh gawd, she didn’t like my answer”, then take the bull by the horns and say, “Did that answer your question?” I did that once, and the interviewer replied, “Not really” and then went on about what he wanted, so I gave a better answer. Better that, than just have the person think, “Useless answer” and not tell you.
Don’t EVER trash your current/former employers. Even in they are the Devil Incarnate, and your mother taught you never to lie, you just can’t be negative. It makes YOU come across as negative, and the company will be afraid you’d be criticizing THEM when it’s time to move on. So even if you’re trying to get out of the worst job in New York City, think of something positive. E.g.1, I lasted longer than the previous 8 assistants he’s had in the last 2 years, and I’m glad I did, because I learned such a lot. e.g.2, It wasn’t a job for the long haul, the company culture was not conducive to longevity, but I wanted to learn so I lasted the x months/years and I’m so glad I did, it gave me the skills to have me marketable for your position.
Have you any questions? What they mean by that is, ‘What questions do you have?” Because you should have one or two… Ask about what they value most in the person doing the job you want, what are the qualities the manager likes best, what the company culture is, what the manager’s management style is, where the company will be in the next 10 years. SOMETHING to show you care….
Remember it’s about them, not about you. Worse than having no questions is asking about salary, sick pay, vacation at this stage.
All of this is, I hope, just common sense, but it’s easy when you’re nervous to open mouth and put foot in it (er, metaphorically speaking. I haven’t literally tried doing that since I was in my pram). Follow common sense and with luck, the second stage in the interview process will follow.
As ever, if there are any questions, or comments, we’re here at Merit Personnel for you.