Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If You Were a Salad, What Kind of Dressing Would You Be?

Anyone searching for a job knows the excitement of finally landing an interview. But just imagine how you would feel, after prepping for hours to make sure you're ready to answer questions about why you'd be great for the job, to have a hiring manager lean earnestly forward and ask:

"If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?"


Welcome to the whacky new world of interviewing.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, recently filled me in on some of the, er, creative interview questions being asked of job applicants:

* If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
* If you were a car, what type would you be?
* If you had only six months to left to live, what would you do with the time?
* If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
* How do I rate as an interviewer?

OK, I think I see the point. The point is the try and rattle the job candidates a bit, because if they've followed the advice that I and others have given them over the years, they've done their homework and prepared good, solid answers to many of the standard (sane) interview questions.

But ever since the high-tech companies started asking questions designed to evaluate how a person thinks (why is a manhole cover round?), interviewers are starting to push the envelope in coming up with off-the-wall questions.

Sarikas says the key is not to panic. There really isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions, but the point is to see how you react when asked to think on your feet. The first thing you do is take a deep breath, so you don't blurt out something like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of crap is this?"

The second thing is to give an answer, even if you feel like an idiot. So, when the interviewer asks, "If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?" answer it to the best of your ability.

"Why, ranch of course," you say. "I go with just about anything, and am favored by most."

Still, if you're feeling it's time to turn the tables a bit and see what this employer is thinking, maybe you could ask some creative questions of your own:

* If your CEO were an animal, what would it be? (If they mention hyena, turkey buzzard, boa constrictor -- you might want to head for the exit.)
* If you could have one person in this company on a deserted island with you, who would you pick? (If the interviewer can't name one person, you may want to reconsider the lack of friendliness within the ranks.)
* If you were asked to compare the supervisor for this job with a food, what would it be? (If a lemon, prune or lima bean is mentioned, be careful in accepting this job. Very careful.)
* If a book were written about this company, what would the title be? (If "Loserville," "Eaten Alive" or "Insanity" is mentioned, again, head for the exit.)

Do you think these kinds of questions being asked of job candidates are fair? Do they serve a purpose?

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Blow It When the Boss Asks for Your Help in Making a New Hire: How to Ask Great Interview Questions

In my previous post, I wrote about how important it was to make a good impression on everyone you meet when you go for a job interview, because the boss may ask various workers for their opinion about you.

But what if you're one of those employees who is introduced to the job candidate and asked to "chat" with a potential hire? What are you supposed to talk about? The score of last night’s game, the latest technology or if they have a family? You may not be aware of it, but what you talk about may have a big impact on your career.

That's because this little chat may not only be a test for the job candidate, but for you, as well. Not only is the boss looking at how the job candidate performs, but he's also looking at how you handle the situation. Your performance during this interaction can be important if the boss is trying to decide whether it's time you moved on to bigger and better things.

Specifically, if you give an insightful, logical assessment of this person’s skills and the ability to fit into a current culture, then you’ve proved you have another useful job skill that directly impacts the boss and your company's bottom line. But if you blow it, and can't offer the boss anything more substantial than the fact that the candidate likes the Red Sox, then you've failed to take the opportunity to show the boss that you can handle whatever is thrown your way.

So, the next time the boss provides an opportunity for you to interact with a job candidate, be prepared to show that you can rise to the challenge. Here are some points to becoming an effective interviewer:
· Think about what it takes to succeed in the job. If it’s important that the interviewee have strong people skills, then ask about team experience, or how customer complaints are handled. You might even relate a real experience (omit names) that caused problems, and see how the interviewee would handle the situation.
· Ask about past jobs. Find out what the person liked most or liked least about former positions. What was the atmosphere like?
· Inquire about organizational skills. The last thing you need is more work dumped on you because a new hire is disorganized and inefficient. Ask how they make sure they meet targets on time, how they schedule their work, how they decide what they should do every day when they show up for work.
· Find out whether past training or education would be beneficial. Maybe the candidate spent three summers in France and is so fluent in the language that he or she could handle the clients you’ve been having difficulty with in Paris. That might be a key point supervisors would miss, but your inquiries would net this new information.
· Try to avoid “yes” or “no” responses. Don’t ask, “Did you like your last job?” but “Tell me about your last job.”
· Be professional. Greet the candidate with a smile and a handshake, and avoid interruptions. When it’s your turn to talk to an interviewee, it’s best to do it in a quiet place, with no ringing phones or people walking by. Find out how much time you’ve been allotted, then stick to the schedule. This will prevent you from chatting too much in an endless sessions.
· Avoid legal minefields. Ask only job related questions. It’s against the law to ask about sexual preferences, religious affiliations, disabilities, age, race, marital status, child care arrangements, citizenship and memberships. At the same time, do not ask if the person has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime, or make any mention of gender.
· Motivating factors. Find out what the candidate sees as their personal motivation: money, creativity, chances for advancement, etc. If the answers don’t fit in with what the company offers, it means that this person would probably become quickly dissatisfied – and you’ll be repeating the interviewing process sooner than you -- or your boss --would like.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Impress the Hiring Manager -- and the Receptionist

You stroll into the job interview, feeling pretty confident. You’re got the qualifications the employer is looking for, and believe you really connected with the hiring manager. When you leave, you expect to be getting a call soon. You feel you’ve got this job in the bag.

But after you leave, something happens. The executive asks the administrative assistant, or secretary, to step into the office.

“So,” says the executive who interviewed you. “What do you think of the interviewee who just left?”

“Well,” says the secretary, “I don’t know what that person’s qualifications are, but I can tell you he was rude to me and looked everyone up and down who came in the door like he was already running the show here. And to top it off, I saw him swipe one of our magazines off the coffee table and stick it in his briefcase.”

At this point, your star just fell from the sky. Because for many hiring managers, your evaluation started the minute you walked in the building. That office tour you were given? It was more than a chance for you to admire the copy machine and the break room -- it was also an opportunity for others to look you over.

Remember: Hiring decisions are so critical these days that many companies rely on input from a variety of people -- including employees of all ranks -- when making a decision. So, when you go on a job interview, here are some ways to make sure you get off on the right foot with everyone:

· Make eye contact with everyone you see upon entering the building. One manager told me the first thing she does when a job candidate leaves is consult the receptionist on how the person treated her. Was the candidate "demanding" to see the boss, or behaving in some other way that wasn’t pleasant? Managers are going to be looking to see if you have a sudden personality shift when you go from meeting administrative staff to executive staff.

· Smile. Don’t beam a 500-watt fake grin constantly, but greet others with a friendly smile, and try to relax so it doesn’t look forced.

· Dress appropriately. While casual dress is common in many workplaces, always follow the old rules of dress when applying for a job. Men should wear a suit and tie with shined shoes, and neatly combed hair. Women should wear nice dresses or suits, with shined shoes and neat hair. Don’t wear anything that will distract others from what you are saying. First impressions are critical when meeting potential new co-workers.

· Be prepared. Do your homework about the company, but also be ready to converse with everyone from the administrative staff to other managers. If you’re at a loss, you can always ask the person to explain his or her job and what they do day-to-day. Be prepared to discuss industry trends. If they want to know if you have questions, be prepared to ask some. That shows your interest.

Finally, remember that you should not ask employees you meet about benefits, days off, and if the company offers memberships to health clubs. You don't want to come off as focused only on your own wants and needs -- use the time to ask questions about their jobs.

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