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?"

Huh??

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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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Job Interviewing 101

I remember when my older son was just learning to read and write and I found his name written boldly in pen on the white marble of our fireplace hearth.

“Did you do this?” I asked him, pointing to his name.

His big blue eyes looked boldly into mine. He shook his head “no.”

“Then who did?” I asked him.

His chubby little finger quickly pointed at his infant brother, who was happily sucking on his sock as his older brother tried to sell him down the river.

Of course, the written evidence was to the contrary, so my son spent some time scrubbing the fireplace and learning a valuable lesson not only about where and when to write his name, but the consequences of lying. (OK, so I took away “Barney” watching for a week, which was really more of a reward for me.)

After speaking with some hiring managers this week, I think a few of them are feeling like they’re dealing with some 5-year-old children at times who believe they can deny written evidence of their misdeeds.

Specifically, it’s becoming a chronic problem that job candidates lie on their resumes. They’re lying about their education, about their experience and even their references.

Now, while it’s true we try to put a positive spin on our skills and abilities in order to gain the attention of hiring managers, it’s also true that nothing will get you dumped faster from the interviewing process than lying. And, keep this in mind: if it doesn’t catch up with you now, it will later – just look at the former RadioShack CEO who was forced to resign after owning up to the fact that he never received the two degrees listed on his resume.

And, here’s what’s making the problem worse: Job candidates are lying about lying. A survey by DDI found that while 31 percent of hiring managers claim job seekers “misrepresent” their education, only 3 percent of potential employees agree. And though only 15 percent of job seekers admit to using a personal, non-work friend as a reference, 40 percent of hiring managers say it's happening. Almost 70 percent of the businesses surveyed by a professional organization say lying on resumes happens occasionally to frequently, in all kinds of companies.

So, here’s the deal: You’re smart enough to do Internet research on your blind date, your former girlfriend and whether Jamaica is nice this time of year. Do you honestly think a potential employer isn’t going to do a background check on you? Do you really believe that if you say you can fly the space shuttle that someone isn’t going to ask you to take it for a spin to make sure you really possess those skills?

All right, one last thing: nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) executives polled said sending a thank-you note following an interview can boost a job seeker’s chances, but at least half of applicants fail to do so.

The bottom line: Listen to your mothers. Write your thank-you notes and don’t lie. We know what we’re talking about.

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