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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Friday, March 28, 2008

Surviving the Loaded Interview Questions

Have you ever had a job interview and felt like it was going well until the hiring manager asked you a question and you thought: "Holy Sh**!"

It might be something like:

1. "What are you going to say to your boss if we offer you this job and he or she gets upset when you say you're going to quit?"

2. "The economy is tough right now...are you one of those people who is has been caught up in this credit mess?"

3. "What skills do you feel you need to improve?"

The reason a hiring manager asks you questions like these is simple: He or she wants to make you sweat. Even if it's just a little. Because if they're going to put their necks on the line and recommend you be hired, they want to make sure you've got what it takes to be calm and level-headed under pressure. If you hem and haw and get flustered or say "that's none of your damn business!" then the hiring manager will probably toss your resume in the shredder as soon as you leave.

The other reason they ask you these kinds of questions is because they are trying to get a better handle on who you are and what "baggage" you might bring to their workplace. If, for example, you're interviewing for a job dealing with money and they discover you're losing your house in the mortgage debacle, they might wonder if you'd be tempted to let some extra cash fall into your briefcase each night. Or, they may wonder how you'll deal with a boss who yells at you.

In his book, "Acing the Interview," Tony Beshara offers some answers to questions like these that will have you appearing so cool, calm and collected, the hiring manager will wonder if you ever even require deodorant. Here are some answers to the questions listed above:

1. On the boss's reaction: "I'm sure my boss will be somewhat disappointed, but he or she has always been the kind who wants what's best for everyone in the organization. If finding a new job is best for my family and me, well, my boss might be unhappy about the situation for his or our company, but he will be pleased for me."
2. Personal finances suck: The hiring manager is going to try and find out how personally responsible you are, and don't be surprised if a company runs a credit report on you. Don't lie. Admit that you've run into a rough patch, and then briefly explain the circumstances. If you financial history is pretty rough, it's best to be proactive and address it before an employer does a check on it.
3. Show you've got game: Always demonstrate that you're working on improvement, both professionally and personally. Talk about seminars or professional events you've attended, any classes you've taken, or self-improvement books you've read.
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