Interviewing Secrets They Don’t Write About: Part 2 – The Intellectual Part

In part one of this article we discussed the physical part of interviewing. Running all over a company building, meeting a dozen people, keeping your appearance clean and presentable and other considerations that depend on your stamina and ability to keep prim and proper but the really difficult part of interviewing is the intellectual part – using your mind to win over your interviewers.

Most articles on interviewing tips cover these points and it will do you well to read as many of these articles as you can. Question and answer time during interviews are a game. They are debates, saying the right thing, even when you don’t truly believe what you must say to please the interviewer and playing the game by other’s rules.

I’m not saying you need to lie because you must be true to your work ethics but you must impress the person to whom you are speaking. People may all be told the same thing, with the same words but they will interpret those words differently. The first part of reading your interviewer is to glance about their office or cubicle. Personal possessions say a lot about a person. Starting the interview by establishing a common ground, perhaps by discussing your common interest in collecting glitter unicorns that line an interviewer’s shelf will put them at ease with you and make the conversation about yourself and your work ethics easier.

You may be able to prepare by researching the people with whom you will be interviewed. Places they had worked, clubs and organizations to which they belonged will give you a better idea of who they are and their interests as people. You can be sure they have looked you up on the internet (another reason to make sure embarrassing photos and political assertions are gone from your Facebook page and blog) and will have questions about your hobbies and that trip to Mexico.

Do Your Research on Everyone and Everything

Any article worth reading will mention that you need to research the company for which you will be interviewing. This isn’t just for the questions you should ask during the interview but also for your own information on whether or not you really want to work there.

  • Using LinkedIn to research employees, both past and present, you can see what kind of turnover the firm has.
  • If people stay less than three years, it’s a safe bet that the company has bad employee engagement.
  • You may also be able to find a past employee who will give you the lowdown on the company culture, problems, gossip and strengths.

In one case, being contacted by a recruiter for a position, I did a simple Google search of the firm only to find out they were about to be indicted by the Federal Fair Trade Commission…for the second time in the company’s short history. Would I want to move to a new city only to be unemployed a few months later when the company is forced to close or worse, as happened to a friend of mine, move and then be told on his first day that the position couldn’t be filled?

You will also want to look at the job history of those to whom you will report. Are those people top rate professionals or underachievers who have risen through the ranks purely because they were around long enough to be moved up because there was no one else around? The Peter Principle is rampant in business. No one knows why and no one really seems to want to stop it. Do you want to work for a manager who micromanages not because they are hands-on but because they are fearful you are moving ahead without them. How long would you be happy working in such a relationship?

If you are impressed with a company and excited at the prospect of becoming a member of their team, you need to know everything about their product or service and not only ask questions about how they go about providing it all but also to ask about future growth and show them you have an eye towards the company future.

When I interviewed for my last fulltime position, they were sorely behind in digital growth of their work process, exploring technology and web outreach. I had a digital portfolio and most of the people interviewing me didn’t know the meaning of “double-click the portfolio icon to start the digital slide show.” That was in 2001! The unfortunate situation I found over my time with the company is that they were hesitant to get into any new technology, preferring to wait for competitors to enter the market with new initiatives and then hoping to grab the market share afterwards. It was frustrating to me as a creative used to being a leader in innovation. That’s important if you want to be engaged in your daily work and not feel that you cannot live up to your potential.

When you ask your interviewers about future growth, listen to their answers but also pick up on their body language when they give their reaction.

  • If they squirm and stutter about future plans, it means the company isn’t comfortable with change.
  • Some people like it that way but stagnation is slow death in the business market and that will affect your salary and possible length of employment at that firm.

There are some people who say you don’t want to give away million dollar ideas when interviewing because some places interview solely to idea phish. That is always a possibility but if you show you have ideas that will make the company money, you will be an attractive candidate.

There is also the argument against bringing up work process changes as a way to save money. No one wants to hear they are doing it wrong. A friend of mine once told me, while I banged my head against a wall about the “two-step forward, one step back” way our employer had for workflow, that I had to introduce innovation not it huge floods but as little, everyday unnoticeable bits. He was right.

Questions and Answers

During the interview process, most probably in a preliminary phone interview, you will be subjected to certain questions hiring managers use to test you. Above all, it’s important to be completely honest without any anger, backstabbing, nay saying or bitterness. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t spin the answer to your best advantage. Answers can contain the truth but still be put in such a way that you sound human but still be a top viable candidate.

The following are the standard questions you will be asked. The first is the most common. The second, is also common, especially these days is difficult to answer. How would you answer these?

  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • Have you ever been fired or forced to resign?
  • Why have you had so many jobs in such a short period of time?
  • Can you explain this gap in your employment history?
  • Exactly why do you want to work here?
  • Why should we hire YOU? What can you do for us that someone else cannot?
  • Have you ever had problems with a supervisor or a coworker? Describe the situation for me.
  • Describe some times when you were not very satisfied with your own performance. What did you do about it?
  • Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job, and tell me how you solved it.
  • Give me an example of an important goal you had to set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal. What steps did you take?
  • What was your role in your department’s most recent success?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?
  • What was the best decision you ever made?
  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses at work. What did you do?
  • How do you deal with competition? Are you a competitive person?
  • What would you consider an ideal work environment?
  • What are your long-range career objectives, and what steps have you taken toward obtaining them?
  • How well do you work with people? Do you prefer working alone or in teams?
  • Describe a situation when working with a team produced more successful results than if you had completed the project on your own.
  • What do you do when people disagree with your ideas?
  • Describe a situation where you found yourself dealing with someone who didn’t like you. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
  • Can you tell me about an important written document you were required to complete?
  • What motivates you to go the extra mile on a project or job?
  • Describe a situation where you messed up, or your results were not up to your supervisor’s expectations. What action did you take?
  • Give me an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed. Did this discourage you? What did you do about it?
  • What do you really want to do in life? What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • What does it mean to be successful? According to your definition, how successful have you been so far?
  • What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
  • What is the most creative thing you have ever done?
  • You don’t have the right kind of experience.
  • You may be overqualified or too experienced for the position.
  • What are your expectations regarding promotions and salary increases?
  • How much $$$ do you expect if we offer this position to you?

Let’s go over a few of these. Did you think about how you would answer leaving a company or being fired? If you haven’t been fired, you still have a difficult answer to the question of leaving. If you “weren’t challenged,” then it might be viewed that you didn’t step up to look for challenges. A new question hiring managers are starting to ask is, “what do you do when you are finished with your work?” It’s a trick question.

Like the other listed questions, it’s more of a Rorschach test. The wrong answer is, “I go home because the day is over.” “I prepare for the next project” is also wrong. They want you to say, “I ask for more work!”

The last time I was asked that question, I laughed and replied, “I’m never done with work!” I explained how I created special projects, researched and edited a blog that went company-wide and explored new technology that could be applied to the company’s products. It was also the wrong answer. What the hiring manager wanted to hear was, “I ask for more work.”

It seems, as I found out later, is that going off on your own is a negative trait. Ask for more work, ask permission to do something, get wound up in the red tape, report to idiots, do everything in triplicate and be a mindless robot. Surprised? Welcome to the new business acumen!

Every answer should be how you worked with the team, how you let the boss micromanage a project, how you let other departments walk all over you, etc. Basically, how you are a team player by not so much as mumbling one complaint.

The last two questions are probably the easiest of the entire list.

  • Save any numbers for a final interview.
  • Put it off by saying that you expect a competitive salary commensurate with your experience but what’s really important to you is the company culture, the chance to contribute to the team, what benefits are offered and where they see you fitting into the team.
  • There are salary guides all over the internet, so you should be prepared to go in with a range and if pushed, state the range you have seen and wait for the offer and THEN negotiate.
  • As for expectations for salary increase and promotions, it’s best to reply that you have the same expectations as any other team member, that you understand performance reviews and that it’s the work that is more important than titles.

Most articles on interviewing claim you shouldn’t voice any expectations of vacation, paid time off, promotions, or raises, so it’s best to play that off by drawing the discussion to your achievements at past jobs and convince the interviewer that you can produce money for the company. If they believe you can more than pay for your salary by creating more income, you will be considered a viable candidate.

Thank You!

Every article agrees that you must send a thank you note or email after interviewing. Even if you write and mail a thank you note the very next day after an interview, it will take 3-5 days or never to arrive in the recipient’s hands. There’s no way of knowing if it arrives or not. Also, depending on your industry, design being mine, the quality of the stationery or card can destroy your chances.

When interviewing for a large greeting card company, I felt compelled to create a thank you card to send. I asked the recruiter if she thought it was a good idea and she related a story about another person who interviewed for the same position and created a card for a thank you. The recipient apparently hated the card and thought it was in direct contrast to the person’s portfolio and she wasn’t hired. That certainly put the pressure on me to create something special but safe. The recruiter agreed and asked I send her a jpeg of the card first. I complied and she put her stamp of approval on it.

I sent off the card and about a week later, the recruiter called to tell me that the creative director loved the card. I didn’t get the position as it went to someone already employed by the company but I was hired to do a good amount of freelance work while the person who was promoted drove business into the ground. At least my card worked out well for me!

These days, most people believe an email is proper enough for a thank you note. It’s immediate and usually garners a response so you know the person has received it. If you only have the email address of the hiring manager, write him/her a thank you and ask him/her to pass on your thanks to all of the people who you met that day. The message will usually be forwarded to all parties.

Follow Up

If you have gotten the interview through a recruiter, check back in a week and ask if there’s anything else you need to provide. Then sit back and wait for word.

  • If you haven’t heard anything, contact them again in three weeks and ask if there’s any movement.
  • Usually offers are made within two weeks after the top candidates have been interviewed. That can take two or three weeks alone.
  • If you haven’t heard anything after two months, there are two possibilities – at least two I have seen: You didn’t get the position and the company hasn’t told the recruiter yet or you didn’t get the position and the recruiter forgot to tell you. Either way, it hurts.

I like to send another email, thanking the person(s) for their time and consideration and wish them luck. Then I connect with them on LinkedIn. Maybe you don’t get the position but you’ve made some valuable connections. Maybe the person they hired won’t work out and you will still be in the front of their mind or they will move on to another company and remember you if something opens up. An interview is also a chance to meet people and expand your network. Not getting the position isn’t necessarily a failure – it’s just a positive chance to advance you through first level connections! It is WHO you know that helps get you the position.

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One Comment

  1. Nice article.. Thanks

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