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Build Your Case for the Job

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You've painted a picture of success. The employer has listened to you, seems interested in the possibilities you offer, and now challenges you to defend your statements, to be more specific about your claims. Now it's time to build your case so that the interviewer feels comfortable making you an offer.

The one question underlying the hiring process is: Why should I hire you? When the employer asks, "Tell me about your experience," she means, "Why should I hire you?"
  1. If I put you on the job, what will the results be? Is your combination of competency, will, and responsibility sufficient to produce the outcome this job demands?

  2. How long will it take for you to become productive? Do you learn quickly, what do you already know, and how much time will it take to get you started?

  3. How much supervision will you need? The less the better it is. Most managers prefer that you supply them with ideas rather than the other way around.

  4. Do you generate more value than you cost? Even though the job may be routine in procedure, employers like to know you are a valuable person and can reduce costs and generate benefits.

  5. Could you be a high performer? Will you exceed the requirements of the job description? Are you competitive? Do you like to win and help others win?

  6. Will you fit into the culture? Will other employees be comfortable with you? Will you enhance the smooth running of the operation? If you create turbulence, will it be positive?

  7. Will you be fun to work with? You will be considered a great asset if you can smile and laugh and get the job done.

  8. Are you responsible? Are you accountable for your actions and their results? Responsibility is an attitude, not just a job assignment.

  9. Can you manage your own development? Employers look for people who are self-starters and able to manage their own future and seek out new skills and responsibilities.

  10. Will you stay? Can you be counted on to sustain your energy and commitment through rough periods? If you accept the job, will it be for reasons above and beyond personal survival needs?
The best answer to the question "Why should I hire you?" stems from the Universal Hiring Rule: Any employer will hire any individual if the employer is convinced that the hire will produce more value than it costs.
  1. You will create consistent and measurable value on the job,

  2. Your past accomplishments indicate you are able to do the job. The employer is not buying motivation alone. She wants to see quantifiable demonstrations of your talents in your job history. Can you quantify what you've done?

  3. You are a fast learner.

  4. You are committed. A committed person gets the work done and is not deterred by obstacles.

  5. You are versatile and flexible. Departments change, politics change, technologies change, businesses change. Your ability to adapt creatively is a powerful asset.
"The interview is a sales meeting. The applicant must give me a reason to hire. She must present what she has to offer in a way that makes me want to make the offer. I don't just want the best of the lot I want someone who stands alone in her value."

The interview is a conversational dance of questions. Anticipating questions will prepare you for them.

An open question is a general request for information. For example, questions like "Tell me about your experience in telemarketing." or "Where do you see yourself going in advertising?' give you an opportunity to relate your past to the future. Be assertive about what you can contribute.

A closed question calls for a yes/no or highly focused response. Examples: "Can you work under pressure?" ''Did you have your own budget?" and "Were you given authority to change the plans?" Don't avoid a negative response. If asked, "Did you ever work on the XR7G multiprocessor?" don't weakly answer, "I've worked on machines like it and heard a lot about it." Answer forthrightly: "No, I haven't. However, I've worked on similar machines and am a fast learner." Such directness, followed by a positive message, gives a strong impression.

A probe question is designed to elicit further information or to double-check for consistency. If you say you managed the West Side offices, the employer may ask: "How many people did you manage?" followed by "Were they all full-time employees?" or "What size budget did you directly control?"

If the employer's question is too broad-"Tell me about yourself"--narrow it down in your favor: "What would you most like to hear about?" If you are not sure what the "real" question is, ask.

Employer: "Do you think you could work in this kind of environment?"

You: "Are you referring to technical expertise or personality?"

A leading question "telegraphs" the desired answer:

Employer: "I don't imagine you'd have any problem writing proposals like this, would you?"

You: "Not at all."

It's fair to take advantage of leading questions, but you can make a bigger impression if you add something to the expected response. For example:

You: "I've had lots of experience with proposals and it would be no problem. Tell me more about the proposals you pre pare. "

Leading questions can reveal the interviewer's bias for or against you. Listen carefully; accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

"How well do you work under pressure?"

"I don't suppose you'd have any trouble managing four or five people in different locations, would you?"

"Don't you think this work might be more complex than your past job?" (You: "Yes. I thrive on complexity,")

"Won't it be difficult for you to manage five older men?" (You: "I know it won't be too difficult for me. How do you think they'll respond?")

Use leading questions to provide fresh evidence that you are the right person for the job.

I'm Sorry, I don't know

If the assumption in a leading question is not true, say so directly.

Employer: "I suppose you've had fairly good experience on MS-DOS computers.

You: "No, I really haven't. My last job called for Macintosh, but I'm committed and look forward to learning DOS."'
  • Make sure you understand a question before you answer it.

  • If a question is complex or challenging; take time to think about it. Say: "I need to think about that for a minute."

  • Quantify your answers when possible. ("I managed a telemarketing staff of twenty-five people and increased sales by thirty-five percent.")

  • After you answer a question, find out if the employer heard what you intended to communicate. "Did that answer your question?"

  • Be willing to challenge an interviewer's assumptions. "I don't agree that a master's degree is essential for that work."

  • Know when you've said enough. Stimulate interest without draining attention. Ask: "Would you like to hear more about that?"
"There is a time in most interviews for straight questions and answers, I like applicants, however, who engage me in conversation and take the initiative. I often learn more about the applicant from the questions she asks than from the answers she gives."
Twenty Questions

Here are twenty questions frequently used in interviews. Some may or may not apply to your current situation. Think through your answers or write them down.

1. Tell me about yourself. Suggestion: For the world's most wide-open question, your best response might be, "That's a big assignment. Let me briefly outline the things I've done that I think are relevant to this job opening."

2. Why are you interested in our company? Suggestion: Include what you know about the firm. "From what I've learned so far about your approach to customers, I know I can make a contribution to Abex and be challenged to grow."

3. Why are you interested in this position? Suggestion: See above. It's advantageous to know about the job before the interview. If you don't, early in the interview ask: "I have very general information about the job. I wonder if you could give me some more details."

4. Where do you see yourself going? Suggestion: Be concrete. Try: "I'd like to expand my ability to solve technical problems for customers."

5. What special qualities do you bring to this job? Suggestion: Make distinctions between qualities and skills. Emphasize your unique qualities as well as those widely held (ability to learn, creativity, imagination, leadership, etc.).

6. What are your greatest strengths? Suggestion: Respond by describing those strengths that correspond to what the employer is looking for.

7. What are your greatest weaknesses? Suggestion: Emphasize what you are honestly working on and improving. "I am working on improving my ability to prepare formal proposals."

8. Do you perform well under pressure? Suggestion: The obvious answer is "Very well." To take greatest advantage of the lead, ask what kind of pressure there is and focus your answer on the response to that question. This will also give you a better picture of the job.

9. Do you prefer to work on your own or with others? Suggestion: "I have no problem with either, depending on what needs to get done."

10. I see that you majored in liberal arts. Did you take any business courses? Suggestion: Only narrow thinkers insist that the major field of study should match the job. A liberal arts background can be applied to business when refocused. Try this: "Yes, I did. I enjoyed the business courses I took and did well in them. Also, given the rapid changes in global business, a strong historical perspective from my liberal arts work should be very useful."

11. I see you finished only three years of college. Do you plan to complete your degree work? Suggestion: Often you'll need to override a bias that a degree confirms success on the job. Counter with this: ''You're looking for someone with a degree. I understand that. I left college for financial reasons and found that my work experience served me well and will help me to learn a job more efficiently and effectively. Once I settle into the new position, I'll complete my degree, focusing on courses that will be most useful to this job."

12. Tell me about your extracurricular activities. Suggestion: Mention any activities where developed skills and qualities could be useful at work (resolving conflict, organizing projects, budgeting, teamwork, etc.). If you had few or no extracurricular activities, you could say; ''Most of my time outside class was spent supporting school expenses. This experience has helped me build a practical approach that will be useful in this job."

13. I see that you finished around the middle of your class. Suggestion: To respond to a less than average performance, say, "My grades were not what they could have been. Those were years of change, and it took me awhile to organize myself in an unfamiliar environment. Though my grades were low, I now know what it takes to get a job done. I can make a major impact in this job and will surprise you with the results."

14. Tell me about your last job. Suggestion: Emphasize the relationship between your past accomplishments and duties and the responsibilities of the prospective job. Stress accomplishments more than the duties required of you.

15. Why did you leave your last job? Suggestion: This is a key question. If you left involuntarily: "The work did not use my best strength, which is working with people. My mistake was that I didn't remedy the situation before they did," If you left or are leaving your last job voluntarily, try something like this: "I liked the job and the people; however, I'm interested in a job that allows me to make a bigger contribution, which is why I'm talking to you."

16. What were your biggest accomplishments in your last job? Suggestion: Be prepared to answer with results you produced rather than duties you were given. Point out specific items from your resume.

17. How would your last boss describe you? Suggestion: If your performance was excellent: "She is eager to recommend me, although sorry to see me go. Please call her." If there was a problem: "The relationship could have been better. My boss was a good manager, but we had different ideas about getting the job done. If you'd like a reference, contact_" and name a person you know will evaluate you favorably.

18. Looking back at your last job, where do you think your performance could have been improved? Suggestion; Even though you did well, look at where you could have sought greater responsibility and results. Apply this to what you can do in the future.

19. What are your long-term goals? Suggestion: Today organizations prefer employees to make continuous improvement in the quality and scope of their work rather than take rigid steps up an organizational ladder. Speak about expanding the range of things you can do, learn, and apply.

20. Are you interviewing with other companies? Suggestion: Let your interviewer know you are competitive and have other opportunities. The wrong answer would be to say, "No, this is the only place I'm looking." A better answer: "I am looking at several different opportunities. What I see here so far looks good."
  • If the interviewer is looking for skills or experience you don't have, you might say: "I don't believe this is a shortcoming. I know I could learn quickly with the right training. The other qualities I bring to the job may be even more useful."

  • If the interviewer implies or says you don't have the right education: "I know how important a master's degree might seem. However, I'm confident my practical experience [give examples] will more than compensate for the lack of a degree. Would you be willing to give me ninety days on the job to prove it?"

  • If you don't think you've done well at the interview, call back; "Frankly, I don't believe I was very effective in my interview yesterday. I was nervous and distracted. May I come back tomorrow or later in the week to give you a half hour of my best? You will discover I have something quite useful to offer."
Discriminatory Practices

Discriminatory practices in the workplace have been significantly reduced through both legislation and changing attitudes.

However, discrimination is still an important issue, especially if you are its victim. If you believe you have been unfairly treated, contact your local Department of Labor for advice.

The following areas of inquiry are out of bounds in an interview:
  • Race, ethnic background, or national origin

  • Religious affiliation

  •  Marital status

  • Family makeup: names or ages of dependents

  •  Gender and, in some states and municipalities, sexual orientation

  • Social clubs or organizations

  • Age (unless required by the job)

  •  Weight or height

  • Arrest record
Options you have if you are asked questions you consider discriminatory:

1. Consider the spoken question and the underlying question from the interviewer's standpoint. Respond in a way that answers the employer's concerns.

Employer: ''Do you have children?'' You: "Yes, I have two school-age boys and we have full-time child care."

2. Ask how the information is relevant to the position.

3. Politely inform the interviewer that you think the question may be discriminatory and you'd prefer not to answer it.

Sometimes interviewers will ask questions that have unintended discriminatory effects. We recommend that you avoid "going legal" or confronting this at the interview unless you see an obvious pattern. If a discriminatory pattern is clearly developing and it looks as if it could be harmful to your chances of getting the offer, you have the choice of raising the issue then and thereby asking to meet with someone else in the firm such as the Human Resources Director, or waiting until after the interview and confronting the situation if you don't get an offer.

In either case, discreetly make detailed notes during the interview or immediately after it of the exact questions that were asked.
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