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1. What made you decide to attend PQR College?

(a) It was close to home and when I got some scholarship money it meant I could quit my part-time job.

(b) I selected PQR over three other schools because of its excellent sociology department. This was the first criterion. Even though I was offered less scholarship money at PQR than at two other colleges I felt the quality of its education was superior. I made up the money difference through part-time and summer work.

2. What determined your choice of major?

(a) Well, I always liked people and I felt sociology was a good major for that.

(b) The study of people always fascinated me, and even though I knew it could be limiting for career marketability, I majored in sociology. While at PQR I took five business courses and two years of calculus and I'm currently enrolled in an evening program for my M.B.A. I feel very strongly that the study of society and people has made me an astute "people" person, an ability that's important in any organization.

3. How would you describe your academic achievements?

(a) I did average work at school overall. I had to work part-time, so my grades suffered. I would've done better except for that.

(b) I did much better my last two years of college because I really applied myself. In fact, my best academic years were when I held two part-time jobs instead of one. I discovered I perform best under reasonable pressure and deadlines.

4. What made you decide to become a sales representative?

(a) Well my dad's in sales and he always made a lot of money. Also, I don't think I'd like to be behind a desk all day.

(b) I've always been good at convincing people to my point of view and I know I can apply these skills to business. I'm also very ambitious and sales is both challenging and financially rewarding.

5. Did you participate in extracurricular activities while at school?

(a) I belonged to the English Lit Club and I played field hockey for two years.

(b) I was elected dormitory representative and attended monthly meetings with the six other dorm reps to discuss mutual problems and devise solutions. As vice president of the English Literature Club I arranged for three writers to come and speak to us. I also played intramural field hockey and worked from twenty to twenty-five hours a week. I limited my activities to these three things because of my work schedule, as I was determined also to make good grades.

6. How did you spend your summers while in college?

(a) Oh, I kind of hung around a lot. Occasionally I babysat or ran errands at my family's business.

(b) For three summers I worked as an administrative assistant at a small leather goods firm. I became familiar with accounting, sales procedures, and how a small business operates. Before that job I looked after two children for twenty-five hours a week and on weekends I worked as a waitress at one of the better restaurants.

7. What were your vocational plans when you graduated?

(a) I really didn't know what I wanted to do so I took a job as an administrative assistant at a local company in their marketing department just to earn some money. I wanted to move into my own apartment.

(b) With a B.A. in sociology there were many jobs I couldn't get but I knew I wanted a marketing career. I obtained a job at XYZ as administrative assistant to the vice president of Consumer Marketing. Through the company's tuition-refund program I matriculated evenings for my M.B.A. and need only three more courses to graduate. That's how I was promoted to marketing assistant last year. I intend to continue in consumer marketing, which is why I'm now looking for a position as an assistant product manager.

8. Have you had any other schooling or training since college graduation?

(a) I'm taking some business courses at night but they're kind of boring. I guess an M.B.A. will help, though.

(b) I took several business/math/stat courses at college and have just completed 30 percent of my M.B.A. in Finance at JKL University evenings. I will get my degree in about one and a half more years.

9. How do you think college contributed to your development?

(a) I think it made me grow up and now I'm not afraid to be on my own. I learned a lot.

(b) It was my first experience away from home, on my own. I learned how to solve problems, get my own jobs; I met different people and benefited from their experiences. I learned how much I don't know yet. It has made me hungry to keep developing and growing.

III. Personal Factors

1. In general, how would you describe yourself?

(a) I'm an easygoing person who gets along well with everyone.

(b) I'm a hard-working person and very results-oriented, but I'm not tempera-mental. I enjoy challenges and do my best work when there's some kind of deadline to meet and the work is interesting.

2. What are your outstanding qualities?

(a) I am punctual, orderly, and I don't hassle people.

(b) I can motivate people and convince them to my viewpoints; I'm organized and methodical and can work problems through to completion and on time. I work well with people and have a good sense of humor.

3. What do you see as your personal shortcomings? (Give one good answer and you probably won't have to give another!)

(a) I sometimes don't react quickly enough to getting work out on time-I find it hard to motivate myself.

(b) My biggest personal failing is being impatient. I like the challenge of working hard and don't like to work with people who don't feel this way. However, I'm realistic enough to know that many people are not self-motivated, so I have learned not to express my displeasure.

4. What traits or qualities do you most admire in an immediate superior?

(a) My boss should be easygoing and not jump all over me if I make a mistake. I'm only human.

(b) I admire superiors who are fair, who can accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of their staff, and give out work equitably while challenging lower people to improve. I also like a boss with a sense of humor-that can be a saving grace when work gets tense at deadline times.

5. What has contributed to your success up to the present time?

(a) I don't make any waves where I work. Everyone likes me.

(b) I'm a highly motivated person (which shows) and I do my work well. I'm liked by my peers, superiors, and subordinates and my boss knows she can count on me. I'm pretty sure that's why I've received my last two promotions earlier than expected.

6. What disappointments, setbacks, or failures have you had in your life?

(a) I wanted to go to graduate school but my test scores weren't so great and I didn't get in where I applied.

(b) I can't think of anything very dramatic. I disappointed myself and my swimming team in college by losing a major race that cost us the year's championship, but I'd hardly call it a major upset in my life. Basically my life's been fine; I've tried to plan it as best I could and I deal logically with problems when they come up.

7. What are your long-range goals and objectives?

(a) I'd like to make a lot of money and be famous someday.

(b) I'd like to be in top-level management (vice president or president of a division) in a capacity that affects the bottom line (dollars) of that company. If I can achieve this, I know the monetary compensation will be there.

8. What kinds of situations make you tense or nervous?

(a) If my boss yells at me I usually get uptight.

(b) I rarely get tense or nervous. Sometimes I get a little edgy if I'm waiting for the go-ahead from my boss on a proposal I've submitted that's important. But it doesn't affect my performance or my interaction with others.

9. If you could live your life over again, what changes would you make in your life or career?

(a) I wish I'd been born into a wealthy family so I wouldn't have to worry about money so much.

(b) I'm pretty happy with my life. Most things have turned out the way I wanted them to because I believe in planning. I think that for my age and educational level, I'm doing well. I like my work very much and I do want to keep learning and contributing.

10. When you consider joining an organization, what factors do you take into account?

(a) I have to like the "looks" of a place and feel that the people I'll be working with are pleasant.

(b) I consider several factors. Will I be learning what I expect to on the new job? Will it allow me to grow and be valuable to my employer? Will the position satisfy my immediate and middle-term goals (that is, mobility, compensation, type of work)? Will I respect my boss and benefit from his or her tutelage? Are the people I'll be working with my style? Etc.

11. What do you want in your next job that you're not getting now?

(a) I'd like to get more recognition from my boss for my contributions.

(b) I will only take a position that has a clear-cut career path. I'm a career person, not a job seeker. I want to be in a position where my superiors give me recognition when I earn it and where I can make contributions to the company.

12. What position would you want to be holding in five years? Ten years? NOTE: This can be a tricky question. Unless you're very sophisticated and know the titles in this particular company don't answer this very definitely, as titles often differ from company to company even within the same industry. Try to avoid naming a title, and give a "general" answer instead: "I'd like to be in a solid middle-management position in the Finance/Marketing/Personnel Department within five years." For ten years, say, "I would hope to be somewhere in top management, perhaps a director or vice president."

13. What do you see as an advantage to working at XYZ?

(a) I think I could learn a lot in the position we discussed and everybody seems nice here.

(b) I'm impressed with the management style and with the people I've met. I think my background dovetails nicely with the position you wish to fill and yet it gives me room to grow and to make new contributions. I'm impressed with the way XYZ helps its employees follow certain career paths.

14. In what area of XYZ do you think you can make the biggest contribution?

(a) I think I'd fit into several areas well. I'd leave that decision up to you now that you know my background.

(b) I think I could contribute significantly in sales because of my prior accomplishments. Even though I have experience in other areas, sales is where my deepest interest lies and where I plan to build my long-range career.

15. What changes and developments do you anticipate in your field?

(a) I haven't really thought much about it. I guess if there were new things to learn I'd pick them up.

(b) If marketing, like most fields, changes rapidly as companies become increasingly sophisticated, then specific changes are hard to predict but I've noticed a shift in companies' management toward regarding [Personnel/ Engineering/R & D/et cetera] as more important. I intend to be up to date on things related to my work; I'd be happy to take courses if needed. I read several professional publications in my field now and would continue to do so.

16. What kind of support would you need to make your best contribution at XYZ?

(a) I'd like my boss to praise me once in a while for good work.

(b) I'd like to be assured of support from my peers, superiors, and subordinates. If we work as a team to do the job well, that's support. I can work well alone, too, but I'd need feedback on how I was doing. As far as general support goes, I presume I'd have a secretary or access to one when needed.

Stress-oriented Interviews with Questions and Answers

Sometimes potential employers ask questions designed to trick you or put you on the defensive. Do not become defensive. Look at these questions for what they are and learn how to answer them properly. Their reason for asking: the job you're being interviewed for is a stressful one. Can you handle it? The interviewer is checking your responses.

1. What do you know about our company?

Before the interview, you'd better learn a lot about what they do, such as products produced, company size, income, profits, reputation, and image. Companies in the news are easy to research, because they are usually "public" companies (their stock is traded on one of the three stock exchanges), and therefore their records and performance have to be public-knowledge. Libraries are good reference sources for information about public companies. You can also request that an annual report be sent to you. Privately held organizations are harder to research because they don't have annual reports. If it's a local organization, check its reputation in the community.

2. Why did you leave your last job? (or Why are you looking to leave?)

A sure question in every interview. Try to give a "group" answer: "When the contract was canceled/the territory was made smaller/a major supplier left town, our complete division was let go." This is if you are not employed (and if it's true).

(a) If you are still employed, explain that upward mobility is limited, you like to work hard and the work is not challenging enough, you want to make more money, you want a "line," not a "staff, "job because that's where the work is most demanding, promotions come quickly, and the positions are more financially rewarding.

NOTE: Line jobs are in sales, marketing or production; EVERYTHING else is staff. Line positions directly affect profits; staff areas such as personnel, public relations, or administration may contribute to profits but only indirectly. Staff jobs are carried as company overhead and are usually the first areas where people are laid off in times of hardship. Remember that this is generally true; nothing is always true.

(b) If you are currently unemployed ("between jobs"), be prepared to discuss it, but don't be defensive. Good answer: "My job was very demanding, both in the amount of work and the time spent at work. Interviewing was just about impossible, so I carefully planned this time to seek a new position and I put away adequate funds to tide me over for several months until I find the right position."

(c) If you were fired: if it was for nonperformance, insubordination, or your hand was caught in the company till, you'll have a hard time explaining this away.

Always keep in mind that most people get fired because of a clash in personality or management changeover, or they were pawns trapped in a high-level corporate chess game where top management was out to "get" a particular executive and the fired person, as part of that person's group, fell too.

Do not carry on in negative terms about your former employer; doing so makes you, rather than the employer, look terrible. If possible, make somewhat light of your firing: you can always joke and say that you now know how Lee Iacocca of Ford Motor Company felt when Henry Ford fired him. Many people who'll be interviewing you have been fired at some point in their careers. It's much more common than you think. You may say (if it's true): "My boss left the company and the new person brought in from outside hired people who previously worked with him. I was one of six people dismissed." Or "Management decided not to upgrade my position, and there was nothing else open in the company I wanted to take after interviewing in several areas," or "My position's not being refilled, as far as I know," "My position's been divided up and three people are now handling it," or "My manager knew I wasn't happy, suspected I was interviewing, and asked me about it directly. When I told him I was looking outside, he asked me to resign." (d) Make certain you know what the people you give as your references are saying about you. You should know this whether you have left voluntarily or were terminated. Have a friend who's working at another company call up to check out your references as if she or he were interested in employing you. This way, if there are any negatives, you can call your former employer and work out better things to be said about you or change references. Always be certain to give prospective employers names of people most likely to give you good references. Before you leave a company, speak to key people and ask if they will give references for you. Never "surprise" them later on. Get permission. And call any past employers you wish to use, too.

3. Don't you think that, with your background, you are overqualified for this position? This is the time really to sell yourself, unless you don't want the job. Show that your so-called over qualifications would be the employer's plus. "Overqualified" can mean they think you're too old but cannot legally say so.

NOTE: This may be a ploy by the employer to suggest a low salary or a polite way of telling you, you won't "fit in." If you really are interested in the position, continue to show how you can be of value by relating incidents from past employment that apply to the job under discussion. However, if you suspect you are overqualified, don't push for the offer. If you did get it, you'd be bored and start looking to leave too quickly.

4. Why should we hire you?

We feel that the aerospace/industrial marketing/consumer marketing industry isn't useful experience for our business.

Point out the similarities between your past or present position and the one you are seeking: schedules to meet, sales objectives to achieve, budgets to prepare, personnel requirements to fill, et cetera. Show how your experience can be of great value to the employer even if it's from a different field. This is particularly important going from nonprofit to profit, industrial to consumer, financial to consumer businesses, and similar ones. This is a situation in which you must speak in the business terms of the company interviewing you. (Every industry has its own jargon; know the terminology of the industry you're seeking.)

5. Our experience with aerospace/industrial/legal/sales/production people has not been good in this area of our work. Why should I hire you?

Stress that with your knowledge and past experience, and your interest and familiarity with their company, you and the company are a good match. Demonstrate that your work can help them because your past experience relates to the job. Give examples! You may also suggest (carefully) that people have to be judged as individuals and not as a group.

6. What did you like least about your previous/present job?

This question is intended to see how you react. The interviewer wants an honest answer. Reply in a positive way; never speak negatively about your present employer. Talk about how you like to work hard and say that length of time on the job at your company appears to be more important than achievements and that promotions are slow for everyone. Mention that meeting deadlines and schedules is important to you or you do not feel that your employer utilized your strengths enough. You are capable of harder work. Raises were not always based upon performance. Convey the message that you had much more to give to your company than they were able to use.

7. What are three of your strong points?

Know more than three. Relate them to the company and to the particular job you're discussing now.

(a) Ability to convince people to your point of view. (This is good for any position that is people-oriented.)

(b) You're organized and goal-oriented when selling/working on projects, and so on.

(c) You're persevering, but if a project's going wrong, you know when to change the course of action.

(d) You are able to manage and motivate people.

(e) You have excellent skills in personnel selection.

(f) You work equally well on your own or as a member of a team.

8. What are three of your weak points (looking for a negative reaction)?

Turn any weaknesses into a strength; a weakness has to become a plus. The answers below are all correct to use.

(a) "I tend to be impatient. What I mean by that is I am very results-oriented."

(b) "I'm somewhat impatient if I'm part of a team effort and the other people don't work hard."

(c) "When schedules are pressing, I sometimes get in there myself and work with my subordinates. This isn't supposed to be great management, but I like to have important work done on time."

(d) "I am not very tolerant of sloppy work (laziness)."

9. What kind of salary are you seeking?

This question can be tricky unless before the interview you have the information from an executive search firm, employment agency, or newspaper ad. Know what you're worth, what the position should be paying, and what the job pays in related companies. But always give a range, don't ever mention one specific figure. If you've been sent to the employer by a search firm or employment agency, they will have told you the salary range ahead of time.

10. What is your present (or last) salary?

Try to convey that your previous salary (if low) has nothing to do with how you will perform the job you are now discussing. In fact, one of the reasons you're seeking new employment is for better pay.

It's unethical but not illegal for a company to get a salary history from your employers. Certain industries are well known for paying less than others (publishing, retailing, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and hospitals are examples).

Example: If you are a manager of accounting at a publishing firm, earning $19,000, and your counterpart at an industrial company earns $26,500 for the same work, you should use $26,000 or $27,000 as a minimum acceptable base for yourself if you are seeking a position in an industrial firm.

Again, stress that you have been interviewing for positions with a range, such as $14,000 to $18,000, $28,000 to $33,000, $65,000 to $72,000.

11. What is your philosophy of life?

This is a subjective psychological question about business philosophy, not your personal credo. Keep to business-related information only. This is a "reaction" type of question. Turn the question to your advantage by asking your interviewer if she or he wants a specific or general answer. Your personal philosophy of life can be lengthy. Your answer depends largely on whom you are talking to. But don't worry too much about this one; it doesn't come up too often.

12. Do you have any objections to a psychological interview or tests?

Answer should be, "No, I don't mind." Only extreme symptoms are looked for. Tests are often given when you're interviewing for sales positions or at high-level managerial positions in a company that uses an industrial psychologist. If you object to the taking of a test, you will go no further in the interview process. A good source on tests is Brain Watchers, by M. Gross (Random House, 1962). It's out of print, but may be available in libraries.

13. Don't you feel you are a little too old/young for this job?

Legally, no one can say you're too old (if you're forty or over). Rely on your past work experience to support this question. You may not know enough at this stage about the job's specifics to answer properly. If you don't, try to get more information by asking the interviewer a question about the experience level of others in the job. Then relate your pertinent experience to that answer.

14. How do you (or your family) feel about possible relocation to Toledo/Chicago/Boston/St. Louis?

Be able to say that you have thought about and discussed the possibilities of relocation before seeking a new position, and it's perfectly all right; your family is willing and supportive. If you cannot relocate (you're in college or graduate school, your husband/wife is a doctor or lawyer with a practice here, et cetera) say so.

This may be a "de-selector" question, especially if asked early in the interview. You may not ultimately have to move, even if you are willing to. But if you really cannot move, say so. If you can move but don't want to because you just spent $800 for wall-to-wall carpeting in your living room, you'd better rethink your priorities: a better position with a bright future or staying where you are because you like your apartment. (You can always redo your carpeting!)

15. How much money do you expect to be making five years from now?

Since no one knows what the value of money is going to be in five years, do NOT fall into the trap of telling what you think you'll be making. Do NOT EVER give a dollar figure! You can mention abstracts like "I expect my salary to be at least double (triple, quadruple) what it is today."

Talk in terms of job satisfaction from doing your work well; you know the financial rewards will follow. A good answer to this is "I don't know all the titles and salaries in your particular company [unless you are in the exact same industry], but I would expect to be somewhere in upper-middle management with a salary commensurate with my responsibilities and abilities." Or "If I perform well as your marketing manager I would expect to increase my responsibilities, eventually becoming a marketing director, then a vice president. I presume my promotions and merit increases will be based on performance."

If you know the titles, then "I expect to be a sales manager, group product manager, assistant vice president, office manager, senior administrator, production manager, controller, executive secretary, senior systems analyst, account executive, senior auditor, head buyer, merchandise manager, editor, senior research associate, personnel manager, with a salary level appropriate for that position."

16. Tell me about yourself.

Don't spend much time in answering this, as it is usually related to personal issues and can be used as a trap question. Keep the reply work-related. Tell something about yourself that directly applies to the job for which you are interviewing; have it come out in the form of a helpful experience-something you can do for the employer, Relate an incident or two from your past work that points up your strengths.

17. Why do you want to work for our company?

Talk about the kind of firm it is (financial, consumer products, nonprofit, industrial, and so on) and say that you have always wanted to work for this type of company. Verbalize how your background can contribute to them. Give one or two short examples of ways in which you can benefit them, based on your work experience and abilities (including "style"), not "Well, I've heard good things about how you treat your people, I have a friend who works here." Let the interviewer know this is a serious decision for you.

18. Why do you want this kind of position in our company?

Know why ahead of time or postpone your interview until you do. If necessary, briefly reiterate your special skills and experience and tell how they relate well to the position under discussion. Answer in terms that will be of interest to the employer, not to you. NEVER convey that you are out of work and hungry, or that you know they pay 100 percent tuition for M.B.A. degrees and you plan to get one. Everyone wants to hire a winner, a contributor.

19. What can you contribute to us if we hire you?

Don't presume to "tell" (lecture) the interviewer on what you can do for them; you do not know all the problems they are trying to solve. However, you should have enough information on the company and the job for which you are interviewing to relate incidents of successful solving of a past employer's problems. Make certain it relates well to their industry and to the position you are discussing.

20. Would you be willing to accept less than you are now/were earning?

This is a tough question. If you are career switching you may have to accept the same or even a lower starting salary if you need specific training before you can perform your work adequately. However, contract up front to get a raise and/or performance review in three or four months to bring you up to your present salary. You should try to get this in writing. Many employers are reluctant to put "possibilities" in writing, but if the person hiring you has verbally agreed to a review after your training period is completed, when you receive your offer letter accept the position in writing and mention your three-month performance review.

If, however, you are seeking a position in the same or a closely related field, never take less money. If you have to take a similar salary, again, contract for a quick performance review. This can be hard to do if you are unemployed and have been for a time, but realize that you rarely, if ever, make up the money differential if you settle for less money when you go in.

21. After talking about this job, I'm not certain that I see a good fit. If you had your chance at any job here, what would you really like to do?

WARNING! This is a trick question, usually asked by personnel people to disqualify candidates. If you have just spent forty-five minutes talking about your avid interest in finance/marketing/administration or whatever, and then answer this by saying, "Gee, I'd really like to be a purchasing agent," you have just signed your death warrant. The interviewer will know that you really don't know what you want to do and that you will probably accept any half-decent-sounding job at any company that offers you one. The proper response is, "I'm sorry you don't see me as fitting into your marketing/ finance/administrative position, because that's where my interest lies. I don't know every job title in XYZ, but if you think I'd fit somewhere else, I'd be happy to hear about it. However, I want you to know that I am seeking a position as a financial analyst and if you don't think I'm suited for XYZ, I will continue to look at other organizations." By responding this way, you have restated your deep interest in a particular job and have not mentioned any others. You have shown that you are open-minded to other possibilities (but only after you have thrown the ball back into the interviewer's court without commitments).

22. What other kinds of companies are you interviewing?

Another "disqualifier," again, usually asked by Personnel. If you are asked this and you are at a bank interview, answer that you are looking at "financial institutions." Do not tell the interviewer that you have been interviewing in the health-care field, consumer products, etc. Conversely, if you are interviewing at a consumer company, don't tell them of your long-standing interest in the financial community. To a potential employer it can indicate that in spite of what you say, you have not determined what it is you really want to do or where it is you want to do it. This is not a capital crime but if you want a particular job, play the game by its established rules. Interviews are at best adversary relationships, and corporate representatives generally seek reasons to screen you out, not in. Company people look for ways to turn you down, not to hire you. Know this in advance, and you will be prepared to beat them at their own game, using their rules. Interviewing can be a lot of fun.

The point of having an interview is to get an offer. (You don't have to accept one if you don't want the job.) You will not get an offer each time you have an interview, but if you learn to field these questions in a comfortable manner, you will definitely increase the percentage of interviews to offers by at least 60 percent. Interviewing is an art form; you need practice to become proficient at it. Remember to take those "throwaway'' interviews (interviews at organizations in which you don't have a deep, deep interest) first if you feel you need practice. Sometimes one of these firms will surprise you and offer a terrific position, but, in general, use them to sharpen your interviewing skills. Then move on to interviews with companies that interest you more.

If you work in the creative fields of art, design, advertising, writing, public relations, and so on, your portfolio is often the key to your success in switching positions. Who you know in public relations is often more important than what degree, if any, you received. The same holds true for graphic designers and people who write advertising copy and other creative pieces.

When about to embark on interviewing, make key selections from your portfolio (often "less is more"). If you're to interview with a consumer package goods firm, don't bring your ads and layouts from a chemical company, but select the ones from the cosmetic, toiletries, and fashion firms instead.

Often the people who judge your portfolio wonder if you actually did the work. Obviously, you should show only your own work. However, if your portfolio does not represent the kind of job you're seeking, you can put together a few layouts/ads/designs, et cetera, that show you understand what the company is looking for, and that even though you have not done this work, you know how to do it. Back it up with what you have done.

As a creative person, you can market yourself in the P-A-R format by following this sequence of verbal presentation: /(Problem) 1. What the company wanted done (why you were hired).(Action) / 2. What you did and how you solved their problems./(Result) 3. Why you did it that way and what it yielded.

Employment Contracts

Most of us have heard of employment contracts, those almost mythical agreements between high-level executives and higher-level executives. Employment contracts are generally drawn up when an executive is taking on a risky "turnaround" job (attempting to make healthy a failing company or division within a specific time frame), but they are also used more routinely than you might think and at lower levels than president or vice president. Many times you can negotiate an agreement or ask that a termination clause regarding severance pay (or relocation costs or bonus) be put into your hiring package along with the rest of your benefits. You can opt for a good severance package if laid off or fired (unless it is for cause).

We have spoken to many executives who said they would have been very willing to include severance and other agreements, but the person being hired never asked! It can't hurt to ask; if the answer is "no," you're no worse off than before asking. But don't ask until the offer's been made!
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