Meeting with the hire authority: handling those tough interview questions, salary negotiations

Peggy Geissler and Marian Lowenfish, JVS Career Placement Counselors

Interviewing Guidelines

  1. Be prepared: Before going for the interview, obtain specific information about the company or organization from the company literature (annual report), present and past employees, customers, and competitors. A great deal of information can be obtained by using Google to obtain up-to-date references about the company.
  2. Know yourself: Be prepared to discuss (through rehearsing) your qualifications, skills, and accomplishments and how you can help the company meet their goals. Know what you have stated in your resume and be able to discuss in detail the relative points. Be aware of the factors that the employer may wish to know but cannot legally ask such as childcare arrangements, health, age, etc. For example, if the fact that a woman has young children has been disclosed, it would be advisable to state that excellent childcare arrangements have been made. In the case of an older person, it may be wise to emphasize the fact that one leads an active lifestyle, has worked with people of all ages, has recent education or training and plans to work for a long time.
  3. Have a positive attitude: Demonstrate dependability, motivation, and sincerity. Show enthusiasm through your body language and voice tone. Express interest in the job and company.
  4. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early for every job interview: Remember that everyone you meet before and after the interview is creating his/her own impression of you. Be courteous to the receptionist as you wait.
  5. Dress professionally: Even in this day and age of business casual, it is better for men to still wear a suit and for women to do the same or wear a pantsuit or professional-looking dress. It is especially important that the more mature worker dress in an up-to-date style that is age-appropriate but shows that the person is current in appearance.

How to Answer the Difficult Questions

  • Responding positively to all the questions you are asked is the key to successful interviewing.
  • Emphasize your strong points. When the questions asked do not allow for you to present your skills and accomplishments, you need to steer the interview back on the topic areas that will allow you to present your qualifications for the position. Don’t necessarily state the number of years of experience you have, but rather, the fact that you are capable of doing the job, because you have been successful in the past performing the duties needed.
  • Practice concise responses and demonstrate your skills and accomplishments with specific examples.
  • Communicate assertively by ending your statement by confirming your ability to do the job.

Difficult Questions and Answers

Q. Tell me about yourself.
A. Be prepared to summarize your recent experiences and discuss personal characteristics that demonstrate your qualities as an appropriate candidate. Keep your answers brief. You may also ask the interviewer what segment of your background they are interested in. Prepare responses to your early years, education and work experience. Don’t just repeat what is on the resume but relate your personal, unique characteristics to the job. Show enthusiasm – no one wants to hire someone who does not appear to sincerely want the job.

Q. Why do you want to work for us?
A. You have a strong interest in the company's mission or product line. You know of and would like to solve a company problem. You could make a specific contribution to the company's goals.

Q. Why should we hire you?
A. Because of my experience and abilities. Relate past experience that demonstrates how you successfully solved previous employer's problems which may be similar to the current employer's problems.

Q. What do you look for in a job?
A. Discuss your need to be challenged and take responsibility.

Q. What do you see as the most difficult task in being a manager?
A. Firing and laying off employees due to economic constraints.

Q. Why are you leaving your present job?
A. Assuming your current job is not in jeopardy, indicate that you are seeking to find a new situation that would provide greater challenge and opportunity. If your current job is in jeopardy (or you are currently unemployed) if possible, give a group answer, such as our office is closing (or closed).

Q. Describe what you feel to be an ideal working environment?
A. Where people are treated fairly. Where there is an opportunity to use my talents and skills to their potential.

Q. In your current or last position, what are or were your five most significant accomplishments?
A. Be prepared to discuss with specific examples of your on the job accomplishments.

Q. Can you work under pressure?
A. Yes, it is what is to be expected in the world of work.

Q. What was the last book you read? Movie you saw?
A. Talk about leisure books to represent balance in your life.

Q. How would you describe your own personality?
A. Balanced.

Q. What are your long-range goals?
A. Give long-range goals. I'd like to do the best job possible in the position we are talking about. I know if I do a great job, good things will happen to me later. They always have.

Q. Don't you feel that you are over-qualified for this position?
A. I feel that I’m well qualified for the position and can use my experience for the benefit of the company.

Q. What are your greatest weaknesses?
A. This can be tricky. Stating a strength as a weakness has been such an over-used technique that it may appear insincere. It may be best to think of an actual skill that you either don’t possess or have not had to use recently that can be easily learned. Mention skills that you did not have when you started previous jobs that were learned quickly. Or you could state that you cannot think of any work related weaknesses.

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions may be asked to find out how you handled situations on previous jobs and delve into aspects of your personality. The questions may be tailored to the specific behavior they are trying to assess. In order to prepare for this line of questioning, think of the behaviors needed for the job. Then think about times in past jobs or life experiences in which you exhibited those particular behaviors. Some behaviors are related to how you work with teams, how you perform as a manager or how you get along with superiors. Some examples are: Q. Tell me about a time when you found it hard to work within a group of people.
Q. Tell me about a time when you had to convince a group to take a different approach to complete your assignment.
Q. Tell me about a time when you had a deadline that you knew you were unable to meet.

How to Handle Salary Negotiations

Research Salary: Do research on salaries for positions in your particular field to determine appropriate range. Ask individuals already doing comparable positions about low and high salaries to establish a range. Review salary surveys in books and periodicals.

Salary Negotiation Rules: Salaries are usually negotiated within an established range. Whenever possible, allow the employer to bring up the salary issue. Be comfortable with the salary range that you have established. Do not overprice yourself. Stay within an appropriate range based on research. Do not undersell yourself. Aim high. If forced to state salary requirements, verbalize the top figure. This will allow for negotiations. Negotiate your compensation package. If asked to state your last salary, be prepared to discuss why the fact that it may have been lower or higher than what this job should be paying is not relevant. For example, if you were earning a much higher salary in the past, you could state that at this time you are able to consider a position that may pay less but provide you with more satisfaction, a shorter work week, less of a commute, etc. If your salary was less for similar responsibilities, it may be stated as one of your reasons for leaving the company. Perhaps it was a small company with little opportunity for growth and you are seeking a company that will provide a better career path.

A Final Word

Always follow up each interview with a personal note of thanks. In addition to showing your continuing interest in the position, such a note can also provide the opportunity for you to reemphasize some aspect of your background that you believe helps you stand out from the competition and well qualifies you for the position.

Good luck!

For more information about this or other topics related to your job search, contact Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest or the author.