Lessons on Interview

If you can answer these common questions convincingly, you can crack any interview, says Deepesh Das. --Lining up interviews is just the beginning, says Deepesh Das --“I would advise employees not to be adventurous checking different jobs. Stability is the mantra” --

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Getting interviewed for your first job is certainly one of the most uncomfortable events in ones life. One must prepare for it with the same tenacity and quickness of mind as one does for a fencing tournaments or chess match. Even a solid academic background, spiced with an impeccable extra-curricular record, can fail to impress if you cant wield the bat properly to face the verbal googlies and bouncers. Some of these seemingly simple posers can actually leave you stumped unless you are familiar with them ahead of time. Check out these tough questions and the suggested answers if you want to avoid an interview disaster.

1.Tell me about yourself.

This is a really tricky question. All of us love to talk about ourselves and it is difficult to decide where to stop. What is too much and what is too little? Since this is often the opening question, be extra careful that you dont run off at the mouth. Remember, this is likely to be a warm-up question. Says Anurag Bhartia, senior vice-president, human resources, Max New York Life Insurance, Keep it as brief as possible, not exceeding 50-55 seconds. Share those details of your personal and professional life that are not mentioned in the resume.” Rahul Reddy, director of the Triumphant Institute of Management Education (TIME), Calcutta, a training institute, says, It is an opportunity to talk of ones strengths and achievements. One should mention both functional knowledge (accounting, sales) as well as general skills such as determination, teamwork, integrity and time management.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: I love adventure sports, so I like taking up challenges.” Give examples.

2.What do you know about our organization?

A common question, this can prove to be problematic as in the zeal to show how thorough his research is a candidate can end up boring or overwhelming the interviewer with too many details. Let your answer show that you have taken the time to do some research and make it clear that you wish to learn more. Says Reddy, Researching the organization one is being interviewed for is critical and yet very few candidates bother to do so. It is like discussing a marriage proposal with no clue about the groom and his family. Sources of information may include the Internet, friends working for the organization and even the people at the reception.”

SUGGESTED ANSWER: I have read everything that is in the public domain. I know that this organization believes in equal opportunity (any other specific information that is the USP of the firm) and is the leader in its segment. That is why Im here to learn more.”

3.What can you do for us that someone else can’t?

Here you have every right, and perhaps obligation, to toot your own horn. Talk about your record of getting things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career accomplishments. Bhartia advises, Read the question as why should we hire you’. Link your past experience and accomplishments to what you bring to the table and in turn to this organization.” The problem is we are not as unique as we think we are. Hence please give examples of strengths and be prepared to discuss these examples in depth,” says Amal Banerjee, chief operating officer of Calcutta-based information and network security firm iViZ Security. Banerjee has been volleying questions across the table to nervous candidates for more than three decades.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: Im good at coming up with innovative answers to difficult-to-solve problems. For example, when I was part of the college fest organizing committee, we couldnt afford to put up a shamiana and build a huge stage. So we decided to hold that fest at night and do away with the shamiana. That became the USP of the fest.”

4.Why do you want to work for us?

Here, and throughout the interview, a good answer comes from having done your homework so that you can speak in terms of the companys needs. You might say that your research has shown that the company is doing things you would like to be involved with, and that its doing them in ways that greatly interest you. Reddy cautions, An irony of life is that the more desperately you want a job, the more difficult it is to get one. So, do not appear desperate in any manner. One way is to focus on the points that an organization is most proud of, the key achievements as mentioned in the advertisements and website.”

SUGGESTED ANSWER: Because Id love to be part of a company that has invested a substantial amount in research and development of eco-friendly industrial processes.”

5.How long would you stay with us?

Just as one does not go into a marriage thinking of a future divorce, similarly it is not possible to say how long you would be staying at an organization. Explain how you are exploring the organization for a long-term career and not just for a job option. Also, state the factors which will aid you in completing a long tenure in the organization,” says Bhartia.

           A resume showing a lot of job-hopping can reflect poorly on a candidates consistency. Make sure that you have strong reasons to back up why you quit your prior job / jobs. Honesty is what matters. A candidate who is candid about why he quit his earlier workplace and talks about his future plans wins brownie points for honesty,” says Banerjee.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: Im looking for a career in this organization, not just a job. If I continue growing and am justly rewarded for my contribution, there is no reason I would not have a long association with this company.”

6.What do you look for in a job?

According to Bhartia, Factors can range from the scope of role, significance of function within the organization to opportunities to learn and grow.” It is better to keep your answer oriented to opportunities at the organization. Talk about your desire to perform and be recognized for your contributions. Do not harp on personal security.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: It should be challenging, give me the opportunity to contribute significantly and bring recognition for my work.”

7.What do you feel this position should pay?

Salary is a delicate topic. If you are asked the question during an initial screening interview, you might say that you feel you need to know more about the positions responsibilities before you could give a meaningful answer. Dont sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the job itself is the most important thing in your mind. Link questions of salary to the work itself.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: It should justify the contribution of the role and be in line with industry standards.”

8.How will you win over a colleague not well disposed towards you?

Diplomacy is the name of the game here. Watch politicians, beauty pageant winners and you will come up with all the right things to say.

           Banerjee, the veteran of many years, advises, Say that you would have a talk with the other person. There might be reasons why he does not like you. Show that you are willing to go to that colleague and keep the channels of communication open.”

SUGGESTED ANSWER: I would be willing to go to that colleague and talk it out. He or she may have misunderstood something I said, leading to his or her dislike. Airing the problem is the first step to solving it.”

9.How successful do you think you’ve been so far?

Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but dont overstate your case. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence. Reddy advises candidates to be specific, give examples and data wherever possible. Highlight your achievements in the best possible way but do not lie.”

SUGGESTED ANSWER: I have always delivered on time and, oftener than not, more than expected. In my last position…” Give a concrete example.

10.Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced for this position. What’s your opinion?

This can be a dangerous question. Trying to justify your selection, you might end up blowing your trumpet or under-selling yourself. Says Bhartia, This rare question may be asked to create stress and gauge its resistance. Calmly justify how you fit the role offered.”

           However, if you feel genuinely over-qualified then reconsider the decision. Otherwise talk about learning and exposure and say that you are looking at performance-based growth from that position,” is what Reddy has to say.

SUGGESTED ANSWER: I think Im qualified for this position. And I expect to grow in this company, them Ill need the experience. Also, I might have the degree but this job will give me the exposure that matters.”

           From the moment you learn you are invited to an interview, preparation should be your priority. After all, that upcoming interview could change the entire course of your life.



Q: You have had several job interviews at different companies, but still no job offers. Are you doing something wrong?

A: You may not be doing anything wrong. This is a highly competitive job market, and even if you have nine out of 10 qualifications for a position, an employer may be in a position to find 10 out of 10, said Paul Powers, a management psychologist in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the author of Winning Job Interviews.

           Remember that the essential nature of an active job hunt, while youre unemployed, is rejection,” Powers said. If youre not getting rejected enough, youre not working hard enough.”

           In fact, your ability to obtain interviews is a sign that you are doing something right – sending out a resume and cover letter that appeal to hiring managers. And thats no small feat when hundreds and even thousands of people may be applying for the same job. That said, you should conduct your own post-interview review to see whether there is room for improvement, Powers said.

           (First, of course, make sure that you are washing and combing your hair, dressing appropriately, arriving on time, turning off your cell phone and performing all the other basics of making a good impression).

           Most companies interview the same candidate more than once – sometimes many times. If, on numerous occasions, you have never made it past the first interview, theres not leading to that second interview,” said Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, a career management firm in New York.

Q: What could be wrong with your interview strategy?

A: For one thing, you may be sending out brilliant applications for jobs that arent a good fit for you, Powers said. Dont let a sense of panic cause you to cast your net too wide – it wastes time on both ends.

           Even if you are a wonderful candidate, you may be answering questions in a less-than-ideal way. Some people believe that talking in generalities is the way to go,” Safani said, but hiring managers prefer specifics – especially examples of how you executed a project or solved a problem. In addition, candidates should be able to communicate in 30 seconds what theyre all about and how theyre going to add value to that organization,” Safani said. If you are questioned about your weaknesses, be authentic without being damaging,” Safani said. Be ready with an example of a weakness that is not centered on the core competencies of the job you are seeking, she said.

           And, of course, be prepared to ask questions – ones that show you have done research about the company. Safani recommends asking some questions that go beyond the particular job you are applying for, and that cover the direction of the company as a whole.

Q: Looking back, you know that you gave stupid answers to some questions. What now?

A: View it as a learning experience and move on, Powers said. Eventually, it becomes clear that the same 20 or 30 questions tend to be asked, he said, and you can practice your answers to them – perhaps in mock interviews with family, friends or members of a networking group.

           It may be a mistake to start out by applying for a job at the company you most want to work for, he said; you may want to practice your interviewing skills at a less-desirable company first.

Q: What if your interviewer is unprepared?

A: First, never assume that the interviewer has read your resume or even has a copy of it. Always bring extra copies with you.

           If the person’s not prepared, thats an advantage, because it allows you to take control of the interview and showcase your stories of success, Safani said. Ask questions about the job and the company, and answer even poorly formed questions with enthusiasm and specificity, drawing on the extensive research you have done.

Q: What should you do at the end of the interview?

A: Use the close of the interview to re-affirm that you are interested in the job and are highly qualified for it, Powers said.

           Then ask what the next steps are. Unfortunately, it is common for companies to delay or even halt their hiring plans without letting candidates know. If you dont hear anything within the time frame specified in your interview, you have a legitimate reason to call the hiring manager.

Q: Should you send a thank-you note?

A: Generally, yes. If your main communications have been via email, an emailed thank-you note of a few paragraphs – reiterating your qualifications and your interest – is fine, Powers said.



The economic downturn perhaps a good time to consider a career change

When the job scene is looking so grim, is this the right time to think of a change? Ask any headhunter and he or she will tell you “no”; this is no time to be adventurous. Ask a career counselor, however, and you might get a different answer. “This is indeed a time to look at alternatives,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh.

           The two are actually not about the same thing. One is about changing jobs, the other about changing careers. If you are going someplace else to do more of the same, it is not really worth it. You won’t get much of an increase in salary in these dire days. And if your new company too gets sucked into the recession, you may be the first to feel the pinch. Managements these days have begun making a lot of loyalty. There’s a selfish motive, of course. Tell everybody they are family and they will be more amenable to salary cuts and other sacrifices. The obverse side is that the newest recruits have to go when sackings become inevitable.

           “In IT, for instance, one job is not very much different from another,” explains Singh. “The differentiators are not your coding skills, but your drive, diligence, and people and management skills. In a crisis situation, everyone bucks up to the extent they can. People and management skills are not so important when business growth and, inevitably, career growth slows down. When his job is on the line, even Mr. Laidback Lazybones starts working hard. Don’t look for jobs in such a situation. When word gets out – and it will – you could find an early place on the layoff list.”

           A career change, however, is a different kettle of fish. First, it may be forced upon you. We are about the folks at Wipro and Infosys who are being cajoled to join the business process outsourcing (BPO) arm, as there is no work for them in hardcore IT. But we could be talking about them if they turn down the offer and look elsewhere.

           In the US some are using job loss as a reason for taking up further education. This does not mean they are planning to switch careers. They could be going in for specialization. But there are some who have abandoned Wall Street for courses in public administration. There may be a guilt complex at work there. “It is relatively easier for such people,” says Singh. “They have the money to afford a two-year break. The situation is somewhat different in India where the younger set has relatively smaller savings. But you need to seriously look at student loans and the like.”

           There are other reasons why this may be a good time to consider a career change:

·    If you have already lost your job, the risk is so much less than in normal times.

·    A career change often means starting from the bottom and, therefore, at a lower salary. This is more acceptable in the current circumstances.

·    When optimism and euphoria rule, it is easy to get carried away by irrational exuberance. Pessimism allows you to think about whether you are doing the right thing with your life.

           “Life is too short to be miserable at a job that takes up most of your day,” says Kristen Houghton, author of And Then I’ll Be Happy. “Society’s attitudes about moving from one field to another, once thought of negatively, are changing as more and more people start new careers. The age factor is changing too. It isn’t just workers in their thirties and forties who are making career changes; men and women in their fifties are suddenly discovering new and interesting work that they would like to do.”

           Meera Sanyal, head of the Royal Bank of Scotland in India, has decided to become a politician. Even bankers recognize that there is a profession with bigger bang. You too can change.



·    Evaluate your current job satisfaction.

·    Assess your interests, values and skills through self-help resources like the exercises in What Colour is Your Parachute?

·    Brainstorm ideas for career alternatives by discussing your core values and skills with friends, family, networking contacts and counselors.

·    Conduct a preliminary comparative evaluation of several fields to identify a few targets for in-depth research.

·    Read as much as you can about those fields and reach out to personal contacts in those arenas for informational interviews.

·    Shadow professionals in fields of primary interest to observe work first hand.

·    Identify volunteer and freelance activities related to your target field to test your interest.

·    Investigate educational opportunities that would bridge your background to your new field.

·    Look for ways to develop new skills in your current job, which would pave the way for a change.

·    Consider alternative roles within your current industry, which would utilize the industry knowledge you already have.


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