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Interviewing: Looking at the Most Commonly Asked Questions

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Tell me about your most recent position. Why did you leave your last job?

The first question is used to gather information about your experiences at your most recent job. It also will help the interviewer get a feel for why you left that position. The interviewer will be looking for signs regarding how you got along with your coworkers and your supervisor. Like the second question, anything you say that sounds at all negative will reflect more poorly on you than it will on the previous employer. In either case, you may be better off, depending on the circumstance, talking about what you learned and accomplished in that position, and then either describing your position as no longer providing you with an opportunity to be challenged, or that it wasn't the best fit for you.

This response shows that your leaving the company will be amicable, and that you weren't forced out for embezzlement or some other problem that your interviewer will not want to inherit. It also exhibits a genuine interest in the position for which you are interviewing one of your main goals in the interview.

What makes you interested in this position? What do you know about our organization?

Both of these questions give you the opportunity to show that you have done extensive research into the company and that you have a thorough knowledge of your own strengths, weaknesses, and potential. This is a great chance to show how, based on your research, you believe that you would be the best candidate for the position.

Where do you see yourself in five years? What would your dream job be like?

These questions are asked to measure your focus. Is this a job you are applying for to fill a short term need, or is this the type of field in which you would like to establish your career? It measures, to some extent, your self understanding as well. No interviewer will be foolish enough to assume that you will apply for this position and then retire from it some thirty years later, so you don't have to make them think that's your plan.

When answering the question, you want to show primarily that you are interested in the position for which you are applying. Beyond that, you should show an interest in the company, rather than in the industry that the company is in. No employer wants to spend a great deal of money training someone only to see that person leave and go to work for a competitor.

What kind of salary are you looking for?

This is one of those good news/bad news questions. The good news is that it's not a question that is asked of everyone. Chances are, the employer has a real interest in you. The bad news is that it is a bit of a lose/lose question. If you have not yet been offered the job, you can say a number that is too high and be eliminated from consideration, even though you would have accepted less. You could be afraid to say a number that might be too high, and end up with a salary that is less than what you are worth (a better result, but not the best, because they may also think that because of your low number they might be better off with someone who wants more money).

In sales training, there is a little game called "pass the ball." The idea is to be able to gather as much information as you can from a prospect, so that whenever a question is asked of you, you quickly slide past the question to ask a question of your own. There will be a more detailed discussion of salary negotiations.

Sample Answers for Problem Questions

These questions may or may not be asked, and they may or may not provide you with any particular difficulty or challenge. Regardless of the likelihood that they will be asked, if they would be hard to answer, you should be prepared with an idea of how you would answer them.

How will you be able to do the job?

This question borders on being illegal, but it's framed in such a way that the interviewer might be able to get away with it. This question maybe asked regardless of whether or not you have a visible disability (but is most likely to be asked in this way if you do have a visible disability). The question shows the anxiety that the interviewer has about your disability and the way in which it may impact your ability to do the job. If you have not done so already, you will want to address this question head on.

Why are you interested in (qualified for) this job at this stage of your career?

This question can be asked in one of two ways. It can be asked of an inexperienced job seeker who finds him or herself in the familiar Catch 22 where you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get the experience without a job. This is one of those cases where a volunteer or internship experience would help. The question is also asked of older job seekers as they look to make a career change or to compete for a promotion.

Both of these answers show that age is just a number, but that what is really most important is talent and attitude. A 35 year old with a poor attitude is not nearly as valuable as a person with a good attitude, regardless of whether that person is 28 or 58.

Can you explain this gap on your resume when you were not working?

This question can mean different sorts of trouble for different reasons. For a person who is returning to the workforce after raising children, there is a question of how you were able to remain current, although the question is hidden in the text. For a person who was fired or laid off, and who had not anticipated this possibility, it means something different. For this person the time between jobs may be much longer because of the slow start to the job search. For other people, the gap in employment may be for medical or illness reasons.

Regardless of the source of the gap, you need to approach the question honestly, but at the same time allaying the fears that lie beneath the question. If you were raising children, say that, but say that they are now off to college (or high school, or pre kindergarten), and that you are ready to be back in the work world full time. If you lost your previous job, tell them that when you left that position you wanted to make sure that your next job would be a better fit for you, and that took a bit more time. Mention that you think that it was time well spent, because it brought you to this job, which you believe will be a great fit. Finally, if the gap was related to an accident or an illness, state that you had some medical problems, but also add that you have been given a clean bill of health and that you have no reason to believe that any such circumstance would affect you in this job.

None of the answers here is meant to be memorized and used word for word. The idea is to see the logic behind the answers, and to personalize them and shape them to fit your circumstances.
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