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December 12, 2017

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Job Interview

After the Interview

In this section:

Thank-You Letter Template

Your first and last name
Mailing Address
City, State ZIP
Telephone Number(s)
Email Address

Current Date

Prospective Employer
Professional Title
Company Name
Mailing Address

Dear (Address formally – Mrs., Mr., Professor, etc. – unless you were instructed to use first name):

Begin by thanking the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you. Generally, it is a good idea to include the actual date on which the interview took place, along with the position title.

Reaffirm your interest in the position by pointing out specific issues discussed during the interview. Address any unresolved points that came up in the interview that you feel you did not fully answer. This is also an opportunity to tout any key skills or capabilities that might have been overlooked during your conversation.

The closing should include another reference to your appreciation and an offer to provide more information if necessary. Let the reader know that you are looking forward to the next steps, and that you’re confident you’d be an asset to the company.

Sincerely,

Your signature in blue or black ink

Your printed name

Extra Tips:

  • Send your thank-you letter within 24 hours of the actual interview. This can be done by email, mail, fax, or hand delivery. The quicker the letter arrives, the greater the likelihood of creating a positive and lasting impression.
  • You can email a thank-you note and follow up with a more formal mailed version.
  • If you interview with multiple individuals, make sure each thank-you letter is unique. Employers are more than likely to compare notes.
  • Keep letter short and to the point.
  • Express enthusiasm for the position.
  • When emailing, don’t send your letter as an attachment. Always paste it in the body of your email.

Follow-Up Letter Template

Your first and last name
Mailing Address
City, State ZIP
Telephone Number(s)
Email Address

Current Date

Prospective Employer
Professional Title
Company Name
Mailing Address

Dear (Address formally—Mrs., Mr., Professor, etc.—unless you were instructed to use first name):

In the first paragraph, you should remind the recipient of your interview that took place, along with the date. You can also include a little bit of information on what was discussed or key things that will help remind the reader of that particular interview and the position you applied for.

In the body of the letter, tell the employer that your interest in the company still remains high. Reiterate your strengths briefly and how you would be an asset to the company. Also include that you would like to be contacted on the company’s decision, whether or not you are offered the position.

In the closing, thank the reader for his or her time and state a specific action statement. For example, I will call your office on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the next steps. Be clear that you are flexible in meeting again.

Sincerely,

Your signature in blue or black ink

Your printed name

Extra Tips:

  • Vary your methods of communication. Follow up by phone and/or email.
  • Enclose an industry article or make mention of a current event that you think would be of interest to the recipient.
  • Don’t be shy about touching base every week or two—or ask the decision maker to offer you a timeframe for keeping in touch.
  • A general rule is the more aggressive the field, the more aggressive you should be when applying for that job.
  • When emailing, don’t send your letter as an attachment. Always past it in the body of your email.

Second and Third Interviews

At many organizations the next step after a successful interview is more interviews. You will know if this is a possibility when you ask about next steps at the end of your first interview, so you should always be prepared to go back to the company for an encore interview performance. As we mentioned, some companies start with a phone screening and then move to face-to-face interaction after they filter the first-round candidates. Other companies start with a human resource behavioral interview and then move on to an interview with the manager you’d be reporting to. Still others require several interviews with several members of the team you’ll be working with. It’s perfectly all right to ask during your first interview what to expect, but often the process will change depending on the level of job you’re looking for and the number of candidates the company is considering.

Second interviews (and any interviews beyond that) should be treated with as much professionalism as the first meeting. At this point you know they’re interested, but you have a few more runs around the bend before reaching that finish line. A huge mistake job seekers make is thinking the second interview is just a formality. You don’t have the job yet. Follow these tips to make sure you’re in top form until the very end:

  • Dress formally for every interview, even if the company is casual.
  • Get business cards from everyone you meet with at every interview, and send personalized thank-you notes or emails to each person, even if you’ve met with them before. This will really set you apart from the crowd.
  • Before each additional interview, review your notes from your first meeting. Make reference to issues you discussed to show your great listening and follow-through skills.
  • Review the interview questions you prepared before the first interview. Just because you weren’t asked about something in the first meeting doesn’t mean it won’t come up later on.
  • Never show fatigue at the process or criticize an interviewer for asking the same question in multiple meetings. “I already told you that!” is not an acceptable response.

Keep up the positive energy at every meeting. Don’t let your guard down – be as fresh at interview 27 as you were the first time you walked through the door. An enduring positive attitude will really set you apart from other candidates.

Learn to Navigate Touchy Subjects

Countering the “You’re Overqualified” Statement
At times when competition is fierce, many veteran jobs seekers complain that they are being told during interviews that they’re “overqualified.” While that may be true in some cases, it is often human resource code for “you’re too old and it’ll cost me too much to hire you.” Here’s how to handle this if it surfaces during an interview: Let the interviewer know up front that you anticipated this issue before you applied for the position. Say something along the lines of, “I have the benefit of enough wisdom and experience to not apply for positions where I’d be bored or where my qualifications would not be put to good use. That would be terrible for you and for me. But in this case, even though I may have more experience than the majority of applicants, here’s why I’d be an ideal asset and here’s why what I bring would serve us both very well in this role.” Then, be ready to share specifics.

Explaining Gaps in Work History

Short gaps or transition periods of up to a few months need no explanation. For example, if you graduated in May and became employed full time in September, there’s no need to account for the three months in between. Likewise, if the hiatus occurred several years ago, followed by some solid experience, it’s not necessary to include it.

Longer periods need details, and it’s best to be short and direct. Common explanations include time off for education, travel, parenting, or caring for a sick relative. In a recession, it’s likely that unemployment is the result of a layoff; don’t be embarassed to confess that you’ve been laid off from you former job and have been interviewing for a new position ever since.

If a period of unemployment has stretched beyond a few months, it’s important to put a positive spin on any accomplishments you’ve made during this time. We know you haven’t just been lying around with a tub of ice cream watching Oprah, right?

If you’ve been training for a marathon, doing volunteer work, gaining proficiency in a computer program, or coordinating your high school reunion, by all means, say so. Be confident of the fact that you were fortunate to have the ability to make those life choices:

“I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a year off to [travel, care for my aging mother]. It was a rewarding time for me personally, and now I’m of course eager to jump back into the corporate world full time.”

If you’ve worked interim jobs while trying to establish a career, that’s okay too. It’s nothing to hide; in fact, it shows drive and a great work ethic. While it’s important not to lie, it’s not necessary to go out of your way to be completely truthful if the reason for your time off may nix your chances at the job. For example, time away to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol may be disguised as “travel” or “caring for an ill family member,” even if that relative is you. If pressed, you may be forced to open up in confidence to someone in personnel, which is okay as long as it’s near the end of the hiring process and you’re close to being offered the position.

Avoid sounding skeptical about your time off as it raises unnecessary red flags among potential employers. Do not apologize for those worthwhile responsibilities that required your time and devotion. If you sound positive and proud, recruiters will likely respect your choices.

Explaining Being Fired or Laid Off

Many jobseekers find themselves out of work because of corporate downsizing or the demise of failed start-ups. You can almost always count on an interviewer asking about the circumstances surrounding your unemployment.

If you have been downsized, you will want to attribute your layoff to changes in the economy and the elimination of your position. If your entire division was eliminated, you will definitely want to include that detail. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to explain that, through no fault of your own, the company made a bottom-line decision that affected you and many other employees. Human Resource managers understand that these things happen all the time, so it will not come as a shock to them.

If you have been fired for other reasons, especially something performance-related, you want to avoid addressing that directly, if possible. Generally the interviewer will not know those circumstances and you can talk around it. “I left the company because I wanted to seek a more challenging opportunity,” “I left my position because I wanted to explore opportunities in other industries,” and “I left that job to redirect my career and learn another line of business” are some possible options. If your application indicates a termination and you must address it, be clear and concise: “While I’m proud of the work I did in that job, the position wasn’t the right fit for me.”

No matter what the circumstances of your situation, the goal is to craft a response that focuses on something positive. Even if you are a victim of downsizing, do not take the opportunity to trash your former employer as unable to compete effectively in their industry. Do not blame incompetence on their part for the shutdown of your division. Explain what you learned from the process and how much you are looking forward to moving on.

Job Interview 101

In this section:

The Good and the Bad

Preparation is crucial, but the day of the interview will ultimately arrive. Make sure that your knowledge and talent are allowed to show through. An interviewer will make an initial judgment about you within the first few moments of your meeting, so follow these tips to make sure you shine from minute one:

DO map it. Make sure you have directions to the office. If it seems confusing, consider a trial run the day before.

DO arrive early. There is absolutely no excuse for lateness in an interview. Plus, by arriving a few minutes early you’ll be able to check out the company and perhaps glean some last-minute information from the atmosphere and staff. Instead of whipping out the current issue of Cosmopolitan, try chatting up the receptionist instead. If you’re sitting alone, be sure to have a copy of the newspaper or an industry journal to read while you’re waiting. No romance novels—show your professionalism.

DO be hungry for the job, not for a sandwich. Eat something light before you arrive. Nothing too heavy to make you sick, just something to leave you satisfied. Bring some extra breath mints, but never chew gum or candy during an interview.

DO dress appropriately. Appearance does matter in an interview situation. Be formal and professional – wear a suit, minimal jewelry, and a neat hairstyle. For more information about how to dress for a stellar interview visit our “Dressing for an Interview section HERE.

DO treat support staff politely and professionally. Interviewers often ask their assistants how candidates presented themselves on the phone and in waiting areas. Consider every contact with the company as part of the interview process. In fact, getting an administrative person on your side may be the best thing you ever do, as they are the gatekeepers who answer the phone, do the scheduling, and open the mail!

DO bring collateral materials. Remember, this is a sales pitch and you want to be prepared with support materials for the product, You. Bring extra copies of your business cards, résumé, and any additional information about yourself. Come prepared with examples (writing samples, websites you’ve designed, grant proposals you’ve written, articles published about you—anything to demonstrate your past success). You may never remove these items from your briefcase, but it’s better to have them with you for a little show and tell.

DO have references ready. You may be asked to fill out a job application, including a list of references, so be sure to have their contact details with you at the interview.

DO aspire to sparkle. Regardless of what someone has done before, they must have a passion for something—anything. Whatever it is they’re talking about—jobs, family, or an event in the news—employers want to see excitement. Show it in your eyes and in your voice.

DON’T skip the homework. If you haven’t visited a company’s Web site, you might have to admit to it. Don’t assume you’ll learn all about the company during the interview. An interviewer might conclude that your lack of preparation reflects poorly on your overall ethic.

DON’T ignore the classics. From “tell me about yourself” to naming your biggest weakness to revealing what you hope to be doing five years from now, it’s often the most obvious questions that candidates spend the least time preparing. That’s a mistake. Click here for a series of likely and potential interview questions.

DON’T avoid connecting personally. By the time you’ve been called for an interview, an initial judgement has been made that you likely have the hard skils to do the job. Your education, experience and knowledge – all of which are listed on your resume – have given the employer reason to want to talk to you. A big part of the interview process is to size up your soft skills: your personality, your work style and your preferences. Will you be a good fit for the corporate culture? Will they like working with you every day? How’s the chemistry? It’s critical to connect personally, which can be started through chit chat in the first three minutes. Find some kind of common ground – local sports (Wow, how about that game?); a photo (Oh, is that your toddler?); or even art or an award hanging on the office wall (What a beautiful painting!). This initial small talk can break the ice and set the tone for a more comfortable conversion.

DON’T shy away from selling yourself. This isn’t the time to fear coming across as conceited or a show-off. Trot out your best ammunition to demonstrate why you’d be an asset to the organization. Your past performance is the best indicator of your potential for future success, so be willing to talk about your proudest professional accomplishments. If it’s pointed out that you’re missing a key skill, don’t bury your head. Explain that you’re a quick study and share an example of something you had to learn previously and how you did it. Don’t hold back.

DON’T discuss special needs in the first meeting. Unless the interviewer brings it up first, a first interview is not the time for you to bring up money, hours or special needs like flex time. Wait until they’ve established a strong interest in you. If you’re already talking about the hours or your desire to work from home in the first 20 minutes, you’re more focused on yourself and your needs than the needs of the employer. During that first meeting, you need to put them first, not you.

DON’T be negative about your past or your present. This includes bad-mouthing former bosses, as well as apologizing for the choices you’ve made. “If I had known then that it would be so hard to get back into the workplace, I never would have taken time out for my kids.” If you are feeling any panic or desperation, hide it. The mortgage is overdue, you’re going through a divorce, you’ve got child-care or elder-care issues; we all have personal challenges, but the interview is not the place to share this kind of baggage. Keep it to yourself. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.

DON’T bad-mouth former employers. Event though it might feel like loads of fun, it’s essential to resist the urge to spill the beans on what you really think of your old boss. The momentary pleasure you’d have venting just isn’t worth the long-term headache it’s likely to create. Remember, you never know who they might know. Rest assured that it’s natural to feel anger toward an unfair boss. What’s not OK is to burn bridges – with a long career awaiting you – based on those feelings. Recruiters see huge red flags when talking to candidates who harbor ill will toward former employers. Leave the baggage behind.

DON’T miss the chance to ask a smart question. Now is the moment to really sell yourself and you can do that not just by answering questions but also by asking smart questions. Some questions you should ask include: Why is this position vacant? Maybe someone was promoted from within — a good sign. Maybe there’s high turnover. You don’t want to discover on Day One that you’re the sixth person in three months to sit at that desk. Another key question: What’s the biggest challenge (or goal) facing this department and how do you plan to tackle it? Not only do these questions make you appear curious and engaged, they offer good insights to what you might be stepping into.

DON’T fidget and DON’T rush. This means don’t pick your nails or flip your hair, which convey a lack of confidence. Turn off the cell phone and pager. Sit still; don’t tap your feet or sway in your seat. Make strong eye contact. Take your time answering questions, even if it means pausing for a few seconds to collect your thoughts before responding. If you’re sitting in a swivel chair, don’t swivel or shift uncontrollably in your seat.

DON’T leave without establishing the next step It’s hard to get someone on the phone, so while you are still face-to-face in the interview, don’t leave without determining the next steps. Ask directly: What are the next steps? Will I be expected to meet with other people? How soon do you expect to bring someone on board? If I don’t hear from you, what’s the best method for me to follow up with you? The responses help manage your own time frame and expectations and enable you to follow up effectively to ideally land the job.

More Interview Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t become too familiar with the interviewer. Remain professional at all times.
  • Do establish commonality—remember to use the research you gained and find a commonality with your interviewer.
  • Don’t respond in basic “yes” or “no” answers—always elaborate.
  • Don’t be shy about asking the interviewer to repeat the question or clarify what they’re asking if you’re unsure of something.
  • Don’t rush into an answer you’re unsure of. If you need a moment to compose your thoughts, it is okay to have a silent pause. This may be seen as a sign of thoughtfulness.
  • Do speak specifically about your role in any previous successes. Let the interviewer know what you did, said, and thought.
  • Don’t argue with your interviewer, no matter what. If you don’t agree with something the interviewer says, you can acknowledge their point by saying, “I understand how you feel about that,” and move on to another subject.

Time to Shine

Always dress professionally for an interview. When the interview is set up, ask your contact to kindly tell you about the dress code. While a skirt isn’t essential, you can’t go wrong in a suit or very well-coordinated separates. Showing up for an interview in a corporate setting while wearing a casual top and jeans may very well be a mark against you. Whether your suit is from Target or Rodeo Drive, be sure that it’s clean and crisp.

When you’re job-hunting, be prepared to meet a possible contact around any corner. You wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone because you were dressed inappropriately. You don’t have to walk around in a suit every day, but take on a business-casual look as the norm when you’re looking for a job—even when you’re not interviewing.

  • Choose clothes that fit and flatter your body type. Wear business clothes, not disco attire, to a networking event. If you can wear those clothes to pick out lumber at the lumber yard, they’re not good enough for an interview at a professional office. If you can lift your head and the bottom of your shirt rises to reveal your stomach, don’t wear that to work.
  • Keep your hair neat, cut, and styled. A disheveled look will hurt your chances at the job.
  • Wear daytime makeup: no heavy eyeliner or glitzy shadows. Lipstick is more flexible, but it is usually better to wear natural shades. Wear makeup that makes you feel you’re at your best, but not colors that are overpowering. Make sure that someone notices you, not your makeup. Keep fragrances to a minimum.
  • Jewelry and accessories are your chance to express yourself. Wear jewelry that can serve as a conversation starter. When people pay you a compliment, you can offer the story of how you got it or where it came from.

Visit our Professional Dress section to read more Appearance Do’s and Don’ts.

Prepare Questions to Ask

Show your interviewer how interested you are by preparing great questions to ask in the interview. We can guarantee that the interviewer will say, “So, do you have any questions for me?” and you must be prepared. It’s been said that you can tell more about a person by the nature of the questions they ask than by the statements they make. That’s because well-focused questions demonstrate a quick insight that’s both instinctual and intellectual.

  • I understand the primary responsibilities of the position at this point. What would be some of the secondary duties or things that may only occur once a quarter or twice a year?
  • What would you add or subtract to the background of the individual who held this position before?
  • What are some of the immediate challenges facing the department in the next 90 days?
  • What role will this position play in tackling those challenges?
  • What is the ideal personality type to match your department’s culture? Are there any strengths or weaknesses that stand out in particular?

Since it’s impossible to predict what might come up during your conversation, it’s important to be prepared with a range of questions to pose. Some other options include:

  • Why is this position vacant?
  • What are the qualifications of individuals who have excelled in this position or a similar position?
  • What type of training is typically provided?
  • What are the company’s (or this division’s) growth plans?
  • What is your background and how did you get your job with this company? Remember, people often like talking about themselves, or at least being asked!
  • What are the next steps in the hiring process?

Preparation and confidence are your keys to acing the interview.

Prepare Answers to Give

Although each job interview is different, there are several common questions that arise in the majority of interview situations, and it is essential for you to be well prepared to answer them. Most interviews will contain a few unexpected zingers, but there’s no reason not to be prepared for the questions you can anticipate.

Remember:

  • Highlight your knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Quantify your success whenever possible.
  • Make sure you are presenting yourself in the best possible way. Videotape yourself during a mock interview and watch the playback.

Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: This is about as wide open as it gets—and it’s a gold mine. This is a chance to sell yourself. The best rule of thumb is to reveal a tiny personal tidbit along with some interesting professional stuff relating to the company you’re interviewing with or the position you’re interviewing for. Sometimes it’d be fun to just tell them what you really feel, especially since it’s so easy to go off on a tangent or get too personal. But, unless you’re applying for a job at Weight Watchers, there’s no use mentioning that you’d like to lose 10 pounds. If you’re not looking to work in a retail shop, don’t mention your favorite clothing brands.

Q: What is your greatest strength?
A: The best way to approach this question is to imagine that you’re really being asked something much more straightforward: Do you really have what it takes to effectively do this job? This is your golden opportunity to toot your horn and make the case for why you know that you’re up for the task. If the most important requirement of the position is dealing with customer complaints, then you will want to discuss in detail your past experience with customer service, why you enjoy the challenge of turning an unhappy client into a happy one, and specific, quantifiable examples of how you successfully managed customer complaints in a past position. Have a list of character traits in mind that you feel comfortable attributing to yourself, along with supporting details to back them up.

Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: Now they’re really digging for dirt. This is the interviewer’s safety net. Here’s the perfect opportunity for you tell them something they were not able to get out of you any other way.

Too many honest applicants make the mistake of being brutally honest. We’re not suggesting that you lie, but for goodness sake be careful! For example, even if it’s true, you should never admit that you’re a horrible procrastinator or that you’re terribly disorganized. If you’re interviewing for a position that requires a team player, this is not the time to admit you’re somewhat of a loner. Some fail-safe possibilities that shouldn’t land you in trouble:

  • At times I can be impatient with those whose standards aren’t as high as mine.
  • At times I can be too sensitive and caring about other people’s opinions.
  • At times I can find it difficult to make time to relax.
  • Sometimes I am a bit aggressive in my desire to close a deal.

With each of these responses you’re basically saying that you do not approve of sloppiness, you have a heart, you are a workaholic, and you are a hard-nosed salesperson. Not exactly bad attributes in an employee!

Q: How would you evaluate your last boss?
A: There’s only one right answer here: a positive one. No matter how tempting it may be to blab on and on about someone you just couldn’t stand, do not do it. Never ever trash a former employer. It’ll kill your chances for the job. By no means should you go overboard with compliments for a real jerk or a total incompetent. Find something neutral to say if you are not able to offer anything nice.

Q: What would your last boss say about you?
A: Focus on the best aspects of your relationship with your last employer. You might say that your last boss would praise your ability to follow directions, work as part of a team, and achieve measurable results while also taking initiative on specific projects. This is a great chance to show how you improved in your last position if you received regular performance reviews. Again, focus on the positive side of your relationship with your last employer—no bitterness even if the relationship was acrimonious.

Q: What do you think you’ll be doing in five years?
A: Most of us can’t plan next week, let alone years down the road. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to growing in a particular industry or company. Combining your professional growth with loyalty to the employer will serve you best:

“I don’t think it’s really possible for any of us to truly know where we’ll be five years from now, but I can tell you my hopes. For the immediate future I want to immerse myself in this business to learn from the ground up. Beyond that my goal is to contribute to the success of the company, which will hopefully enable me to grow within the company.”

You may think of this job as a temporary stage before moving on to bigger and better things, but avoid diminishing it in your response. Don’t say that you’d like to use the position as a stepping stone. Instead, indicate that you’re interested in learning and growing with the company. And NEVER tell the interviewer that you hope to have his or her job someday! Instead, compliment him by telling him you’d like to learn from him as his new assistant. If your personal goal is to be married with children in five years, don’t confess this during your professional interview. Employers want to know that you are committed to your career as must as – if not more than – you are to your personal life. Stick to confessing your professional goals and leave it at that!

Q: What makes you the ideal candidate for this position?
A: “I’ve always wanted to work here” is a bad answer. “I really need a job” is the worst answer. An employer wants to hear what you’ll bring to them, not how they will help you pay your bills. If appropriate, talk about how you’d solve a problem, lower costs, increase sales. You can apply your previous successes/knowledge/skills in this area.

Q: What’s the most appealing part of this position?
Be able to provide one or two strong examples, although salary and location should not be among them. “I’ve always been someone who is great at juggling multiple priorities simultaneously, ” is a great response when interviewing for healthcare or customer service positions. “I”m really passionate about current events,” is appropriate for jobs in the media.

Q: What’s the most unappealing part of the position?
Focus on something minor and try to associate some type of positive comment with the unpleasant task. For example, a clerk at a law firm might hate transcribing long depositions, yet by doing so she would learn the ins and outs of effective questioning.

Q: What do you think are the most important qualifications of a BLANK (position you’re applying for…Sales Exec, Operations Manager, Executive Assistant)?
A: Be able to provide two or three action- and results-oriented responses.

Q: What is your management style?
A: Open door is ideal, but don’t lie if it’s not true. Be sure to work in that you communicate well with the entire staff, solicit their opinions, keep them informed, get the job done, and that you interact well with upper management equally well.

Q: How do you handle difficult situations at work?
A: Never say you get along with everyone so there are never ever problems—and never say you avoid people who aren’t cooperative. Big bells go off when candidates are overly defensive when answering this question. Instead, talk about your ability to negotiate and compromise while understanding that different people have different perspectives, and that new ideas often develop from controversy.

and…

Management/Performance
What skills do you look for when hiring new employees?
How many people have you had to manage?
What’s the most difficult part of being a manager?
What do you think your direct reports think of you?
Have you ever been in a situation when you had to say something although you know it wasn’t popular?
How have you specifically helped to increase sales, profits, success?
How have you reduced costs?
What were the best/worst parts of your previous job?
What were your greatest accomplishments in that position?
Have you ever lost a customer?
What is the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?

Work Style
Do you prefer staff or line work? Do you prefer working with figures or words?
How do you handle conflict on a team project?
Have you ever had to fire anyone, and if so, how did you handle the situation?
How do you enlist the help of others in your work?
What do you do to put co-workers at ease?
How do you solicit feedback from others on your work?
How do you stay cutting edge?
How do you learn from failure?
Describe your listening skills.
How do you handle working under pressure?

Personal
While interviewers cannot ask about your age, sexual orientation, religion, or marital status, they’re certainly able to get a sense of your personal side with other pointed questions, such as:
Which business leaders or role models do you respect?
If you could have dinner with someone famous, living or dead, who would it be and why?
What kind of books do you read?
What type of recreational activities do you enjoy?
What are your favorite Internet sites?
How do you avoid excess stress? How do you relax?
How do you get along with and embrace people who are different from you?
Where do your ideas come from? Describe your creative process.
What’s the most out-of-the-box idea you’ve ever had?

In the case of each question, the correct response features positive information about you and will suggest ways that you can be useful to the company. Incorrect responses feature too much personal information, are long and pointless, or steer the interview in a negative direction.

Sometimes an interviewer asks a “trick” opinion question to catch you off guard. For example, you may be asked if you object to drug testing. The only correct answer is no. If you do not wish to consent to testing, you should consider looking at other employers that do not engage in such practices.

Flipping the Script

More times than not you will be asked a question that the interviewer hopes will reveal a weakness and a strength, such as:

Describe a time when you missed a deadline on an important project.
Describe the type of bad decisions you have made as a manager.

Your answer not only reveals a mistake you made, but also says a lot about your ability to handle stressful or negative situations. This is your opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, because the ability to acknowledge a mistake is often seen as a sign of maturity and leadership.

Assuming that you can wing it is a bad approach to negative questions. More times than not that leads to disappointment—not to mention you probably won’t get the job. When responding to negative questions, keep in mind these three points, which will help ensure thoughtful and winning answers:

  • Briefly state the incident in which the problem or mistake occurred.
  • Explain how you overcame the problem as it related to that particular situation.
  • Describe the steps you took to ensure that such a problem would not happen again.

The end result is to convince the interviewer that you learned from this experience and have overcome this particular weakness.