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April 18, 2011

Don't Wing It! Win Your Next Job Interview

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Win Your Next Job Interview

Daphne Wotherspoon, Staffing and Recruiting Expert

Congratulations! If you're reading this, you're most likely doing great on your 21st century job hunt and you have an interview on the horizon. You should be prepared and use this opportunity to its fullest. There are several kinds of questions you should expect to hear, and a few you need to ask along the way.

Here are some questions you'll surely get during the interview process, along with suggestions on how to answer them. Learn to recognize these, even if they're framed differently.

Why did you leave your last job?

Key points here are not to badmouth your prior employer and to convey information in a way that reflects positively on you. If you were laid off, say so. If you were terminated, discuss a few points in positive terms why your employer was not a good fit for you. If you're seeking more money, frame that in terms of seeking more career advancement. Be honest but also realize that flakiness and instability are traits that interviewers sniff out like bloodhounds.

Tell me about yourself.

Remember your elevator pitch? You'll be glad you have one now - use it!

What is your greatest strength?

If you cannot define your key strengths, it doesn't give the interviewer much confidence in you. Be sure that you can crisply identify 2-3 real assets you bring to a job and present examples of how those strengths have helped you in the past. Make sure they're relevant to the job at hand. Bonus point: once you've stated your strengths, ask the interviewer how he/she feels those assets or skills would impact your ability to succeed in this role.

What is one of your weaknesses?

Think in terms of what experience or skill you want to enhance that you feel you could improve in your next job. In other words, frame your weakness as something learnable, rather than an enduring character trait. If you choose to focus on a personality trait or work-style issue, make it something that could also be seen as a strength in certain circumstances. Don't be predictable and say anything remotely like "I'm a workaholic." Interviewers see that coming a mile away.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

If you don't have a good answer to this, you'll appear unfocused and not driven. Answer this honestly. It's perfectly ok to be focused on staying in the exact same role, but achieving greater mastery. A good way to use this question to your advantage is to flip it and ask the interviewer about the career path in the same time-frame for others in the role.

These are just the warm-up questions. Savvy organizations and smart hiring managers are using structured interview techniques, and/or behavioral-based interview questions to vet candidates. Here's how that will go down. In addition to reviewing your resume and asking at least a couple of the questions above, the hiring manager will ask a series of questions to get you to provide real world examples of how you've responded to workplace challenges.

Interviewers using this technique are often looking for overarching traits such as tolerance of ambiguity, resourcefulness, customer focus, problem-solving ability, sense of accountability, collaborative nature and persistence. The key here is for you to answer these questions with detailed, real world examples of how you've demonstrated this trait. Take some time and think about how you'd answer all of these, using information highlighted on your resume.

A couple examples of these questions include:

1. "Tell me about how you handled a dissatisfied customer in the last 6 months."
2. "Tell me about a time you did not achieve your goal, and how you handled it."

That brings up one final tip: Ask questions!

Remember you're not just selling yourself, you're buying a job! Few decisions you make in life are more important than your career moves. Be sure you have the information you need to make the right choice. If the interviewer shares details with you that aren't clear, ask for more information.

Do your homework and be prepared.

Do your research and learn about the company and the role for which you're interviewing. Read the company's website, noting any questions you have. Look up the interviewer on a couple of social networking sites to learn about their background, affiliations and any shared connections you may have. Walk into your interview armed with pre-written questions, but don't be afraid to make ad-hoc inquiries as well.

Ask what the next steps are.

Most importantly, as the interview closes, ask what the next steps are and how they perceive you as a fit for their opening. It shows you are interested, shows initiative, and that you're willing to hear bad news. You may say something like: "Based on our conversation today, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel that I align with your expectations of a candidate for this role? What would make me a 10?"

But, you should use language that is comfortable for you. So, do your research, plan how to answer questions you know you'll have to field, write out some good high gain questions to ask, and most of all, be prepared! Now go get 'em!

Daphne Wotherspoon is a Founding Partner at Aligned360 and a staffing and recruiting expert for nearly 2 decades. In her blog, she shares helpful tips and advice for resume creation, job hunting, interviewing and other career management issues, and tries to make it fun along the way.

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