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Preparing for the Interview: Tips for Success
What is in an interview?
A mutual exchange of information between the employer and the applicant.
What is the purpose of an interview?
- To determine if your education and experience are a good match with the specific job responsibilities.
- To determine if you will "fit into" the organizational environment.
For the Applicant
- To have an opportunity to emphasize your abilities and interest in the job.
- To learn more about the job and the organization to decide if you will be happy working there.
Types of Interview
- Informational Interview - seek more information about the company or a career
- Screening Interview - designed to eliminate less suitable candidates
- Stress Interview - create situations to see how you might handle job-related stress
- Series Interview - consecutive interviews with different people from the same company
- Group Interview - involves the interviewing of several candidates at the same time
- Board Interview - interview conducted by two or more people at the same time
- Behavioral Interview - asks questions that determines how you handle challenges
Preparing for the Interview
- Arrive fifteen minutes early.
- Dress appropriately.
- Bring necessary information, recommended items:
- Extra copies of your resume
- Reference list with 3-5 individuals
- Good quality pen and/or pencil
- Work samples that demonstrate skills and abilities
- Purse or wallet (hidden in briefcase)
- Leather bonded portfolio/notebook
- Have directions to the interview; understand needed park and travel time.
- Know the name and title of the person you are meeting; get the interviewer's business card.
- Research the company and position; understand what the employer is looking for.
- Practice answering questions; be prepared for personal or inappropriate questions.
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer.
- Send follow-up thank you letter within 24 hours of the interview.
During the Interview
- Greet the employer with a firm handshake and refer to the interviewer by name.
- Watch your nonverbal communication.
- Maintain good eye contact and smile appropriately.
- Be alert and attentive. Show enthusiasm for the position and company.
- If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification. Answer the question asked.
- Emphasize your strong points, showing a match between yourself and the position.
- Know your resume and be able to discuss every aspect.
- Be prepared to answer tough questions.
- Never criticize a former employer, teacher, colleague or school.
- Follow the interviewer's lead. Avoid non sentences (um, uh, ya know, yeah).
- Avoid discussing salary or benefits during the first interview unless a job offer is made.
- Be yourself!
- Navy, black or charcoal suit
- White or colored blouse
- Polished shoes with low heels
- Neutral skin tone pantyhose
- Simple jewelry
- Little or no perfume
Interview Knockdown Factors
- Not prepared for the interview; no research has been conducted on the employer.
- Unable to express self and ideas clearly; poor communication skills.
- Poorly defined career goals; little or no sense of direction.
- Lack of enthusiasm.
- Unprofessional or inappropriately dressed.
- No real interest in the employer.
- Asks too few or poor questions about the job or employer.
- Poor match for the position or organization.
- Unhappy personality; disliked former jobs, supervisors, school, activities.
- Makes excuses during the interview, evasive.
- Only interested in best dollar offer.
- Lack of confidence or poise - fails to look the interviewer in the eye; weak handshake.
- Unwilling to relocate. Unrealistic expectations.
- Did not market self well in the interview.
- Tell me about yourself, - OR - How might a friend or co-worker describe you?
- Why did you choose to interview with our company? - OR - What do you know about us?
- Describe your ideal position, - OR - What is the most important to you in a job?
- What can you offer us, - OR - Why should I hire you?
- Where do you want to be in five years? Ten years?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
- What is a major weakness you have, and what are you doing to correct it?
- Would you be successful working on a team?
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
- Do your grades accurately reflect your abilities?
- Are you willing to relocate?
- What sets you apart from other qualified candidates? What motivates you to do well?
- Tell me about your work habits, - OR - How do you work under pressure?
Questions to Ask Employers (If not readily answered through company literature)
- Why is this position open now?
- What specific responsibilities are required of this position?
- Would you describe a typical day's activities?
- What personal qualities or characteristics are important for success in this position?
- To whom would I report?
- What are some of the organization's short-term goals? Long-term goals?
- When do you expect to make a hiring decision?
- What challenges might I face in this position?
- What is the next step in the search to fill this position?
Interviewers look for the potential in prospective employees to become valued, trusted, productive team members of their company. They judge based on several general categories, including:
- Work Attitude & Initiative
- Motivation & Purpose
- Knowledge & Insight
- Organization & Planning Abilities
- Judgment & Maturity
- Team & Interpersonal Skills
Work Ability and Initiative
Recruiters need to know:
- Can she compete assertively and handle criticisms in a positive manner?
- Is she a self-starter, able to work without constant supervision?
- Can she be depended on in critical situations and follow her work through completion?
- Is she enthusiastic on the job and easy to work with?
Recruiters may ask some of the following questions to judge the candidate on work ability and initiative:
- What would you do if a co-worker tried to take credit for some of your work on a project?
- What would you do if your boss rejected your recommendation?
- Give me an example of your initiative.
- Which of your accomplishments did you initiate (versus being asked by your boss) and why did you initiate them?
- Describe an event or project that you organized.
- Which parts of this job would you like the most, the least, and why?
Motivation and Purpose
Recruiters want to know what drives the candidate to want this job and work for this company, and what the candidate wants to accomplish in life. It is important to be very honest here, since misleading the recruiter can easily have you placed in a job you aren't prepared for, don't have the skills for, or simply don't like. In each of these cases, your performance may be lower than expected and reflect on you for years to come.
They look for someone who:
- Has well-balanced priorities and understands the tradeoffs of jobs that require overtime or traveling.
- Understands what motivates them and how these motivating factors affect their choice of jobs.
Recruiters ask themselves:
- What forces are pushing them into this career: family, financial needs, genuine interest, peer expectations...?
- What are their priorities in life and are they in line with this career path?
- How loyal will they be to our company?
- Are they achievement-oriented?
Questions you might be asked here are:
- What would you do if a company you are working for changed its strategy and emphasis to something you did not agree with?
- Why do you want this job?
- What do your friends and family think about our company (or industry)?
- How would you balance money and happiness on the job?
- How would you choose between a high-paying job and a position with more development and potential?
- What professional achievements do you look forward to in your career?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
- How do you see this position helping you to achieve your 5- to 10-year plan?
- What has been your biggest accomplishment in life? What did you have to give up to get it? Was it worth it?
Knowledge and Insight
Interviewers are sent to college campuses to recruit the best and brightest who can handle the work now and in the future. While recent college graduates are at a disadvantage in terms of work experience, they can turn this inexperience into an advantage. By not having predisposed ways about how to handle work, new graduates may be molded into model employees faster. They will most likely tackle unpleasant tasks with more enthusiasm than experienced, jaded workers. Finally, they are more flexible in work habits than older employees, providing flexibility for the future.
Recruiters want to know about candidates:
- Are they quick learners, able to pick up not only the work itself, but why things are done a certain way?
- Can they adapt to new changes in a productive way?
- Can they see the future impacts of short-term plans?
- Can they find not only the answers to the problems, but isolate the critical problems themselves?
Questions usually asked to measure knowledge and insight are:
- Describe a situation where you had to grasp a new situation and make progress quickly.
- What would you want to know on your first day of work to start the job running?
- What skills are required to move up in our company from the job we are discussing? Do you have them?
- What are the major problems facing our industry and company today? What would you do to fix these problems?
- In one of your previous jobs, what were the challenges you faced?
Organization and Planning
Your ability to organize work efficiently can improve your productivity and that of your company. Smart planning can save time and money. Therefore, your abilities here are extremely valuable to any employer. As a student, you have perfect examples of how you have organized projects, groups, activities or your studies to demonstrate these skills to an employer. Persistence when times get tough is a rare quality that is very valuable to an employer.
Questions asked here are:
- Can you manage your time effectively?
- Can you organize the work of inter-related teams to smoothly coordinate a group project?
- Can you take existing procedures and improve them without jeopardizing the benefits of the current procedures?
- How do you structure your day's work?
- How do you plan your day and week?
- When are you the most and least productive?
- What do you do during those periods of time?
- How did you handle sudden unplanned work or crisis?
- How did you improve your previous jobs?
Judgment and Maturity
Proper business judgment primarily comes from experience, but for those without experience, having the right perspective can help a great deal. Employers want someone who can see a big picture rather than just their own job and who will make the proper judgments. A recruiter has a personal stake in hiring someone; if that person makes mistakes or shows poor judgment on the job, it is embarrassing to the recruiter who hired them and the recruiter's personal credibility if the company is damaged. Therefore, it is important to show maturity during the job interview to increase your chances of getting a job offer.
Recruiters are concerned about these areas:
- Can they handle pressure without overreacting?
- Are they mature and able to make decisions that have impact outside their jobs?
- Can they handle criticism in a productive manner?
- Are they objective in evaluating themselves?
- Are they objective in evaluating others?
Many of the following questions are asked to measure judgment.
- Describe your most pleasant and unpleasant work experiences.
- What things do you admire in others?
- Describe the last time you got upset and how you resolved it.
- If you were working for a boss you did not like, what would you do?
- Describe how you handled a crisis.
- What was the best (and worst) criticism you received and why?
- What would you do about working with fault-finders?
- What part of this job would you find easiest and hardest? Why?
- What part of this job would you find the most fun and the most boring? Why?
- What would you say your previous boss(es) say are your best qualities?
- What would your last boss miss the most about you?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you like your classes? Classmates? School? Professors?
- What did you like and dislike about your last job? Your last boss?
- How would you deliver criticism to someone working for you?
- Which criteria of a job and/or company are most important to you?
Recruiters look for an objective analysis of your abilities. For strengths, recruiters want to know why you think it is a strength and where it has been demonstrated. For weaknesses, they want to know what is being done to fix it. Candidates should show that they can take criticism well and use it to improve themselves. What your last boss says about you gives an indication that you know what your boss is looking for and an objective view of how to size up the job.
Team and Interpersonal Skills
Rarely will you be working alone in a company, so being able to work well in a team is a very valuable skill. Cooperation and effective team work are some of the most valued skills in employees. Even graduating students can show ability here that more experienced workers may not have. When working with someone you dislike, which everyone will do at some time, how did you make extra efforts to work smoothly with that person?
Questions in a recruiter's mind may include:
- Do they know what makes a good team operate well?
- Do they know the roles of effective team members?
- Can they be not only a good team player but a team leader?
- Are they sensitive to the feelings of others?
- Will others in my company like them?
- Can they work well with a variety of people?
Questions frequently asked include:
- Which leaders do you admire most and why?
- Describe the ideal team leader and ideal team member.
- Give an example of how you have helped a team member improve.
- Do you work better as an individual or in a team?
- Would you fit in well at our company, and why or why not?
- Describe your most successful experience working in a group or team. Why was this successful? How did you contribute to the success?
- How do you select a team?
- How did you manage your co-workers in a previous job?
- What would you do to help a team of people work together better?
Interviewing is among the most important and, for many, most dreaded aspects of the job search process. Whatever your opinion, however, interviews provide an opportunity to turn a job possibility into a job offer. Focused preparation and an awareness of common interview procedures will give you the confidence you need to perform well during your interviews.
Resumes and cover letters do not get you a job. While they are components of your job search process that may create access to employers, your interview performance is likely to be the most important factor in securing a job offer.
Interviewing provides you with an opportunity to explain, in your own words, the ways in which your experience, knowledge, skills, and aspiration combine to make you a desirable candidate for a given position and organization. Additionally, the interview setting allows you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, professionalism, and personal style. While most people claim (in resumes and cover letters) to possess interpersonal or communication skills, interviews provide you with the opportunity to actually demonstrate such skills. A corollary benefit of interviewing is the in-depth research you can perform on an organization as you prepare for and participate in different interviews.
Procedural Aspects of the Interview Process
To increase your comfort and confidence as you prepare to interview, you should be aware of some fundamental principles of interviewing. Knowledge of the purposes of interviews, the ways in which interviews get arranged, and how to prepare yourself for interviewing success will assist you as you enter the job search.
General Purposes of Interviews
While there are numerous types of interviews and innumerable personal approaches employed by interviewers, it is safe to say that the general purposes of an interview are to:
- Get to know you on a personal level
- Learn more about your qualifications
- Allow for the gathering of information relevant to organizational needs
- Provide additional information on the position and organization
- Assist the organization in identifying the applicant who should receive a job offer
How Interviews Get Arranged
There is no simple answer to the question, "How do I get interviews?" Instead, it is helpful to employ a variety of tactics when attempting to secure interviews. The recommendations in this section will provide you with some initial strategies. First, to find positions of interest and employer contact information, consult the Career Services Center, state employment services, job vacancy periodicals, employer directories, Internet sites, and other similar resources. You will also want to undertake some networking measures to establish contacts and uncover job leads.
Once you have begun making contacts with organizations, be ready at any time for employment-related telephone calls. Have a professional (or, at least, tactful) message on your answering machine and tell roommates and family members that you might be receiving telephone calls from recruiters.
If you are serious about securing an interview that could lead to landing a job, give top priority to job search-related activities. Your work or class schedule is, of course, important. However, the more flexibility you have when trying to arrange an interview, the better the impression you will make on recruiters.
A potential employee who seems reluctant to do some schedule juggling is not perceived by the recruiter as demonstrating the flexibility and commitment necessary to succeed as a new hire. Remember that a recruiter begins to evaluate you long before the interview takes place; in fact, evaluation begins when you first make contact with an organization.
A Word about Stress
Perhaps you know someone who is comfortable and, more importantly, talented at speaking in front of audiences. In your mind, this person is lucky, because he or she does not get nervous and can look good and communicate clearly while making presentations or interviewing for jobs. A few points should be clarified. First, this person probably does get nervous. Second, this person probably takes measures to ensure interviewing success prior to the interview. Finally, you can be this person.
Everyone experiences some kind of nervousness when preparing for an interview. There are various ways to manage and channel this stress while understanding that nervous energy is a positive thing. It means you care about the interview. It means you are up for the challenge and interested in doing well. It means you are human.
Relaxed interviewees are people who have practiced their responses, mentally clarified their qualifications for the position, and realized that an interview is a mutual exchange of information between two interested parties. In short, a relaxed interviewee minimizes uncertainties and is ready for unexpected twists or turns presented by the interviewer. Knowing these "agenda items," you should prepare yourself to fulfill each general purpose.
Recruiter - The Generic Term
Individuals from the human resources department of an organization are typically associated with the hiring process; however, any organizational representative (from lower-level, professional staff to top-level executives) may be involved with coordinating and conducting interviews as well as making hiring decisions. Although this guide uses the term "recruiter" in the generic sense, not all representatives with whom you correspond will carry the title of recruiter or be from the human resources department. Therefore, be sure to make note of their true titles and departments. Remember, from a recruiter's perspective, there are dozens of things that must get done during the course of a workday; communicating with applicants about position vacancies is only one of many daily tasks. Even human resources representatives, the people who are most involved with recruiting efforts, have a diversity of tasks aside from such responsibilities. Therefore, while it is imperative that you show determination and persistence when following up on job leads, you will want to be particularly considerate of a recruiter's time and appreciative of his or her willingness to spend some of that time considering your inquiry.
Another important factor that is often overlooked when trying to arrange interviews is the value of establishing a positive relationship with the gatekeeper. Do not assume that someone with a title of "secretary" or "program assistant" is powerless within the office. In fact, you must realize that the gatekeeper is among your most important allies in the early going.
You can only reach the person you need if the gatekeeper is willing to send you there. Once the gatekeeper is convinced that you are a talented individual with whom he or she would like to work, you stand to gain more than access to the decision maker - you stand to benefit from positive comments made by the gatekeeper to the decision maker. With regard to arranging interviews, you should think about expenses you might incur while interviewing. If you initiate the contact with an organization and act as a catalyst in getting an interview scheduled, be prepared to pay for any related expenses. If a recruiter initiates contact with you or takes the lead role in inviting you to interview, it is reasonable to expect the organization to provide funding for major expenses (e.g., airfare and accommodations).
Do not assume this is the case, however. Before embarking on a long journey in response to a recruiter's request for an interview, ask if your expenses will be covered. While you should avoid asking for reimbursement for expenses customary to job seekers (e.g., clothing, copying, or faxing) or minor expenses (e.g., parking or short-distance travel), it is acceptable to inquire about reimbursement for major expenses when an organization has displayed real interest in hiring you.
There is one simple difference between these two scenarios. When you initiate contact with an organization, you create the relationship and hope to prove that the organization needs you. When a recruiter initiates contact with you, it suggests that the organization has a need for someone with your experience, knowledge, and skills. The recruiter must demonstrate why it is in your best interest to work for the organization. The later scenario places you in a position of advantage if the interview process should advance to the negotiation stages. As you can see, the dynamics are quite different depending on who initiates contact.
Take time to consider other factors that might be important when arranging interviews. Meet with a career counselor to find answers to your specific questions. Once you succeed in securing an interview, you are ready to move forward with the interview process.
You Have to Be You
Remember to convey your individuality when interviewing. Keep in mind that not every interviewing approach or technique works for everyone; as you read, consider the ways in which you can utilize and adapt the methods in this guide to your personality and goals.
Good Answers to Interview Questions Take Shape Long Before the Interview
When readying yourself for the interview process, you first want to have a clear view of your professional profile. Whether you generate that profile by completing self-assessment evaluations, conducting research on career fields of interest to you, summarizing your personal work history, or meditating, it is important to know who you are, what you value, what skills you possess, and where your interests lie.
Interview questions are much easier to answer once you create a strategy regarding the image - the professional profile - you want to project. For example, consider this standard interview question and the hypothetical thought process you, as the prepared interviewee, might undertake when crafting a response.
"Why did you choose a liberal arts degree?"
Thinking back to your self-assessment, you know that you chose the liberal arts because you enjoy studying about various cultures, understanding the process of human interaction, and lifelong learning.
"Before I came to college, I knew I wanted to increase my awareness of people and cultures around the world. I have always been interested in understanding human relationships and want to continue refining my communication and interaction skills. I also want to keep learning and growing regardless of my specific job title. For those reasons, I was attracted to the liberal arts curriculum."
- Do make eye contact when speaking and listening to others - a leader doesn't shy away from connecting with others one-on-one.
- Don't be apologetic - be assertive but not aggressive.
- Do dress professionally. Pick an outfit that you know you look good in, and also is comfortable. Make sure it isn't too revealing or tight, but it shouldn't be frumpy either. Avoid spiked heels, heavy perfume or excessive make-up. Your presence should not be offensive to the interviewer, or cause an allergic reaction. Regarding jewelry, keep it simple. Make sure your hair looks neat and well kept.
- Don't be negative. If you've been at home raising a family, tell about the experience you have organizing events for children or volunteering with community organizations. Don't worry if you weren't being paid - you still have transferable skills.
- Do decline to answer personal questions you feel are inappropriate. You may want to be a team player, but you don't have to answer questions about your marital status or your family situation unless you want to.
- Don't neglect role-playing as an important tool in preparing for the interview. Use a friend, family member or career counselor to evaluate your answers and point out habits you never realized were so annoying (i.e. saying "like" and "you know.")
- Do smile frequently, especially during the most important first few moments of the interview. Keep in mind that you're being interviewed by everyone you meet, including secretaries.
- Don't think that shaking hands is for men only. Remember to shake firmly with the interviewer, both before and after the interview.
- Do have two to four questions ready to ask the interviewer, and be prepared to cite six to seven significant achievements that you can relate to the questions that come your way.
- Don't neglect the follow-up letter. Even if your interview was spectacular, neglecting to send a thank-you note immediately after your job interview shows a lack of interest in the job. Follow the letter up with a call if you haven't heard anything after ten days to two weeks. Chances are they have made no decisions, but this is an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the company.
The employment interview is often the key and final hurdle in the job campaign. Letters, applications, references and other resources are designed with one goal, to secure an interview. Your actions during the interview may determine if you will receive a job offer. Remember that the best candidate does not always get the job -- many times the person who best prepares for the interview is hired.
- Take Practice Interviews
Learn the kinds of questions you may be asked and develop the best answers. If your qualifications are weak in some areas, determine how to express them as positively as possible.
- Research the Organization
Look at magazine articles, brochures or catalogs, or talk with customers/clients to familiarize yourself with the organization (or check out their site on the Worldwide Web). And then work facts based upon your research into your interview conversation.
- Express Qualifications
Know three good reasons why you are an outstanding candidate and subtly work them into your responses.
- Listen to the Interviewer
- Adjust to the interviewer's style and try to ascertain why particular questions are being asked. Respond completely to all aspects of a question.
- Don't Monopolize the Conversation
- While interviewers usually want more than a simple "Yes" or "No" answer, you should also avoid long discourses. Make your answers accurate, brief and as interesting as you can.
- Be Positive
- This is not the place to knock your school, past employers, professors, etc. An optimist is more useful in an organization than a pessimist. If you can be enthusiastic about past experience, you are likely to be positive about future employers.
- People Hire, Not Organizations
Remember that people make hiring decisions and your goal is to make effective contact with the interviewer. Hopefully, he or she will end up liking/respecting you.
- Ask Questions
Reflect your self-esteem by asking questions about the organization and the job. This is another place to demonstrate that you researched the organization. Hopefully, the interviewer will mention salary so you won't have to ask.
- Point Out Why You Like the Organization
Are there reasons why you think the organization is a particularly good one? Are there factors which led you to single it out of many others of its type? If so, citing them can help build a link between you and the employer.
- Express Interest
Assuming the job/organization interests you, take time near the end of the interview to express that interest. Unless you say you like the job/organization the employer has no way of knowing this.
- Learn What Happens Next
Is your file complete? Is additional information needed? Are your references complete? What are the next stages in the employment process and when might they occur?
- Express Thanks
Thank the interviewer for his or her time and interest, just as you would thank anyone who spent time helping you. If appropriate, thank the receptionist/secretary or anyone who also helped you. But don't linger.
- Tell me about your most recent accomplishment.
- Describe your best boss or professor.
- When have you felt like giving up a certain job?
- What is the most useful job-related criticism you've ever received?
- What level of pressure are you willing to tolerate on a job?
- Tell me about any experiences you have had in turning a stagnant or failing situation into a success.
- What skills or qualities do you have that make you especially suited for this job?
- What do you believe is the proper balance between employee freedom and supervisor control?
- Tell me about a particularly difficult problem you were able to solve.
- If I had three of your colleagues here and three of your professors, how would they describe your analytical skills and your ability to get along with others?
- In what type of work environment do you feel the most productive?
- What are your short term professional goals?
- Are you competent and comfortable in taking limited information, developing alternative courses of action, and analyzing the consequences of each action?
- What is it about you that has made you successful thus far in your life?
- Tell me about your feelings and philosophy in regard to dependability, trustworthiness, loyalty, honesty, integrity, and commitment.
- What are your long range and short range goals and objectives, when and why did you establish these goals, and how are you preparing yourself to achieve them?
- What specific goals, other than those related to your occupation, have you established for yourself for the next ten years?
- What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
- What do you really want to do in this life?
- What are the most important rewards you expect in your business or career?
- What do you expect to earning in five years?
- Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
- Which is more important to you, the money or the type of job?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- How would you describe yourself?
- How do you think a friend or professor who know you would describe you?
- What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
- How has your college experience prepared you for this particular career?
- Why should I hire you?
- What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in this career?
- How do you determine or evaluate success?
- What do you think it takes to be successful in an organization like ours?
- In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our organization?
- What qualities should a successful manager or supervisor possess?
- Describe the relationship that should exist between a supervisor and a subordinate.
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
- Describe your most rewarding college experience.
- If you were hiring a graduate for this position, what qualities should she possess?
- Why did you select your college or university?
- What led you to choose your field of major study?
- What college subjects did you like best? Why?
- What college subjects did you like least? Why?
- If you could do so now, how would you plan your academic study differently? Why?
- What changes would you make in your college or university? Why?
- Do you have plans for continued study? An advanced degree?
- Do you think your grades are a good indication of your academic achievement?
- What have you learned from participation in extracurricular activities?
- In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
- How do you work under pressure?
- In what part-time or summer jobs have you been most interested? Why?
- How would you describe the ideal job for you following graduation?
- Why did you decide to seek a position with our organization?
- What do you know about our organization?
- What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
- Are you seeking employment with an organization of a certain size? Why?
- What criteria are you using to evaluate the organization for which you hope to work?
- Do you have a geographical preference? Why?
- Will you relocate? Does relocation bother you?
- Are you willing to travel?
- Are you willing to spend at least six months as a trainee?
- Why do you think you might like to live in the community in which our organization is located?
- What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
- What have you learned from your mistakes?
- How do your skills relate to our needs?
- What would you like to know about us?
During an interview, by law, recruiters are not permitted to ask personal questions that are completely unrelated to the responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing. Typically, such questions focus on your marital status, parental responsibilities, age, weight, health, race, nationality, religious affiliations, and political affiliations.
While most recruiters are aware of common boundaries, there is a large gray area. This gray area is reduced when recruiters and candidates keep a simple rule in mind: focus the interview conversation on obvious requirements of the position and the candidate's ability to meet those requirements.
Basic Recruiter Concerns
Some recruiters may accidentally phrase questions in a potentially discriminating manner in an attempt to gain information that is relevant to the position for which you are interviewing. They have several basic concerns when interviewing candidates and, therefore, need to get at fundamental issues related to your potential job performance. Some of their basic concerns are as follows:
- Will this person work in this position?
- Does this person have the necessary skills or experience?
- Can we count on this person to be punctual and available?
- Will this person "fit in" to the existing culture and personnel?
Whether accidentally or intentionally, if you are asked a personal question that is unrelated to the responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing, you should attempt to identify the aspects of the question that deal with position-specific information and craft your answer accordingly. As a job applicant, what should you do when a recruiter makes an illegal inquiry? Consider the following three likely options:
- You have the option to overlook the fact that the question does not relate directly to the position and provide an answer.
- You may choose a reply that tactfully acknowledges the lack of connection between the question and the position and craft an answer that addresses the recruiter's underlying concern.
- You can inquire about the question's relevance to the position and express that you are uncomfortable answering such an inquiry. Realize that this response is likely to create some discomfort for everyone present at the interview, but it might be your best option in situation when the question is too inappropriate to answer.
- While discriminatory motives may or may not be at the root of questions that fall in the gray area, such questions might convince you that the organization is not for you. This is a judgment call that only you can make.
Responses to Illegal Questions
The following questions and answers illustrate some approach to answering potentially discriminating questions. Examples aside, remember that each situation is unique and the ultimate decision on how to respond is yours.
Question: "Are you married?"
Real Motivation for asking the Question: "Will you devote yourself to the position?"
- A. "Right now, I am focusing on my career and intend to give all the necessary time and energy to my career, regardless of my marital status."
- B. "While I am married, my spouse and I understand the demands of good positions such as the one for which I am interviewing. I plan on doing what it takes to succeed in this position, and am eager to make use of my skills and experience."
Question: "Do you plan on having a family?"
Real Motivation for Asking the Question: "Will you devote the necessary time to the position?"
- A. "I am not sure at this point, but I know that I am going to work regardless of my family status, and I will give my best effort and skills to the position."
- B. "Regardless of my family structure, I plan on having a career and giving all the necessary time and energy to that career."
Question: "Do you have any handicaps or disabilities?"
Real Motivation for Asking the Question: "Will you be able to perform the work?"
- A. "I believe I am fully capable of performing the duties associated with this position."
- B. "Given the appropriate tools (or space or time), I believe I am fully capable of performing the duties associated with this position."