interview questions

Posted: July 2, 2015
By: Clay Cerny


One of my clients is currently an Assistant Manager.  He has been very successful in his field.  Logically, his next move should be to pursue a position as a General Manager.  Instead, he is going into a position in route sales and delivery.  When I asked why he would do this, his reasons were all great and thoughtful.  First, pay is similar for both positions.  Second, he'll work fewer days and hours, which means his hourly pay will be higher.  Most importantly, he'll be able to spend more time with his family, which is his priority at this time.

This story illustrates a major problem in career management:  your money or your life.  For many professionals, especially those pursuing careers that pay well, the sacrifice is personal time.  One way to avoid this trap is to keep looking for companies that respect their employees as people.  During second or third interviews, it's acceptable to ask what a typical day or week is like.  You could also ask about the company's policies that promote work-life balance.  Such jobs will be hard to find.  Productivity has gone up and up over the last decade because too many companies are not concerned with anything except the bottom line.

Posted: March 21, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

In recent months several clients have asked me what they should do when an interviewer asks to be “walked” through a resume.  There are two ways to address this request.  The worst strategy is to start with your current job and go backward.  This takes you away from recent experience or education that qualifies you for the position you are seeking.  It is better to move from least recent to most recent experiences.  The strongest type of response would not end with your current job or most recent degree.  Instead, you would show how you are prepared to do the job you are interviewing for.  Walk the interviewer into a place where she will want to offer you a job.

Posted: January 27, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

A client called today to go over some points before a job interview.  He was worried about a small gap in his resume and the level of his Excel skills.  I reassured him that a small gap was not a problem.  I also pointed out that his Excel skills may not be a problem.  He would learn more about that during the interview.

While it is important to think about any weak points before an interview, it is more important to know and be able to present your strengths.  Here’s a simple way to evaluate your strengths: Why are you good at what you do?  Make an inventory of your achievements and success stories.  Be sure these points are highlighted on your resume and that you are able to present them during a job interview.

We tend to focus too much on the question: What can go wrong?  That leads us to think about our weaknesses.  A good interview must convey competence and confidence, not weakness.  Know your strengths and be able to sell them.  That’s the key to a good interview.

Posted: May 5, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

A friend of mine is in HR, and he told me two interesting stories about how candidates talked themselves out of a job by focusing too much on personal issues.

In one case, a candidate whose primary function was not client facing said that he did not really care to interact with the company’s type of client.  In one sense, it shouldn’t matter since he’d seldom meet a client.  Still, a VP told my client that he wants an organization that is totally client focused.  By talking too much about his personal preferences, this candidate talked himself out of a job.

In the other case, a candidate rambled on for 10 minutes about his daughter’s professional accomplishments.  Both my client and his boss tried to redirect the candidate to his qualifications for the job, but he was determined to finish his story about his daughter.  In doing so, he showed terrible communications skills and a lack of respect.  It’s great that this candidate loves his daughter, but his demonstration of love was not appropriate for a job interview.

Bottom line: Keep business about business.  Revealing personal information in a job interview can often boomerang and hurt a candidate’s chance of landing a job.  Keep focused on what the company needs and how you can contribute to its success.

Posted: May 3, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Interviews are all about questions, so the most important interviewing skill would seem to be answering questions.  Many book titles play off this assumption, offering 100 or 200 best answers to interview questions.  In coaching clients at all stages of their career, I’ve found that there is a skill that is much more important: listening. 

A job interview is not a test.  Companies evaluate potential employers based on a variety of factors.  Interviews are usually the final evaluation, and they often get down to intuition about who will be the best fit.  Employers offer positions to candidates who make them the most confident.  Someone who is listening will speak more clearly to what an employer needs.  Rather than spitting out scripted answers, someone who is listening will build a dialogue with the people who are interviewing her. 

When we show that we are listening, we also demonstrate that we respect other people’s ideas and opinions.  We also show an ability to understand other people and what they need from us.  If a candidate doesn’t listen well during a job interview, how will that person perform after she has been hired?

To improve your odds of landing a good job, it is important to improve your listening skills.  Practice interviewing with a friend, and have her occasionally ask you to repeat the question that was asked.  Another good tactic is to repeat the resume or key word or phases in the question at the beginning of your answer.  Listening is a skills, and it can be improved with practice.

Here’s one final benefit of focusing more on listening and less on having the perfect answer: You will be less nervous during interviews.  People who script answers go into an interview with an anticipation that they know what questions will be asked. The problem is that interviews seldom follow the script.  By listening, you will be engaged in a dialogue with the interviewer.  You will be speaking to her questions and asking questions that will help you show what you can contribute as a new employee.  You will also be more relaxed because you will not be focused on uttering the perfect answer.  Listen first – that’s the key to a great interview.

Posted: October 9, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

A client stopped by to talk about interviewing.  He said that he didn’t feel confident or in control during interviews.  Then he mentioned something that caught my ear: scripting answers to interview questions, which I think is a horrible idea.

Scripts pretend that we can predict what questions will be asked.  What if the interviewer throws you a curve ball?  The script doesn’t work.  It’s a far better interviewing strategy to emphasize listening.  If we understand what the interviewer wants to know, it’s more likely that the answer will make sense and sound natural.  Rather than think of interviews as tests with questions and answers, think of them as controlled conversations.  Yes, you need to give good answers to questions, but they don’t have to be perfect.

Rather than scripting, I suggest using index cards to develop talking points that can be used for different purposes.  For example, a success story could show a person’s ability to lead or solve problems.  It’s easier to remember such “talking points.”  They can be used for different purposes.  Stay flexible.  Think of an interview as a conversation.  Most importantly, stop scripting.