Surviving a Job Interview Part 2

Questions From the Employer’s Perspective

Most employers will get more applications than they can possibly accept. This means they almost always look for reasons to eliminate applicants. This is important to remember, the employer is looking for excuses to reject you.

In addition to having more applicants than jobs, companies face a lot of risk when they hire a new person. A really bad hire can cost tens of thousands of dollars in salary, training costs, and wasted time. A bad new employee will take up management time, hurt morale and lower the productivity of other employees.

As such, most of the questions employers are likely to ask you during the interview are designed to eliminate bad applicants. Let’s look at some of these questions and techniques.

  1. Asking you to explain how you fit into the company. Most employers publicize information about themselves. They have websites and pamphlets you can find online. The question “how do you fit here” really means “have you done your homework and researched us” in many cases. A vague or silly answer will tell the employer you haven’t done any research or preparation. This is a very easy way to get eliminated.

Solution – Do your homework. Learn about the employer before you come to the interview.

  1. Asking you to complain about past employers. This is when the employer asks about the things you didn’t like in your past job. If you’ve never had a professional job, they might ask what you disliked most about your school. This is designed to make you say negative things. “I really hated how my boss always made me use a stupid filing system.” If you were unhappy with your previous job, you will probably be unhappy in your new job. Bosses don’t like unhappy employees.

Solution – Answer by telling the boss ways your old employer could have been more efficient. Instead of complaining about the filing system, for example, say something like “I thought the filing system was inefficient. I suggested a more efficient (specific system) but they weren’t comfortable with upgrading.”

  1. Asking about your biggest weakness. This question is almost always a trap. When the employer asks “what is your biggest weakness” they are really saying “give me an excuse to reject you.” You might be tempted to give an honest answer – “my biggest weakness is organization.” This will get you rejected.

Solution – You shouldn’t lie, but you should deflect the question. My biggest weakness really is organization, but in an interview I should say something like “I used to struggle with organization but these days I’m using the planning program in my phone to organize my life more efficiently.”

  1. Asking what your biggest challenge was – This question is designed to eliminate people who see themselves as victims. Victims don’t like to take responsibility; they are passive and destructive for an employer. When the employer asks about your biggest challenge, they are trying to see if you took responsibility or blamed others. Blaming others for your challenges is an easy way to get rejected.

Solution – You are not a victim. You are responsible for the things that happen around you. If other people are able to push you around and ruin your projects, you need to be stronger. Keep this in mind and take responsibility for the problems you’ve faced.

  1. Asking about your future plans – This is a strategy for eliminating applicants with no long term goals. Most employers would prefer to hire someone who plans to stay with the company for 20 years than someone who just needs a job temporarily. Being vague or silly in your answer is a good way to get rejected.

Solution – Dream big and fill those dreams with lots of details.

  1. Asking about your best experiences at your last job/at school – This question is designed to eliminate applicants who don’t actually care about their work. Answering this question with something silly like “we had free coffee” tells the employer you didn’t actually care about your last job.

Solution – Explain the meaningful things you get out of your work or studies. For example, my best experiences at my current job are watching as students discover new concepts, new ways of thinking. I love this experience and I would feel incomplete if it stopped happening. I care deeply about my work and that feeling is one reason I care. You should have a similar experience.

  1. Asking about your previous responsibilities – This question basically means “were you a robot or did you actively help the company?” A very dry or boring answer here indicates that you will not be a very dynamic employee.

Solution – Focus on the creative or exceptional things you’ve done at your jobs or in school. Talk about the soccer team you organized or the school newspaper you wrote for. Employers like active employees.

  1. Asking about your greatest strengths – Almost all important jobs require confidence. If you don’t know what your own strengths are, you probably aren’t very confident. A meek employee will often meet a company’s needs and thus a bad answer can get you rejected.

Solution – Talk frankly about your successes, but also give credit to supervisors, teachers and coworkers who helped you.

  1. Asking what makes you special – In the English speaking world, very few employers want a “normal” or “average” employee. Normal and average employees do not give their employers any special advantages. Saying “I’m just a normal person,” as many of the applicants I’ve interviewed have said, is an excellent way to get rejected.

Solution – Do interesting things and don’t be afraid to talk about them. If you know how to train dogs, for example, you can explain how your knowledge gives you special insight into behavior. Or, if you can build a computer, it gives you an opportunity to explain how computer building helps you think systematically. Most Western companies want their employees to have “big” lives outside of work. In fact, many companies think that applicants who don’t have outside hobbies and interests are likely dispassionate and unproductive.  

  1. Asking what the most courageous thing you’ve done at work is – Employers want employees who are strong and courageous enough to try difficult tasks. Applicants who are too timid or meek are unlikely to take new opportunities or lead new initiatives when they become employees. If you’ve never done something that required courage, you will probably get rejected.

Solution – Courage doesn’t have to be about fighting lions or jumping out of airplanes. Talk about being the first person in your family to get a master’s degree or how you applied to a poetry club even though you didn’t know anyone who wrote poetry.

  1. Asking how you work on a team – Most jobs will require you to work with others. When an employer asks how you work on a team they are really asking “are you going to fight with my other employees?” If you don’t have specific examples of successfully working on a team, you are likely to get rejected.

Solution – If you don’t already have experience working with a team, get some. If you do have experience working on a team, make sure you can give specific examples of making that team better.

  1. Asking how you handle stress – This is similar to asking you to complain about your previous boss. If you answer that you cry, panic or demand to leave, you are very likely to get rejected.

Solution – Employers like strong employees, not weaklings or victims. You should explain how you keep calm and rational during difficult times.

  1. Asking why you left your old job – This obviously isn’t a problem for new college graduates, but if you’re leaving an old job for a new one, you need to have a good answer. The real meaning of this question is “are you going to abandon my company?”

Solution – Don’t say anything bad about your old boss. Instead, focus on the opportunities in the new job and focus on the positive changes in your life. For example, I left my previous job because the boss didn’t pay his employees on time. However, when I explained this to my new employers I said “I learned a lot at (old company) but I am excited to move onto a career with more stability and greater opportunity.”

  1. Asking if you have questions – This question is obviously an opportunity for you to learn more about the company, but it also shows your interest. If you haven’t prepared a list of questions for the interviewer, it shows you aren’t very interested in the job.

Solution – Do your homework. Ask the interviewer interesting and intelligent questions. Ask to take a tour of the office and ask if you can meet the other people in the office. This makes it much harder for the company to reject you.

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