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Do you believe you're overqualified for this position?

Most people don't expect to be asked if they have a great deal of experience. This question could quite easily catch a candidate off guard, which is exactly the interviewer's intention. The candidate doesn't hesitate in answering this question and shows complete confidence in his or her ability.

"Not at all. My experience and qualifications make me do my job only better, and in my opinion, my good design skills help to sell more books. My business experience helps me run the art department in a cost-efficient manner, thus saving the company money. Finally, I think I'm able to attract better freelance talent because of all my industry contacts. My qualifications are better for your company, too, since you'll be getting a better return for your investment. Again, I'm interested in establishing a long-term relationship with my employer, and if I did well, I would expect expanded responsibilities that could make use of even other skills."

What would you do if one of our competitors offered you a position?

The interviewer is trying to determine whether the candidate is truly interested in the industry and company, or whether he or she has chosen the company randomly. Contrast your perceptions of the company with its competitors, and talk about the company's products or services that you've encountered. In the long run, which players do you believe are most viable and why? This is also a good place to ask the interviewer for his or her opinion.

"I'd say no. I'm not interested in other players in this industry. I want to work for Nike because I won a number of races wearing the Nike brand. Because of my positive experience with Nike, I know I'd be convincing selling your product to retailers."

What's your dream job?

This is your ideal chance to sell your aptitudes that fit the job description. Show an interest in finding new ways these skills can be put to use in a new job with additional responsibilities. Tie in the industry, size of company, or other factors where appropriate.

"My dream job would include all of the responsibilities and duties in this position you're trying to fill. I also thrive in a fast-changing environment where there's business growth. Your plans call for expanding internationally during the next year, and this would satisfy one of my ultimate goals of being involved in an international corporation."

What motivates you to do this kind of work?

The interviewer will want to know about your belief in the products or services of the company. Use personal experience to demonstrate your interests and strengths. In an interview for your ideal job, you'd be highly motivated to get paid for working at something you liked. The interviewer will want to know if your natural interests are compatible with its particular job.

"I've been fortunate in my own schooling; I had wonderful teachers. I want to be that same kind of teacher-who not only encourages kids to learn but also sets an example that inspires others to want to teach. In the long run, that's our best chance of turning around the quality of education in this state."

Why should I hire you?

Don't repeat your resume or employment history. Offer one or two examples to explain why you're talking to this particular company. What's the most compelling example you can give to prove your interest? This question often remains unasked, but it's always in the back of the recruiter's mind. Even if this question isn't asked, you should find an opportunity to use your prepared response sometime during the interview, perhaps in your closing remarks.

"My uncle had a company that was a small-scale manufacturer in the industry, and although he later sold the business, I worked there for five summers doing all sorts of odd jobs. For that reason I believe I know this business from the ground up, and you can be assured that I know what I'd be getting into as a plant manager here."

What are your strengths?

Describe two or three skills you have that are most relevant to the job. Avoid clich?s or generalities; offer specific evidence. Describe new ways these skills could be put to use in the new position. If you have to talk about weaknesses, be honest without shooting yourself in the foot-avoid pointing out a weakness that could be a major obstacle in landing the job. For example, it might be wise to mention you barely have the required work experience for the job; the interviewer has surely noticed this much, and then you can explain how you're qualified nonetheless.

"My strengths are interpersonal skills, and I can usually win people over to my point of view. Also, I have good judgment about people and an intuitive sense of their talents and their ability to contribute to a given problem. These skills seem to me directly related to the job. I notice that you require three years' work experience for this job. Although my resume shows I've only two years' experience, it doesn't show that I took two evening college courses related to my field and have been active in one of the professional societies. I also try to gain knowledge by reading the industry's trade journals. I'm certain that my combined knowledge and skill level is the equivalent of that of other people who do have three years' of work experience. I'm also currently enrolled in a time-management course; I can already see the effects of this course at work on my present job."

How do you explain your job success?

Be candid without sounding arrogant. Mention observations other people have made about your work strengths or talents. This question is similar to the question "What sets you apart from the crowd?"

"I never assume our customers are satisfied with our product, so I do my best to follow up with every customer. This feedback has provided valuable insight into the quality and characteristics of our products. The customer, as well, always appreciates this follow-up, especially when something hasn't gone right and you still have the opportunity to correct it on a timely basis. In addition, I'm able to pass on information to our design and production units to help improve both process and product."

Would your current boss describe you as the kind of employee who goes the extra mile?

Be ready to offer proof that you persevere to see important projects through and to achieve important results. Share an example that demonstrates your dependability or willingness to tackle a tough project. If you describe "long hours of work," make sure you demonstrate that the hours were productive, and not just the result of poor time management.

"Absolutely. In fact, on my annual evaluations she writes that I'm the most dependable and flexible person on her staff. I think this is mostly because of my ability to juggle and prioritize. Would you like an example?"

Tell me about a time you didn't perform to your capabilities.

This question forces the candidate to describe a negative situation. Do so in the context of an early career mistake based on inexperience; then demonstrate the better judgment you now have as a result of that learning experience.

"The first time I had to give a presentation to our board, I failed to anticipate some of their questions. I was unprepared for anything other than what I wanted to report. Now my director and I brainstorm all the what-ifs in advance."

How do you manage stress in your daily work?

It might be helpful here to describe a stressful project you've worked on and the specific actions you took to organize each step and see the project through. How do you keep yourself calm and professional under pressure?

"I try to get out for lunch at least once during the week to clear my head. I also have a personal rule that stops me from reacting to a problem until I feel calm about it. I think, then act-but I've learned to do that over time."

How do you regroup when things haven't gone as planned?

Describe a time when some obstacle forced you to change your original plan, but you were still able to achieve the desired result. Did you rally the support of others to make this happen? With hindsight, how might you have better predicted the obstacle?

"I start by trying to imagine the worst possible outcome; then I back up and identify precautions I can take to avoid that scenario. In this way I usually end up with a result close to the original goal. The training example I described earlier is proof of that skill."

Why is service such an important issue?

The interviewer is trying to determine if the candidate understands the importance of customer service in establishing a positive image in the marketplace, and its impact on new business sales. Outstanding customer service is also a great help in establishing long-term clients and repeat business-the profitable company's bread and butter. The longer the relationship, the greater the possibility for profit.

"Service is a major contributor to customer satisfaction. Just as important as, or maybe even more important than, cost. If a customer isn't receiving a level of service that meets or exceeds his or her expectations, that customer won't be a customer for very long. In addition, that customer's experience with your company may affect how potential customers in the marketplace view your company. People do talk and share information. This may affect not only profits but future sales as well. In many instances service may be the one thing that distinguishes a company from the competition. A bad reputation for service may compromise a company's position in the marketplace."

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate customer. How did you handle the situation?

How you react when others lose their temper or become upset is very important in most positions, especially those in service industries. The interviewer will be looking for evidence of your aptitude for work that involves a great deal of contact with the public. Give an example of a time when you were faced with a difficult person and how you handled it. Your answer should illustrate your maturity, diplomacy, and awareness of the needs and feelings of others.

"My customer service position at the telephone company involved dealing occasionally with irate customers. When that happened, I'd try to talk in a calm, even voice, in order to get the person to respond in a businesslike manner and focus on trying to resolve the situation. Most times I was able to rectify the problem and pacify the customer, but I remember one incident in particular in which the caller became verbally abusive. I tried to remain calm and professional and not to let my personal feelings enter into the situation. I didn't respond to the abuse, I just made a not of it and continued to help he customer as best I could. When the abuse persisted, however, I politely asked him to call back and ask for my manager, because at that point I knew I shouldn't resolve the problem."

How do you manage your work week and make realistic deadlines?

To answer this question effectively, describe in detail how you establish priorities, set deadlines, and determine schedules.

"I always reserve two hours of dead time every day to handle any unanticipated problems that may occur. I used to plan for eight or nine hours of project time, but now I find that I'm able to manage my own projects, as well as whatever my boss and staff need from me."

What personal skill or work habit have you struggled to improve?

This question is similar to "Describe a professional skill you've developed in your most recent job." However, here you probably want to discuss an improvement from the earliest days of your career or from your relatively distant past. Make sure you convince the interviewer that this particular work habit is no longer an obstacle.

"I had to learn to say no. I used to be helpful to the point that other staff abused my goodwill. Now I offer to help by countering with something I'd like help on in return. On balance I believe the trade-off is more equitable, and cooperation in our office has improved over time."

What color is your brain?

Be aware that you'll probably be asked zany questions. The point is not to stump you, but to find out what makes you tick. When the standard interview questions are asked, people are prepared, and it's harder for the recruiter to get to know the real person. An advertising recruiter, for example, tries to avoid this. There is no right or wrong answer to this type of question. In fact, the recruiter won't even really care what your answer is. He or she just doesn't want to hear something like, "I don't know, I guess it's blue because that's the way I imagine it." The point is to see how creative you are and how you think. Be sure to explain why you answered the way you did.

"My brain is red because I'm always hot. I'm always on fire with new plans and ideas."

If you got on an elevator where everyone was facing the back, what would you do?

Interviews in creative fields like advertising and graphic design are different from other types of job interviews. Advertising recruiters tend to have a different interview style and process, usually conducting more of a behavioral interview. Recruiters ask questions like these to figure out what your behavior might be in a particular real-life situation.

"I think I'd face the front anyway and say aloud, 'It's really much more comfortable facing forward, you know.' "

What's the most creative or innovative project you've worked on?

Provide examples of your initiative and resourcefulness. Discuss how your leadership skills have helped you accomplish your goals. Give a specific example that shows a creative, new, or unusual approach to reaching your goals.

"During my summer job at Cellular One, I noticed that the sales inquiries were distributed haphazardly to all the marketing assistants in the office. I decided to set up a system grouping inquiries according to region or according to company size. This approach enabled the entire marketing team to come up with better and more creative solutions to our sales problems."

Consider the following scenario: You're working late one evening and are the last person in the office. You answer an urgent telephone call to your supervisor from a sales rep who's currently meeting with a potential client. The sales rep needs an answer to a question to close the sale. Tomorrow will be too late. You have the expertise to answer the question, but it's beyond your normal level of authority. How do you respond?

This response shows that the candidate is confident in his or her ability and can be counted on in an emergency. Similarly, your answer should indicate that you're not afraid to be the decision maker in a tough situation, even if the situation's beyond your normal level of authority.

"I'd get all the pertinent information, taking well-documented notes. I'd answer the question based on my knowledge and the information provided. I'd leave my supervisor a note and fill him or her in on the details the next morning. I'd be sure to explain my decision, as well as the thought process behind it."

Give me proof of your persuasiveness.

This is a question about leadership, but try not to use an example in which you were the designated leader. If possible, describe a time when you didn't really have authority but instead used your powers of persuasion to get people on your side. Describe your goal and the outcome of your efforts. Why did people trust or believe you?

"During my summer internship I was assigned the task of conducting a benchmarking study for all the communication expenditures for a major utility. I had to get the consensus of employees in several different departments. Unfortunately, they resented the fact that I was just a summer intern, and they refused to cooperate. I had to schedule individual meetings with every employee and persuade each one that I was doing what would be ultimately to his or her own department and to the company. After a frustrating month, I finally got everyone's cooperation, the project went flawlessly, and in the end I received a bonus for my efforts."

What's your most productive or ideal work setting?

The interviewer wants to know the impact that the candidate's working environment has on his or her job performance. How well would you fit the position, physical layout of the department, and attitudes of the particular work group? Emphasize your ability to work in a variety of settings and how you've managed to be productive in less-than-ideal work environments.

"I like having at least one hour of uninterrupted time in the early morning to plan my day. I usually start around 7 a.m. Otherwise, I enjoy an office with open doors, constant feedback, and lots of energy and activity. It helps me work more productively when I sense how busy everyone else is, too."

Do you prefer continuity in structure or frequent change in your daily work?

Your answer should be consistent with the job description. Describe environments that have allowed you to remain interested and learn new things without getting bored.

"I enjoy challenge and change, which is why I frequently ask for the tough assignments. The last two projects we discussed were ones that I asked for. I don't allow myself to get bored."

What environments allow you to be especially effective?

Emphasize your flexibility and your ability to work in many different types of environments. Your answer should not consist of a laundry list of requirements private office, few interruptions, and so onor the interviewer may conclude that you will be difficult to satisfy.

"Although I can work effectively in most environments, I prefer environments where people are their own bosses, within reason. I like to have a goal but be able to draw my own map to get there. To accomplish goals, I rely on asking questions and finding people receptive, so cooperation and access are important to me in a work group."

To be continued...


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