Episode #10 – Answering and Asking Questions During the Interview

Answering and Asking Questions During the Interview

Sharita: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, search consultant Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help organizations acquire top talent, while helping professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about answering and asking questions during the face-to-face interview. Hello, Stacy, and welcome to the program.

Stacy: Hello, I’m glad to be here today.

Sharita: Stacy, in a previous podcast, we talked about how to prepare for the face-to-face interview, how to set yourself up for success. What specifically we will be discussing in today’s podcast?

Stacy: Today, we’re going to examine some of the questions that you should be prepared for and also some of the questions that you as the candidate should ask.

Sharita: When it comes to being prepared for questions, there are many that employers can and do ask candidates, is that correct?

Stacy: That’s right. It’s almost impossible to be prepared for every single question that an employer might ask during an interview. But there are some questions that are common and that just about every employer asks. These are questions that are considered important in deciding whether or not a person is a good fit.

Sharita: What are some of those common questions?

Stacy: There are many questions like that, but I’d like to start with some straightforward questions. I call them straightforward because they’re rather blunt and candidates are sometimes not ready for them. Not only do employers want an answer to these questions, but they also want to see how the candidate reacts when the question is asked.

Sharita: Is it common for hiring authorities to intentionally try to knock candidates off balance like that during the interview?

Stacy: Absolutely. They want to see how the candidate reacts to the unexpected and thinks on their feet. I have four straightforward interview questions that candidates should be prepared for. These aren’t trick questions, but they’re difficult to answer immediately if you’re not prepared for them.

The first one is, “Why do you want to work here?” This is not a question that can be answered “off the cuff,” which is why it’s being asked. It’s actually a smart question to ask, first because it’s simple and to the point and second because it can be very revealing. Motivation is an important factor for companies looking to hire. So they want to know what motivates the candidates they’re interviewing.

The second question is not really a question, but a directive. It’s, “Describe a past project that was a failure.” To a potential new employer, how you handle failure is just as important as how you handle success.

The third question is also a directive. It’s, “Describe a major challenge that you conquered during the past 12 months.” Companies want to know that first, you’re being challenged on a consistent basis, and second, that you’re overcoming those challenges.

The fourth question is, “Why should we hire you and not another candidate?” This is another bold question, but one that makes sense. After all, you’re there to convince company officials that YOU are the best person for the position. Since that’s the case, you should be prepared to make a compelling argument.

Sharita: Candidates should be prepared for more than just four questions, though, is that right?

Stacy: Of course. There are also some other standard questions asked during the interview. These aren’t quite as straightforward as the ones I just presented, but chances are good that they’ll be asked. Candidates should be prepared for those questions, as well.

Sharita: What are these other standard questions?

Stacy: Once again, some of these are questions and others are directives, but they’re all designed to reveal information.

The first one is, “Tell me about yourself.” Just about everybody expects to be asked this question. Keep your answer to the professional realm only. Review your past positions, education, and other strengths.

The second is, “What do you know about our organization?” If you’ve done your research, you should have no problem with this one. Be positive with everything that you say.

The third is, “Why are you interested in this position?” When answering this question, relate how you feel your qualifications match the job requirements and express your desire to work for the company.

The fourth is, “What are the most significant accomplishments in your career so far?” You might have a lot of accomplishments, but be sure to pick recent accomplishments that relate to this specific position and its requirements.

The fifth is, “Describe a situation in which your work was criticized.” This is similar to the question I discussed earlier about a project that turned out to be a failure. When answering it, focus on how you addressed the situation and how you became a better person because of it.

Sharita: Are there any interview questions that candidates should be especially careful about answering?

Stacy: Well, you should be careful about every question you answer during the interview, but there are questions like that. I have a few of them, such as:

• “What did you like least about your last position?”
• “Why are you considering leaving your current position?”
• “What do you think of your boss?”

There’s a chance there are things you did not like about your last position and your current position. You might not think very highly of your boss, either. However, this is not the time for brutal honesty.

In other words, do not “trash” a former employer, your current employer, or your boss. Be tactful with your answers and emphasize why you are no longer a fit for those organizations. When discussing your boss, be honest without assigning blame or bad-mouthing anybody. An organization does not want to hire somebody who has a track record of bad-mouthing their employers.

And if you’re applying for a management position, you might get this question: “Have you ever fired anyone? If so, what was the situation and how did you handle it?”

Once again, be careful with your answer. If you have fired somebody, explain the situation or situations truthfully, but do not speak ill of anybody. Lay out your thought processes and if it applies, highlight what you learned.

Sharita: That’s very insightful. Do you have any other tips for answering questions during the interview?

Stacy: I certainly do. How you deliver your answers is just as important as what your answers are.

For example, don’t interrupt the person interviewing you. If you don’t have time to listen, neither does the employer.

Second, give complete answers. Don’t answer with a simple “Yes” or “No,” but don’t ramble on and on, either. Answer the question as completely and succinctly as you can. You can do this by answering with one sentence first and then expounding upon it. Focus on relaying your point and conveying the message. When you finish, you can ask if there are any other details they’d like you to provide.

Third, provide examples and proof, when possible. Your answers should include concrete examples of your accomplishments. It’s always better to prove that you’re the best candidate for the position rather than just claim that you’re the best. Specific numbers are even better, since you’re quantifying the value that you’ve provided to your employers. This will help make your answers more memorable after the interview is over.

Fourth, don’t chew gum, or have anything else in your mouth. If you have a habit of biting your nails when you’re nervous, don’t do it during the interview.

Fifth, don’t lie. This should seem like a no-brainer, but I have to bring it up because it happens. Yes, candidates still lie during the interview. They sometimes exaggerate about their experience or their skill level. However, it’s not exaggerating in the eyes of the hiring authority. It’s lying.

Finally, don’t answer questions that seem vague. Get the person asking the question to be more specific and then respond.

Sharita: Okay, now that we’ve explored the questions a candidate will be asked during the interview and how to answer them, what about the questions that the candidate should ask?

Stacy: Yes, you should always ask questions during the interview. I’ve said this before: an interview is NOT a one-way street. You’re interviewing the employer just as much as they’re interviewing you. That’s why if an interviewer asks if you have any questions, and you say, “No,” then you should expect to not get the job.

What you should do is ask researched and thoughtful questions. This is also a great chance to separate yourself from the competition. Remember that you’re competing for this position against other candidates; you need to set yourself apart any way you can. To accomplish this, you’ll need to research the company, the other people in the interview, the position, and everything else you possibly can about the organization.

Sharita: What are some questions that candidates should ask?

Stacy: If you want to stand apart from the competition, then you should show a desire to understand the needs of your potential employer. That means asking questions that go “below the surface” and get to the heart of why the employer is hiring in the first place.

Asking these types of questions are what will impress a hiring manger and get their attention. That’s because you’re addressing their concerns and making the interview about them instead of you.

I have a series of 10 questions that a candidate can ask that helps accomplish this.

1. What specific skills are absolutely critical for this position?

2. What kinds of “soft skills” or “people skills” do you believe are important?

3. How long has this position been open?

4. How crucial is filling this position to the day-to-day operations of the company?

5. What’s the biggest challenge facing your company at the moment?

6. How long has this been a challenge for the company?

7. What efforts have been taken to this point to address the challenge?

8. What has been the result of those efforts?

9. What are the company’s future plans for addressing the challenge?

10. Is there a part of my background, experience, or skill set that you believe would help you to address this challenge?

Sharita: Wow, that is quite a series of questions! Candidates don’t typically ask questions like that, do they?

Stacy: Unfortunately, they don’t, but they should. It makes them stand out in a good way and makes them more memorable to the interviewers.

Sharita: We’re about out of time for today, but how would you sum up answering and asking questions during the interview?

Stacy: Candidates need to know what their motivation is for seeking new employment, they need to know how their skills and background make them the best fit, and they should not bad-mouth present or past employers. When it comes to asking questions, candidates should ask in-depth questions that show a desire to address whatever challenges the employer is currently facing.

Sharita: Stacy, thanks so much for all of this great information today.

Stacy: Thank you, Sharita. I look forward to our next podcast!