Interview Questions – Part IV

This month, we continue our series on interview questions. But before we begin, here’s some excuses people have given for taking time off work, according to a recent study by Accountemps, a Canadian recruiting firm:

  • I need time to find myself.
  • The pool is broken.
  • My cat has hairballs.
  • My partner and I need to practice for the square-dancing contest.
  • I’m taking a few days off to start my own business.
  • I’m going to jail.

It’s a wonder these people got through the interviewing process. Now, on to the questions…

Why do you want to work here?
To effectively answer this question, you must have thoroughly researched the company and the kind of work they will expect you do do. This will allow you to state specifically why you would be a good fit. For example, you may say:

“The type of documentation projects I’d be working on are similar to those I’ve done previously, and involve the type of work I enjoy doing best. I find that when I’m doing what I like, it’s a great motivator to do a good job, and therefore I think I’d be able to make a solid contribution here.”

What have you learned at your previous jobs?
This question represents a good chance to restate your strengths and tie them in to the current position. You may say, for example, that you’ve learned the importance of being approachable and always encouraging open communication with your peers. This has resulted in a higher quality of drafts during review time, because people are not shy about approaching you with practical suggestions for enhancing the documentation.

How long would it take you to make a contribution?
You need to get more information before answering this question. Ask a question such as “What are your greatest areas of need right now?” or “What would be my responsibilities for the first six months or so?” From this, you can base your response, which may be something like:

“It might take me a week or two to get settled in and learn what I need to about your documentation process. But during that time, I can be making a real contribution. Are there any special projects that you want me to be involved in right away?”

The strength of this response is that it gets the interviewer already thinking of you as an employee.

How do you handle stress?
A good strategy for this question is to state the ways you minimize or eliminate stress. You can list things like:

  • carefully planning all projects to minimize “surprises”
  • continually monitoring the status of your projects, and following up with others when necessary
  • recognizing that new and unexpected events can happen, and reprioritizing when necessary
  • taking regular breaks to clear you mind and get refocused

If possible, give a specific example of a particularly busy time that you had, and how you handled it.
Keep in mind that some stress is actually productive, because it can give you the energy needed to get the job done. It’s only when you have too much stress that your work can begin to suffer. Also, although most people associate stress with having too much to do, note that not having enough work to do can also be stressful. You may want to say that you handle any down time by reviewing other projects such as older documentation that has not been reviewed in a long time.

Why should we hire you?
This may seem like a tough question, but it is, in fact, a “dream” question, the one question that you should hope you will be asked. In fact, as I stated at the beginning of this serious on interview questions, all the questions you will be asked are simply variations of this question. The interviewer wants to know exactly what makes you so special that they will pick you over the many other equally qualified candidates.

You need to highlight the areas from your background that relate to the needs of the job. Recap the job description and match it point by point to your skills. Drive home the fact that you are enthusiastic, a team player and that you are ideally suited for this position, but be specific. This question represents one of your single best opportunities to sell your strengths. A sample response would be:

“This position needs someone who’s able to handle multiple projects at the same time, has strong technical skills and is able to give effective feedback on product design. My experience has shown I’ve got these skills, and that I have a genuine enthusiasm for what I do. This has meant I’ve been able to make a meaningful contribution at all of my positions. And I’m proud of the fact that I’ve always been able to improve both the documentation and the processes for developing it wherever I’ve worked.”

Next month, we’ll wrap up our discussion on interview questions.

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