When Can You Start? Ace the Job Interview and Get Hired, Third Edition

When Can You Start? Ace the Job Interview and Get Hired, Third Edition

by Paul Freiberger


Publisher Career Upshift Productions

Published in Business & Investing/Skills, Business & Investing/General, Nonfiction, Business & Investing/Job Hunting & Careers, Business & Money

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Book Description

The job interview. It is the make-or-break moment that can change your life. Job interviews present the key step in the job search process and help you get hired. Los Angeles Times award-winning author, Paul Freiberger offers a clear, entertaining guide with the best job interview help and preparation and proven tools and tips for success to ace the interview and win the job.

Sample Chapter

(Don’t) Tell Me about Your Weaknesses

By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.

—Winston Churchill

Every interview is different, but every interview is the same. There may be some unusual questions, even the occasional detour into the bizarre, but three questions are thoroughly predictable. In fact, they are so likely to be raised that, when the conversation turns to life’s inevitabilities, they deserve equal billing with death and taxes.

Here are the big three topics of the job interview:

· Tell me about yourself.

· Tell me about your strengths.

· Tell me about your weaknesses.

Every interviewee should see these coming. No one should be taken by surprise, and no one should ever consider, even for a fleeting moment, walking into an interview without well-prepared answers to the big three questions.

You might think that interviewers bristle at answers that seem rehearsed. Interviewers are, by and large, no fools. They know full well that these questions are always asked. They know you know that as well. You know, or you should know, that your interviewer knows that you know.

It’s a truth worth acknowledging. Your interviewer knows that everyone asks these questions, and he knows that you will have anticipated them and, if you’re serious, prepared your answers. If the questions take you by surprise, that alone speaks volumes about your attitude. You prove that you haven’t taken the process very seriously, and that’s not the attitude that tends to get an applicant to the next stage of the hiring process.

It should be clear, then, that you should prepare. This does not mean that you should drone on endlessly and deliver a monotonous recitation of a memorized script. It does mean that you should think through your answers and practice your delivery.

Your Weaknesses

All three questions are important, but one of them is especially tricky: tell me about your weaknesses.

This question is a trap.

To avoid falling into the trap, you must remember one thing about yourself, even though that one thing is patently false: for the purposes of the interview, you have no weaknesses.

Obviously, this is an outright lie. We all have weaknesses. Not one of us is perfect. Human beings are inherently flawed, some more than others, and we are just as flawed at work as we are in any other part of our lives.

This is not breaking news. It is not something that has somehow escaped the interviewer’s notice over the years, and it is unlikely that the interviewer expects to spend his days evaluating a parade of superhuman candidates. You will not be asked to turn water into wine during the interview.

Is the right approach, then, to elaborate on your many foibles and idiosyncrasies? No, this approach misses the point.

The interviewer knows that you are human. Therefore, he knows that you have weaknesses. He also knows, however, that if you are a smart candidate, you will find a way to answer the question without disclosing those weaknesses—or, at least, those weaknesses that would be fatal to your prospects. You, being that smart candidate, will accommodate him. You will play the game by answering the question without actually answering the question.

You might be tempted to throw some real weaknesses out there because they seem trivial or innocuous. Resist. You run the risk of showcasing exactly those weaknesses that are worrying the employer. Unless you can read the interviewer’s mind, you are perilously close to falling into the very trap that the question has set. You can, however, talk about actual weaknesses if you frame them properly, and the result may be an answer that sounds more honest and still does you some good.

The Usual Suspects

Unless your interviewer is new to the job, there are some answers that she has heard at least a thousand times before. These are the kind of answers that probably occurred to people who were interested in joining the pyramid-building team being assembled by Tutankhamen, and people still use them all too often.

The classic example is “I’m a perfectionist,” followed closely in popularity by “I work too hard.”

There are two problems with this type of response. First, the answer is meaningless. It is obvious that the applicant is mouthing something that sounds like a weakness, at the same time expecting the interviewer to recognize that it’s really a fabulously desirable strength. The answer is disingenuous at best, but that’s not all that’s wrong. The second problem is that it gives the interviewer clear and convincing evidence that the applicant has not given the process much thought. If you weren’t willing or able to take the interview seriously, how likely is it that you will approach your job with a better attitude?

Once you have admitted to your horrible perfectionism, do not expect the interviewer to be stunned into silence by the blinding realization that this flaw of yours is exactly what the company needs. That will not happen.

Your interviewer, having reviewed your paperwork and spent a few minutes chatting, has probably noticed at least four of your unacknowledged flaws already. Amazingly enough, perfectionism is not among those flaws, but your interviewer is ready with more questions. She may ask for a concrete example of the terrible consequences of your alleged flaw. She may ask you to describe some more of your weaknesses. Whatever happens next, be prepared, because your first answer did not get you very far.

Another option, of course, is to take the plunge and simply say that you have no weaknesses. That choice may seem to make a certain sense in context, since it aligns so well with the apparent goal of convincing the interviewer that you are free of faults, but the goal is actually slightly different. The real goal is to present yourself as a human being complete with flaws, but one whose weaknesses need not trouble someone who makes hiring decisions.

What Do Interviewers Want?

Bear in mind that your interviewer has heard it all before. The phony, too-good-to-be-true answers have all been tried. They have failed, but not only because they are inherently unconvincing. On one level, they also show that a candidate has not given the interview much thought. An interviewer will be tempted to extrapolate from that thoughtlessness, wondering if the applicant has the capacity to think critically about his own performance.

One thing that interviewers want, then, is a candidate with some level of self-awareness.

In addition, many interviewers see the question as a way to evaluate the applicant’s ability to think creatively and to perform under pressure. Admittedly, this is something of a stretch, since everyone sees—or should see—the question coming.

There is also a school of thought that sees the question as a mistake, the equivalent of asking the candidate for reasons to choose someone else for the job. That school holds that there is a qualitative difference between asking for a simple statement of your weaknesses and asking for a description of work situations that have given you trouble in the past, along with a summary of how you dealt with them.

As a result, interviewers have learned to vary the phrasing of the question. Instead of asking you to talk about your biggest weakness, they try different approaches. “What would your last manager say about ways in which your work could improve?” “What areas of your performance are you working on?”

Sometimes, the approach is more specific. “Think of three situations that you found difficult and tell me what you did to overcome those difficulties.” “Tell me about a project that did not go as expected, and describe what happened and how you responded.”

All of these are simply variations on the weakness theme, and none of them requires a whole new approach. In fact, if you develop an effective strategy for even the simplest version of the question, you should be able to deal with variations without breaking a sweat.

Any strategy you use should recognize the question in its many forms and respond to it in a way that addresses the interviewer’s concerns. As long as your answer does those two things, you have some latitude in choosing your specific approach.

From Out of the Past

Beginning with the proposition that you are not about to sabotage your own interview by discoursing on your real weaknesses, all that is left is to talk about your strengths.

You can tilt the conversation in the right direction by describing something that seemed like a weakness when you first confronted it. You were not sure that you were up to the task, but you learned something by overcoming your concerns.

“Describe something that has given you trouble at your job.”

“Hmmm, great question. I really think I have the skills and experience for this job. Perhaps early in my career I was a bit too ambitious about taking on tasks. Back when I was with Company X, my manager came to me after a week and asked if I could handle part of a presentation in addition to my regular job, because someone had just left and the company was in a bind. Well, maybe I should have turned him down because it seemed like a daunting task, but I wanted to be helpful. And that taught me just how much I can accomplish when I set my mind to it. It may not have been the most perfect presentation, but it got the job done, and I ended up learning an area that had been unfamiliar to me.”

The answer deals with a weakness that turns out to be illusory, while emphasizing a willingness to take on new things and go the extra mile.

The particular weakness is irrelevant. What matters is that you have dealt with the problem.

“Tell me about your weaknesses.”

“When I first started out, I had trouble sorting out a good balance between life and work. I realized that my time management skills needed improvement and that my unbalanced approach wasn’t best for my family, my employer, and me. I decided to get a better handle on things, and I devoted a lot of energy to developing better ways to manage my projects and my time. For the past two years, I have settled on a system that combines my calendar and all my project information. That system allows me to break things down into discrete chunks, make reliable forecasts of project timing, and allocate my resources realistically. At the same time, I joined a gym and started a healthy diet. Those changes have served me well, and I’m in much better shape, at work and at home, because I’m more in control of all the competing demands that everyone faces.”

Not every weakness you mention in an interview has to be a thing of the past, as long as you don’t present it as something that is currently out of control despite your best efforts. The two keys are that you demonstrate your awareness of a particular weakness and describe the steps you are taking, and have taken, to get it under control. It is perfectly acceptable to still need to take those steps. It is not acceptable to let a weakness grow unchecked.

This is another time when the subject matter of your answer is of little consequence unless the weakness has special relevance to the job requirements. In other words, if the job requires someone with a commitment to obsessive accuracy, and you have a problem with getting details right, it may be time to look for other opportunities. It is certainly not the time to confess your tendency to approach your work too casually.

Here, the best answers come in two parts. They require some actual awareness of your flaws and some attempt to remedy them. Part one is devoted to a description of the weakness. Part two is a description of your response.

In other words, you’re talking about a real weakness that you have worked on and that may still be something you need to watch. A weakness then becomes a skill, even if there is still room for improvement.

Some examples:

“When I moved from General Stuff to Amalgamated Widgets a few years ago, there was one part of my job that was new to me, and it was the one part I didn’t enjoy. I tended to put that task off until the end of the day. That meant that there were days when I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to finish the job; and, because of that, I didn’t always produce my best work in that one area. It also meant that the rest of my day was impacted by the knowledge that I would need to tackle that task. The best approach for me, I learned, was to do that kind of task first. This meant that I had enough time to do it well and that my approach to the rest of the day was much more positive. Even now, I occasionally have to remind myself to tackle those tough jobs first, so I still order my priorities with that in mind.”


Excerpted from "When Can You Start? Ace the Job Interview and Get Hired, Third Edition" by Paul Freiberger. Copyright © 2016 by Paul Freiberger. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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