‘Lean Cui­sine’ and other use­ful in­ter­view an­swers

Los Angeles Times - - JOBS - — Marco Buscaglia,

Most job can­di­dates pre­pare them­selves for stan­dard in­ter­view ques­tions by re­hears­ing stan­dard in­ter­view an­swers, a prac­tice that won’t do much to dis­tin­guish them from other po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees.

“When some­one is look­ing for a job, they fig­ure they have to play it safe,” says Don­ald Walsh, a ca­reer coach based in San Jose. “They give rou­tine an­swers


to the who, where, why and what ques­tions they get from a re­cruiter, and as a re­sult, they be­come just another face in the crowd, just another re­sume in the pile.”

Walsh says in­ter­vie­wees don’t have to take it to the ex­treme, ei­ther.

“I’m not sug­gest­ing out­landish sto­ries about climb­ing a moun­tain or cur­ing cancer,” he says. “I’m sug­gest­ing real sto­ries with real re­sults.”

A lit­tle more 'me'

To il­lus­trate his point, Walsh says he of­ten asks his clients the most ob­vi­ous of all in­ter­view ques­tions, “Tell me some­thing about your­self,” and nine times out of 10, he gets the same an­swer.

“They all say the same things: ‘I’m a hard worker,’ or some vari­a­tion on that,” says Walsh. “And my re­sponse is al­ways, ‘Oh, that’s too bad. We were look­ing for some­one who was lazy.’ Of course, the per­son in­ter­view­ing for the job is go­ing to say he or she is a hard worker. That comes out of ev­ery­one’s mouth. That’s the ex­pected re­sponse.”

What’s not ex­pected, says Walsh, is the hon­est an­swer that goes be­yond buzz­words.

With­out delv­ing too much into your per­sonal life, Walsh sug­gests an­swer­ing the “about your­self” ques­tion with a quick sum­mary of your tal­ents and skills.

“Take a lis­ti­cle ap­proach,” says Walsh. “Have a se­ries of witty sen­tences ready. Say things like, ‘I was the fourth of four chil­dren, so I have no prob­lem be­ing left alone to fig­ure out how to solve a prob­lem’ or ‘Well, I sit near the kitchen in my cur­rent job and I’ve learned that some of the best ideas are gen­er­ated while peo­ple wait for their Lean Cuisines to fin­ish cook­ing in the mi­crowave.’”

The point, Walsh says, is that job seek­ers need to take the ba­sic an­swer and turn it into some­thing mem­o­rable, and since most in­ter­view­ers lead with the ob­vi­ous ques­tions, you have a chance to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your skills from those of other hope­fuls five min­utes into the in­ter­view.

“You give that ‘Lean Cui­sine’ an­swer and your in­ter­viewer might make a face and think, ‘OK, that’s a lit­tle odd’ to her­self, but I’ll bet you she writes down ‘Lean Cui­sine’ in her notes,” Walsh says. “Then, in a cou­ple of days, when she’s re­view­ing can­di­dates and all her notes are es­sen­tially the same, she’ll come across the ‘Lean Cui­sine’ line and think to her­self that you were a bit more orig­i­nal and a bit more ap­proach­able than the other can­di­dates. When she’s de­cided who gets called back for the sec­ond round, you’re go­ing to be on that list.”

Eve on the prize

Yolanda Valen­ski, a former re­cruiter for Xerox Corp. in Nor­walk, Conn., says she agrees with Walsh’s ap­proach, but em­pha­sizes that job seek­ers should stay fo­cused on the job they’re af­ter.

“Ev­ery an­swer you give in an in­ter­view has to have some con­nec­tion to the job you want,” says Valen­ski. “Lit­tle anec­dotes about your­self are great but they have to re­late to the job.”

Eas­ier said than done, Valen­ski ac­knowl­edges, but the New York-based cor­po­rate trainer says can­di­dates can eas­ily make their state­ments about the job if they do a lit­tle home­work.

“Let’s say you’re ap­ply­ing for a job as a project man­ager for a tech group that will design soft­ware for home sales,” says Valen­ski. “Your an­swers should re­flect a deeper in­ter­est in that job. If you’re asked why you should be hired, skip the hard-work lines and talk about buy­ing your first house, and how the process was un­nec­es­sar­ily dif­fi­cult, or what a par­ent had to deal with when sell­ing their home af­ter liv­ing there 30 years. You put your­self in the job. You sur­round your­self with its back­story. You be­come not just the can­di­date, but the job it­self.”

Heady stuff, Valen­ski ad­mits, but not as com­plex as you might think.

“Ba­si­cally, job can­di­dates have to prove they’re all in when it comes to get­ting the job,” she says. “They have to let their re­cruiter know that they have a per­sonal con­nec­tion to that par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion.” Walsh agrees.

“You’re fight­ing for your pro­fes­sional life, so you use what you can from your per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life to get the job,” he says. “There’s no more ‘work you’ and ‘home you.’ It’s all the same per­son. Re­cruiters aren’t ask­ing you to sign your life away, but they want to know you have an in­ter­est in the po­si­tion that goes be­yond col­lect­ing the pay­check.”

And the best way to sell em­ploy­ers on your com­mit­ment is to go be­yond the cookie-cut­ter an­swers.

“Tell them who you are,” says Walsh. “Let them know why you’re the per­son for the job by giv­ing them some­thing the other ap­pli­cants won’t give them — in­ter­est­ing sto­ries, hon­esty, pas­sion. Don’t let who you are get buried in a moun­tain of in­ter­view clichés.”

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