Interviewing Tips

Now that you have secured an interview you are in the right place to get some great interview tips.

Most people are good at managing up or down, but usually not both. Which one are you?

The Real Question: Are you more charm than substance?

Top-line Tactic: Try to avoid the distinction by framing “managing up” and “managing down” as different skills for different times and then focusing on which you’ve excelled at . . . so far.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “managing up” basically means massaging your relationship with your supervisor to keep your work on his or her radar, get access to the resources you need and temper any unrealistic expectations. For some people, it has a pretty nasty connotation of sycophancy and self-promotion.

“I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter,” Kim Bowers, CEO of CST Brands (a large U.S. company that runs convenience stores), once said in interview, for example. “It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up.”

Other people view “managing up” as simply good business practice. This difference of opinion, along with the either/or framing of this question, can make it a particularly dangerous one. One way to avoid the obvious pitfalls here is to frame the skills of “managing up” and “managing down” as appropriate for different circumstances rather than a fundamental personality divide that you could accidentally end up on the wrong side of.

For me, managing up and managing down are skills I’ve had to master at different stages in my career based on different situations I’ve encountered. In my first job after college, for instance, my boss was always traveling and I realized she was sometimes out of the loop on what different team members were working on and we had to wait for her to catch up before we could move on. By sending her progress reports every week and asking specifically about the priorities for the week to come I was able to keep things moving forward. In that case, managing up got me promoted to team leader the following year. Now, I’m working on my skills at managing down.

Another approach for avoiding the either/or framing of the question is to bring up any 360-degree reviews you have been involved in. As these sorts of exercises evaluate your ability to manage up, down and sideways, noting positive reviews is a good way to avoid having to signal allegiance for only team “managing up” or team “managing down,” as well as stressing your flexibility in communicating well with people no matter their position in the office pecking order.

Which websites do you use personally? Why?

The Real Question: Do you keep abreast of industry news? Are you tech savvy?

Top-line Tactic: Determine what level of technical competence the interviewer is probably looking for and respond appropriately.

The import of this question very much depends on what sort of job you’re applying for. If it’s a traditional role in a non-tech company, the chances are the interviewer is fishing mainly to find out if and how you keep abreast of news and industry trends. Possibly, they’re also looking for basic tech skills, especially if you suspect they don’t possess such skills themselves.

In this case, simply tell the interviewer how you follow developments in the sector, keep up to date with current events and stay in touch with friends and colleagues online. Nothing fancy is required; just make sure you mention the touchstones in your industry. Perhaps that’s the FT if you’re in finance, popular design blogs if you’re a designer or LinkedIn if you’re a salesperson or recruiter—demonstrate you are familiar with what people in your niche are using and throw in a few personal favorites like that classic car site you’re addicted to or your love of Pinterest to give a glimpse of your character. A classic canned answer for this question is to say you use the New York Times website, but most employers have heard this answer so many times that it literally goes without saying. One stated that people “drink water and read the [New York Times] website,” so try to show a bit of personality in answering this question.

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Getting Ready For Your Interview

Prepping for your interview is vital for getting a job. Get some great tips to help you today.

Be warned, it is easy to give an answer that sounds canned. Truly over-the-top enthusiasm is likely to be viewed with a degree of suspicion (especially if it’s not backed up with evidence on your résumé), as is a too-perfect alignment between their website copy and your professed passions. This is one answer you don’t want to oversell.

What was the last thing you taught?

The Real Question: Will you be a good coach to your direct reports and teammates?

Top-line Tactic: Show the interviewer that hiring you means getting not only your skills, but enhanced performance out of your colleagues as well.

Everyone likes a two-for-one sale, and that goes for companies too. It’s great to convince your interviewer that, should you be hired, you’ll bring important skills to the organization, but it’s even better if you can put across that you will upgrade your colleagues’ skills as well.

This question is most likely to be asked of candidates for managerial positions, but the ability to teach laterally as well as down is highly valued as well, so you could face this question no matter what role you are applying for. As with all competency questions, good answers are truthful, detailed when it comes to your actions, and focused on positive outcomes. Here’s one example:

My job title is customer service representative, but it’s really half handling customer requests over the phone and half admin work, processing and tracking orders. The company recently hired someone with a strong administrative background, but less experience interacting with customers. She mastered the admin in no time, but I noticed that she was often struggling to handle customers, especially when they were unhappy or agitated. She sometimes got quite upset, which wasn’t helping anyone.

I could sympathize, because it took me a while to learn the customer service side of things as well, so I offered to let her sit in on a few of my calls so she could see how I handled tricky situations. She took note of what I did and then tried it out while I monitored her, giving her some pointers and a few more suggestions. She seemed really grateful for the opportunity and improved straight away. Now she’s one of our most successful reps, so I’m very happy I took the time to show her the ropes.

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Interview Preparation Tips For You

Making sure you ace your interview is key. Get some great tips here.

Why are you a good fit for the company?

The Real Question: Do you just want a job, any job, or are you specifically interested in us?

Top-line Tactic: Arm yourself with knowledge about the company, so you can offer evidence to prove you’ll fit right in.

(A brief note: The emphasis here could be on you or the company, meaning the main thrust of the question could be either selling yourself or explaining your motivation to join this firm in particular. There’s some overlap, of course, but you’ll have to play it by ear. If you think the question is mostly about your unique selling points see Why should I choose you over other candidates? For what to say when the focus is on your motivation to join this specific organization, read on below.)

Everyone wants to be wanted. What goes for your next date for a Friday night goes for the company that you’re interviewing with as well. If you picked someone for a night of potential romance, only to tell the person you randomly selected him or her because you thought they might answer your e-mail, he or she is not going to be very impressed. Neither will the interviewer if you can’t provide a seductive answer to this question. The best answers offer a solid motivation for your interest in this specific job.

Being a long-time fan of the company and/or its product or having a long-standing passion for the sector is obviously an ideal foundation. It gets a little harder if you’re changing career trajectory, unfamiliar with the firm or new to the job market, but fear not: you can hack your way to a plausible answer to this question with a little preparation.

Take some time before the interview to look at the company’s social media presence, for example. This should give you insight into the organization’s personality, as can poking around their website. Pay particular attention to their mission statement or values. Try to get a sense of their culture and what this company believes makes them stand out.

Once you have all this information, you have a blueprint. You can look at your own skills, accomplishments and personality and tie them in with what the organization is known for. This shows you’ve done your homework and offers another opportunity to highlight why you’re the right person to solve the interviewer’s problems:

My background is in a similar field, as you can see from my résumé, and I’ve been keeping my skills sharp and learning about the latest technology. I’ve always taken all the professional development opportunities I’ve been offered, and I’m happy to learn more. I know you’re an organization that really values staying on the cutting edge of technology. I was really impressed with some of the technical details I read about the XYZ project, for instance. There’s a good fit between my interest in evolving my skills and the fact that your firm is known for continual technical improvements.

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Interview Prep Help

Getting help with interview prep can be tough. Here are some tips to help.

If offered the job, what would be your first priority or thing you would change?

The Real Question: Can you strike a good balance between consultation and initiative? Are you going to charge in and step on toes?

Top-line Tactic: Decide how much initiative/change the company is looking for and pitch your answer accordingly.

The most important word in this question is “or.” Talking about priorities or changes you would make are two very different things. The former can be applied to any position and is more about how you’ll approach getting acclimatized. The latter focuses on shaking up the status quo and is often most appropriate for management-level positions or situations where the organization is actively looking for change. Your first task here is to figure out which side of the “or” is more appropriate for this particular position.

Priorities

For roles that are less about leading change and more about individual performance, your answer should emphasize how you plan to get yourself up to speed in your new job. No matter how much you probe, you’ll never know exactly what you’re walking into, so answers that focus on acclimatization are a safe bet. You could include:

  • Getting to know your co-workers.
  • Learning about the customers.
  • Investigating the company’s products or services.

If you’re quite familiar with the role, as well as the company and its products, there are several general priorities you can cite. As always, it’s best to back up your ability to tackle these challenges with evidence from your past experience. This might sound something like:

  • Add value: In my first month, I’d love to focus on kick-starting that key project we discussed earlier. In my last job I tackled something similar, so I think I could really add value immediately by taking the following steps . . .
  • Make a colleague’s job easier: In my last job I was able to really improve candidate tracking for the HR executives I was supporting by implementing a new workflow. I’m hoping to be able to put that experience to use here straight away to save my new colleagues a lot of worry and time wasted on administrative work.
  • Make more money: In my last job I was able to save our department 15 percent annually on contractor costs by reviewing our existing contracts and streamlining things so we were dealing with only four contractors rather than seven. So one of my first priorities would be to take a look at the contractors your company is using to see if I could make similar savings.

Changes

If you’re specifically asked to do a turnaround job, are being brought in to innovate, or otherwise get the sense that the role is about making changes, go ahead and highlight some areas that strike you as in need of work, but be cautious, this is a loaded question.

No one likes a know-it-all who barges in and disregards the experience and opinions of their new co-workers, so make sure that when you suggest areas for improvement, you don’t come across as high-handed. Stress consultation and the need for information gathering. Words like evolve, examine, contribute and develop can be more effective than change, overhaul, transform or fix. You’re trying to get across that you’ll bring ideas to the table, not that you’re a bully.

On the other hand, initiative is a key skill for managers, so don’t completely dodge the question—your answer should contain a few substantive issues you’re keen to dig into straight away.

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