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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Career Help

You find yourself looking for career help tips? Well, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to get some amazing career tip help.

What has been the biggest setback in your career?

The Real Question: Are you resilient? Are you honest?

Top-line Tactic: Be frank about your failure but positive about what you learned.

Your first reaction to this question is probably an inward groan. Of course no one likes to dwell on his or her failures, but try not to be too down on questions like this. It’s best to view the interviewer’s attempts to probe your setbacks not as sadism or an attempt to trip you up, but rather as a chance to demonstrate two extremely valuable characteristics—frankness and resilience.

The secret to acing this sort of tricky question is to strike a balance between light and dark. Don’t say you’ve never had one. Instead, speak honestly about a real setback, but also accentuate the positive aspects of the experience—how resilient you were in the face of failure and what you learned from the experience, even if it’s simply that you won’t be making the same mistake again.

The interviewer cares far more about how you responded to adversity than the particular circumstance you faced. Ultimately, you want to present the setback as evidence of both your humility and a lesson learned on someone else’s watch that has made you stronger. For this reason, it’s not necessary to bore your questioner with the particulars of your failure. Just give an overview, such as:

At my last job, I was asked to manage a large project. We worked with consultants to create a project plan and estimate costs, but when we presented our plan to the CEO, he wanted a major change. I could see what he wanted would never work, but I was too scared to speak up in that meeting and say so.

So we tried to accommodate the CEO’s request and it was a disaster. However, being on that project taught me two valuable lessons: first, speak up when you think something is wrong—at least it shows you’re paying attention and it could avoid a potentially serious problem. Second, I now know how to avoid the sunk-cost fallacy, where good money is thrown at a problem in the false hope that it will somehow rectify an inherent flaw.

Younger job seekers or recent graduates may not yet have experienced a significant career setback. Be honest about this with your interviewer but try to offer an example from your education or work experience that conveys the same message of perseverance and your ability to snatch something positive from a negative situation.

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