Friday, July 31, 2009

Avoid a Common Interview Pitfall

By Jessica Stillman

Even if you’ve perfected your pitch and learned to summarize your accomplishments in a compelling and concrete way, interviews are not safe ground, especially for those who are relatively new to them. Interviewers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves, not least of which is questions seemingly designed expressly to trip you up. Putting aside the loathed “what are your weakness?” question, blog Cube Rules describes another type of interview question that seems to have no correct answer, calling these “forced choice questions” and giving examples:
  • “What is more important to you, the money or the job?” Great, if I say “the money,” the hiring manager doesn’t think I’m motivated to do the work. If I answer with “the job,” the manager doesn’t think I’ll be upset with a smaller salary offer.
  • “Do you prefer to work alone or with others?” Swell, I can like to work by myself and be thought of as a poor team player with no collaborative abilities, or else I work so well with others I can’t get anything done by myself.

Helpfully, Cube Rules also throws the floundering interviewee a life buoy, suggesting ways out of the bind. Perhaps the simplest solution is to says yes to both answers. For example, in response to the second question above, CR suggests a possible reply: “I like working alone when I need focus and productivity to complete my work. But I like working with people to brainstorm ideas, help get better solutions to problems and help others for what they need.” And if saying yes to all options doesn’t work? Then there is an alternative:

A second way to answer the forced choice is to pick a third option that isn’t presented by the interview question. “Do you work better with a manager that gives you free reign to complete your work the way you want or do you like being micromanaged to get your work done?”

For that type of question, you ignore both options presented and offer up a third alternative to answer this question. “I like a manager that provides clear direction, is open to seeing early versions of the work so we can make sure I’m on track, and to help clear obstacles that might prevent me from getting done.”

Thanks, Cube Rules, that’s one problem sorted out. Of course interviews still have plenty of other dangers. What’s the most impossible-to-answer interview question you’ve ever been asked?

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