Tag: job interviews

Sally Pinckard of the Weston Career Center

Sometimes the most difficult interview questions are very unexpected, designed to test the candidate’s ability to think on his or her feet and innovate. Don’t be surprised if you get a seemingly off-the-wall brainteaser, like “How many ping pong balls can fit inside the Olin atrium?”

Demonstrate your confidence and ease with ambiguity by being prepared. Most interviewers are really trying to gain information to assess: (1) can the candidate do the job; and, (2) does the candidate fit your culture and organization. These are not trick questions.

Also, being well-read on current events (i.e., read The Wall Street Journal daily) will provide context for small talk, or even help to articulate a business point of view based on current events.

Let’s explore specific questions that often surprise a candidate, or could make one uneasy but requires fortitude and confidence:

A few tips for replying to tough interview questions:

“Tell me about yourself.”

A common opener, this broad question can “throw” many interviewees. It is, in fact, a “sell-me” invitation. Develop a brief summation of your background leading into your interest and desire to work for the organization, as well as your qualifications for the position.

“Why should we hire you?”

From your research, you should know the qualifications for the job. From your own self-analysis, you will have gained insight into your strengths and accomplishments. Mention key functions of the job and discuss your skills in relation to these functions. Use experiences from previous jobs, internships, and activities as examples to support your answer.

“What are your long-range goals?”

In your company research, determine what position you could reasonably reach in five years. Speak to others who have successfully advanced themselves in the organization or profession. Express your desire and capability to grow within the organization. While you may be unsure of your future plans, demonstrate your knowledge of potential career paths.

“What is your greatest weakness?”

Everyone has weaknesses, but remember not to answer in a negative way. Turn your weakness into a positive. For example: “Because I tend to procrastinate, I have learned to work well under pressure and to always get work done on time.”

“Tell me about your schooling.”

The key to this question is to keep your reply positive. Speak well of Washington University and any other schools you’ve attended. You are a product of your schools’ educational programs. Be prepared to address questions about low grades, changes of major, favorite classes, etc.

Guest blogger: Karen Heise, Interim Director, Weston Career Center

Could you use the support of the Weston Career Center or Management Communication Center? Schedule an appointment today. 

Sally Pinckard of the Weston Career Center

Congratulations! You just accepted an invitation to interview with your dream firm. All the company research, resume polishing and networking at Meet the Firms, at information sessions and with your network, has paid off. What are the next steps to ensure you are ready to conduct a successful interview? Sally Pinckard, the Associate Director of Career Education at Olin’s Weston Career Center, provides this advice to ace the job interview:

Learn everything you can about the company

Both parties are looking for the best fit. Learn as much as you can about the company, culture, and specific process, so you are ready to demonstrate that you are the candidate who best fits what they are looking for. Along with your research, one of the best ways to learn about what to expect in the interview is to connect with alumni in the firm. If there are alumni connections, ask for advice and insight into the interview process. Talking with recent hires at information sessions and workshops, using LinkedIn’s advance search process to find Olin and WashU alumni in the company you will be interviewing with, and asking for insights from fellow students in the student groups where you are a member are all great ways to connect with alumni for guidance. Most are more than willing to help.

Prepare for the type of job interview the recruiter will conduct

Include this in your company research. Most interviews will fall into these categories: behavioral, technical, and case interviews. Some will be conducted face to face, but many first round interviews will be conducted over the phone phone or on Skype. For detailed information on how to prepare for these interviews, see pages 41 and 42 in the WCC Career Guide. Also be sure to check out the Weston Career Center’s Behavioral Interview Questions Guide and Functional/Technical Questions Guide.

First impressions count. Practice your interviewing skills

It’s always important to present your best self. The impressions you leave during the interview (and after!) should be no accident. Practice your answer to, “Walk me through your resume” and other interview questions in a mock interview with a Weston Career Center advisor. Prepare well-informed, inquisitive, and articulate questions for the interviewer during and at the end of the interview. Make sure they are questions for which the answers can only come from a person who has worked in the company (and not something you can find quickly on the company’s website). Check the apparel you plan to wear to the interview to make sure your clothes are clean and in good shape.

Follow up after the job interview

Be prepared so that you can write a thank you note shortly after the interview is complete. Recruiters tell us repeatedly that they are surprised that more students don’t send thank you letters after an interview. Therefore, the letters they do receive stand out, especially well written notes. (AND, recruiters often comment on how impressed they are when the notes are hand written the old fashioned way.) Why? In addition to being a polite way to acknowledge the time spent with you, thank you letters are another opportunity to sell yourself. Have professional stationary on hand so that you can write your thank you note in a timely manner, which is usually within 24 hours of the interview. By writing both an email and hand written thank you, you are signaling your high level of interest in them because you took the time to express your thanks in writing. For more information on the follow up process and thank you notes, see page 45 in the WCC Career Guide.

Sally Pinckard has held positions in merchandising, retail management, and human resources for May Department Stores, now Macy’s. Sally teaches MGT250A, Building Your Career Foundation, and is a certified business etiquette instructor. 

Every day we meet people. Some meetings are fleeting and are for simple, daily activities and tasks. We meet people at the grocery store, at the local coffee shop, at the gym. Other meetings create real connections. You will also meet people during volunteer activities, at charitable events, or through professional organizations. If your parents were like mine, you may have been taught to treat everyone with respect and to be kind. In other words, practicing The Golden Rule .

When you are in the job market you need to take the Golden Rule one step further. You need to treat every meeting as an interview. One definition of an interview is a “formal meeting in which one or more persons question, consult, or evaluate another person.” The concept of questioning, consulting, and evaluating happens all the time, whether the title of the meeting on your calendar is “interview” or you are sharing a cup of coffee at a volunteer event. I am a huge believer of networking to help you in your career search and transitions. Networking is a great way to learn and develop a viable plan for the transition. Keep in mind, however, there is a gray line between a “networking meeting” and an “interview.”

Consider the following scenario: A friend is currently looking to shift his career direction and has started looking to join a company with a strong sustainability missionUntitled. Your friend has decided to volunteer with a local non-profit organization that is helping companies develop various sustainability programs and decided to attend a monthly meeting of the non-profit group. While in line for a cup of coffee, the woman behind your friend makes small talk. She asks your friend why he is attending the meeting. He says he has an interest in sustainability and then goes to find a seat.

Hopefully, as you read this you cringed. You know the error of your friend’s ways. What should he have done differently if he was thinking of this interaction as an interview? Follow these simple steps to turn small talk into a real connection.

Introduce yourself at the start of your answer and provide a simple but direct statement of your current situation, your focus areas, and what you believe.

“Hi, I’m Tom Golden. I’ve been passionate about the area of sustainability and believe this organization has the most comprehensive methodology to help companies design viable solutions. I’m also in the process of transitioning from my current VP of Finance role into something that will allow me to use my skills in the sustainability area. What is your name and what brings you to this event?”

Ask questions of the other person to show interest and to allow both of you to assess commonalities and connections.

“You are the COO for Sustainability Best Practice Consulting Inc.? I recently read about the type of work you did for Big Oil Co. and the impact your group had.”

Showcase your background to establish your credibility.

“In my role as the VP of Finance I have been able to help my company establish a viable sustainability program while establishing a strong ROI.”

Ask for time to meet and discuss further your common interests.

“Would you be open to meeting and discussing how you moved into your role and how you view the sustainability issues facing businesses today?”

In addition to being able to converse about your background, your passions, and your desires, don’t forget the non-verbal questioning and evaluating that happens in every meeting. Be very conscious of your body language, eye contact, and use of purposeful pauses. It goes without saying that you are dressed professionally. If, in the above scenario, your friend were wearing shorts and a ball cap, the COO would make a note. While it is easy to say “it shouldn’t be about how I am dressed,” why even make it something that has to be considered?

During a job search or career transition, most of the attention is focused on crafting the best resume, responding to job postings, and setting up formal interviews. Studies have been done that say most jobs are found via networking. Networking, whether formally initiated or spontaneous, looks a lot like an interview and should be treated as such. Just remember: If it feels like an interview, and even if it doesn’t, it probably is in some way, shape or form.

This post originally appeared on LMHAdvisors. In addition to LMHAdvisors, Lisa Hebert serves as a Career Consultant specializing in supply chain, consulting, and Olin’s veteran student population.