Interview made easy

Job interviewing is a minefield. Your prospective employers have a stack of resumes from talented applicants. Now they want to know what makes you tick. Are you hard to get along with? Can you meet deadlines? How badly do you want the job?

Many excellent people have been rejected because of a single faux pass. Gerard Roche, chairman of a New York executive recruiting firm, recalls on a candidate who flunked because his socks sagged. Another made him self too comfortable. He peppered his conversation with profanities, pulled his chair right up to the chairman’s desk and started picking up and examining papers and knick knacks, says New York recruiter Nina Proct.

There is no guaranteed method of navigating an interview. But you can increase your odds by knowing what you are up against. Here, then, some of America’s toughest interviewers reveal their most frequent questions and suggest how you might handle them.

What exactly do you want from us?

Describe your ideal job. Many people dodge these types of questions by giving, a generic, safe answer. To make a better impression Dee Soder, a New York executive coach, recommends you prepare by writing an employment ad that describes your dream job, include a ‘headline’ and several adjectives outlining the company, the job and yourself. This forces you to focus on exactly what you want and what you have to offer even if the interviewer doesn’t ask you.

Why did you leave your last job?

Deep down, interviewers know many people leave jobs because they hate their boss: they may have job-hopped for the same reason themselves. But few employers want to hear it.

I don’t know why someone who wanted me to hire him would say he had a clash with a boss, says Mike Leavell, a vice president of Hewlett Packard Co. That always puts up a big red flag.

Many interviewers suggest people concentrate on the business reasons for joining a new company. For example: After two years running the marketing department, I’ve learned a lot about X. Now I want to learn Y. Or I’m at the stage in my career where I want to add X to my back ground, and your company is the leader in that field.

If you were fired because of a conflict with a boss, however, you may be better off telling interviewers yourself, rather than having them rely on industry gossip. Be diplomatic and positive. MiIlington McCoy, Managing Director of an executive search firm, says, one candidate gave this type of response. There was a new chief financial officer and our management styles were very different. We agreed to disagree.

Why are you switching careers?
In this question, interviewers are looking careful self analysis. Don’t say I wanted to try something new, advises Howard Nitschke, a recruiter for a firm in New York. That makes me think: this person doesn’t know where he is going.

Instead, explain how your skills, personality and goals are more suited to the new career, or that you want to add something to your experience that will help you achieve a longer term goal.

Where do you want to be five years from now?
The best way to botch this one is not to have an answer, or to have an answer that’s inconsistent with the company’s own goals. But you can also alarm your interviewer by giving the impression that the job is merely a way station. A senior in business would spend more time jockeying for the next position than working.

To make long term goals can be a part of the answer but to focus on the short term. For instance: I’m doing. Ultimately I’d like to be a CEO, but I realize I’ve got other things to learn first. The next logical step is to be a division manager. Here’s why I think I’ll be ready for that in five years.