MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Tag: Career Development

3 Questions You Should Be Prepared for When Going to an Interview

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Interviews! I don’t think there is a more conflicted time in the job search process than the time you are invited to interview for a position! Your heart is pounding, the desire to hug everyone you meet, from the friendly postman to the nasty old lady across the street is unbearable, you smile, and jump and cry with joy! For a second only, because out of the blue, the image of a cold office with a suited up, aloof but polite interrogator quickly pops up in your mind and that’s it! Tears start rolling down your cheeks, the smile has changed into a panicked grimace and you start hyperventilating. Where is that paper bag?

Yes, interviews are nerve racking. Yes, interviews can be scary and uncomfortable but we all have a dentist, don’t we? There is not much we can do when we visit their office other than ask for more pain killers. Fortunately there is whole lot that we can and should do before going to an interview.

There is no escape of the behavioural questions. HR people love them because they say the answers help them predict future behaviour. I tend to think that mostly because while you are busy telling the story, they have time to analyze your body language, your communication style, your English level, and how comfortable you are taking the front row. The more prepared to answer them, the more positive impression you will leave. Let’s have a look at the three most often used questions:

  • What is your strength? It sounds easy but don’t be fooled! This is a tricky question that deserves as much attention as any other. When you have a good answer, you score points on more than just one level: you demonstrate your maturity and level of self awareness, you show a glimpse into your personality: too modest versus too boastful, reveal  clues about your communication skills and it is another opportunity for you to explain why you are the best candidate!  Be specific, be relevant and be prepared to give an example! Go for specific skills you identified (awards, specific training, employee of the month for…, special recognitions by your supervisor, colleagues or friends…). Make sure they are relevant to the position you are applying for. Carrying 5 plates without a spill from your part time as a waiter might not be of much relevance for the security officer job you are interviewing but your ability to quickly connect and communicate  with any patron proven by the number of repeat clients that ask to be waited by you might give you the edge. What if they don’t ask the question? Find a way to push in your well thought answer. Chances are, there will be some other questions you might use it: “What do you think you can bring to the company?” “Why should we hire you?” “If I call your supervisor, what will they say about you?” As a last thought, everyone should have about five to ten strengths prepared with good stories as examples. In this way, the only thing to do before the interview is to match the strength with the job description.
  • What is your weakness? “I tend to become the most devoted employee and the company becomes my family. Very frustrating for my other family! That is why I invite my wife and kids over once or twice a year to have dinner at my desk and to make them feel included.” Awesome answer you might think! Every company wants a devoted employee. And yet, this will not score you any points. Who wants an entire family dropping soup and sauce all over desks and documents? Joke aside, try to find something you are really struggling with but it is not the core requirement for the job you want. For example, your weakness cannot be creativity if you want to become a PR specialist, or attention to detail for a watch repairmen. The key to this question is that no matter what you choose to talk about, don’t dwell on it. State the weakness then move on and spend most of the time talking about what you have been doing to improve it. Companies look for people that show initiative especially when it is about self improvement. Possible weaknesses:
    • fear of public speaking; possible solution: attending Toastmasters;
    • too direct of an approach in communication; possible solution: reading on cross cultural communication, conflict management; practising different ways of phrasing ideas with friends
    • obsessed with technology/social media – customized the notifications from all social media accounts, messages and emails, only those from my family will show, the rest I learnt not to think about until later in the day.
    • lack of focus in a noisy environment that can be addressed by learning how to manage tasks: early in the morning dealing with the ones that require the most attention
    • lack of experience in a certain area but being excited at the opportunity to learn and grow your expertise                    Other questions you might use this answer for: What would your former team members/former supervisor say your weakness is? If you could, what would be the one thing you’d change about yourself? What goals have you set for yourself this year? What do people criticize the most about you? 
  • Are you a leader or a follower? I find this question quite tricky as you can easily be fooled into giving a black or white answer or an as damaging quick answer. Both words have negative connotations: leaders are usually difficult to control and don’t really follow directions while followers prefer to … follow, have little to no initiative and even if they see a better way, they will not take charge to improve the process. So, how do you answer then? You will show the interviewer your ability to be a follower and a leader depending on the company and team’s needs. Talk about a time you took an initiative (leader) and solved a problem then take about a time when you were part of a team, following directions and working together with your colleagues to complete a project. And this is how we have identified two other questions might pop up in the interview: Tell me of a time you took initiative! Tell me of a time you worked in a team! Do you work well with other people? 

Yes, interviews are nerve wracking but a couple of hours of preparation will smooth the edges and give you the confidence and right attitude to win the interviewer. After all, the successful candidate is not the one that has the best match of experience, education and skills but the one that proves to have the best attitude! 

Drawing on Closed Doors

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There are only a few times in my life as a nomad citizen when I can honestly say I could clearly see the road ahead of me. Most of the times the fog was so deep that all I could do was to pray before taking my next step and hope I won’t fall too deep. The path ahead was a mystery with no direction I was aware of. It was a slow movement to nowhere.

I knew I loved being in front of people, leading them to a calm, serene future from a past life that I kept hanging on with both my hands. I just did not know where to start living again. Finding the CDP program and having gone through most of it, I not only see the path ahead, but I have such a clear vision of the rest of my journey.

An article I read during one of the courses was telling the story of this young man who went through a tough interview process for a prestigious company downtown. He was the lucky applicant who got the job and became the object of envy for many friends. On his first day, he presented himself at the door of the company, smartly dressed, coffee in hands and dreams in pockets just to find the doors locked and a big sign on the door: “The company went bankrupt… Sorry for any inconvenience!”

Well, life is unpredictable, he thought. He pulled the phone out of the pocket, called his case manager and started the process of looking for a job… again… Actually this is what I thought the story would go. Instead, he rolled his sleeves, put a smile on his face and knocked at the doors of every office in the building, presenting himself, his skills and his unusual situation. By the end of the business day, he had another job.

Why this story? Because this is the piece I was missing and is still missing for so many other people like myself: looking for a job is not a straight, one way road anymore. Closed doors are not the end. They are blank canvas for us to paint on, using that creativity that lives deep inside and manifests in different ways.

My job as a career practitioner is to make sure each of my clients finds their right colour and the right crayon and starts drawing on their closed door.

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