After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"What Does Purple Taste Like?"

As part of their interview preparation, many job-seekers turn to books with titles like The 8 Million Most Common Interview Questions or Answers to Every Conceivable Interview Question a Sadistic HR Person Could Dream Up.   While such books may help provide reassurance to an apprehensive job candidate, it is impossible to anticipate every imaginative question an interviewer might conjure up in the course of an interview. 

I offer as evidence, “What does purple taste like?”  This was an actual question asked of a family member who once interviewed for a position with a young, up-and-coming social media company.   Grapey with 6% alcohol?  Like a breaded vegetable hidden beneath tomato sauce and parmesan cheese?  Toasted Barney on a sesame seed bun?  Who knows the correct answer?  She admits that she didn’t.

And I’m guessing that all the interview books in the world wouldn’t have come up with a suggestion for that one.

In my book, I devote a chapter to tough interview questions that have been posed somewhat regularly in the job interviews I have observed.  A few examples are:

¾    Why have you changed jobs so often?

¾    Where do you see yourself in five years?

¾    What are your salary expectations?

¾    What do you like to do outside of work?

There are better and worse ways of answering these and the other questions covered in the chapter.  I can certainly advise you on what has and hasn’t worked for other candidates.

But the fact is, your interview will be unlike any other interview.  It will be unique because your experience, your strengths, your weaknesses, your work examples, your perspectives are uniquely yours.  So while I can provide some recommendations on what to say and what to avoid saying, I cannot nor should anybody script your interview for you. 

I occasionally will observe a candidate who has a memorized general statement of his career to date, his strengths, career desires and how excited he is to become a contributing member of the company’s workforce.  It is like taking a test without reading the questions. A shotgun blast of personal history is unleashed to cover all possibilities.  Here is a hint:  it rarely works; I may go so far as to say never.

Instead, I suggest a way of thinking that will help to answer most interview questions.  It involves listening carefully to what is said by each person you meet in the interview process.  The statements made by the interviewers and the questions asked of you will provide the best insight into the needs of the potential employer. The more you learn, the more comfortable you will become tailoring your answers to demonstrate how you will nicely mesh with your interviewer’s priorities. 

Of course this wouldn’t have helped with the purple question.  But another piece of advice from my book is:   “Keep in mind that poise, confidence and sincerity can work wonders in masking imperfect responses.”

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