73. What position do you expect to hold in five years? This question tests how realistic you are. It’s not realistic to say you want to be president in five years when you are five levels below that and there are four hundred people ahead of you. It’s okay to have such a goal, but don’t express it. Employers seek promotable people, but tend to be suspicious of the person who expects to turn the company upside down. If your interviewer will be your boss or your boss’s boss, you might say, “I would like to move up the ladder with you. I realize you have other very capable people in this department, but through my contributions I’ll seek to be the person who moves into your position when you’re promoted. In five years I’d like to move up two or three notches.”

74. Why would you like to work for us? If this question is asked at or near the beginning of the first interview, you have an opportunity to describe what you know about the organization by way of your research. If the question is asked after the interviewer has described the job and the company in detail, you could mention positive points that you had discovered on your own, as well as some mentioned by the interviewer. This might include the reputation of the company or department, its rapid growth, or your personal attraction to the interviewer as a boss. You might also mention that the job itself is a factor in your wanting to work for the company.

An excellent answer to this question can play a key role in making you a finalist. An effective answer requires thorough research of the organization and the ability to state what appeals to you about the company.

When you’re preparing for an interview, gaining knowledge of the organization is one of the most important factors in your success. A cursory view of the organization’s website is not sufficient. Today virtually everyone spends a few minutes looking at an organization’s website, but few come away with real insight into the organization. Gaining insight requires drilling down into the website looking for clues that will give you a better understanding. Reading an organization’s mission statement and statement of values can be enlightening even if they don’t practice everything listed.

Don’t stop with the Internet. You can obtain extremely useful information through old-fashioned research in the reference section of your local library, perhaps with help from a reference librarian. Because so many job seekers rely exclusively on the Internet for their research, you can set yourself apart by learning information that your competitors know nothing about. As useful as the Internet is for research, there are many resources that are not available even if you are willing to pay for them. At many libraries, valuable information sources are available in the library's online system. These information sources include Infotrac and other subscription databases.

The four key reasons for researching are (1) to determine if the organization is right for you, (2) to impress the interviewer by talking intelligently about the organization, (3) to discover problems or challenges that you can help solve or meet, and (4) to identify questions that must be clarified by the employer before you accept an offer. Thorough research can prevent you from making assumptions that no longer apply. For instance, if you say you are attracted to the organization’s rapid growth, it may turn out that its growth stopped three years ago and has been stagnant since. Making such a statement will clearly hurt your cause.

Job seekers are frequently told to avoid mentioning what they want in a job. The reasoning is this: “The company does not care what you want. It only cares about what you can do for them.” This advice is given because applicants frequently appear to go to the other extreme, showing interest only in what the organization has to offer them. Such applicants immediately ask about salary, benefits, vacation, sick leave, and the like. This “what’s in it for me” attitude bothers HR professionals and hiring managers. But employers do want you to be happy with the organization and your job. If you are expecting benefits that their organization cannot deliver (such as four weeks of vacation in your first year), they will assume you will not be happy and will not stay long. With the cost of turnover equaling up to three times a person’s salary, hiring the best people and those who will stay, is critical. Knowing what makes the job and organization appealing to you is essential in determining how productive you will be and how long you will stay.

75. What is your opinion of your present [or past] employer? The interviewer does not expect you to speak in glowing terms about your employer, but you should emphasize the positive qualities. If you really like your present organization, your response will be easy. If you hate it, be careful. Start by saying something positive, followed by one or two minor negatives, and finish with a strong positive. This is not the time to blast your employer. If you mention only negatives, the interviewer may assume you are a negative person who is difficult to satisfy.

76. How long would you stay if we offered you this position? This is an impossible question to answer since no one really knows how long he or she will stay. The best way to handle it is to lay out the conditions for your staying:

I hope to stay for many years. Everything I know about the company tells me this is an ideal fit. The philosophy of top management matches mine and I like everything I’ve seen so far. Advancement and pay are certainly important to me. As long as my responsibilities and income grow with my proven worth, I expect to stay a long time.

Notice how stating the conditions made it seem like a much more realistic and honest response. You are unlikely to be believed if you say that you expect to stay with the company for 20 years and then retire. Furthermore, such a statement may make it seem as though everything you say is designed simply to match what the interviewer wants to hear.

If you have an unstable work history, you must develop a convincing statement which clearly shows that those days have ended. Actually, you should begin dealing with this issue as soon as you can in the interview; don’t wait for the interviewer to bring it up. At the first opportunity mention what makes this job appealing. You could also sprinkle in subtle hints that there is more stability in your life at this time and that you would value a stable job as well. These comments will help you emphasize that you are a very reliable, responsible person.

77. What do you know about our company? The employer asks this question to determine your interest, enthusiasm, and initiative. There’s no faking this answer—either you’ve done your homework or you haven’t. Typically you would describe what you know about their products or services, the reputation of the organization, the size of the organization in relation to its competitors, and any financial information you’ve picked up. If you’ve thoroughly analyzed the company’s annual report, don’t overwhelm the interviewer with financial data. Share any interesting knowledge about the company you’ve gathered, such as a new product or acquisition.

78. Why do you want to leave your present employer? The four most acceptable reasons for leaving an employer include the desire for more money, more responsibility, more challenge, or more job satisfaction. Less acceptable reasons might be a personality conflict with your boss, not wishing to relocate, or having to work too much overtime. These last three reasons may be real, but they cast suspicion on you as a worker. Be prepared to offer two or three reasons since employers realize that changes are seldom made for one reason alone. Every employer understands someone wanting more money. A good response might be:

With my level of expertise, I should be earning more. Of course I realize my company is not going to pay me more than my boss earns, so I’ve decided to look elsewhere. I’ve gained some outstanding experience there. I’m interested in Prodata because of the quality of your products.

Top-quality people seek greater challenges and more responsibility; some companies allow faster growth than others. Companies that promote primarily by seniority and those with slow growth make promotions more difficult. You could explain your reason for leaving by saying:

Western Gear is an excellent company and I’ve learned a lot, but right now it’s in a slow growth pattern. My boss has told me I’ll have his spot when he moves up, but both of us realize that could take four or five years. I just want to use my abilities to the fullest.

79. Starting with your first job out of college, tell me why you left each organization. Generally, people will have several reasons for leaving a company. Select the most appropriate and acceptable reason for each move. Do not use such negative statements as “I had a personality conflict with my boss,” or “It was a lousy company to work for.” Learn how to soften your statements. Your answers may require some elaboration since the reasons for leaving are often complex. If you had four or five reasons for leaving, select one or two that will cause the employer to understand and accept your reasons.

80. What kind of recommendations will you get from previous employers? You should know the answer to this question. Although many companies are hesitant to make negative statements about former employees because of possible defamation of character lawsuits, some will say negative things. If you’ve been fired from one of your last three jobs, you would be wise to contact your former boss or the personnel department and ask what they will say. If the termination was justified, but you have since changed your ways, explain that to your former boss. Explain, too, how the firing was actually a blessing in disguise because you really learned from the experience.

If you know you will receive good recommendations you might simply say, “I’m certain each of my former bosses will have only positive things to say about me. We worked well together and I learned a lot from each one.” You could also expand and describe some specific points the supervisors might make. In other words, let your supervisors sell you even though they are not present.

You may have had excellent relations with all but one former supervisor. How you would respond to the question, in that case, depends on what you find out when you recontact past supervisors. If you are confident that nothing negative will be said, simply respond by stating they will all say positive things. If you are fairly certain that a particular supervisor would say negative things about you, describe some of your results and indicate some areas where you and your boss differed. Your intent would be to soften or counteract what you believe your former boss may say. Psychologically it has less negative impact when an employer has already heard from you the negative statements that a former boss might make. Of course you need to be discreet about what you mention.

If your relations with that boss were poor, but you know the company has a strict policy about not giving out information beyond dates of employment, do not indicate that your former boss would say anything negative about you. Be sure to read the material covering question 14 regarding having been fired or terminated. Even if you have never been fired or terminated, there are several key points in that section which will help you respond to this question.

81. Describe your relationship with your last three supervisors. This question is easy to answer if you’ve had great relationships with your supervisors. If the relationships were less than sterling, you don’t have to pretend they were wonderful, just accentuate the positive. If you had a hot and cold relationship with a supervisor, stress the things which you know your boss valued about you. It is acceptable to say, “We didn’t agree on everything, but we both respected each other a great deal. We learned how to work around those differences. Once decisions were made, I would back her completely, and she valued that.” A statement like this shows maturity on the interviewee’s part. After all, even your interviewer has probably had four or more bosses. I can guarantee you that not all of them were wonderful. If you try to paint a picture that your relationship with each supervisor was ideal, you will seem less credible to your interviewer.

82. What are your supervisor’s strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared to answer this question for each of your supervisors. To answer it, concentrate on strengths. Play down weaknesses, even if they were many. Select a fairly minor weakness to discuss.

83. What kind of supervisors do you like the most? Least? Why? To prepare for this question, list all of the qualities you truly like and dislike in a supervisor. When the question is asked, select those that are most appropriate. For your preferred characteristics, select two or more that your future boss appears to have. For dislikes, select qualities that appear not to be true of this person. Be careful with a statement like, “I don’t like a supervisor who won’t give me enough independence.” You may come across as a maverick. Don’t just make a statement—explain what you mean. Instead of the above response, you might say, “It’s frustrating working for someone who doesn’t delegate effectively.” See the difference? No one appreciates someone who does not delegate well. With this answer you would then go on to describe yourself as one who is highly reliable and self-directing, capable of taking on major challenges.

84. How has your supervisor helped you grow? Whether you have a great supervisor or a lousy one, every supervisor will add to your personal growth in some way. If, for example, your supervisor has no human relations skills, emphasize how the person has helped you grow in technical knowledge.

85. What did your supervisor rate you highest on during your last review? Lowest? Emphasize the positive and give a complete explanation as to why your supervisor valued that quality. Undoubtedly there are four or five things that you were rated highly on. Pick the one or two items that will score the most points with this particular interviewer. Of those things you were rated lower in, you might say, “Overall, I was rated quite high in everything. I suppose if there was anything that my boss wanted me to work on it would be to work on my presentation skills. That’s why I’m now in Toastmasters.” When possible, emphasize a technical skill that your boss simply wants you to work on, as opposed to a personality characteristic. It is always more acceptable to say you need to learn or perfect a technical skill rather than say, “My boss wants me to work on my tendency to be rude to customers.”

86. What kind of supervisor gets the best results out of you? Base your answer on what you’ve learned about your prospective boss. If you know this person keeps a tight rein on employees, you would not mention your strong need for independence. Think through and identify several qualities that really help motivate you and be prepared to share two or three. You might answer by saying you prefer a supervisor who is fair, open-minded, and has high integrity. You could also say you prefer a supervisor who leads by example and motivates people.

87. What is your boss like? This is similar to the question regarding your boss’s strengths and weaknesses, but with this question you will only discuss your boss’s strengths. No matter how bad a boss may be, every supervisor has strengths—concentrate on those.

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Questions Regarding Organizations and Supervisors

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