Job seekers should show preparation

By Terry Pile

  • Monday, November 24, 2008 8:02pm
  • Business

By Terry Pile

On Careers

Do you get sweaty palms at the very thought of a job interview? Research and practice are your best antidotes. It also helps if you understand what the employer is thinking. The following Mercer Island hiring managers share their favorite interview questions and their rationale for asking.

Know about the company

Like many employers, Erica Hauck, owner of Admiral Travel, wants a job candidate to be interested in her company, not just focused on “getting a job.” Her favorite question in an interview is, “How did you hear about our company and this particular position?” Hauck said, “I find this to be my most informative question. It gives me an indication as to how strong the person’s interest is in the position.” Motivated candidates will demonstrate independent research about the company and the travel industry in general.

Prior to an interview, researching the company is a must. The first stop should be the company Web site. Study the employer’s mission, products and services, bios of senior executives and customer data. Next, search news articles to see if there has been recent publicity regarding the employer. Also, be aware of what the company’s competitors are doing. “What do you know about us?” is a popular first question with employers. In the age of Internet, there is no excuse for not being prepared.

About hobbies and interests

“The most important question I ask is about a job candidate’s outside interests,” said Longs Drug Store manager, Ruth Snead. “I ask this for a few reasons. It tells me more about the person, and it gives me an idea of the kind of commitment I can expect. If someone says she coaches Little League, I know not to rely on her for weekend help.” Snead also is aware that job seekers will say they are available any time, because they know that is what the employer wants to hear. She believes knowing an individual’s interests will give her more accurate insight into his personality and appropriateness for the job.

When discussing hobbies and interests with a prospective employer, stick to safe ones. A bungee jumper or skate boarder may not have much of a chance with a self-insured employer. Reading, gardening, cooking and traveling are safer choices to share.

Looking for enthusiasm

As the principal of Adams Elementary School, which has a unique integrated arts program, Sara Laylin asks prospective teachers very specific questions about integrating art into an elementary school curriculum. “I am looking for how the prospective teacher uses art in academic areas as a methodology for teaching.”

But teaching techniques aren’t the only thing that Laylin looks for in a job seeker. “I also look for a firm handshake and eye contact prior to beginning the interview. Several years ago we scheduled six interviews on the same day. None of the first five candidates smiled, gave me a firm handshake or looked me in the eye. The last candidate jumped up from his seat when I walked in, shook my hand, grinned, looked right at me and said, `I am really nervous because I looked this school up on the Internet and I really want to work here.’ I wasn’t surprised when the interview team rated him at the top.”

In addition to content knowledge, employers are looking for personality and confidence. Good eye contact, a firm handshake and genuine enthusiasm can often compensate for lack of experience.

About illegal questions

“Unfortunately, most of the questions I want to ask are no longer legal today. I am curious about the candidate’s age, marital status and number of children,” said Dentist Kenneth Clemons. Clemons explained that many dentists are conducting “try-outs.” The job candidate is invited to work for a week or two on a trial basis to see if she is a good fit prior to making a job offer. “We have had a lot of success selecting new employees this way,” said Clemons. “It gives each of us an opportunity to decide if it is a good match.”

Occasionally an employer will ask an illegal question such as age, marital status, about children or nationality. Some ask out of naiveté. Others use this information as a screening tool. They may wrongly assume a recently married spouse will not want to travel or that a mother with children will have daycare issues.

If you are asked an illegal question and feel uncomfortable answering, simply give a polite response such as, “Can you help me understand how that question pertains to the job?” or “I am not sure why you are asking me that. Can you elaborate?” In most cases, the employer will realize the question is out of line and won’t push for an answer.

Be prepared

You can never be fully prepared for what interviewers will ask or know what kind of response they are expecting. Your best preparation for an interview is to rehearse your answers to the standard questions so you won’t be taken by surprise. There are numerous online and print resources to help you prepare for an interview. Here are a few of my favorites:

? The 101 Toughest Interview Questions?, by Daniel Porot, Ten Speed Press

? Interview Power, Tom Washington, Mount Vernon Press

? Interviewing and Salary Negotiations, Kate Wendleton, A Five O’clock Club publication



Terry Pile is president of Career Advisors providing career counseling, career development and outplacement services to individuals and small businesses. She specializes in helping people find satisfying employment. She can be contacted at

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