Motivation

It is not uncommon—in any industry—for an employee to lose enthusiasm upon being hired. The thrill of the chase can relate to the workplace just as easily as it does to the dating scene. One way to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicant pool is to show an employer that you are not only enthusiastic about obtaining a certain position but also determined to rise above it.

Employers are always looking for the next great employee. By demonstrating your desire to achieve, you are showing the employer that you would be a valuable asset to the company. But how can you show motivation? Do your homework!

Find out all you can about a company before you attend the interview. Figure out ways in which you could help the company achieve its potential and allude to these ideas during the interview. Analyze the company's competition and try to find weaknesses. Then determine how you can help the company exploit those weaknesses.

The idea is to sound excited about the prospect of working for this company, not like a know-it-all. Don't saunter into the room and start telling the CEO of a company what he is doing wrong; simply demonstrate that you know the business and are bursting with ideas.

Q: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn't know from reading your resume.

YES: I love snorkeling. It's my favorite way to relax. Down there, observing all those strange and wonderful forms of life, gives me a fresh and upbeat outlook on my own life.

NO: I worked very hard to get my degree in finance.

Remember that you are being asked to tell the interviewer something about yourself that she wouldn't know from reading your resume. If certain pieces of information were omitted from your resume to keep it all on one page, now is the time to bring them up. For example, if in addition to a part-time job and your full-time studies you were part of an athletic team or organization, talk about it. While the actual organization might be a bit off the topic, you can usually find a way to weave it into the conversation. By participating in a particular event or becoming part of a certain organization, what did you learn? What are some of the skills you acquired that will help you in your professional endeavors? Do not tell the interviewer something that is completely irrelevant (such as, “I have ten cats!”). Above all, remember not to repeat anything that can be found from looking at your resume.

Q: Tell me what you know about this company.

YES: I served as an intern to a restaurant analyst last summer, so I followed all the steak-house chains closely. What you've done especially well is focus on a limited menu with great consistency among locations; the business traveler trusts your product everywhere in the United States. I'm particularly interested in your real estate finance group and expansion plans.

NO: I know that you guys make the best hamburgers in the city!

This is one of those open-ended questions that many interviewees hate. It ranks right up there with “Tell me about yourself.” Still, if you have done your homework—like you should have—you should have no problem scoring points with this inquiry. Start out by telling the recruiter how you first became aware of the company. Talk about the personal experiences you've had with the company's product or service—whether it be your own experience or someone else's.

Discuss the many reasons why a job with this particular company (and not a competitor) would be ideal. What is this company offering that its competitors are not? While a general knowledge of the company is imperative, avoid reciting the company's mission statement. The recruiter is looking for evidence of a genuine interest in the company (not just a general interest in the industry). Make sure you provide him with the insightful information he is looking for.

Essential

Suppose your interviewer asked a question like, “Are you a visionary or an implementer?” Before you answer, you want to know what she is looking for. If the job calls for a mastery of details and meeting schedules, she probably wants an implementer. If you want the job, that's the way to present yourself.

Q: Why do you want to work here?

YES: About a year ago, your company beat me out for a bid on a project. To find out why the organization decided in your favor, I decided to research your products. It was then that I discovered that while many products in the computer industry are becoming increasingly similar, your company strives to be forward thinking. Since then, I have kept a very active interest in your company and the steps they have made in the industry as a whole. Your company has maintained a consistently strong service record, and your customer support is unrivaled. I believe that while many bigger companies will come and go, this company will always remain dedicated to the customer. It's that kind of personal attention that I respect, and it's a characteristic that—unfortunately—is hard to find.

NO: I live very close by and would love to be able to walk to work. Also, a friend of mine works in your personnel department and has told me that you guys offer a great benefits package. This is exactly the kind of incentive I have been looking for to get me out of the house.

All aspects of the interviewing company should come into play here. In addition to the actual business, you should talk about the other reasons why you would like to become a part of this particular company. For example, if you are applying to work in an office with just three or four employees, you could mention your preference for small companies. Tell the recruiter about the many reasons that made you apply for this position. If you don't know much about the company culture, look at aspects such as the company's reputation or the job description itself to help you come up with an answer. Customer feedback can also be of value in answering this question.

Q: What particular aspect of the company interests you most?

YES: I'm particularly interested in your recent joint ventures with two processing companies in Latin America. When my father was an army officer, we lived in Latin America for three years. I am very interested in what happens with these agreements. What are your plans for the next few years?

NO: There's really no one aspect of the job that interests me. The whole thing sounds intriguing.

This is a great way to showcase your special knowledge of the company. If the company has a website, try to gain access to any recent press releases to learn about the latest happenings. If the company has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, become a fan or follower to get a sense of its areas of emphasis and communication style and approach (as well as a sense of how others perceive of, and interact with, the organization). If you've researched the company properly, you should have no problem answering this question quickly and authoritatively.

Q: What is your favorite product made by our company?

YES: I have been using your model X smartphone for more than two years now. Although friends and colleagues are constantly having problems with cell phones from other manufacturers, I have never experienced any sort of problems. In fact, whenever I head out to buy a new electronic product, I look for your label; I know that it is synonymous with quality.

NO: Actually, I'd never even heard of your company until I saw the help-wanted advertisement, so I don't know any of them. Can I let you know after I am hired?

Whether the company you're applying to is product or service based, describe your related personal experiences. If you are interviewing with a restaurant, talk about your favorite thing on the menu. Think about why you use the company's product/service. If possible, discuss the various other markets that you think the company's product could succeed in. Employers love to hear new ideas from fresh voices.

Q: What do you think of our newest advertising campaign?

YES: If you are talking about the one with the family at breakfast time, I think it is great. I know that in the past your company has been criticized for offering foods that are high in fat. This comforting campaign—and the new heart-healthy product—was a great way to step away from that issue. It really shows that you care about your customers and take their comments and concerns seriously.

NO: I don't believe I know it.

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the company's latest happenings, including new products, new advertising campaigns, and any recent press (whether bad or good). Know enough about the company's current state to speak in an informed and intelligent manner. Always offer positive comments and make specific suggestions if you think they apply.

Q: What do you think our distinct advantage is over our competitors?

YES: I think the smartest way to stay ahead of the industry was your choice of headquarters location. By operating in a low-cost area and maintaining a low production cost, you are able to spend aggressively on more important aspects, such as research and development and advertising. Even when the rest of the industry is showing a dip in sales, your company remains profitable.

NO: I don't really know what you are doing that is better, but I know that I have been buying your products over the competition's for years, so you must be doing something right!

Again, this is the time to highlight your in-depth knowledge of the company, its products, and its operation in general. What things do you think the company does well, particularly when compared to their competitors? Pick one important aspect you see as a real advantage, and discuss it in an informed and intelligent manner.

Q: Where do you think we're the most vulnerable as a business?

YES: The last company I worked for underwent a merger. Based on your cash position and strong product presence, your company would be an attractive target for a takeover. Though we did experience some difficulties in my last company, I also know I can weather the storm of such an occurrence.

NO: I would say that your employees are lacking in many respects. Considering that it took you two months to get back to me after sending in my resume, I would say you could use a personnel overhaul.

Answering this question requires a relatively strong grasp of the business, and a definite knowledge of the firm's competitors. Figure out what the company does not do well in relation to its competitors, and talk a bit about this. Discuss how you would cope if these vulnerabilities were to be fully realized. As an employee with a passion for the business, you should always be thinking of the future of your job.

Q: If you were allowed to run the company, what would you do differently?

YES: I might investigate whether to sell off the light-manufacturing businesses and start an aggressive supplier-relations program.

NO: I would make the company more employee friendly. I'd have a pool table and pinball machines in the lounge so employees can relax during breaks.

This is another question in which you must avoid stepping on anyone's toes. For example, if you are being interviewed by the human resources director, you probably wouldn't want to say, “I would change the overall structure of the human resources department. The way you are structured right now I'm surprised anyone gets hired.” Rather than concentrate on your own personal experience, look at the company from a business standpoint. To answer this question, it really helps to have some insider information. If you know people who work for the company—or even in the industry—see if they can help you. Make sure you keep the rules of business in mind. Companies don't turn a profit by letting their employees run wild. Keep your changes informed and intelligent; again, this is not the land of make-believe.

Essential

If you've just walked out of what you thought was a so-so interview, you might be able to rescue it with an e-mail. Refer to a question asked by the interviewer that you might have answered too briskly, and say something like, “While driving home, I remembered a situation I wanted to pass on to you …” Then tell the story of the time you wowed them in Santa Fe with your presentation.

Q: What other firms are you interviewing with, and for what positions?

YES: Since I have definitely decided on a career in the publishing industry, I am applying strictly for editorial assistant positions. My most recent interviews have been with some of the top publishing houses in this market.

NO: I have applied to work at each Fortune 500 company for positions ranging from custodian to the vice president of finance.

One mistake that interviewees often make is trying to impress the interviewer with the names of big companies. In the above “NO” example, this tactic wouldn't work. As each of the Fortune 500 businesses are unrelated as far as industry is concerned, this would be a mass mailing at its worst. Make sure the companies you mention are all within the same industry as the company you are interviewing with. Don't be afraid to tell the recruiter that you are interviewing with one of the company's biggest competitors. If anything, it will reinforce that this is exactly the kind of business you want to get in to and illustrate that you're committed to finding a job in your field of interest, thus showing you to be a low-risk hire.

Q: Do you think that you are overqualified for this position?

YES: Absolutely not! My relative experience and qualifications will only help me to do this job better. Because I have experience in so many different facets of your business, I feel that I can help in the overall success of the company, and not just within my department. For example, my business experience can help me to run the art department in a cost-efficient manner, while my creative background will allow me to find the best freelance talent. As I have been working in the industry for quite some time, I have many business contacts that I can call upon to help me. My qualifications are better for the company, too, since you'll be getting a better return on your investment. Since I am interested in establishing a long-term relationship with my employer, I would expect expanded responsibilities that could make use of even other skills when I have proven myself.

NO: When I first read the job description, I did think that I might have too much experience for the position. But since when has being overqualified been a problem? Because of my extensive experience, I should be able to perform these tasks easily and quickly.

This question intends to catch an interviewee off guard, and often does. The mistake many people make in answering this question is to automatically take a defensive position. If you do have extensive experience, an interviewer is testing to see whether you would quickly become bored in the position, how much confidence you have in your own skills, and how you plan to let your past experience work for you in this company. When answering this question, be sure to address each of your strongest skills and explain how each could benefit the company. Confidence is the key to answering this question.

Q: Describe our competitors as you see them.

YES: As far as I can tell, your competitors have tried to branch out too often and too fast. They have tried to improve upon their main product, and with little success. As a result, they have had a lot of difficulty maintaining a consistent quality. I think that the recent bankruptcy of ABC Company only further illustrates this point. Your company has been smart enough to refrain from looking toward this same type of expansion and instead has focused on creating the best possible product. It is this kind of dedication that I am looking for in an employer.

NO: As far as I can tell, being number one in this industry is a real toss-up. Depending on the public's mood, any one of your competitors could emerge as the best company. You are all making the exact same product, and the price point doesn't differ too much. I see your competitors being at just as much an advantage as this company in taking over the industry.

In addition to researching the company extensively, make sure you have a good idea of its competitors and what they do. Know in which areas the competition is beating out this company and in which they are lagging behind. Give evidence that in addition to a vast knowledge of the company, you know a lot about the industry as a whole. Most importantly, discuss how this company's initiatives are better suited to your personal interests.

Q: What would you say if one of our competitors offered you a position?

YES: I'd probably say no. I'm not too interested in working for the other players in this industry. My desire to work for your company comes from the many positive experiences I have had with your product. I truly believe in your products and would not consider working for a company whose products I didn't believe in. After all, how could I convince someone to buy a product that I myself wouldn't buy?

NO: I would take it in a heartbeat. I know that this is the industry I want to be in for sure; how I find my way into it does not matter.

It is not always necessary to answer no to this question. Depending on the order of the questions asked, you may have already told an interviewer that you are applying for a position with his competitor. Still, whether you answer this question with a yes or a no, be sure that you let the interviewer know that it is this company you would like to work for. Point out the reasons why you would prefer to work for this company even if a competitor offered you a position. Talk about the advantages this company has to offer you both as an employee and as a consumer. Again, the interviewer is trying to determine whether your interest in the company and industry is genuine. Talk about why you would choose this company over any other, and demonstrate your interest.

Q: Why are you leaving your current job?

YES: Though, at one point, I made the leap from being a bank lender to working in the human resources department, I am hoping to combine these two experiences. Sure, I can work in human resources anywhere, but because of my past experience as a lender, I think that my skills would be well suited to a human resources career within your bank. As I have been on both sides of the traditional job interview, I think I have a strong ability to find those applicants who are most compatible with the job.

NO: My current boss and I just don't get along!

Give two or three reasons why you are ready to leave your current job. Focus on discussing the lack of growth or responsibility in your current job, and how you think this new job will challenge you. Regardless of your feelings for your current boss or work environment, refrain from making any negative statements about either. Speaking disparagingly of your current job is a red flag to the interviewer that you could have an attitude problem. Your boss isn't there to defend herself, so the interviewer is left to wonder which one of you is the guilty party in all of this.

Q: What are you hoping to get out of your next job?

YES: I'd be very interested in taking control of a segment of the company in which we are really lagging behind. Sure, it would be a challenge, but that's exactly what I'm looking for. In my current position, I have been able to increase the sales in my territory by more than 30 percent in just a few years. If given the opportunity to work with your company, I believe I could do that again. I also hope to get a very aggressive commission structure if I'm able to turn around a problem territory.

NO: I have been with my current company for six months and have not been promoted or received any sort of pay raise. I would like to make more money in my next company, and I would hope that that company would recognize my contributions and promote me much more rapidly.

This question is very similar to the one that asks, “Why are you ready to leave your current job?” Without being negative about your current job or boss, give one or two examples of your current work experience that explain why you are interested in a new position. For this question, it is best to focus on obtaining a greater challenge. For example, telling the interviewer that there is no potential for advancement in your current position conveys that you are a hard worker who wants to advance; it also implies that you have gone as high as you can go in your current position. Make sure you give some reasons why you believe the job at hand will provide the additional responsibilities you are seeking.

Essential

Play down the profit motive—everyone wants money, and greed won't favorably impress an interviewer. Stress advancement, the desire for a challenge, or the opportunity to develop new skills as your main motivation for wanting this job.

Q: What would your dream job be like?

YES: My dream job would allow me to be creative and artistic on a day-to-day basis. It would be fast paced and deadline driven, as I thrive on pressure. I would like to work for a small start-up company with limitless growth potential. I would like to be part of a company from the beginning so that I could help in the shaping of a new business. I know that your company has been around for about a year now, but I think that your potential for growth is endless. The reason I am so interested in this position is that it would allow me to do all of these things, and then some.

NO: I would love to be an assistant to Martin Scorsese. I would fetch him coffee, rub his feet, or do whatever it was he asked of me.

This is another question that might tempt you to offer up a bit of your fantasy life to the interviewer. Don't! Talk about a job you would like to have that either is close to, or involves the same skills as, the job you are applying for. Rather than cite a specific job title, your best bet is to tell the interviewer the tasks that would be involved in your dream job, and how those tasks relate to this job. Tie in the industry, size of the company, or other factors where appropriate.

Q: What motivates you to do this kind of work?

YES: I have been fortunate enough in my schooling to have encountered many wonderful teachers. Each of them has left an indelible mark on me in some way, and I have always longed to do the same for some other child. I want to be the kind of teacher who not only encourages kids to learn but also sets an example that makes others want to teach. The quality of education in this state has been criticized over the past several years, and I want to help change this negative perception.

NO: Being a teacher affords me the opportunity to work nine months out of the year and then relax the other three.

Here is a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for an industry as well as your belief in the products or services of the company. It is always a wise idea to use personal experiences to underscore your enthusiasm. Talk about your natural interests, as the interviewer is trying to find out if they are compatible with the job.

Q: What salary would you expect for this job?

YES: Your job description mentions that you would prefer someone with a master's degree in engineering—which I have. Based on the other qualifications you are looking for, I am confident that my skills meet your highest standards for an employee. Therefore, I hope that you would offer me a salary at the higher end of your pay scale. Could you give me some indication of your desired range?

NO: I think by now I should be earning six figures. What does your highest-paid person in this position earn?

This is one of the most loathed questions a recruiter can ask, and it's one that people have an awful lot of trouble answering. As crazy as it sounds, many people, especially recent graduates, are completely uninformed as to how much money is average for a particular job. Before even thinking of discussing salary, you should be aware of the average salary range for your particular position in your particular area. Though you don't want to sell yourself short, you also don't want to throw out a dollar amount that is completely unrealistic.

If the interviewer seems unwilling to discuss the specifics of what the company expects to pay, talk about your current salary a little bit. “I make $50,000 per year in my current position, and hope to make at least that. However, I would be willing to negotiate should the position be offered to me.” If you're fresh out of college or new to the job market, be sure to research the average salary for your job title as well as salaries in areas of interest to you. That way, if pressed for a salary range, you can come back with the national and/or local averages. A good rule to follow is to say that you are willing to negotiate; besides emphasizing your excitement about the opportunity, you can help put yourself back in the running if the salary amount you suggested was much more than the company is willing to pay.

Q: What new or unique skills could you bring to the job that other candidates aren't likely to offer?

YES: Because the company I currently work for is one of the oldest players in the industry, I think I could bring the history and experience that goes along with that. I can help this company avoid making some of the same mistakes we have made in our established markets. For example, if I were to start work today, I would work at retaining your core customer base before trying to secure new accounts. It is this kind of experience that you are not likely to find in many other candidates.

NO: I am an expert juggler. How many other accountants can you say that about?

This question addresses your desire to add true value to a job (beyond what is expected of an employee). Imagine that you are being considered for the position alongside one other person with the exact same educational and professional qualifications. What are the things that would make you the better hire? Steer clear of vague answers such as “I am multitask oriented” and “I wear many hats.” These answers tell the recruiter absolutely nothing about your skills and abilities.

Q: What interests you most about this job?

YES: I would love the opportunity to work under Jane Doe, a woman who really helped to build the financial services practice under bank deregulation. I have worked closely with Ms. Doe on projects before, and I completely respect her and her opinions. I think that in addition to getting along with your boss, it is important to respect that person, and to believe in her. My esteem for Ms. Doe is one of the main reasons I chose to apply for this job.

NO: The whole job seems very interesting to me. I am interested in learning more about each part of it.

Point out the new responsibilities you'll be assuming in this job, as well as the reasons why you are already well suited for it. Mention similarities to some of your past jobs in which you have enjoyed professional success. Do not speak in generalities!

Q: What would you like to accomplish in this job that you weren't able to accomplish in your current position?

YES: The company that I work for right now is rather small. That said, the budget we had for marketing our products was fairly limited. For the most part, our marketing efforts were limited to print ads and other traditional resources. I know that your company dedicates much of its time and energy to interactive media, targeting the eighteen-to-twenty-five-year-old category. This is a step that I am looking forward to taking, and one that I think I have many good ideas for.

NO: My current position has not allowed me to use my creativity. Whatever ideas I have put forth are always rejected. It is getting to the point where I withhold my ideas just so I don't have to hear the word “no.” I hope that your company would be more accepting of me and my ideas.

Answer here in the same way you'd answer the question, “Why are you ready to leave your current job?” Don't say anything negative, and be sure your answer reflects professional goals! Talk about the goals you have set for yourself and how this job would help you attain them. Discuss the things you enjoy and have an aptitude for, but do not dwell on the limitations imposed by your current or previous job.

Q: How have your career motivations changed over the past few years?

YES: When I first started out, I worked in sales, which is where I was sure I wanted to be. As I worked very closely with the marketing department, I realized that perhaps that was where my talents were. I found out that I could use my creativity and strong writing skills to really help out in the marketing end of things. My boss also quickly realized this, and immediately offered me a position within the marketing department. Since then, my interest in marketing has only increased. I know that your sales and marketing departments rely heavily upon one another to make each other work, as is the case with many companies. Though I will always love the thrill of salesmanship, I cannot deny that marketing is where I need to be. Working for your company would allow me to keep a close eye on both of these interests and, I hope, help in the productivity of each of these departments.

NO: Since starting out in the workplace just three years ago, I have changed jobs seven times, and I have changed careers five times. I have done everything from waiting tables to working as a veterinarian's assistant. With such a variety of experience behind me, I think I would be a great asset to your public relations team.

Regardless of whether or not you have changed careers completely, you have probably learned a lot about yourself and your talents since entering the work force. Talk about the things that you have learned from your past work experience, especially where your skills and natural instincts lie. Make sure that your current motivation relates to the job you are interviewing for. Avoid seeming fickle. An employer will not want to take a chance on an employee who can't seem to make up his mind about what he wants to do. Even if you've had various jobs, talking about the goal you have always had in mind will put a positive spin on your varied past.

Q: Why should we hire you?

YES: My aunt had a company that was a small-scale manufacturer in the industry, and although she later sold the business, I worked there for five summers doing all sorts of odd jobs. For that reason, I believe I know this business from the ground up, and you can be assured that I know what I'd be getting into as a plant manager here.

NO: You're looking for an employee; I'm looking for a job. According to my calculations, one plus one equals me being hired!

Why should a company hire you? This question, which is usually the last one asked in a formal interview, is your chance to sum up your skills and value as an employee without repeating your resume or employment history. Here's your chance to offer one or two examples that explain why you want to work for this particular company and why they would want you to work for them. What's the most compelling example you can give to prove your interest? Though this question often remains unasked, it's always in the back of a recruiter's mind. If you're lucky enough to get through the interview without hearing it, you should still try to find an opportunity to use your prepared response sometime during the interview, perhaps in your closing remarks.

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