Culture Compatibility

In addition to being compatible with the duties of a particular job, employers want to make sure that you will be comfortable in the job environment. If you comment that you don't like working for a large corporation, chances are that Microsoft will not come knocking at your door.

In addition to researching the qualifications of a particular job title, you should be sure to research the particular company to which you are applying. That way, when the interviewer asks you a question specifically to find out whether or not you'd adapt well to the company environment, you'll know how to answer.

Q: What would your friends tell me about you?

YES: My friends would probably tell you about my energy and enthusiasm. I spend more time at work than any of them, yet I find the time to see them as often as I can. I guess I just really believe in doing things with gusto.

NO: My friends would probably tell you that I am a little bit on the shy side. They make a joke out of the fact that when making plans I always just go with the path of least resistance.

The interviewer is trying to get a better sense of your personality. How do you act when you're not at work (or in the midst of an interview)? She is interested in the parts of your personality that will naturally be revealed in time. Make sure that the personality traits you reveal are ones that would be looked upon favorably by the company, as well as those that reflect your true nature and preferences.

Q: Tell me about your relationship with your current and past supervisors.

YES: I have been fortunate enough to have had a lot of great supervisors in my past. They have all been extremely intelligent and talented people. The lessons I have learned thus far in the workplace have been mainly from these people. I think that in many respects I have become the favorite sounding board for my past supervisors. Though the obvious balance of wisdom and expertise was theirs, I believe that I was always helpful to them in their decisions about customer problems.

NO: In both of my past two positions, my supervisor has been my reason for leaving.

The interviewer is trying to get a sense of your personality as it relates to that of your prospective supervisor. Would the two of you get along well in the workplace or would you be at each other's throats? Talking about past bosses gives the interviewer a good idea as to how you work and makes him aware of any potential problems that may arise. Remember to avoid being negative. Be honest, but do not slander your previous supervisors. If you have had an occasion where you and your previous supervisor did not get along, try and put a positive spin on it. What did you learn about yourself by finding out what kind of boss you didn't work well with? What does this say about your attitude in the workplace and preferred working environment? End your response by emphasizing the type of boss you work well with, as it's always better to go out on a positive note.

Q: Tell me about your past relationships with coworkers.

YES: I have never had a problem with any of my coworkers. As I am sure any of them would tell you, nothing ever seems to set me back too much. That trait really came in handy in cases where they were experiencing problems and needed someone to advise them. By helping to come up with a solution quickly and calmly, I have always been willing to pitch in wherever I can. If you asked them which two words described me best, they'd probably say constant and dependable.

NO: I have been lucky enough to establish immediate friendships with virtually every coworker in my past. If we're not meeting up for dinner or drinks after work, we're spending half the day catching everyone up on what is going on in our lives. I swear, it sometimes takes me at least a half hour to get to my desk in the morning because I have to stop and say so many hellos.

Here's another one of those questions that requires careful consideration. On the one hand, you want to prove to the interviewer that you can easily mix in with different types of people. On the other hand, you don't want the employer to think that you'll spend half the day chatting away with your chums. Speak specifically of your working relationships with your coworkers. How well have you worked together? What kinds of things have you done to create a real camaraderie in the office? What types of people do you enjoy working with? In answering this question, you are letting the interviewer know how you'll get along with not only their current employees but also their customers. The interviewer wants to be confident that any surprises about your work personality have been uncovered.

Q: Talk about a work environment that you think would be ineffective for you.

YES: The one thing I have trouble with is when there is no room for communication or feedback. In the past, I have been in situations where I was assigned a project and told exactly how to accomplish it. While I am always open to other people's suggestions, I need to be able to infuse my work with my own personal and professional style. In any project, there needs to be the latitude to make adjustments, and that is definitely something I look for in order to be an effective worker.

NO: I wouldn't like to be in a work environment in which everyone is always serious. I know that I definitely need a little humor throughout the day to keep me going. How about you?

This isn't a bad answer—in fact, it's rather good. But what weakens the answer is when the candidate throws in, “How about you?” Don't try to buddy up to the interviewer this way.

Q: What situations excite and motivate you?

YES: I really enjoy being able to work on a project all the way through. I like being involved from the initial idea conception and brainstorming phase all the way through to the completed project. Knowing that I was able to see a project all the way through and then look at the tangible results is really an exciting thing for me.

NO: I am a big fan of company award programs. I think that knowing there could be a bonus, a gift certificate, or some other little prize at the end of a long and tumultuous project is enough to keep me going strong.

Make sure you answer this question in a way that reveals the kind of work that inspires you. Far too many people bring monetary or other selfish rewards into this question. Talk about what motivates you to keep going. Why do you work in this job or even this industry? Talk about your passion for your work. Remember that the answer you give should be compatible with the type of work you'll be asked to perform.

Q: How do you think your last employer would describe your work habits and work ethic?

YES: At my last job, I was awarded a sort of MVP award at the end of the year for all the extra efforts I put into one of our major accounts. Earlier in the year, that same company had been so angry with a situation that had arisen that they threatened to pull their account entirely. Upon hearing this, I quickly stepped in and took care of the problem, even though it required me to work through a holiday weekend.

NO: I think they would tell you my work habits and work ethic are just about the same as those of everyone else on staff.

The interviewer wants to hear that in hiring you they're hiring a future star of the company. Knowing that you went above and beyond the call of duty assures the interviewer that you will work hard. It indicates a strong work ethic and dedication to your job. Be sure to give examples of your reliability, dedication, and corporate loyalty. Make sure to exude confidence without cockiness.

Q: How well do you work with your current clients or customers?

YES: Since I started at my current employer more than three years ago, my client base has changed very little. Sales have increased tremendously, which was my main goal. I have acquired new clients—mainly through recommendations from other clients—but I have been lucky enough to work with the same clients for several years now. I have fantastic relationships with all of my clients; we keep in touch on a fairly regular basis, so I have really been able to get to know these clients as people more than business contacts, which is a great feeling.

NO: I have never had any major problems with any of my clients. But because they are constantly changing, I have never forged any really strong relationships.

This question is quite revealing when it comes to your interpersonal skills. Though you may not realize it, your customers’ reactions to you can have a big impact on how you are perceived professionally. Though you've never had a problem with any of your customers, why aren't they coming back for more service? Be careful to think about this question before answering.

Essential

If you have maintained close working relationships with several of your clients or customers, consider listing one of them as a professional contact. It's a great way to show a new company how easy you are to work with and how concerned you are with great service.

Q: Whom did you choose as your professional references, and why?

YES: The three references listed include my current supervisor, a coworker, and one of my key customers. I chose these three people so that you could really gain a well-rounded perspective as to who I am professionally. These three references represent how I am perceived in each arena of my professional life.

NO: I chose to list a former coworker, one of the customers who frequented the bar I worked at in college, and an old high school buddy of mine. I figured that this would give you a great deal of insight as to who I am as a person, both at work and in my personal life.

Family members and friends do not make great references. However, there are plenty of people who would make great and logical choices to serve as professional references for you. Consider, for example, former or current supervisors, former or current coworkers, professors, customers, or clients you have dealt with extensively. Also remember to describe what you'd expect each of them to say about you.

Alert

Give your references a call and let them know a prospective employer may be calling. Fill your references in on the type of position you're applying for and what skills are involved in it. You might even want to send along your resume so that the reference has a better idea of the kind of characteristics she should emphasize.

Q: Is it okay that we call all of your references?

YES: Absolutely!

NO: Though I put my current boss on that list, I'd actually prefer that you didn't call him.

This is one question that is designed to protect you and your current work situation. If you hand over a list of references and the interviewer does not ask whether it is okay to contact everyone on the list, be sure to volunteer this information. One of the worst things that could happen would be for a future employer to contact an unsuspecting current boss. You should not list your current employer if you have not yet given notice. References may be called before or after the job offer is extended. If a reference doesn't check out after the offer has been extended, most employers will officially rescind the offer. Companies these days are wary to give out too much information on a reference check and typically provide only data such as dates of employment, title, compensation or salary range, and whether or not they would rehire the individual.

Q: Tell me something you learned from reading a recent book.

YES: When it comes to choosing reading material, I really enjoy reading biographies. I especially enjoy reading the biographies of people who lived in a different era. Recently, I finished Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. I was really amazed at what I learned from reading about this man. He taught me the value of strong leadership skills as well as having a good rapport with the public and those around you in times of stress and uncertainty. These are certainly lessons that I want to incorporate into my own life.

NO: I am a big fan of biographies, and I just read a biography of Anna Nicole Smith. Wow, what a life some of these celebrities lead.

Though this question is geared toward your personal life (it asks about something you've read in your free time), it can be very indicative of your work performance. Learning about your outside interests is a great way for an interviewer to decide how well you will fit in with this new environment. One of the best ways to answer this question is to use a classic piece of literature that the interviewer can relate to or a biography you have recently read.

Q: Tell me about a time when you had to drop what you were doing to help a coworker.

YES: I think it would be safe to say that in my current position, assisting a coworker is pretty much a daily occurrence. Throughout the week, we all have various questions and projects that we need help with, and there is always someone who is willing and able to put his or her own work on hold to do it. Just this week, I assisted a coworker in preparing our latest catalog to be sent to the printer. As any sort of spelling or item number mistake could really hurt sales, it's important that you have someone else take a close second look. It's comforting to know that you are working with such a great network of people; you know that if and when you have a problem, there will be someone to lend a hand.

NO: Though I had dinner plans of my own, I agreed to take a coworker's cousin out to dinner the other night. She was visiting from out of town, and he had already made plans, so I agreed to help him. I really like having such a strong network of people to count on at work.

Talk about your unselfish willingness to pitch in. Do you understand the importance of helping others, even if you have your own work to do? Showing that you enjoy being part of a team, even if you tend to work independently, shows the interviewer your commitment to your job as well as a respect for those you work with. Demonstrate your ability to understand that what is good for one worker can be good for the entire workplace.

Q: Do you prefer working alone or in a group?

YES: I think that a logical mix of both is necessary to complete a project to the best of my abilities. I definitely like to have a little private time so that I can plan my course of action or make a schedule, but I also like to have lots of activity taking place around me. I like to engage in brainstorming sessions; I enjoy being able to share my ideas and see what everyone else is thinking. No one person has all the answers. At some point, you need to work with others to figure out the best way to accomplish a goal.

NO: I definitely prefer working in a group. In the past, when I have been given independent projects, I have really struggled to complete them on my own. I am much more confident in my own work when I am given a direct assignment from someone in a higher position.

There are two goals in answering this question: to be honest, but also to seem flexible. If you prefer working alone, tell this person. If you're better working in a group, let the interviewer know that as well. The key is to let your preference be known, but also to communicate that you are a flexible person who has no problem adapting to various environments. It might be a smart idea to figure out what the typical work style is for the position you're applying for and to demonstrate your desire to work that way.

Q: Tell me about a situation in which you found it difficult to remain objective.

YES: I was given a project in which part of the assignment involved contacting various professionals within the computer field and interviewing them about certain trends and their predictions for the future. After several weeks of playing phone tag, talking to industry professionals, and composing my final report, my boss decided to cancel the project. While I certainly understand the need to revise budgets and schedules, I just found it frustrating that I had become so excited about a project and worked so hard at it, only to have it pulled once I was satisfied.

NO: The manager of my department had given his two weeks’ notice, and the search to replace him became sort of a race between me and the other senior workers in the department. Though I had been with the company the least amount of time and had not been schooled as extensively, I felt that I was certainly the most qualified as far as my character went. I have never really gotten over the fact that the job went to someone else.

The best way to answer this question is to think of a time when you put a lot of thought and energy into something, only to see the project canceled at a later time. Another way to answer this question would be to think of a time when you found that a project you had worked on was less strategically sound than you'd hoped. In concluding your response, be sure to demonstrate that—although you were frustrated—you were able to readjust your thinking and understand why the project had to be canceled.

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