Interview Preparation Phase Three--Prepare Answers

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To prepare well for interviews you need to know how you want to answer potential questions that will be part of the dialogue.  Following is a list of potential questions with some suggestions about how you might answer each.

Classic Interview Questions

Tell me about yourself

  • Keep it relatively brief and oriented toward the company or context
  • What are the most important things I want this person to know about me?  Career summary/target message as a conversation relating it to company & individual.
  • Brief description of your depth and breadth of background/experience. Highlight your accomplishments & skills that relate to role.
  • Key strengths/skills – RELEVANCE is most important key here!

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

  • Using the Problem, Action, Result (PAR) format be ready with 3 that highlight strengths that most closely relate to the role.
  • Connect your outcomes to their need—map them to this role and loop back with a question to them about the needs/responsibilities of the job.
  • Include metric and anecdote that will differentiate you.  Appeal to the left brain with the data (numbers, dollars, and percentages), and the right brain with a memorable story.

What is the greatest strength that you will bring to this organization?

  • Be prepared with your three favorites.
  • Illustrate them with an accomplishment story that includes metric and connects to needs of the role.
  • Be sure to engage in a dialogue asking what strengths the interviewer sees as most needed.

What is your weakness?

  • Keep this brief.
  • Only name one that does not relate directly to the role.
  • Make sure what you name is honest and demonstrates self-awareness.  Include what you have learned about yourself and how you manage your weakness.
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Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years? Professionally?

What skills do you enjoy using the most? What about the least?

What adjectives would your references use to describe you?

Please walk me through a typical day at your current/previous job. Tell me about your boss and your relationship with them. (Caution--especially if your boss is your reference, make sure it rings true and of course in any response you want to keep it oriented positively).

Why have you decided to leave your current position?

Why are you interested in this job?  What do you know about our company?  You should have done your research beyond just their website and know what is in the news about them and your response to this question can again connect your background and value directly to their company.

Why should we hire you?

What is your salary expectation?

  • First choice is to defer the question. This is less possible with external recruiters as this may be one of their first screening questions. Always honor the person asking in how your respond.
  • Second is to give a range based on your research.  You can check salary ranges just by googling and typically Glassdoor, Payscale, Indeed and sites like those will come up with good information.
  • If pushed, give your history in the context of the role and check-in to see where that fits with their expectation.
  • Reinforce that you are most interested in learning more about the company and the role.

Behavioral Interview Questions

The behavioral interview is looking for specific examples of how you handled situations – not general statements. These questions are related to the skills you need to perform the job and you want to be sure to include the result—preferably a positive one!

Include these points:

  • A specific situation – tell the story, talk a little bit about it so they have a frame of reference
  • What needed to be done and the actions you took
  • The results—it is most important to include the metrics for your results that will be most meaningful to your listener.  (PAR format)
  • Finish with what you learned from that experience.  Lessons Learned.

Other considerations:

  • Think about your Problem/Action/Result (PAR) format.
  • Ask yourself what skill the question addresses.
  • Thing about your past experiences – most recent job, past jobs, leadership roles – for situations you can share.
  • Use the job description/job post to identify the required skills
  • Prepare your stories and connect them to the needs of the role.

Possible Behavioral Interview questions:

  • Conflict Management – ‘describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult person’s problem. How did you resolve the situation?’
  • Influencing/Conflict Management – ‘tell me about a situation when you had a differing opinion from others in a group and how you got your point across.’
  • Emotions/Diffusing Anger – ‘give me an example of a situation where you dealt with an angry customer or client and describe how you resolved the situation.’
  • Ethics and integrity – ‘give me an example of a situation where you observed or became aware of an employee or co-worker acting unethically.  How did you handle the situation?’
  • Team Decision Making – ‘describe a team or group you have been a part of and how you dealt with reaching decisions and/or creating plans for action.’
  • Goal Oriented/Self Directed – ‘what goals did you set for yourself during the year and how did you achieve them?’
  • Sizing up People/Situational leadership – ‘describe a situation in which you were able to read another person effectively and guide your actions by understanding his/her needs.’
  • Prioritization – ‘tell me about a time when you had to juggle many different tasks at once and how you handled it.’
  • Flexible, Adaptable – ‘describe a time when you had to switch gears quickly. What were the circumstances and how did you do it?’
  • Time Management – ‘tell me about a time when you had many deadlines to meet in a short period of time. How did you prepare yourself and organize your time?’
  • Organization skills – ‘tell me about a project you were responsible for that you had to organize start to finish. How did you approach this and complete it?’
  • Conflict Management – ‘describe a situation where you had a misunderstanding with a co-worker or business associate and how you resolved it.’
  • Teamwork – ‘When working with a group, do you tend to support or lead the team? Give an example of both experiences.
  • Resourcefulness – ‘Tell me about a situation when you were given a complicated assignment with little or no information. How did you complete the assignment?’
  • Managing Diversity – ‘Give me an example of a situation in a past work experience where you demonstrated sensitivity to individual differences.’

Situational Interview Questions

This allows the interviewer to understand your thinking, decision making, and problem solving processes. It can also help them see how fast you think on your feet.

  • How do you go about building a relationship with a new customer or client?
  • What type of communication would you choose to use to address a complaint from a peer or co-worker? Your manager? A more senior manager?
  • If you had tight deadlines you were concerned about meeting, what would you do?
  • When you have a lot of tasks on your plate at one time, how do you go about deciding what tasks to do and when to do them?
  • Tell about a time when you didn’t achieve what you wanted (get the promotion, accomplish the desired project results, etc.) and how you handled it.
  • Tell about a time when you improved a process or project.
  • What is your favorite work accomplishment?

Misc.

Always also be prepared to answer the “random” questions about your favorite color or “if you were a car, what model would you be?” –without judgment and aligned with your style.

Leadership Lessons from Africa--I can do anything!

Lesson Two.  I can do anything!!  We are resilient and resourceful beyond what we know.

Kilimanjaro was not on my bucket list…AND I am so grateful it got on my daughters’ lists thanks to their amazing dad!

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There were many unexpected miracles in Africa.

The resilience and strength of the human spirit was evident and alive so many times and in so many ways.  First I experienced it in Rwanda most profoundly.  Witnessing and experiencing the growth and development in Kigali amazed me.  Seeing the images of destruction and reading the stories from 1994 and then driving through the city seeing all the new construction and being at the school with the children illustrated how resourceful we humans are on a large scale.

Joining my family after they summited the tallest free-standing mountain in the world illustrated resilience and strength at a very personal level.  Each of the five climbers had stories of “OMG, I had no idea about how hard it would actually be!!!”  They witnessed multiple climbers who didn’t make it, and they each had their own story of what made it hard for them.  Between altitude sickness that made them nauseous and a little woozy feeling in their head, the temperature that made it difficult to feel fingers and toes, hiking in the middle of the night and just wanting to be sleeping, and legs that didn’t want to take another step up---multiple factors contributed to powerful resistance to making it to the summit.

They all made it.  They each proved to themselves their own resilience and strength in a very tangible way.  My favorite comment following the climb was “I can do anything Mom.”  My heart sings thinking about it now.  Yes, you can!!!!  You can do anything you put your mind, heart and spirit into.  You can do anything with a little help from your friends (and family).  Without the support and encouragement from each other, they may not have all summited.  You can do anything you have the courage to commit yourself to do. 

Finally getting the text telling me that they had all summited while standing in the Ebola line in the Nairobi airport on my way to join the climbers, tears were running down my face.  I wanted to jump up and down and holler “yes, you CAN do anything!!!”  You just proved it.  You proved it to yourself.

What About the Children in Africa?

Thoughts from Africa

My mother used to use the statement, “there are starving children in Africa” to punctuate the importance of me eating my vegetables.  I now understand these words very differently after visiting this most extraordinary place. 

When Wally decided to attempt summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro I just couldn’t get excited about the adventure (cold, altitude, food—all concerned me).  Connecting the trip to a fundraiser for the St. Ignatius School that was being rebuilt in Rwanda gave me my passion for a trip of a lifetime.  It turned out to be more than I expected in so many ways!! 

Following is the first installment of learnings written after my first day… 

 

Lesson One–It is most remarkable what a committed community can achieve together!

I am overwhelmed! 

With joy and gratitude for the smiling faces and warmth I experienced at the St Ignatius School today…with sadness and pain for the story of horror I experienced at the Genocide Museum in Kigali.  I am overwhelmed with the emotion of the opposite--the hopefulness and positive energy, learning and growth, faith and hope at the school; the confusion and pain, horror and amazement at evil that has happened in our world. 

It was delight and wonder and amazement.  I witnessed and experienced them all in the faces who welcomed me today.   The children were playing as they celebrated the end of exams and prepared for their celebration of St. Ignatius Day.  The secondary students had just finished exams and some were serious, most were playing basketball, volleyball and generally looking happy as students do when they are done with exams.   

The elementary students were completely darling and curious and so interested.  They were practicing dances and singing.  The most charming were the youngest who immediately welcomed me when we entered the classroom and were thrilled to surround and hug me as I was leaving.  The school just won a big award for being "the best" in an all-around assessment measuring academics, environment and outcomes.  It was most impressive to see what has been built in the short time since 2008. 

It is so hard to believe that all was destroyed only 21 years ago in 1994.  Visiting the museum this afternoon was most sobering.  I have been to the 911 Memorial and to the Oklahoma City Memorial and read and heard stories of the Holocaust in Germany.  The history of genocide and the story of how atrocity is born and executed is profoundly sad beyond anything else I have experienced.  It is so very hard to take in and believe. 

The school is a miracle built out of the indomitable spirit of a community and dedicated individuals--just an idea in 2005, elementary started in 2008 ( now 500+ students), secondary built in 2012 with faith and vision to be sending graduates to college in a couple of years. 

Thank you again to each of you who have contributed.  As I sit here under the full moon in Kigali I am filled with gratitude for the abundant blessings in my life.

2015 New Year's Reflections

The beginning of a New Year is a time filled with opportunity—time for celebrating 2014’s accomplishments, learnings and joy; time for dreaming and setting intentions; time to reflect with gratitude and openness; time to let go of any of the things that may be holding us back.  As I consider my own 2014 “audit” I share some of it with you in hopes that it may prompt your reflection.

Celebrations

  • Great work that has come through wonderful relationships with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.  Thank you to each of you who referred someone, included me (us) in your project, contacted me to work with you, and believed in me/us.

  • Most especially I celebrate a new beginning with my best friend and partner, Wally.  In March we dared to begin our new business, Fitsbow. Thank you for all the help we have received and success we achieved.  It is the beginning of a dream that started 30 years ago.

  • I am so grateful for amazing clients!!  You enrich my life in more ways than you know.  Thank you for the gift of sharing yourself with me and allowing me to serve you in whatever ways we have worked together.

  • Rich relationships—personally and professionally.  One of my highest values is relationships and community and you (family, friends, colleagues, and community) are truly what make life worthwhile.

  • This was the year that I wore my “rose colored glasses” unapologetically.  I have embraced “Paula Positive in Pink” more wholeheartedly, embracing my imperfections while choosing to continue to notice what is working and express gratitude more often. 


Dreaming/Intentions

  • Continue to push myself out of my comfort zone professionally in the work that I take on and how we build Fitsbow.

  • Actually finally launch our AgeisanAttitude website and continue delivering workshops to help people live their best lives longer.

  • Stay peaceful, joyful, faithful, fit, and grateful in the midst of growth and change.


Letting Go

  • Comparison

  • Harsh self-judgment and any negative judgments of others

2015 will be another big year.  As Grace leaves for college and we continue to grow this new “baby” called Fitsbow I am certain there will be much to learn and ways to stretch that I have yet to imagine.  It’s with a little help (sometimes a lot) from our friends, a boatload of faith and trust, and some playfulness thrown in to make it fun that we will make the best of this coming year.

3 Stories and 2 Lists to Simplify Your Job Search

Simple is better and this applies to job transition. Following is the simplified version of applying process to job search that I have successfully used with thousands of clients.

There are three sets of stories and two lists that you need to have to be well prepared to market yourself into a new position. Your stories should include a good “target” story, strong stories that are good illustrations of your accomplishments, and a transition message/story that explains your change.

The two lists you need are your network list and your target company list.

TARGET STORIES--The first and most important thing you need to prepare for transition or growth is a defined target. Your target message needs to include a brief background (credibility), your best strengths, skills, and what you get excited about (conviction), and specific roles/industries/companies you are pursuing (clarity).

  1. You need to have the 30 second “elevator” version, and the 1-2 minute expanded version to use in networking meetings and job interviews.
  2. This target message maps directly to your LinkedIn summary and the top half (summary section) of your resume.
  3. This expanded target story should be your goal coupled with your “Value Proposition” which is a brief description of how your skills and abilities meet your target’s requirements. It briefly includes your past, connects to your present, and projects to your future.
  4. Your focus needs to be on your target and not on the “rocks in the road” that are your perceived reasons why your target will be difficult to achieve—whether it be lack of education, age, gender, or anything else.
  5. The single biggest determining factor in successful job transition is your attitude about your possibilities, and your belief in a positive outcome. Your attitude is what will project most loudly and have the most significant impact on your listener!

ACCOMPLISHMENT ILLUSTRATIONS--The second set of stories that you need are good illustrations of your accomplishments. It is important that you differentiate accomplishments from job responsibilities.

  1. Responsibilities are basically your job description.
  2. Accomplishments are what you did with your responsibilities. They are the outcomes of the work that you did.
  3. Good accomplishment illustrations give depth, color, and metric to your successes and connect the listener to your story in a way that differentiates you from other candidates.
  4. Classic accomplishment format looks at Challenge, Action, Results—with an emphasis on the Result.
  5. To be well prepared for interviews you should have 8-15 good accomplishment illustrations that highlight your best strengths and can help the listener see how you can add value in their work group.

TRANSITION STORIES--Finally, you need to have a positive transition statement that shows forward growth or momentum if possible. I differentiate this part of your messaging because it is the part that can leave a negative impression on your listener if you aren't prepared and thoughtful. Most often it is part of your target message ("elevator pitch").

  1. Transition stories should be short, and most importantly positive.
  2. It is important to plan in advance what you will say about why you have changed in the past, or why you are changing now so that you don’t get caught giving information that might not be 100% positive.
  3. The best reasons to give for motivation for change are growth and opportunity, and/or continued improvement in aligning with best strengths.
  4. It is important to recognize where it is appropriate to share full information, and where it is more important to present your best image by remaining upbeat, and demonstrating forward thinking.

Your success in creating positive career change and growth for yourself is directly related to your level of preparedness. If you have a clear vision of your target job and have “built your business case” by preparing these stories, you will accomplish transition sooner and you will sell yourself into a job that is fulfilling.

To most effectively sell yourself into your next job you should have these three sets of stories and two lists. Once you have your stories down and have built your marketing materials with them you are ready to use them with the two lists that you need. The first is a list of your network contacts, and the second is a list of your target companies.

Your NETWORK LIST should begin with the people who you will ask to be your references—they will be the first people you practice your stories on and whose support you will enlist. Next will be those other people who are familiar with your industry who you have worked with or for, or who you respect. Following the people you know who are directly related to your target industry are those people that you know fairly well who might know someone in your target areas. Think creatively as you build your list and make it a lengthy as possible early on and add as you go. Remember that the statistics continues to show that most people get jobs through the people they know. The best way to connect is in person--not digitally.

The second is your TARGET COMPANY LIST which is based on your target job/industry. Do your research to identify up to ten companies you would be interested in. You can gather information about them and/or contacts in them as you meet with your network connections. As you conduct your search companies may drop off and/or be added to your list.

REMEMBER!!! When you decide to make a change, your job becomes a marketing job. Use your powerful STORIES to engage your connections on your network LISTand learn more about those "hidden" jobs possibilities in the companies on your target company LIST. You will become the expert on the requirements of your market, and learn how to present yourself as the best solution and those job offers will come to you!!

Career Management Tips from Magnificent Trees

Last week I had the privilege of hiking in the Redwood National Forest on my road trip with my daughter who is teaching Special Ed in Oakland through Teach for America. I was moved to tears and speechlessness by the awesome glory in those groves!

Metaphors from nature consistently work for me. This one is even better than I could have expected because of what makes Sequoia sempervirens unique. They are both the tallest living tree on our planet and one of the oldest growing organisms on Earth. There are THREE aspects that create a wonderful career (and life) management metaphor--roots, trunks and branches.

Roots.

Redwoods are unique in having very shallow root systems--especially in relationship to their massive height--their roots typically only go down 6-10 feet compared to heights up to 379 feet. What enables them to withstand the forces of nature is that their root systems are intertwined with one another and they flourish in groves. More trees can grow taller and live longer when they are growing in a grove.

As humans and professionals we are also made to flourish in groves--communities, teams, families--science and history have proven that 2 + 2 = 5+ if we work together well.

Who is part of your "grove" and what are you doing to support them?

 

Trunks.

Giant Sequoias have a specialized systems that enable unique water transportation, hardy resistance to fire and other damage in their bark, and unusual reproductive capacities. Scientists marvel at the Redwood's adaptations to their environment. They move water up against gravity and absorb water from the coastal fog. The bark is thick and tannic which makes it fire and insect resistant and their burls are an added reproductive mechanism. Redwoods have evolved structures and systems that support their survival, growth and longevity.

Successful careers are built on self-awareness about the structures and systems that enable us to grow and thrive in our work environment. Understanding of your of strengths, styles, skills and the types of working environments, industries, and companies you prefer gives you the strong "trunk" you need to stay aligned in work where you will succeed.

In your professional circumstance, what are the systems and structures that enable you to grow and flourish?

 

Branches.

All plants reach toward the light. Redwoods are no different. Sometimes to reach sunshine they need to contort themselves in ways that may appear imperfect.

It is in reaching and stretching that we get ourselves and our careers to the “light” that will nourish it and make our work life-giving. Sometimes the way to get there may seem imperfect.

Where is your light? And/or, where does your light shine most brightly when you are doing your work?

Do What You Love

In the remarkable journey of my life as a Career Coach for the last 20+ years your reminders about the importance and value of “doing what you love” have been consistent. They have come in many forms. Today after my “walk and talk” with an insightful leader she shared the following poem that speaks loudly to the joy that comes when you follow your curiosities and boldly keep moving toward the professional spaces that are most resonant.

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Wild Geese (by Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

In multiple coaching conversations this week the distinction between what we WANT to do and what we “should do” or “have to do” or “need to do” has come up. What if we could let go of the attachments we have to those messages that include the shoulds and have to’s? What if we let go of comparison? What if we “let our imagination” go to the place that is most interesting? There is power in re-framing your relationship to where you are and where you want to go. Just changing your language to include “I want to” activates movement.

The practical side of me recognizes that it is not always simple. What I know for sure is that you can continue to intentionally move toward those professional spaces that interest you and get you closer to the work you love if you pay attention, make a plan, and begin proactively messaging what you WANT.