Interview questions that spell danger.....
When you apply for a job you fill out a form or maybe prepare a CV, you do a covering letter or sometimes a longer ‘supporting statement’. You send it off and if you’ve been persuasive enough on paper you get to an interview. So you set off in best suit and shiny shoes and someone; maybe an employer or maybe a recruitment consultant sits you down and says:
So give me a quick trot through your career... or tell me about your career, or give us an overview of your career, what have your career highs and lows been.
And this is a dangerous question because your answer can say more about you than you realise.
Now the sharp and alert candidate may just be tempted to say ‘you’ve got my Cv, need i say more?’ But interviews are very disempowering to individuals (all the power seems to be on that other side of the desk) and I’ve rarely come across someone who responded in that fashion.
But why do the interviewers ask that? May be they have not read the paperwork. It does happen that the person who screens the applications is different from the one that is interviewing. I did once go to see a recruitment agency/consultancy and discovered that actually they had not read the Cv properly and seemed to have started reading at page 2 and thought I was working in a job I’d left 10 years before! So help them out with a précis.
The way you answer can, just as your CV and letter does, reveal a lot about you that you may not have intended to reveal. My heart always sinks when a candidate starts with job number one and then takes me through their life history brick by brick. Dry, tedious and full of information that i already have infront of me. (and I do read the paperwork) It often takes forever. So top tip number one, clarify with the interviewer if you can, is this a bio-data interview or a warm up question. And the best way to do this maybe to ask ‘where would you like me to start?’ If they say at the beginning it is more likely to be the former and then they will be looking for a detailed analysis of what you did where, what you achieved and why you changed jobs. If it is a bio-data interview the interviewer should be probing and prompting, giving you a steer about the sort of detail they want. If the latter they will be listening to what you select to mention and include.
So what can emerge from ‘the trot through the career ? patterns about why you moved on;
· repeatedly being made redundant (smokescreen for sacked?),
· deciding to leave because of differences of policy, (awkward customer does not get on with people?),
· looking for ‘new challenges’ when the moves have been between similar jobs (low boredom threshold?)
· moving around very quickly for more money (no loyalty)
· staying a long time in jobs (lacks appetite and drive)
There are numerous permutations and not all of those are negative indications. A thirst for variety is no bad thing in a job that offers considerable variety or an organisation that does not expect people to stay long.
But you also reveal how you look at the world. If you take a linear approach and describe each job etc you are suggesting that that is your approach to life. It’s linear, it’s detailed, it’s prosaic. If you give chapter and verse on every employment when not specifically asked for it, you really do risk boring the interviewer to death!
So if you are grey hair/no hair, going for a senior role and someone asks that question, what is it that they really want to know?
Well they may be trying to understand your career drivers or motivators, what is it that makes you tick ? are you the sort of person they want on board? Do your motivators align with their values.
They may be looking to see if you can helicopter and identify themes and patterns. Well of course you can and you can ensure that they are the ones you want them to hear about!
If they are looking for someone with strategic thinking ability, give them a strategic answer.
Most interviewers have read your cv and don’t want to hear it all again they want to hear more and different so think about what you want them to hear.
The danger is that you take the interviewer too literally and ‘trot’ them through your career until all they want to do is put you out to grass. Take a thematic approach and you can be enthusiastic and energetic, succinct and enlightening whilst retaining their interest. If they want to probe they can do so but please, what ever you do: be interesting!