What do you do in your spare time?

The answer to this minor question could wind up being a major mistake. If you say something like, "I work on my golf handicap every chance I get," the hiring authority may fear that you were going to be playing golf when you are supposed to be making sales calls. Reading, gardening, fishing, woodworking, spectator sports, tennis or golf, etc., should be all right to speak of as long as you don't come across as a fanatic. (I once had a candidate who is such an avid Dallas Cowboys fan that she bragged that she had never missed a Cowboys game in twelve years—including the away games as well as attending the preseason football camp in August. The hiring authority refused to hire her because he thought that all the time she wanted to devote to the Dallas Cowboys would possibly detract from her work.)

What do you think about yourself is most important to us?

If this question comes in the beginning of the interviewing process, then you want to "sell" the simple but important aspects why a company would want you as its employee. Saying things like hard worker, determined, committed, going the extra mile, good listener, excellent with people, dependable, etc., are all good to start with. Just be certain that you mention a couple of stories that demonstrate as many of these basic attributes as you can. Remember: Stories sell!

If you were deeper into the interviewing process and you have really done your homework, you should be aware of the most important attributes that the organization is looking for in any candidate. Be sure to emphasize your particular attributes that relate to that issue. Again, a story is great.

Tell me about a business experience where you had to decide to either lead or to follow. What choice did you make and how did it turn out?

The most important aspect of this question is to find out not so much whether you chose to lead or follow as to why you chose to lead or follow. Never claim to be the leader "because everybody else was a schmuck." Whenever you cast dispersions about anybody that you've worked with or for in the past, you put yourself in that a poor light. So, whatever the reason for leading or following, make a positive reflection on the people that you have worked with or for.

Tell me about the last time one of your subordinates made a big mistake. What did you do?

Make sure that the story you tell or what you talk about demonstrates how you tried to improve this situation by helping others learn from their mistakes. Now, if the mistake was grievous enough, you might explain what the reprimand might have been. Just be sure to keep it positive.

What have you done to implement improvements in your work group organization?

You'd better have a real good answer for this one. If you have to ponder this question, it will be obvious that you haven't done anything to improve working conditions. The answer must be decisive.

Describe how you make decisions.

If this question catches you off guard, you will be dead in the water. You better have a memorized methodology that you can explain to a prospective employer. Saying things like, "Well, I just follow my gut" won't be a good answer. You'll only get asked this by relatively analytical hiring authorities. But you need have a step-by-step approach to the way you would do it.

We all have times when we are very proud of what we've accomplished but sometimes we don't receive the recognition we think we should. Tell me about a time that this has happened to you and how you dealt with it.

If you say something like, "I made it real clear to my superiors that they should recognize what I've done," you have just ended your prospects of getting hired. The proper answer is, "Getting external recognition isn't as important to me as me knowing that I have done at a good job." Describe a situation where this kind of thing might have happened. Just be sure to communicate that external recognition isn't that important to you.

Describe a situation where you demonstrated a high level of commitment to an organization where you worked.

Be ready for a question like this. You'd better have a very good story to tell. If you say something like, "Well, I stayed late when I needed to, worked overtime when necessary, and came in on the weekends when I had to," or something weak like that, you will lose points for a poor answer. A "high level of commitment" means something that is well beyond the call of duty. Have a good story ready and make sure that it communicates how you really went the extra mile.

What have you done in the past that has demonstrated a high level of personal integrity?

You won't be asked this very often, if at all. But if you are, you'd better have a good, solid story that relates to your integrity. You have to be a little careful about a question like this, because if you say something like, "Well, I never cheat on my expense account, when everybody else does," you won't come across as a person with high integrity. It isn't an issue of integrity not to cheat. So, make sure that you have a story that demonstrates your integrity. Something along the lines of, "I encouraged us to be honest with a major client about the mistake that we made, even though it might have cost us the contract and our relationship."

What was the last creative idea that you came up with that affected the group or company that you now work for? How did you come up with the idea?

You'd better have a good answer for this question. If you have to think about the answer for more than just a moment, you won't appear like you're telling the truth. This kind of story can relate to any other story that you might have told in the interviewing process. Just be ready for it by having at least one or two applications of your own personal "creative idea."

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