Can you tell me about your understanding of the job you're applying for?

Why Ask This Question?

Similar to the preceding question, trying to answer this query in thirty seconds or less can be harrowing for any candidate. Attempting to regurgitate everything the person has learned through library research and four previous rounds of interviews can make even the most organized applicant gulp. What counts, after all, is the individual's ability to synthesize mounds of information on the spot and prioritize key issues quickly. Since this kind of question is often used to open up a final round of interviews, there will be a little more pressure on the individual to make the right impression on you. So don't hold it against finalists who sweat while articulating their responses. They just want to make a favorable impression!

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. What should you expect in a well-balanced response this time? A well-informed candidate should be able to rattle off the following issues clearly:

• The position's title

• Its reporting relationship upward on both a straight- and dotted-line (indirect) basis

• Its reporting relationship downward (that is, the numbers and titles of direct and extended reports)

• The position's primary duties

• Its secondary responsibilities

• The reason the position is open

• Its key challenges within the first ninety days or one year

• The problem the company is trying to solve by hiring someone new

Obviously, the information flows from the very specific and concrete (the position's title and reporting relationships) to the broader implications of providing a solution to the organization's needs. Here's how it sounds in real life from a candidate for an information technology position:

''Dennis, I understand that this is a newly created position for a computer operations manager to report directly to you, the IT director. Apparently, you've decided to create this new job to prepare for a systems conversion from your HP3000 platform to a UNIX client server environment. Therefore, you're looking for someone skilled in that target software area.

''I also came to learn that you feel that creating a new operations manager ship will relieve the workloads of three people—you, the VP of information technologies, and the current operations manager, whose background lies more along the programming lines than along traditional operations lines.

''Anyway, you've got a staff of forty people who almost all come from HP3000 backgrounds. Your biggest challenge in addition to preparing for the conversion to UNIX lies in simply keeping up with the workload as your organization opens its first operations in Canada and Mexico. And the person you hire will have to be a high-output production person who's sensitive to the current strain on the organization due to both the company's growth spurt and the introduction of a new software system.

I'd like to think, Dennis, that I'm prepared to meet those challenges and offer solutions to your key needs.''

Bravo! A very well-rounded yet specific rendition of identifying the organization's wound, so to speak, and then preparing to provide a particular solution to heal the wound.

What can you do for us if we hire you, and when should we expect to see concrete results?

Why Ask This Question?

The first three questions in this chapter probe for an individual's ability to comprehend the overall picture and then point out areas of focus and concern for you, the hiring manager. This query presents a very practical follow-up technique to bring closure to those previous queries. For example, now that you know why the individual wants to join your team and what he has learned about your company and the position via research and previous rounds of interviews, you need to see how he will specifically solve your problems. In gauging this answer, you'll also gain critical insights into why accepting this position would make sense for him from a career management standpoint.

Analyzing the Response

The first rule in assessing this critical response is to look beyond the ''perfect match'' syndrome. Many hiring managers mistakenly look for a 100 percent match between a candidate's experiences and skills and their company's immediate needs. Yes, it would be great to bring in someone who could come aboard immediately as an up-and-running problem solver. But that role should be reserved for outside consultants. Instead, you should be looking for a 70 to 80 percent fit so that the individual has room to grow within your firm. Only then will you be offering the candidate a chance to develop greater skills and build a stronger inventory of achievements—which is the glue that binds people to any company.

Caution

The second rule in evaluating candidates' responses focuses on the amount of concrete information provided. Look for candidates who are willing to show you their cards in terms of how they'll attempt to address particular issues. People who shy away from sharing with you their approaches for improving your work environment reveal little goodwill in the preemployment process. Yes, the candidate runs the risk of having one of his ideas stolen—especially if you don't hire him. And yes, there is a chance that what he sees as a potential solution might not be exactly what you had in mind. But those risks are more than offset by his refusal to accept your invitation to brainstorm and problem-solve.

In the case of the computer operations manager discussed previously, it is critical that this individual accepts your invitation to spell out potential solutions for your firm's needs. After all, he did an excellent job gathering the data necessary to complete the picture of why this newly created position has developed. He pointed out the department's discomfort with the UNIX software conversion process since most of the staff members were HP3000 specialists. He readily identified the stress and strain felt by everyone as the company grew rapidly on the information technology group's back. And he pinpointed the fact that this new position could relieve the workloads of three coworkers. These are all excellent insights, but it's obviously the third issue that begs for more clarification. So here's how the candidate continued:

''Dennis, the VP of the information technology group is clearly more concerned with the strategic issues of determining the organization's changing needs as you move into the international arena. You, as the director, have worked on a UNIX client server platform, but as the only key player in the organization to do that, you'll need someone to relieve you of that sole burden. And your current operations manager comes out of the programming and analysis environment more than a traditional operations school, so we would complement each other well.

''My first area of focus would be on clearing a path for data conversion. I've got a solid UNIX client server background, and I'd suggest possibly holding weekly meetings with the staff for the first quarter to keep a tight handle on problems that surface.

''Next, I'm more than willing to lend an extra hand in any areas where the workload is overwhelming. I have no problems sitting down and coding all day, and even though that's something I've long since outgrown from a career standpoint, it sounds as if now you need someone to fill in the gaps.

''Finally, I believe that within ninety days we'll have laid the groundwork to begin the data conversion process, and the entire program could be managed within six to eight months. Again, I want to be a part of an organization with national expansion plans, and overseeing a software conversion of this size would be the ultimate challenge to me.''

Obviously, you may not have the same plans for this candidate. As a matter of fact, your priorities may lie in a totally different direction. But his willingness to share his expertise and point out priorities that he feels you'd want most is the ultimate in goodwill and open information sharing. The key issue is not necessarily that you both agree on what gets done and when—that can be decided once the new hire comes aboard. The critical nature of this response, however, has to do with the fact that this person will risk being wrong to help you make an open and honest assessment of him. Such candid offerings typically have very positive results over the long term. Therefore, putting a candidate in the position to share some of his expertise and project target completion dates may reveal a lot about the individual's style, communication skills, and organizational forecasting ability.

 
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