Answers To Tough Job Interview Questions - Section 2

Answers To Tough Job Interview Questions - Section 2

51. On your resume, it states that you have management experience. Do you realize that you
wouldn’t be managing anyone at this company? And how do you feel about that?

A. Let’s face it, Pauline, the old days are over. Hierarchical management structures have gone the
way of Betamax. And those who can’t adapt to change will become extinct. It’s true that I have
managed people in the past. But what is managing all about, really? It’s about organizing due dates
and deadlines, and it’s also about having good, strong people skills.
I know how to motivate groups of people to get things done in a timely manner. This is a skill that
will serve your company well, even though your management structure is flat, loose, and dynamic.
And if it turns out that everyone around here is a self-starter, that will be even better for me. Because
I’ll have a lot more time in my day to get my real work done.

52. Can you see yourself working for several demanding bosses in different teams at this
company? Your time would not be your own.

A. Yes, I can definitely see myself happily juggling the demands of several different bosses. I don’t
want my time to be my own! I fully expect to put in the time, pay my dues, and learn from the best in
the business. I am organized, productive, and very efficient, which most of my bosses have sincerely
appreciated. Can you tell me a little bit more about who I would be working for and the structure of
your organization, so I can show you that I’m the best person for this job?

53. Are you sure that you really want to work here? I mean, you seem pretty talented. And
take it from me, there are firms out there that are a lot better.

A. Well, I’m sorry to hear that you don’t exactly love it here. And I want to get back to that in a
moment. But I’ve always wanted to work here because your company has a great reputation, wins
clients, gets written up in the trades consistently, has a charismatic CEO who is always quoted in the
Wall Street Journal , and manages to do well year after year, according to your company’s Annual
Report. Still, I’m curious about your experience…what are some of the frustrations that you’ve

Is Acting Like a Pollyanna a Bad Thing?
No, it’s not.

FACT: People would rather hire happy, agreeable people than unhappy, disagreeable people.
Cynicism is an incredible turn-off in the Interview Game. So pump up the enthusiasm and put on
your “happy face.” Don’t be afraid to use words that will express your joy. Remember always:
work is love.

Why Change Is Good
Studies show that the ability to “embrace change” is one of the biggest predictors of success.
You must always persuade your interviewers that you are able to adapt and flow with change
(even if you don’t believe it entirely). We live in a computerized, high-tech world where
business operates 24/7. Changes that used to take years to enact now happen in nanoseconds. In
the shark-infested waters of the corporate world, the ability to deal with change is today’s
Darwinian survival mechanism.

Did you used to have a secretary at your old firm who would handle all of your correspondence?
Don’t expect to have one at your new company, unless you are at the very top tier of the
organization. Even if you are, chances are excellent that you will have to share her with at least
three other people. Do you still use a Filofax? Leave it at home and talk about your Palm Pilot
instead. Better yet, pull out your new, spiffy BlackBerry.

54. Judging from your experience, your next “jump” would be to managing director. But
there is already someone here who is managing director, and she was just promoted recently. In
fact, you would be reporting to her. Could you work here enthusiastically, knowing that it might
be years until you would reach that position?

A. I would relish the opportunity to learn from someone with such a great track record. I’m not even
on staff yet. It would be presumptuous of me to already be looking down the road, worrying about
when I will get promoted! But I will tell you one thing: I’m very excited about working for someone
who’s a rising star in the organization. In fact, that makes me want the job even more!

55. You have had some very fancy titles in the past, such as “vice president” and “executive
vice president.” However, at this company, we took everyone’s title away from them about two
years ago. There was just too much “title inflation” around here. How would you feel about
coming on staff without a title?

A. What is your title? I mean, I know that you’re the owner, but do you have another title?
Why This Technique Works
1. By inquiring about your interviewer’s title, you’ve successfully started a dialogue about titles,
rather than immediately caving on the point.
2. You now have a chance to figure out what your title should be.

Get the Title to Which You’re Entitled
Often, when companies claim that their people “don’t have titles,” in reality, they do. They just
don’t have the same old titles that you’ve heard a thousand times before. When confronted with
this type of question, it’s important to find out the exact titles of the people who are interviewing
you. Ask them for their business cards. You don’t want to come off like an old-fashioned title
maven, but you also don’t want to give up a title that it’s taken you years to get, just because this
company supposedly “doesn’t have titles.”

Remember always: ask, and ye shall receive. Nine times out of ten, there will be some newer,
fresher-sounding title that’s the equivalent of your old title. Find out what it is, and negotiate for
that title.
That’s a Wrap
1. If you’re asked about your biggest weakness, first explain why it is a real weakness. Then turn
it into a strength.
2. If your interviewer tells you what your biggest weakness is, acknowledge her concern, but
then give her one compelling, “puncture-proof” reason to hire you.
3. Are you a career-changer? Emphasize how the skills that you’ve mastered from all kinds of
different jobs make you the ideal candidate for the job at hand.
4. Nullify all of the reasons why you won’t “fit in” at a company. Be enthusiastic, passionate,
and charming.
5 . Misery loves company, but companies hate misery. Don’t get sucked into the: “you’d be
miserable working here” vortex. Be a Pollyanna if you have to. Even people who see the
working world as half empty prefer to hire optimists.

You’re Too Old, Too Young, Too Seasoned, Too Green, Too Female
Most executives will confront the age barrier at some point during their careers. The age barrier is
an obstacle—invisible to the naked eye, but still very much a reality—that prevents candidates who
are otherwise perfectly qualified from getting the jobs they deserve.
When the applicant seems “too young,” sometimes it’s because the interviewer had to pay her dues
the hard way and believes others should as well. She may bristle at the influx of graduate students
who might be up for very lucrative jobs in their early twenties. The age barrier also cuts the other
way, of course; it has been responsible for preventing scores of early retirees from reentering the

The gender barrier is sometimes referred to as “the glass ceiling,” but it can also be compared to a
moat guarding the front door of the executive suite, because it manages to stop a lot of women from
ever setting foot inside.
There are six most common— bordering on
illegal—barriers to employment:
1. You’re Too Old to Work Here.
2. You’re Too Young to Work Here.
3. Our Clients Are Looking for a Certain Type of Person (Not Your Type).
4. Clearly, You’ve Got Other Commitments, So…
5. We’d Love to Hire a Woman, But…
6. We’d Love to Hire a Man, But…
Equal opportunity is the law of the land. But that doesn’t mean that it is truly practiced in the hearts
and minds of every employer. Here’s how to tear down these walls of resistance, and break through
the barriers that prevent successful interviewees of any age (and both sexes) from getting hired.

You’re Too Old to Work Here
Interviewers are usually aware that if they even hint that a candidate won’t work out because she’s
“too old,” a legal nightmare will ensue. In-house lawyers have warned HR managers, along with
everyone else on staff responsible for hiring decisions, that discriminating against someone because
of her age is patently illegal. As a result, age discrimination has gone underground, where it’s
generally couched in language that’s more “politically correct.” Questions such as “Most of the
people we have working here are babes in the woods. Do you really think that you’ll feel comfortable
here?” and “Don’t you think you’re a little light on ‘life experience?’” often reveal an interviewer’s
secret prejudice, but being prepared with a compelling answer can help you overcome it.

56. In our company, people skateboard through the hallways, blast music from their
computers, and work 24/7. We’re totally open to hiring working moms, but at the same time,
I’m a little concerned that you won’t fit in here.

A. I think that your concern is valid, and I really appreciate the opportunity to address it, Stan. First
of all, I have three kids who skateboard around our house nonstop. One of them also plays electronic
guitar till all hours of the night, and believe me, at this point I consider it “white noise.” I am
thoroughly capable of screening out all kinds of disruptions and focusing on the work. Secondly, the
fact that I am a working mom forces me to be more efficient. Because I don’t do my work with
headphones in my ears, you’ll find my reports well-organized, clear, and typo-free. Why work 24/7,
when you can work for ten hours a day, finish everything on your plate, and deliver an excellent
product? At the same time, I want you to know that if you ever give me a project that requires me to
stay until all hours of the night, I will come through for you. That’s what babysitters, nannies, and
husbands are for—covering for me when it’s going to be another late night at the office.
Follow up with an example from your last job where you stayed until 3 o’clock in the
morning to complete the project.

57. You have all the qualifications that we’re looking for, Sheila. But the person you’d be
reporting to is fifteen years younger than you. Do you think that could be a problem?

A. The way that I see it, Jay, age is more of a mindset than an absolute, chronological number. I
watch movies that are targeted to fifteen-year-old girls. Does that mean that I’m really fifteen inside?
No, of course not! On the other hand, I tend to read autobiographies that are popular with seniors.
While the magazines that I enjoy, like Business Week and Inc., are definitely written for men in their
thirties and forties.
In the pursuit of knowledge, I always try to identify experts, and I’m quite open to learning
whatever they can teach me, no matter how old they are. I’m greatly looking forward to meeting my
new boss and learning everything I can from him.
Mention a previous boss of yours who was only a couple of years younger than you (if
true), and stress how much you learned from her.

58. Are you telling me that, now that you’re forty-something, you would be willing to start at
an entry-level position just to get your foot in the door here?

A. Sometimes you need to take a step backward to move your career forward. Starting in an entrylevel
role would allow me to learn your business from the ground up. I would have the chance to
interact with customers, suppliers, and retailers, picking up essential product knowledge along the
way. The career that I’ve been in is so different than yours that I would love the opportunity to start
over again in your field. The salary cut would be well worth it, because in a sense I would be paying
your company to relaunch my career.

59. Marianna expressly requested a “junior- to mid-level associate.” You were probably at
that level roughly ten years ago, right?

A. Yes, I was, but then I branched out on my own and started a new company. I’m happy that I tried
it, because I learned with absolute certainty that I missed working at a big firm like yours. I really
enjoy working in a team atmosphere. I have a good eye for design, and a gut instinct for
merchandising and pricing. But with my own company, I often felt like I was spending more time
shipping boxes than doing anything else!

Life is too short and we all work too hard to have zero fun on the job. For a start-up, my business
was pretty successful. But I wasn’t having any fun running it day to day. I want to get back to doing the
things that I love. If that makes me a mid-level associate for now, or even a junior, I happen to think
the move is well worth it.

Is It Possible to Go Back in Time?
In the executive suite, most people do their best to propel their careers forward. But sometimes,
breaking into a particular company may require taking several steps backwards. Your salary,
title, and responsibilities may all be scaled back. As long as moving backwards doesn’t dent
your ego so badly that it leaves a chip on your shoulder (which can really throw your career out
of whack), the experience can often help you realign your career correctly.
If you took a sabbatical from the corporate world to start your own business, be cautious
about how you position the move. A lot of companies are gun-shy about hiring
entrepreneurial types.

The Law
There are several laws that are intended to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Following
is a very brief summary. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces these laws.
For more information, go to Ask Jeeves on the Internet, and hit “Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC).”
1 . Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—prohibits employment discrimination based on
race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
2. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)—protects individuals who are 40
years of age or older.
3 . Title I and Title V of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)—prohibits
employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector,
and in state and local governments.
4. Civil Rights Act of 1991—provides the right to a jury trial, limited damages for emotional
distress, and punitive damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

60. You have a lot of expertise in interactive marketing, but you have no experience in
traditional marketing. What makes you think that you can make the jump?

A. I think that’s an excellent question, Paul, and I’m delighted to address it. Traditional marketing
has huge lead times, millions of marketing dollars behind it, and often no tangible results. Can you
ever prove that a particular marketing push worked in terms of sales? In a word: no. By contrast,
interactive marketing has almost no lead time, relatively little money behind it, and immediate results.
You automatically know when something is working. Does someone punch the button to find out more
information, yes or no? I feel that, in a certain way, this makes interactive marketing more
“responsible” to the bottom line. And to do well in the field, you have to be disciplined about figuring
out what turns on customers, and be willing to make the necessary tweaks that the marketplace
demands. This ability of mine—the skill to coolly analyze the facts and make adjustments—is
something that would benefit any marketer.

On the other hand, traditional marketing reaches and influences millions of people. Its potential
powers of persuasion are staggering. I can bring something new to the way your company does
business, while your company helps me build skills. It’s a “win-win” all the way around.

Inside Information
“Win-win” interviewing strategies win jobs. So never sell your previous experience short. Look
for ways to draw a line between the experience that you have and the experience that the
company needs. Emphasize your ability to solve problems, organizational aptitude, and
willingness to learn on the job. Golden handcuffs can only imprison you if you let them. Bust out
of yours.

Don’t Be a Legal Beagle
Brush up on the antidiscrimination laws in the workplace if you’re interested, but don’t read the
Riot Act whenever you feel like a company’s policies may be discriminatory. (The company
will assume that you’re a troublemaker, and won’t offer you the job.) You’re far better off taking
a deep breath and answering your interviewer’s questions with poise and maturity (if you’re
supposedly “too young” for the job) or with poise and youthful vitality (if you’re supposedly
“too old” for the job). Of course, if you feel chronically uncomfortable in an interview, it might
be a sign that the job just isn’t right for you. And there’s no law against letting a company know
that you’re just not interested.

61. You’ve retired twice already, Ira. Why should I hire you over someone who has worked
steadily in our field for the past ten years?

A. I grew up thinking that the whole point of working was to make a big pile of money while I was
still young enough to enjoy it. My plan was to earn the money, then kick back, and just spend it for the
next thirty years. And for a while, Frank, my life went exactly according to the plan.
I retired for the first time when I was just fifty-five. My wife, however, had other notions. She’s an
accomplished painter and, while we have always been close, she never had any intentions of taking
time off from her landscape painting to travel with me all over Europe. So after about six months of
tooling around the continent by myself, I got bored, came home, and really wanted to work again.
I did so very happily, until I had a triple coronary bypass operation last year. This forced me to sit
down and reevaluate my priorities. I decided that I would try to retire again. But the exact same thing
happened. After a few short months, I was bored out of my mind!

However, this time around, I had a startling epiphany: work is the thing that keeps me alive. I’m not
working to live. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m living to work. In a nutshell, the reason that you
should give me a job over someone who’s been working steadily is simply this: I’ve had my “aha”
moment while that person hasn’t yet. There’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing on the planet, Stan,
than working for you.
Why This Technique Works
1. When asked an unfair question about your age, you’ve proven that you’re younger at heart and more
vibrant than other job seekers.
2. You’ve blended your working life and your personal life into a compelling story that can’t fail to
move even the most jaded interviewer. You’ll be working again, full-time, very shortly.
How to Defy the Twin Forces of Age and Gravity
Most baby boomers today feel like they are ten years younger than they really are. Take
advantage of the trend, and turn back the clock on old-fashioned notions about middle age and
the right retirement age. Here are three proven ways to subtract ten years before your very next
1. Take the year that you graduated from college off your resume (there goes four years!).
2. Wear control-top panty hose (if you’re a woman). This automatically subtracts seven pounds
(aka “middle-aged bulge”).
3. Use two firming creams (one for your body, one for your face).
Now, examine yourself closely in a full-length mirror. Do you look younger than you ever have
before? Excellent.

You’re Too Young to Work Here
In the last few years, companies have been forced to scale back their entry-level hiring. Fewer
recruiters than ever are visiting colleges to scoop up enterprising graduates. Training programs have
been cut en masse. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a job right out of college, only that you will
need to be particularly adept at answering the following “You’re Too Young To Work Here”

62. Your passion and enthusiasm for working here are admirable, and, frankly, I wish we had
more employees around here like you. Your academic credentials are also impressive. But I
worry that there is no substitute for life experience, and there, unfortunately, you’re a little

A. Book learning is no substitute for honest-to-God work experience, which is why I am applying
for this job. My scholastic record, mostly A’s, is simply proof that I love learning. With your
guidance and mentoring, I will learn the ropes at your company faster than others on your staff. I need
this job. You need someone with passion, drive, and the will to succeed. Let’s seal the deal and make
it official.
Gently remind your prospect that your salary base is a lot lower than everyone else’s on
staff. You’re a real steal: a Jaguar for the price of a Buick.

63. Do you see yourself staying and growing at our company, or leaving in two years to go to
business school?

A. I might go to law or business school in a few years, but I’m 99 percent certain that I’ll choose
one where I can go at night. So there will be absolutely no break in my stay at your company. I’ve
been interviewing at several of the smaller biotechnology companies, but I would much rather start at
a big firm like yours because I know that doing so will expose me to several disciplines. If you hire
me, it’s my intention to stay here for many years to come.

64. I understand that you attended a leadership program at your college offered by Procter
& Gamble. Why would you rather work for us than for them?

A. The leadership program was outstanding, and it was one of many things that I did to build my
resume during school. I also interned at the student union, ran for president of the student council, and
worked at the Concert Club. I think that for a graduating senior, I have a very strong foundation in
both business and management. And I look forward to learning a great deal more about marketing on
the job.

Why This Technique Works
1. You successfully skirted the “P&G vs. Us” question, and focused instead on what you will bring to
the organization.
2. You’ve picked up several of the business skills that you need to succeed before you’ve even
landed your first official job. Clearly, there’s a window office in your future.

65. From your resume, I notice that you interned for a small investment banking boutique.
Did you pursue a full-time job offer with them? What happened?

A. Yes, I did very well at my internship, and I had originally assumed that I would come on staff
once I graduated from college. However, BB&L drastically cut back the number of new hires they
were planning. As fate would have it, they will not be hiring any of the interns they had last summer. I
loved working at BB&L, and I brought some references with me today to show you that my job
performance there was stellar. Still, in some ways, I consider this new turn of events to be a lucky
break for me, believe it or not.

I’ve always had dreams of joining a more prestigious firm like yours. Your company’s training
program is the best in the business, and I know that if I come and work for you, I’ll be on the correct
track for my career ambitions.
How to Turn Lemons into Lemonade
1. Position all setbacks as lucky breaks instead. The negative event, whatever it happened to be,
was in fact a boost to your career, because…
2. Act as if you are genuinely pleased about the occurrence. So often the things that happen to us
aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” in the absolute. We assign values to events based on our own
preconceived expectations. Rather than assigning a negative value to something unexpected, turn
it around into something positive and career-enhancing.
Don’t be commitment-phobic. If you just graduated from college, you don’t have to
decide about grad school for several years. But why make the company think that you’re
scared to commit? Always tell the company where you want to work that if they hire
you, you will be loyal to them forever.

66. Unfortunately, Chris, you’re competing for this job against a couple of people who have
real work experience under their belts. Did you receive any awards, honors, or achievements in
college? Did you ever hold a class office?

A. I did not receive any awards, but I did hold several leadership positions at school. I was a paid
teaching assistant for French class, which helped me gain some vital business skills. As a teaching
assistant, it was my job to take very detailed notes about the lectures so I could help students who
were having difficulty mastering the material. This skill will come in handy when it’s my turn to take
notes at client meetings, and then write up detailed conference reports with action steps.
I was also a student dorm counselor during my junior year at school. Whenever a student was
having trouble with his peers or courses, he would share his distress. I would listen to his issues, and
suggest ways of breaking through his blocks. I know that a lot of candidates probably claim that they
have great people skills, but my university recognized mine.
What are the three Ps of performing at your interview peak?
1. Look presentable.
2. Sound polished.
3. Stay positive.

67. Jane Wilcox has been working here for thirty years. While she’s a terrific boss and very
open-minded, I think that she might prefer to work with someone a bit closer to her own age.

A. I think that one’s age really comes down to one’s mental maturity. I may be young, but I’m
incredibly precocious. I will buckle down and organize Jane’s schedule. I will be pleasant and
professional to everyone who needs to meet with Jane. But when necessary, I promise to be a rabid
bulldog who will protect Jane’s time fiercely, so that she can get the work off of her desk. When do
you think that I can meet with Jane? I’ve heard so many terrific things about her, and I would be
thrilled to meet her in person.
Inside Information
Using a $5 word like “precocious” is a lot more impressive than saying: “Gee, I’m really

68. We’re looking for a mature, seasoned pro. Frankly, from your voice over the phone and
those letters that you wrote to us, I expected to see someone with some graying temples.

A. Thanks for the compliment, Robbie. My blonde hair I owe entirely to Clairol. But I owe my
general maturity to the fact that I actually have a great deal of experience in your field. I was first
promoted to middle management when I was just twenty-five, so I got a head start in terms of learning
how to solve problems. Let’s talk a little more about the special challenges that your operations
department is facing now, so we can brainstorm together on possible solutions. From the article in
Crain’s New York Business , I am familiar with some of the issues in your department. But I would
love to hear more about them directly from you.
Why This Technique Works
1. You used some gentle, self-deprecating humor to rise above a potential obstacle.
2. You quickly followed up with an impressive fact about how others took a risk on you when you
were even younger.
Act Like You’re Confident (Until You Really Are Confident)
Some bravura goes a long way to having others perceive that you have confidence. Sometimes,
simply by willing yourself to be confident, you will come off as far more polished than you
really feel inside.
Absolutely Age-Proof Female Interview Uniform
1. One fantastically fitted, flattering skirt.
2. Beautiful, expensive panty hose.
3. Meticulously polished shoes.
4. A jacket that wraps it all together—preferably in a color other than black.
Why not in black, you ask? Because every serviceperson in the country wears outfits that are
black. (But you’re going for a job in the executive suite, right?)
Our Clients Are Looking for a Certain Type of Person (Not Your Type)
Stereotyping happens in an instant. You walk through the door, and before you can sit down, gong!,
your interviewer has already rejected you, based on nothing more than the way you look. This is a
snapshot prejudice; and no doubt about it, it’s chronically unfair.
But let’s face the facts. Along with being illegal in this country, “prejudice” is a very ugly word.
And precious few interviewers will ever admit to it openly. Instead, the prejudice is often blamed on
a client, or another third party, who isn’t there to refute the charge. This secondhand prejudice can be
quite difficult to conquer, even when the interviewer secretly agrees with you that it’s unjust. Learn
how to confront prejudice in the executive suite by studying the answers that follow.

69. At CYT, we have an Equal Opportunity hiring policy. But at the same time, our show
covers the beauty and fashion industries. Can you address how well you would fit in with the
corporate culture?

A. Well, I’m not a model, and I hope that’s not a requirement for dealing with people in the beauty
and fashion business! I’m terrific at scheduling and juggling people’s hectic timetables. I also follow
all trends in the women’s fashion publications, read “Page Six” religiously, along with Vogue,
InStyle magazine, and W, and have tons of ideas for how we can scout for new talent for your show.
I’m on the “A List” at many of the new clubs in town, so I feel confident that I can quickly befriend
the up-and-coming stars that we wish to bring on as guests. Lastly, years of going to the gym have
strengthened my arm muscles. So when it comes to helping the producer set up camera equipment, I’ll
be the assistant producer of his dreams.
Why This Technique Works
1. You let your interviewer know that he should review your candidacy without prejudice.
2. Then you cited your skills with panache.

70. We love women at this company, but our clients are [pick any nationality other than
American that is a male-driven society] and so we were thinking of hiring a man for this
particular job.

A. Why is that, exactly? It seems to me that I am probably more qualified to handle this position
than anyone, man or woman. I graduated cum laude from my class at the university, and I’m fluent in
four different languages along with English—which I understand is somewhat unusual among
applicants. My father’s career as a diplomat took our family around the world seven times, and I even
spent my junior year abroad in the Far East. So I am very familiar with the customs and the etiquette
that would be expected of me. I would need far less training than an American man who grew up here
and has never traveled outside our borders.
Go further. Recount a story about a particular foreign custom that you observed, and
how it impacted you. Did your family ever entertain foreign diplomats? Tell you
interviewer about it.

71. Our clients feel more comfortable with ethnic writers. After all, their products are
targeted to the ethnic market. So, while I would love to recommend you for the position, I’m
worried that our clients will feel uneasy about us hiring you.

A. Well, Margo, it’s true that I’m not African American or Hispanic. But does that really mean that
your company won’t consider me for the job? I sincerely believe that being a great writer requires
one major skill beyond being able to string sentences together, and that quality is empathy. I think that,
rather than looking at my skin color, your company needs to consider whether or not I can empathize
with our target market, and the answer is certainly yes. My advertising campaign for L’Oréal’s line of
hair mousses increased sales in urban markets by 65 percent. I also suggested the concept for a line of
ethnic lipsticks to the marketing and sales staff of MAC—and it’s performing brilliantly in focus
groups right now. I have always identified with ethnic causes, and attended the kick-off party for a
new urban radio station in our area two weeks ago.
I would hate to think that a company such as yours, which helps market ethnic products, wouldn’t
hire me simply because I don’t meet a certain profile. Why don’t you test me out for a month on a
freelance basis, to see how well I perform on the job?
Why This Technique Works
1. You’ve hinted that “racial profiling” is wrong, without coming out and blatantly stating it.
2. The company is scared to hire someone who isn’t ethnic. You’ve given your interviewer a way to
save face: she can test you for a month and see how well you do on the job.
Warning Signs That a Company May Be Prejudiced
1. The company is sexually lopsided—either one way or the other.
2 . The company has roughly equal numbers of men and women at the lower- and middle management
levels, but at the top tier every single executive is male.
3. Everyone on staff happens to be from a particular nationality (not yours).
4. You hear from a reliable source that the company is facing a class-action lawsuit.
5. A total stranger stops you in the hallway of the company, takes one look at you and says,
“You’re applying to this company? Gee, you’re brave.”
How to Confront Secondhand Prejudice in Person
By law, employers are not allowed to reject (or hire) someone based on her skin color. Still,
prejudice continues to rear its ugly head in many corporations. And attributing prejudice to a
third invisible party is still commonplace at many companies who should know better.
When you are the person who’s being discriminated against, here are five ways to break through
the barrier:
1. Avoid using highly charged trigger words in your interview, such as: “prejudice,” “racial
profiling,” and “quotas.” Be polite and as politically correct as possible.
2. Stress that you have the skills that you need to do the given task. Don’t be shy about citing
emotional skills, such as “empathy,” “listening ability,” or “being proactive.”
3 . Talk about results. Discuss sales figures and positive letters from happy customers and
pleased clients. If you don’t have good, strong results to share, mention other activities that
you’ve done that will prove that you’re the right person for the job.
4. If a headhunter is representing you, fill her in on all conversations that you have with your
potential employer. Your headhunter may be able to appease his concerns.
5. Never, repeat, never refer to the company’s “prejudice” in any follow-up communications that
you have with your interviewer. Choose a different topic to write about in your thank-you email.
Take the opportunity to bring out other strengths about you that didn’t surface in your initial
6. Once you’re offered the job, it might make sense for you to sit down, write a “pros and cons”
list, and decide if you really want to take it. Don’t automatically assume that the prejudice you
detected was only on the part of the interviewer. If it is a company-wide phenomenon, you may
have one completely unfair strike against you from day one.
Seriously think about whether it’s worth taking the job under these circumstances.

72. This is a professional, aggressive, cult-driven place to work. Tensions with our European
leadership run rampant. You’ve always worked in American companies where the culture was
very different. What makes you think you’ll succeed here?

A. Actually, several of the companies where I worked were cult-driven. At PLP, we lived, talked,
and breathed athletic wear. The work environment was cutting edge, but also cutthroat. Myles
Masterson was our cool, calculating, Machiavellian CEO, and everyone adored him.
It’s Not a Job, It’s a Cult
These days, cults have gone surprisingly mainstream. No longer do they have to involve piercing
(or other forms of body immolation). In fact, from Silicon Valley to Wall Street to the suburbs of
Connecticut, the “cult culture” has become the new rage at many companies. Here’s how to deal
with the “company-as-cult” phenomenon.
1. Don’t be intimidated by questions that suggest that there is an “Us” versus “Them,” and that
because you worked at a more traditional firm, you must be one of “Them.”
2. If you are asked how you would fit in with a work cult, position your last place of business as
its own special cult, even if it was the most by-the-book company in the universe.
3. Remember that all companies are societies that are somewhat closed to the outside world.
They have special, codified ways of doing business. They have pecking orders. Heck, they’re
sort of like cults…
Clearly, You’ve Got Other Commitments, So…
With so many anti-discrimination laws on the books, it’s almost unbelievable that in the twenty-first
century, women are still being asked questions that imply that they will not be able to juggle their
personal commitments with the requirements of the job. But these questions continue to be asked with
alarming regularity. Here’s how to answer them effortlessly, to land the job that’s rightfully yours.

73. How will your husband feel when it’s 10 p.m., and you’re not home again for the fourth
night in row that week?

A. He will think that it’s business as usual. My last three jobs, where I almost never got home
before 11 p.m., trained him well for these contingencies. He has approximately fifty-nine take-out
menus, plus my cell phone number if he gets lonely. In our field, it’s no secret that there really is no
substitute for hard work. You can’t be frightened of the long hours or try to resist them, because we
need to make ourselves available to our clients 24/7. We’re in a service industry, after all, and the
big difference between those who succeed and those who fail is their ability to service those who are
paying the bills with professionalism and good humor, no matter what hour of the night it is.
Last year, on Christmas Day, one of my clients called me. I was making stuffed turkey for thirtyfive
friends and family members. My client had a lot of questions that she needed to clarify; the phone
conversation lasted for over an hour, and the turkey was a little overdone, but still edible. I will be
here for our clients on Christmas, Passover, and even Flag Day.
Why This Technique Works
1. Your interviewer implied that you needed to be a workaholic to handle the job; you deftly
persuaded her that you are one.
2. You brought the conversation around to a personal story that demonstrates that in your mind,
business always comes first. Start clearing your calendar…you’re going to land this job!

74. I applaud your efforts at trying to reenter the workforce, Adrianne. But an awful lot has
changed about the business in the last six years. Why did you take so much time off from work,
and why do you wish to get a job now?

A. When I first had the twins, my husband was working 24/7, and I really needed to be there to
raise the kids. He was launching a new company with a completely different business model, so
money was very tight, and we couldn’t afford any help. But during those six years, I really missed
working, and my husband and I both agreed that, once the kids were in first grade, it would be only
fair for me to go back to doing what I loved. Fortunately, I kept my hand in the business during those
years by consulting for several of my ex-clients. With your permission, I would like to share some
case studies with you now. They’re good examples of what I helped my clients achieve during that
time. (Then simply launch into your case studies!)
If an interviewer begins a question with the words “I applaud,” it generally means he
doesn’t. And it’s your task to craft an answer that will make him stop wringing his hands
and hire you already.
Never Be Afraid to Tell a Business Story
Everyone loves to hear a good story, interviewers included. So whenever possible, tell a
compelling story about something that you learned on the job. Here are the elements that any
good business tale about you should include:
1. Likeability. You’re the hero (or heroine) of the tale, so you will need to come off as likeable.
2. Conflict. Every worthwhile protagonist needs an obstacle to overcome. The obstacle can be
anything from a particularly unsympathetic client (who forced you to discuss business on
Christmas Day) to some form of self-deception (“I thought I’d make a big pile of money while I
was young, and then simply kick back and spend it for the next thirty years.”)
3. Resolution. What happened?
4. The Moral. What you learned from the experience, and how that makes you a better job
candidate today.
The best business stories often involve some self-deprecating humor. Did you spill coffee all
over yourself while being interviewed by the chairman of the board? Did you trip over a chair
while making a killer presentation to a group of shareholders? Be sure to let your interviewer in
on the humorous details. He’ll be doubly impressed by your accomplishment and your pluck.
We’d Love to Hire a Woman, But…
In some ways, gender discrimination is like a stubborn virus. It can be contained, but so far, anyway,
it has not been stamped out. In fact, with gender discrimination being deemed illegal, it tends to
surface in a new, particularly virulent form. Namely, an interviewer will tell you what a drag it is to
work for a certain person because he’s one of the “good ol’ boys,” the kind who fosters a working
environment that’s semi-hostile to members of the female sex. Unfortunately, the reason the
interviewer is telling you this is almost always because, on some level, it’s true. And he’s simply
trying to convince you to self-select out of the candidate pool. Unless you’re fairly certain that
working in an atmosphere like this will make you ill on a daily basis, use the techniques that follow to
help put your interviewer’s fears to rest.

75. Steve likes to foster a jovial, “boys’ club” atmosphere around here. Everyone on his team
plays pinball after hours in our creativity lounge, and softball together on the weekends. We
would love to get a woman in his group, but honestly, I’m not sure that his group is any place for
a woman.

A. It sounds like it would be a great deal of fun to work here, Maurice, and it also sounds like
Steve’s group could use a woman or two. I am a master at pinball and foosball, if you guys ever want
to expand your game collection. Seriously, tell them to watch out…because I can take on any man! I
could get into weekend softball, too. I’m kind of a sports junkie, so please don’t be fooled by my skirt
and heels. Now, on a more important matter: I think that having a woman on the team will help round
out its collective personality profile, making it more appealing to your end-clients outside the
organization. Some of them are undoubtedly women, and they have probably wondered why Steve’s
group doesn’t have any.
Why This Technique Works
1. You sound like you’re easygoing, enjoy having fun, and are the type of woman that would fit in
well with “the boys’ club.”
2. You followed up with a smart reason for why the company should expand Steve’s group to include
women, without sounding like you’re uptight, strident, or on a feminist march.

76. Ever since that article, “The Ten Worst Companies in the World for a Woman to Work”
came out, we’ve been struggling to even things out around here and hire a couple of women.
And you seem like you’re perfectly qualified. But this company isn’t exactly women-friendly.
The guys are just joshing around, but they make crude jokes and noises; sometimes they use
bathroom humor, and, on a more serious note: nobody in top management is a woman. Do you
really think that working here would be fun for you?

A. Well, Kirk, I have to confess that I’m used to it. So the answer is a resounding “yes.” I have four
brothers, two of them are older, two are younger, and as the middle child, I was teased mercilessly
for my entire life. I haven’t experienced the type of fraternity environment that you described on the
job yet, because, let’s face it: it’s not 1955 anymore. But I have dealt with the situation at home very
adeptly, and I still love my brothers!
Alt. A. “Ten Worst,” huh? There’s nothing I like more than a good challenge. Bring it on!
Don’t give your interviewer an easy reason to eliminate you from consideration. If
you’re a woman who’s applying for a job at a boys’ club, find ways to show that you’re
“one of the boys” and will fit in seamlessly. Hey, how about those Knicks?

How to Break into the All-Male Fraternity (If You’re a Woman)

In the late 1980s, the prevailing feeling was that to prove that you were “man enough” for the
job, you had to dress like one. This lead to the rise of shoulder pads, which became a mandatory
part of female office attire. Fortunately, for everyone concerned, this unflattering fashion has
become deservedly unfashionable in the intervening years. You don’t have to bulk up anymore to
break into the frat house. But it doesn’t hurt to come off as the type of woman who feels
supremely comfortable around men. Think about the way you behave with your closest male
buddies, and act that way in your interview. Over-prepare for your meeting, so that you can
arrive feeling super-knowledgeable and relaxed enough to enjoy yourself.
We’d Love to Hire a Man, But…
Certain industries are heavily dominated by women. And a particular company may have an alphafemme
vibe to it. When this is the case, it can sometimes be hard for a male candidate to be taken
seriously. If you happen to be the “wrong sex” for the boss in question, your interviewer may attempt
to politely dissuade you from pursuing the job. Here’s how to counter his concerns and land the job

77. You’d be working for Samantha Quincy. And she’s notoriously tough on her male
assistants. Several of them have quit in frustration. Why do you think that you’d be any

A. I think that it’s a huge mistake when job applicants automatically assume that an entry-level job
will be easy. I expect just the opposite. Given the caliber of your organization, I anticipate that
everyone who’s working here will have rigorous, exacting standards, Samantha Quincy included.
This is my dream job, and, as you know from my countless emails to you, I’ve had visions of
working for your company ever since I was seventeen years old. I will do everything I can to make
certain that I perform at my personal best because I want to stay here for many years to come. I look
forward to the challenge of pleasing Samantha, even if she is very tough on me. From everything that
I’ve read about her, I know for a fact that she is absolutely brilliant. Samantha has a tremendous
amount to teach the right person, and I am her willing student.
Offer to provide your interviewer with a written reference from one of your female exbosses.
Or better yet, give him her phone number, so that he can call and hear her cite
your praises.

78. It may sound weird, but I’ve never worked for a woman in our field. I suppose it really is
the “all-male bastion” that people claim. But you would be working for a woman. Do you think
that fact will change the way you feel about coming on board?

A. Gus, we’re several years into the new millennium…it’s interesting to me that you haven’t
worked for a woman yet. I did at my last three jobs, and I found the experience to be exhilarating. I’ve
noticed that some of the clients that I’ve had in the past really appreciate having a balanced team
presenting work to them. If the boss is a woman, it makes sense to have a guy like me underneath her.
I just think that it helps clients and partners recognize that we are modern and up-to-date. My previous
experience taught me that I can learn just as much from a woman as a man, and I respect the women in
our field enormously.
That’s a Wrap
1. If your interviewer feels that you’re “too old” for the position, counteract that impression by
proving that you’re young at heart, vibrant, and willing to take several steps backwards (if
necessary) to align your career on the right path. Condense your life story into a compelling
sound bite that will touch your interviewer.
2. Does your interviewer think that you’re too young for the job? Emphasize your love of taking
on new challenges, intense loyalty to the organization, and extracurricular activities that taught
you real-life business skills.
3. If the company tries to reject you based on the way you look or your skin color, stress your
empathy, listening ability, or diligence at the interview, but choose a different tack for why you
deserve the job in your follow-up communications.
4 . Did someone suggest that you have other, more pressing commitments (than the job)?
Demonstrate how you are coping with them brilliantly.
5. If a chauvinistic, anti-female bias exists at the company, strive to show that you love working
for men, and will fit in comfortably with the all-male club.
6. Are you a man who’s looking for a job in a company that really wants to hire a woman? Bend
over backwards to prove that you have no issues with women in positions of power. You are
“gender blind,” and can learn just as much from a woman as a man.

The Impossible Questions

Impossible questions are questions that really have no correct answer. They can be logic-based or
mathematical conundrums that tax your brain cells. Or they might be questions designed to test your
common knowledge. Whatever form they take, they’re called “impossible” for a reason. These
questions are purposely designed to fluster you and catch you off-guard. And interviewers ask them to
see how well applicants perform under pressure.
To tease out the same information, a nice (or inexperienced) interviewer could just as easily ask a
candidate to “describe a time when [he] had to work under a deadline and there wasn’t enough time
to complete the task.” (Apparently, this question is asked during Microsoft interviews. It’s a piece of
cake compared to seemingly more random questions that really put the applicant on the spot.)
There are five types of “impossible questions”:
1. “Pop Essay” Questions.
2. Questions That Have No Correct Answer (But Require Logic to Answer Them, Anyway).
3. Ethical Questions with a Twist.
4. “Pigeonhole Yourself” Questions.
5. Questions That Send You to Confession (Or Oprah).
When you are asked an impossible question, the key thing to remember is that your answer is
usually not half as important as the way in which you deliver it. Poise, confidence, and some humor
will take you far when confronted with these questions.
“Pop Essay” Questions
In college and grad school, pop essay questions pop up constantly. These days, they’re also popular
in the executive suite, where candidates are definitely graded on a bell curve. When you are asked
this type of question, don’t worry about giving the “right” answer, as much as defending your answer.
The important thing is to be thorough about whatever answer you do give.

79. What is the best-managed company in America?

A. Probably not Enron or WorldCom. In all seriousness, I have been very impressed with Apple
Computers. In recent years, they invented both the iMac and the iPod, brave new inventions in a jaded
world. The iMac defied all expectations by coming out in retro, Populux colors at a time when other
computer companies were simply making beige boxes. That took real courage. The iPod was also
marketed in a way that was counterintuitive but brilliant. Record companies were screaming at
anyone who would listen about the perils of downloading. They were even threatening lawsuits
against students who were downloading. Meanwhile, the iPod decided to celebrate the joy of
downloading your favorite tunes.
Stay on the cutting edge by keeping up-to-date on current events. Listen to AM radio
talk shows once in a while, go watch an interesting documentary, take an active interest
in the world around you. Doing so will vastly improve your score on all Pop Essay

80. If you could be any product in the world, what would you choose?

A. That’s a very interesting question, Sarah, and one that I’ve never actually thought about before. If
I could be any product, I think it would have to be a Motorola flip-top cell phone. The flip top helps
to screen out the noise of traffic and other pedestrians so that you can handle business from absolutely
anywhere 24/7. The fancy screen keeps you up-to-date on your emails and text messages, so you’re
never late with your correspondence. Plus the cell phone comes in a jazzy silver color, which, for
some reason, reminds me of elegantly streamlined German engineering.
It doesn’t matter which product you compare yourself to as long as you have a little fun
with it. So act like you’re having fun (even if you wish the interview would just be over).

81. If you were running a company that produces X and the market was tanking for that
product, what would you do?

A. I would search for new markets for the product while I spurred the engineers to change the
product to make it more marketable to its original core audience. Let’s take Verizon’s text-messaging
service as a case in point. I’ve never worked for Verizon, so this example is purely hypothetical. But
I do know that in Japan, text messaging was the rage for about four years. Everyone was text
messaging each other all the time.
Now, text messaging has become fairly popular here in the States. But what’s happening in Japan?
People have started using BlackBerry en masse, because it’s so much faster than text messaging. Let’s
face it: you don’t have to keep hitting the same key over and over to arrive at the one letter that you
want. Eventually, I predict that here in the States text messaging will also become far less popular,
because we live in the Information Age, where speed of transmission rules all.
If I worked at Verizon, I would be seeking new markets for their text messaging product right now.
Maybe it should be positioned as “a simple way to tell someone that you love her,” more like a
Hallmark card than a serious business tool. Who might be interested in a product like this? Retirees
with a lot of time on their hands. I might try marketing text messaging to grandparents as a way to stay
in touch with their loved ones. Perhaps we could cut seniors a price break if they signed up for text
messaging when they first bought cell phones. Simultaneously, I would also be talking to the engineers
on staff, and picking their brains about ways that we could make text messaging faster and less
cumbersome to use.
FACT: The decision to hire someone is usually made within the first thirty seconds of meeting
the candidate. That doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to impress your prospect with your
intelligence, conversational aptitude, or winning ideas. So do yourself a favor and also show up
well-groomed and looking the part. Leave the stilettos (or the dusty work boots) at home.
Good rule of thumb: wear an ensemble that is 25 percent more pulled-together than what you
would wear if you were already working there.

82. We are interested in generating “word-of-mouth” advertising for our client. What are the
most important criteria for turning a product or service into a “word-of-mouth” success?

A. Well, Charlie, that’s a very interesting question. As far as I can tell, there are three critical
things that need to collide to spark positive “word of mouth.” First, your product or service has to
address a need that isn’t being met in the marketplace. Second, you will need
“messenger/influencers” to bring the word forward. Third, it often helps to have some “context” for
masses of people to care and pay attention to your message.
Off the top of my head, I would say that when Snapple iced tea first came out, it achieved “word of
mouth,” even before there was any advertising for it. After years of having canned iced tea beverages
that really didn’t taste like brewed iced tea, consumers suddenly found Snapple on their shelves.
What was great about the product was that it looked exactly like real iced tea. You could see it in
those glass bottles, which, at the time, was a refreshing idea.
The “messengers” who carried the word forward were disgruntled canned iced tea drinkers who
were also mavens of the marketplace. They knew this product was really different than anything out
there. Finally, the “context” was that Snapple first appeared on the shelves during the hot summer
months, when everyone is more likely to drink cool beverages.
Why This Technique Works
1. You answered a difficult question with “proof points” that you made up off the top of your head.
2. You showed that you can think on your feet even while you’re sitting down.
Review the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and all relevant trade publications
before your interviews. Most periodicals have online versions that are easy to skim if
you’re pressed for time. Then if you find yourself referring to an interesting case study,
tell your interviewer where you read about it.
Questions That Have No Correct Answer (But Require Logic to Answer Them, Anyway)
It seems like a paradox. But there are a lot of questions that seem like they only have one correct
answer, when, in fact, they have several. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that these questions are
easy to answer. In fact, they can be surprisingly harrowing, since they’re asked purely so that the
interviewer can assess your reasoning ability under pressure. When given this type of conundrum,
first, take a deep breath. Feel the tight knots ease from your stomach. Then let your mind uncover
different facets of the question as you reason through it aloud. The question that follows has been
making the rounds at certain financial firms.

83. How many cigars are smoked in a year?

A. There are 250 million people in the United States. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that
roughly half of them are men. That would mean that there are 125 million men. Then again, studies
show that women live longer than men, so let’s round the number of men down to 120 million. Let’s
say that 30 percent of these men are between the ages of zero and twenty-one, leaving approximately
80 million men of smoking age. Of these 80 million men, we have to guesstimate on this, figure that
20 percent of them smoke. So roughly 16 million men smoke. Of those who smoke, let’s guess that
about 20 percent of them smoke cigars. That’s 3,200,000 men who smoke cigars. How many times a
week will a man have a cigar? I would venture to say 3 times a week, so 9,600,000 cigars are
smoked a week, or 499,200,000 cigars a year.
Talk about female cigar smokers. Again, make certain assumptions about the number,
and share them with your interviewer. You might mention that there are 130 million
women, none of whom smoke cigars regularly. However, 1 percent of them will smoke a
cigar a year at a party or after-hours club, so you can add 1.3 million more cigars to the
total above.

How to Correctly Answer a Question That Has No Correct
With all due respect to cigar aficionados, most people couldn’t care less how many cigars are
smoked in a year. (It’s fairly likely that your interviewer doesn’t even care all that much.)
Yet, there you are, sweating bullets as you struggle to calculate the “correct answer” to the cigar
question. Why? What possible reason could your interviewer possibly have to ask you this silly,
who-cares-about-the-answer question? Simple. He wants to see you demonstrate your facility
with details.
When you are asked to solve a puzzle like this, it’s critical to:
1. Make certain assumptions about the problem (and share them with your interviewer as you go
2. Throw in certain telltale details that will demonstrate that your answer is more thoughtful than
other job seekers’ answers.
For example, in the cigar question, the detail that “women live longer than men” is important.
Subtracting the number of men who “haven’t reached smoking age” from the general pool of men
is another significant detail.
Never be afraid to cite those telling details that show you are a thinking person possessed with a
great deal of common knowledge. You’ll gain points for thoroughness. Okay, now that you’re a
whiz at answering this type of question, test your prowess on the question that follows.

84. How many skis are rented each year?

A. There are 250 million people living in America. Let’s suppose that the number of skiers is 15
percent of that, or 37,500,000. Of those, let’s figure that 28,175,000 of them own skis, leaving the
number who rent at: 9,325,000. Then, let’s add the number of tourists who ski, say, 1 million. So the
grand total of renters would be: 10,325,000.
Now, let’s assume that the renters who live here take 3 trips a year, while the skiing tourists visit
the U.S. once a year. The number of rentals for residents per season would be 3 times 9,325,000, or
27,975,000. While the number of rentals for tourists would be 1,000,000. Let’s add those two
numbers together to arrive at the total number of rentals each year, which is: 28,975,000.
Never attempt to tackle a brain tickler without a pen and paper, unless you do math in
your head easily. Even then, it’s a good idea to write down your calculations as you go,
so that you can double check them easily. Be sure to bring a pad and pen with you just in

85. There’s an ad on the back of a phone kiosk on Third Avenue and 47th Street. Can you tell
me how many people are exposed to it every day?

A. Well, let’s see…8 million people live in New York City, and let’s suppose that half a million of
them work in Midtown. Midtown covers a fairly large geographic area, and people who work on the
Avenue of the Americas rarely walk all the way over to Third Avenue, even at lunch. So I am going
to think of this in terms of subsets.
The first subset is the group of people who work within a five-block radius of Third Avenue and
47th Street. Let’s say that’s approximately 100,000 people.
The second subset is the group of people who take cabs by that location, plus the cab drivers
themselves. There are 10,000 cabs in New York. Let’s imagine that 1,000 of them will drive by the
location twice a day, carrying two passengers each. Then again, only the passengers sitting by the
windows facing the kiosk would probably notice the ad, so that’s 2,000 taxi passengers who would
see it, plus all 1,000 cab drivers. We’re at 103,000 people so far.
If the ad were lit, of course, there might be an additional 1,000 passengers who would see the ad at
night, bringing our total up to 104,000 people.
I believe that ads are more difficult to spot if one happens to be sitting on a bus. So let’s add a
fraction of the people who take the Third Avenue bus every day to our number—50 more people a
day (bus passengers and bus drivers) would see the ad.
Another subset of people would be those living, but not working, within a five-block radius of the
ad. I’m going to guess that’s an additional 50,000 people. We’re at 104,550.
Lastly, we should take tourists into account. Perhaps 1,000 tourists might stroll by that location on
their way to another Midtown destination. Grand total: 105,550 people would see the ad every day,
Monday through Friday.
On Saturdays and Sundays, however, Midtown is fairly empty. Busses and cabs are rarely full,
since there isn’t all that much to do in Midtown during the weekends. I think we can safely assume
that the 50,000 people who live in the area would see the ad, plus perhaps 200 tourists, 10 people
taking the Third Avenue bus, and 800 people taking cabs. So on the weekends, the total would drop to
51,010 people.
How to Be a Great Salesman (When the Product that You’re Selling Is You)
Everyone has needs—including interviewers. So find out what your future employer is looking
for in a candidate, and then demonstrate that you can fill the need. But don’t be smarmy about it.
Hold your interviewer’s gaze without boring into her eyes. Listen closely to what your
interviewer would like to see in a candidate, and then explain that you have the attributes she’s
seeking, using different language than hers. Back up with relevant case examples.
Ethical Questions with a Twist
In the past few years, several blue-chip accounting firms pursued unethical practices that were widely
reported in every newspaper in the country. As a result, questions about ethics are on the rise at all
kinds of different firms. When you are riddled with this type of question, you will need to demonstrate
that you believe in ethical behavior and “best practices”— even when those around you do not.

86. When have you confronted unethical behavior and chosen not to say anything in order not
to rock the boat?

A. One of the companies where I worked had signed contracts to use “union talent” to advertise
their product. There was a union strike for a couple of weeks, and it came to my attention that
someone on staff who wanted to do freelance voiceover work was actually recording her own voice
on our company’s test demo spots during the strike. One of the spots ended up testing very well in
focus groups. To my astonishment, that woman’s voice was later used, as recorded, on the on-air TV
Once the strike was over, I mentioned to several higher-ups that I thought it would be wise to rerecord
the voiceover using union talent, because if the union ever found out that a voiceover “scab”
had been used, there would be hell to pay. My bosses sort of patted me on the head, and told me not to
lose a lot of sleep over it. They didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. And because I really wanted to
keep my job, I let the matter drop.
Why This Technique Works
1. You’re a rational pragmatist. You tried to do the right thing, and were prevented from doing so by
your unethical bosses.
2. Wisely, you recognized that continuing to push them would jeopardize your job.

87. What if you knew that giving someone who worked for you the raise that she deserved
would cut into your own raise, making it only mediocre?

A. A lot of times, there is a pool of money set aside for raises, and one person’s raise really does
cut into someone else’s—particularly these days when money is tight. On the other hand, I believe in
rewarding people for a job well done. Because if we don’t reward our best people, they will turn
around and leave the company.
I would suggest that top management give “mediocre raises” to me and to my colleague
immediately—with the promise that we’d both get small, additional raises in six months. I think that
both of us would be delighted to know that our job performances merited more money (even if the
company couldn’t pay it right away). And a raise in the not-so-distant future would be a great moralebooster.
Discuss a time when giving a mediocre raise but a fantastic written review to one of your
employees kept her morale up. Studies show that praise for a job well done is almost as
effective as a huge raise.

88. What would you do if you really wanted to hire a woman under you, and you knew the
perfect candidate, but your boss really wanted to hire a man for the job?

 A. That’s an excellent question, Sarah. In my last job, I faced this situation, but in reverse. I was
told that I had hiring authority when I took the job, and that we needed to find an associate who would
report to me. I actually knew a young man that I thought would be ideal. Meanwhile, my boss wished
to hire a woman who had been recommended to her by the CFO of the company.
Figuring that the political odds were heavily stacked against my candidate, I went to my boss and
asked her directly if we should just hire her candidate. “Why, what’s your solution?” she asked me
with surprise. I recommended that we perform an on-site “test,” by hiring both candidates on a
freelance basis for two weeks each. My candidate performed very well, hers did also, and both
candidates were offered full-time jobs four weeks later.
Why This Technique Works
1. Your interviewer asked you a general question, but you immediately made it specific by referring
to a situation that you faced on the job.
2. You’ve proven that political “hot potatoes” don’t burn you.
The World’s Best Time for an Interview
Studies show that people who interview in the morning are offered the job more often than those
who take afternoon interviews. There might be several reasons for this. First thing in the
morning, you are not competing with lunch for your interviewer’s undivided attention. You are
also less likely to encounter unwelcome interruptions, such as spontaneous meetings that could
cut your interview short. Finally, your interviewer will be in less of a rush to clear the work off
of her desk and get out of there than she might be during the afternoon.
The three best times for an interview are:
Tuesdays, 10–11 a.m.
Wednesdays, 10–11 a.m.
Thursdays, 10–11 a.m.
If you have a choice, always aim for these early-morning interview time slots. At certain
financial companies, you may even want to request an earlier time for your interviews, say 9
a.m. In creative fields, you’re probably safer taking a 10 a.m. meeting. It can be nerve-wracking
to sit around endlessly, waiting for your interviewer to show up to work in the morning.

89. If your boss told you that you needed to develop a PowerPoint presentation with ten to
twenty slides in one week, and you felt strongly that the material only merited eight slides, how
many slides would you create for your presentation, and why?

A. First, I would develop the presentation with the correct number of slides that would cover the
content. In other words, eight slides. Then, I would look for ways to reformat the presentation. Air
and bullets often aid legibility, so I would do my best to expand the presentation to twelve slides. If,
after creating the twelve slides, I felt that the content on some of them seemed a little “light,” I would
go back and review the material thoroughly to be certain that I had tackled all of the compelling
If I thought that the topic had been totally “nailed” in those twelve slides, I would arrange a time to
take my boss through a “practice run” of the PowerPoint presentation to see if he believed there were
any areas that needed more coverage.
Why This Technique Works
1. You come off as both a go-getter who doesn’t need a lot of supervision and a team player who can
take direction (even when you disagree with it).
2. By giving your boss a sneak preview of the presentation, it gives her a chance to get behind it. On
the great corporate ladder of life, you will go far.

90. What if you were working with someone who managed to “take credit” for all of your
great ideas. How would you handle it?

A. If the person were a colleague, I would first try to credit her publicly with the ideas that were
hers. Sometimes, by being very generous with credit, it spurs the other person to “return the favor.” If
I still heard that she was taking credit for my ideas, I would try to work out an arrangement where we
each agreed to present the ideas that were our own to our bosses. If that didn’t work, I would try to
openly discuss the situation with her. I would stress the fact that teamwork matters, and that
positioning both of us as “good, strong idea people” to our superiors would help our team be taken
more seriously.
However, if the person who was taking credit for my ideas happened to be my boss, I would tread
cautiously. To some extent, I believe that my job is to make my superiors shine. If I were being
rewarded for my ideas with raises and promotions, I would be happy. On the other hand, if a whole
year went by, and I felt that I wasn’t being rewarded financially for my ideas, I would ask my boss for
a performance review, and behind closed doors in her office, broach the matter very delicately.
7 Classic Interview Don’ts
1. Don’t commandeer the interview by pummeling your interviewer with questions. Resolve
to listen astutely. When there is a break in the conversation, mention that you have some
questions, and politely ask your interviewer if it would okay to bring them up.
2. Don’t grill your interviewer. If he seems to be particularly sensitive about a topic that you
raise, gracefully drop it, and move onto a question that covers more neutral ground.
3. Don’t take notes during the interview. Some interviewing guides suggest it, but it’s
generally a bad idea. Information may surface in your meeting that your interviewer considers
highly confidential. If you are sitting there taking notes, he may feel squeamish about discussing
various aspects of the job that you need to know. Also, it’s difficult to write and listen at the
same time. So don’t fritter away valuable “face time” by attempting to multitask.
4. Don’t feel overly embarrassed by occasional pauses in the conversation. It’s frequently
better to allow your interviewer to break the silence, rather than rummaging through your head to
“say anything” to overcome the awkwardness.
5. Don’t overstay your welcome. The average interview lasts for forty-five minutes, but if an
interviewer happens to be either very introverted or extremely busy (or both), he may wish your
meeting to run considerably shorter. Even if you are chronically disappointed, don’t “plant”
yourself in your interviewer’s office, refusing to budge, until he answers more of your questions!
6. Don’t stalk your interviewer. If he signals that your meeting is over, (by standing up and
shaking your hand, for example), politely inquire about your next steps and leave. What if you
know for a fact that you are both headed in the same direction after your meeting? That’s no
reason to suggest “sharing a cab together,” or dropping him off in your car! The bottom line: do
not try to prolong the interview.
7. Don’t perform some practical joke on the interviewer to prove that you’ve got a sense
of humor. No jumping out of cakes. Use common sense when contacting your interviewer in
your follow-up communications too. It’s fine to be engaging; it’s horrendous to be slapstick or
tacky. When in doubt, pull yourself back.
“Pigeonhole Yourself” Questions
An interview lasts for approximately forty-five minutes. Since the time you spend with your
interviewer is so short, sometimes he will ask you to help him make a snap judgment about you—by
asking you to put yourself in a certain category. When you are asked to pigeonhole yourself, it
generally makes sense to break out of the coop. So stretch the boundaries. Why settle for being one
type over another? Demonstrate that you are both types. Position yourself as multidimensional and
multitalented. With all of the rounds of layoffs that have been happening in company after company,
fewer people are expected to do a lot more.

91. Are you better at “managing up” or “managing down”?

A. If you aren’t good at “managing up,” you rarely get the opportunity to “manage down.”
Fortunately, I’ve always been quite good at self-management. I’ve never had a deadline that I didn’t
meet. Sometimes when I’ve needed various bosses of mine to come through with a particular piece of
information to help me do my job, I’ve had to give them a reminder nudge. Even some of my most
disorganized bosses have thanked me for my persistence and follow-through.
Once I was promoted into middle management, I learned how to manage down effectively. Now, I
always call a big kick-off meeting to help team members understand the scope of the assignment. At
this meeting, I set deadlines to help keep the momentum flowing. After that, I try to let my people
manage their own time, because nobody likes a boss looking over his shoulder.
But if one of my employees has trouble completing his tasks, I will sit down with him and suggest a
better working method. Sometimes, I’ve even volunteered to help out certain stressed-out employees,
which always guarantees a great deal of cooperation from them on the next assignment.
If you’ve had them, mention “360-degree” evaluations. In many companies, people are
reviewed by their bosses, colleagues, and underlings simultaneously. If you’ve ever
experienced this type of evaluation (and the results were positive), bring it up in your
interview to show that you manage up, down, and even sideways effectively.

92. Are you a better visionary or implementer? Why?

See “The Trick with Trick Questions.”
The Trick with Trick Questions
Great interviewees are able to recognize trick questions and handle them gracefully. No doubt
about it, the “visionary-or-implementer” question is a classic trick question, because there is no
perfect answer.
Most people are either visionaries or implementers, and recruiters know it. Visionaries make
good leaders, but they need implementers under them or their visions don’t get implemented. On
the other hand, claiming that you are an “implementer” can make you sound like a busy workerbee
drone with no vision whatsoever!
When you are asked this type of question, the “trick,” if you will, is to target your answer to the
company where you are interviewing, by:
1. Finding out what the company is looking for, and
2. Modeling your response accordingly.
If you will be reporting to a visionary, you’re an implementer (with some vision of your own).
Conversely, if the company is filled with implementers, you are a visionary (that’s relatively
grounded). Study the two answers to this question that follows. There will be a pop quiz later (at
your interview).
Visionary Answer: I am more of a “big-picture” person, but I do investigate the facts so that I can
make my dreams happen. For example, I understand that your company has a product line of 300-
thread cotton sheets in vibrant colors like pink, orange, and purple. I think that they’re gorgeous, and
actually, I own several sets. But I also believe that your organization may be missing a potential “gold
mine” in the children’s market. If we could push the entire line to children as well as to moms, I think
that we would be able double your department’s profits in the next three years.
Implementer Answer: As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said: “God is in the details.” And boy,
do I embrace those details! I keep meticulous lists of tasks and follow them, never letting a deadline
with a buyer slip. I’m great at making inroads into trade shows where we could showcase your
product. I happened to read several articles about how your CEO, Stephen Pauly, is trying to enter the
children’s linen market right now, and I’m very jazzed up about his efforts. I brought a list with me
today of possible venues where we can show your colorful linens. Time permitting, I would love to
share my findings with you.
Don’t feel weird about using the word “we.” Look for ways to weave it into your
conversation. Start acting like a member of the team even before you’re officially hired,
and you will significantly improve your chances of being offered the job. We will prevail!

93. Would you rather get permission from your boss before undertaking a brand-new project,
or be given enough rope to “hang yourself”?

A. During my first week on the job, I would ask my boss how she would prefer for me to handle
projects. If she indicated that she really wanted a take-charge person under her, I would take the
ropes. If, on the other hand, she told me that she wanted me to run my ideas by her first, I would
happily comply. I think the real challenge is being able to adapt to your working environment, and I’m
flexible and easygoing.

94. Have you ever been so firm that people would describe you as “stubborn” or “inflexible”?

A. When women are firm, they are sometimes pinned with these unattractive labels. I am not shy or
mousy, so probably one or two people I’ve worked with might have thought that I was “inflexible” on
a given assignment. But this adjective never came out about me on any kind of a performance review,
and neither did the word “stubborn.” I believe that, all in all, I’ve managed to be firm and flexible.
Inside Information
While recruiters can call anyone they please to check up on your past performance, they are not
allowed to obtain copies of your past reviews at a company. So feel free to refer to glowing
performance reviews (within reason, of course). If you have copies of one or two of them, pull
them out when you are confronted with this type of question.
Questions That Send You to Confession (Or Oprah)
In this country, there’s supposed to be a separation between Church and State. So why does
interviewing for a job sometimes feel like you’re going to confession? When you are asked questions
about risks you’ve taken, mistakes you made on the job, and regrets that you have, always demonstrate
what you learned from the experience. Remember this always: professionals rise above setbacks, and
you are the consummate professional. You have no problem discussing a mistake that you made along
the way, because the experience made you stronger, more capable, and even more employable.

95. What are the biggest risks you’ve taken in recent years? Which ones worked out the
best, and which ones failed?

A. I used to work at a large, global PR firm where life was sleepy, but comfortable. It was a
“white-shoe” organization; people left every night at 6 p.m. and our clients were big biotechnology
companies that really trusted the top management of our firm. After a couple of years went by, I felt
like I wasn’t learning anything new, and I confess that I began to feel bored. I thought that if I took a
job at a smaller PR firm, I would feel more challenged.
I joined a small PR boutique that had only been in business for five years. This turned out to be a
colossal mistake. The top management was terribly unprofessional, plus they didn’t have the contacts
with newspapers, TV, and cable stations that we really needed to service our clients properly. I
canvassed my own contacts, of course, but I was the only person in the entire firm who had any
contacts! Promises were made to clients that couldn’t be kept. It was a fiasco.
After six months, I called up the large, global PR firm and begged for my old job back. Fortunately,
they hadn’t replaced me. They slapped my wrist for being disloyal, but they happily rehired me. I’ve
been working there ever since, grateful, but bored…which is why I’m meeting with you today.

The Fine Art of Interview Jujitsu

Questions about risks and mistakes need to be turned around as quickly as possible to show how
you excelled in adverse conditions. Bring out the “silver lining” in all negative experiences.
Also, respect your interviewer’s reason for asking the question. Keep your answers related to
Many interviewees, fearing that their past business mistakes will be held against them, attempt to
distract their interviewers by admitting to mistakes they’ve made in their personal lives. Do not
fall into this trap. When you are asked about a risk or mistake that you made, the biggest mistake
you can make in your interview is discussing some failed personal relationship that you had with
a husband, wife, or significant other. As the saying goes, “don’t mix business with pleasure.”
However, in certain situations, it’s perfectly okay to discuss the love life (or lack thereof) of one
of your colleagues. See the following Q&A.

96. What if you knew that someone on staff who was very talented was looking for a job
elsewhere? Let’s say she had made you promise that you wouldn’t tell anyone. As a top
manager of this firm, what would you do?

A. When I was working at Bidden, Bowden & Atlas, I actually confronted this situation. A very
dedicated coworker of mine, Paula Jeffries, and I became great friends. We would socialize after
hours at this watering hole near the office. And Paula, who I felt was in line for a promotion and big
raise, would tell me how miserable she was at the office. She was single, and honestly felt that the
hours at BB&A were so excruciating that she couldn’t find any time to date.
I was also up for a promotion, and knew that if I were given the new title, I would be managing
Paula, so it was in my best interest to convince her to stay. I never betrayed Paula’s confidence.
Instead, I struck a deal with her.
“Look, Paula, if you and I are both promoted, you’ll be reporting to me. And I really don’t want
you to leave. So this is what I can offer you. If you stay at BB&A, I promise that I will let you leave
the office at a decent hour, say 6 p.m., two nights a week.”
Paula agreed to my terms. We were both promoted; I gained her undying loyalty and she’s still
working for me. She hasn’t met her ideal match yet, but two nights a week, she’s at least out there
meeting men.
If you are ever asked to choose between a colleague and your company, you need to stay
loyal to the company. But if you can handle the situation diplomatically, often the
problem disappears and everyone wins.

97. What are a couple of the most courageous actions or unpopular stands that you have ever

A. I used to have a partner who would cut out every night at 5 p.m. to get home to his family, and a
boss who wanted everyone to stay until 8 o’clock at night, whether or not their workloads merited it.
When it came to my boss’s attention that my partner was leaving so early, my boss used to draw me
into his office after hours to complain about my partner. My boss would detect tiny mistakes in my
partner’s performance (which he blamed on my partner’s work ethic) and berate him—behind his
The easiest thing for me would have been to simply listen to my boss’s rants; he evidently liked the
fact that I was a good “sounding board” for his fury. Instead, I insisted that he talk to my partner
directly about the problems he was having with my partner’s performance. I also persuaded my
partner to go talk to our boss. They worked it out, and my partner ended up keeping his job.
Alt. A. I used to work for a boss who managed four offices in the United States, making his time ultralimited.
He was rarely in the home office, which is where I worked. During his absences, people
would come and ask me how to reach him. Flooded with their emails and phone messages, he
eventually called me one day, and begged me to review their work “unofficially.” But there had been
a long history in my office of people who would “act like the boss,” sans any official title, only to be
“beheaded” a few months later for overstepping their bounds. I told my supervisor that if he wanted
me to be “acting boss” in his absence, he needed to let people know officially, and that giving me a
new title wouldn’t hurt either. He resisted for a while, but ultimately, he came around.
A Guide to Minefields in the Executive Suite
1. If your interviewer asks about an “unpopular stand” that you took, you need to describe an
action that was unpopular with at least one person.
2. Do try to contain your examples to times when you only ruffled one or two people’s feathers.
You don’t want to come off as a rabble-rouser. Avoid stories about how you “joined the
Women’s Group” at your firm to gripe about “how they never promote women from within,” or
railroaded some objectors on staff into giving money to the United Way (or another corporate

98. Under what circumstances have you found it acceptable to break a confidence?

A. When the person doing the confiding has shared the fact that she was doing something unethical
—and if I felt that I might be able to stop her behavior by telling someone else about it. I used to work
at a company that wasn’t doing all that well. A “rainmaker” was brought in to solve the problem. She
would get the company involved in new business pitches that would take months, often relying on one
particular outsider as a paid “new business consultant.”
After a couple of months, this woman and her new business consultant would call large internal
staff meetings to tell everyone what our “next steps” were. One day, I bumped into the CFO of the
company and asked him whether we were being paid for any of these new business pitches. Sadly, he
just shook his head and said no.
I finally approached the “rainmaker” after hours, and asked her point-blank about our prospects.
“You have to keep the illusion of having a lot of balls in the air,” she told me, “even if none of them
ever turn into real business. This keeps people employed.” I mulled over what she had confided,
decided it was a recipe for disaster, and contacted the chairman of the company to discuss it. He fired
the “rainmaker” and her new business consultant that afternoon. Naturally, I also worried about my
own job. But I was spared.

99. What mistakes did you make during your last job? And what would you have done
differently, if you could do it over?

A. My last job was at a very small company where people wore a lot of “hats.” Everyone needed
to do three jobs competently. When I first arrived, I was told to hire two specialists from big firms
immediately— which I did. The problem was, that in both cases, these specialists did one thing
superbly, and they weren’t able to branch out and tackle some of the other assignments, because in
their old firms, these tasks hadn’t been part of their job descriptions. After a couple of weeks, I
recognized my error, and had to fire both people—replacing them with two people from smaller
companies. They both worked out very well.
As they say, “hindsight is 20/20.” Had I been blessed with perfect foresight, I would not have
bowed to the excruciating pressure to hire two people so quickly. I would have tested them out on a
freelance basis for a couple of weeks, recognized that they couldn’t perform all of the required tasks,
and then ultimately hired the two people from smaller firms who were appropriate for this company.
Inside Information
If you made a mistake in your last job and are asked about it, own up to it. But strive to show: 1)
how you corrected the problem, and 2) what you learned from the experience.

100. Do you know who painted this work of art? It’s an original Jasper Johns. I can see by
your blank stare that you have no idea who that is. So tell me, why should I put you in my
Private Client Services Group, where you would be servicing high-net-worth individuals?

A. I’m sorry, David, if I appeared for a moment there to stop and stare at that gorgeous Jasper
Johns. I confess that I was simply marveling at its beauty, texture, and form. The last time I saw one
was at a traveling Jasper Johns exhibit two years ago. I vowed then and there that I would commit
myself to servicing high-net-worth individuals, so that one day, hopefully in this lifetime, I would be
able to afford a small Jasper Johns painting of my very own. Yes, I know that sounds ambitious,
especially given what his paintings fetch at auction houses. But I figure that you’re no stranger to
ambition. You need people in this company who have big dreams and visions. I intend to be the most
productive person in your entire department. Please tell me more about some of the investments that
you’ve recommended to your high-net-worth clients.
Alt. A. You’re absolutely right. I confess that I know absolutely nothing about Jasper Johns! I never
took an art history class when I was at Harvard, and once I got to Columbia Business School, I was
so wrapped up in my corporate finance major that I never made it to a museum. But you should feel
confident that I will pick up the knowledge that I need to service your high-net-worth clients. I’m a
quick study, and I recognize that being able to talk to clients about their interests is critical.

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