Wednesday, January 21, 2015

3 Questions Almost Always Asked in Job Interviews

Read Time: 4 minutes

Ram Castillo discovered my book “Nail It, Stories for Designers on Negotiating with Confidence” in early 2014 and asked me to contribute to his blog, “Giant Thinkers.” He was finishing up his own book at the time: “How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed.” Clearly we were on the same mission: advancing the cause of designers everywhere. He at the beginning of his career, and me at the other end.

Ram is from Sydney, Australia and has spent the last couple of months speaking to groups of designers all over the U.S. about his book and how to get that all important first design job. When we met for the first time in person, he told me he had done eighteen talks in eight weeks! Quite an accomplishment.

He is finishing up his book tour with a two-day free presentation on CreativeLIVE, January 19 and 20.

When we met for lunch he asked me what three questions are the most difficult for young designers to deal with in an interview situation and how would I suggest they answer them as apart of his CreativeLIVE presentation at 3PM Pacific on Tuesday, January 20.

Here are the questions:

There are hundreds of questions but the following three are particularly tricky to deal with in the moment because they suggest that you drift a bit to the personal side with your answers.

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What’s your salary history, or what were you paid in your last position?
  3. Do you have any questions for me?

Tell me about yourself.

The first thing I think is what do you want me to say? What should I say? The question suggests that I answer with a description of my childhood, then move to my college road trip experiences. Don’t go there. Keep it professional:

  • Start with a success from your work. Here’s an example:

    “I’ve focused on creating motion graphics that tell a story as quickly as possible. As an example I was able to cut a clip to half it’s length by creating entirely new graphics. My boss told me that it resulted in more than doubling views.”

  • Move on to a strength or ability:

    “I particularly enjoy paring down the story to its essential visuals so the impact is as clear as possible.”

  • End with what you are looking for:

    “I’m looking for a position where I can put my skills to use. I love contributing. But I need to be in an environment where I can learn and continue to advance my skills.”

Notice that all the answers are about helping them.

What were you paid in your last position?

I always recommend not answering this question. There is no answer that either won’t either limit you or them. We want them to evaluate you based on your work and how you present yourself. Your past pay is about who you were back then. It’s not about who you are now.

Even if you feel forced to answer this question you want to put off answering as long as possible.

So, first step is turn it around:

“What have you budgeted for this position?”

Then, follow up with:

“How did you determine that range?”

You can also cite you’re your own research and take the initiative with:

“I’ve reviewed the surveys and with my experience believe I should be paid $xxx.”

You can honestly say:

“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to answer because my skills have improved dramatically – as you’ve seen – since that compensation package was established.”

And my favorite answer:

“My past salary is a private matter between my employer and myself.”

Do you have any questions for me?

Most people find themselves unprepared for this question. After all, it’s late in the interview and you may be feeling a sense of relief: you’ve survived, it’s gone okay, you’re alive, maybe you’ll even get the offer. And then, they hit you with it.
The trick is to have a bunch of questions prepared in advance, say five or ten. And no matter how enthusiastic you get during the interview hold back two questions until the end.

At this point you and the interviewer have gotten to know each other a bit. If it’s gone well, or reasonably well, you’re beginning to form a personal connection.

You could ask about the job, the company, or the industry. Those are all appropriate, but I’d like to see you further that personal bond with the interviewer.

“Why did you join the company?”

“What do you like about being here?”

“What’s do you find to be your favorite part of your job?”

And finally you can say something like:

“You’re a part of a remarkable organization. Your work in motion graphics is game changing. I’d like to be a part of it and I believe I can help.”

And other things they can say…

“In my experience…”

because twenty- something’s have more valuable experiences than they think.

“Help me understand…”

a thoughtful, kind way to ask a question that challenges the other person without insult.

“I started on this journey when I was in the first grade when…”

to establish how deep and complete their dedication to their work.

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