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Interview With Confidence

Leesburg, Va.: I recently submitted my resume for a position with a nonprofit. I e-mailed my resume and cover letter on a Saturday afternoon. The director of the center called me back at 10 p.m. that night, and wanted to schedule an interview for Sunday morning. Instead, I asked to have it on Monday, which we did. When I went for the interview, the director had almost no questions prepared to ask me, and seemed confused himself about what he wanted the position to be. Should I be concerned or is this all just part of the game?

Paul Powers: Many hiring managers are terrible interviewers - do not hold this against them. In fact, it is a factor in your favor. In a situation like this, try to help out your interviewer by asking some open ended questions to get the ball rolling. Such as, “What are the most important things you want this new hire to do? What are some of the most significant challenges your organization is facing?”

This interviewer’s rapid response to your resume may indicate that there is a particular aspect of your background that is of interest. Ask about this to uncover your strong selling points.

Centreville, Va.: I am currently looking for a job after a recent ‘corporate restructuring’. I have over 15 years experience, but list recent positions only to show 10 years of experience on my resume. In phone interviews how should I approach this issue, should I mention I have more experience (which gets me into the ‘age factor’ issue) or not?

Thank you.

Paul Powers: This is a tricky one. Perhaps what is helpful to remember is that your resume is a marketing tool not an autobiography. With that in mind, I would only include information that you think would be helpful.

If, at a later date, you were asked about the omission of five years experience, you could say something like, “At the time I didn’t see how my early jobs - which I am proud of -- were relevant to an assignment at this level.”

Bellevue, Wash.: I really don’t like to disclose my salary history/ current salary to potential employer! is there any way to avoid answering this question? Thanks.

Paul Powers: No. You must give an answer to every question that is asked. In “Winning Job Interviews” there is an entire section about how to deal successfully with the money issue. In short, there are two keys. One is to be as vague as allowable and the other is to focus on compensation for the position you are interviewing for rather than focus on your earlier (and probably lower) compensation.

Prince George’s County, Md.: I have some sensitive background information, which I would prefer only to discuss in person or by telephone. Do you accept phone calls of this nature?

Thank you.

Paul Powers: Due to my speaking/writing/consulting schedule I am unable to do this. However, you may send me a confidential e-mail to drpaul@drpaulpowers.com, and I will try to respond within a reasonable timeframe.

Washington, D.C.: If a company is going threw a merger are they required to tell you before you take a job with them?

Paul Powers: No. Also, there may be SEC or other governmental regulations in doing so. However, many business pages and industry journals pick up on these kinds of rumors early on. While not relying on unverified information, you can use it to develop some pointed interview questions of your own.

Memphis, Tenn.: I haven’t had a lot of experience with interviews. I am 24 and have been on my job going on seven years. I am currently searching for a new job pertaining to my major. A company called me for an interview, but when I asked for an in depth description for the job I will be doing, they were rather blunt. I know it is related to sales and marketing. Are there any questions that I should expect? I would like to ask you for any tips that you can give me.

washingtonpost.com: Hi, Memphis. You should also check out out our Interview Survival Kit for expert advice that’ll help you master this integral part of the job search process.

Paul Powers: Go to the employer’s web site, see if there’s an employment center of job listing page and if there is one, review the complete job description there.

Go to other online job sights (such as Monster.com) and review other jobs using the same or similar job titles.

In “Winning Job Interviews” there is a tool that lists at least 90 percent of the questions you can expect.

Alexandria, Va.: I recently finished school to become a medical assistant at Everest College. What are some questions you should ask the interviewer without saying the wrong thing?

Paul Powers:

1. Asking good questions is a great way to create a positive impression of yourself with the interviewer.

2. Do not ask any questions for which your pre-interview research should have already provided answers. (Salary ranges, history of the organization, current news, etc.)

3. Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the organization by seeking further information or clarification about information you have already gathered. Such as, “In my research I learned that you were building a new satellite facility. Would this position I’m interviewing for be located there or here at the main hospital?”

Rockville, Md.: What exactly should I wear when applying at a hotel, restaurant, dept. store cashier or a temp agency secretarial position?

Paul Powers: The traditional answer to this question is to dress in a way similar to the person for whom you would be working. Key words to remember are neat, professional, and appropriate.

In “Winning Job Interviews” I discuss in detail questions about fragrances, jewelry and body art.

Baltimore, Md.: How do you answer a question concerning your credit (which is not that great) for a security clearance for a federal job?

Paul Powers:

1. Start requesting free copies of your credit report annually from each of the three major credit agencies.

2. Go online and/or use Money magazine to find tons of ways to improve your credit score - which will improve both your financial life and your career life.

3. Only offer information about your financial life, if asked.

4. If asked, answer with the “best version” of the truth which may be something like, “Frankly, no one taught me the basics of good credit management. Along the way, I’ve made some mistakes, have learned from them, and am making progress on that front.

St. Louis, Missouri: My questions is this: I left a job before I was about to be laid off ... the political scene in the company was really bad and I couldn’t take it anymore. But, as I looked for work, I think I have been blacklisted for leaving my employer and not sticking with it until they asked me to leave.

How do I respond to the questions relating to my previous (difficult) employer?

Paul Powers: Use the “best version” of the situation such as, “It was apparent to me that a major layoff was in the planning and I decided to take the bull by the horns to go out and find a new assignment in a growing organization.”

I see no need to suggest that you were blacklisted or offer any negative information about your former employer.

San Antonio, Tex.: I went to work for a company that was run by an elected board, where I found a general manager who I directly reported to, lacking business ethics and could be devious? Working eight weeks in that environment where everyone was helping him achieve his goals and some of the employees were outright belligerent, I walked out of the job.

How do I explain this on my resume or in interviews?

P.O., There were allegations of sexual harassment against him by a previous employee and he also had fired previous director (another employee) who I replaced same day when I was suppose to join and replace her.

Paul Powers: You are in a tough spot because a cardinal rule is to never speak badly of a former employer. Perhaps a response that is a bit vague might work, for example, “Business ethics and morality are very important to me. I was unable to find these things in my last job. I don’t really want to speak negatively about anyone but one of my references should be able to address this issue if you really want to go into it much deeper.”

Then when you give your references, make sure one is thoroughly prepared to discuss this situation. That way the interviewer gets the picture of the snake pit you left without hearing negative words coming out of your mouth.

Washington, D.C.: I am basically terrified of job interviews. Any other time I am confident and quite capable of handling myself. But, when faced with the opportunity to interview for a position that I know to be well qualified for and experienced. I am barely able to come across as a capable never mind intelligent. I get tongue-tied and the words or answers escape me.

Any suggestions?

Paul Powers: The key here is practice-practice-practice. In “Winning Job Interviews” there are a handful of tools designed to help you prepare for the interview and lower your interview stress. Again, the key here is to arrange practice sessions so that the interview situation will become second nature and less threatening to you. You can can find the book at your local bookstore or Amazon.com

Aurora, Colo.: I was unemployed for 10 months while I was in between jobs. What explanation do I give for that gap?

Paul Powers: If, on your resume, this 10-month period is all within one calendar year the question may never arise. But if it does, state truthfully that you were between full time jobs and indicate what other activities you were involved in while job hunting.

Fairfax, Va.: I really need help. In January I was unfairly terminated from my job (I worked there for almost five years) and the employer made false statements about me. I was working in a pharmacy ringing up prescriptions for customers and the supervisor came out to help. She took the next customer’s prescription out of the drawer and put it in the area in which I was working. To avoid a mix-up, I put it on the back counter. She was upset and put it in front of me again. I tried to put it several inches away from me. I told her I was trying to be careful not to give the first customer both prescriptions (I made that mistake a few years ago). In my opinion, this was definitely a personality conflict with the supervisor, who had been there only three months. The store manager had only been there about four months. What is the best way to answer, “why did you leave your last job?” or “have you ever been terminated or asked to resign?” Should I (1) discuss the situation in detail, (2) just say it was a personality conflict with a new supervisor, (3) just say it due to a change of management and they were “cleaning house”, or (4) I left for personal reasons.

Paul Powers: Honesty is always the best policy. But it doesn’t have to brutal honesty. A statement such as, “I left my last job because of a misunderstanding with a new supervisor” should suffice. However, before giving this answer, line up a different former colleague who can, if asked, support your version of this situation.

Metairie, La.: Mr. Powers: I’m 68 years-old, male and majored major in business administration in Nicaragua. I had already accomplished my dreams: owning my own business. A civil war broke out and I lost it all. I migrated to U.S. with my family. It has been pretty rough for me since then. After working for a bank for about five years, I went into sales, where I was pretty much successful. Now I find myself like in jail in my own apartment. If you are not already ready to toss this foredoomed to the trash can, perhaps you might send me some suggestions?

Paul Powers: It sounds like you have an interesting and varied background. There are many organizations who would value this regardless of your age. The question is not about them, it is about you -- what is it that you really want to be doing for work at this point in your life. In my book, “Love Your Job!”, there are tons of short tools and quizzes to help you figure this out. Best wishes.

Paul Powers: Thanks for your question. Go to www.drpaulpowers.com it you’d like to sign up for my bi-weekly e-newsletter, LifeMap.

Washington, D.C.: I have no self confidence but I’m told I interview very well. I think it’s that I pretend to be someone else, it works.

Paul Powers: Hey, who am I to argue with what works? But I prefer to think of it as you putting on your “best face” to the outside world.

Washington, D.C.: How should you act when you are interviewing with more than one person at a time? It’s intimidating.

Paul Powers: Yes, it is. And frankly I do not like this format but there’s nothing you or I can do about it. You should have a notebook or pad of paper with you so you can, at least jot down people’s names so that you remember who is asking what question.

Rather than looking around the room, remember to make direct eye contact with the person who asked the question.

Reston, Va.: I worked for a company for eight months before getting recruited to a new position. After one year at the new job, the division was acquired and I was laid off. I was out of work for about eight months (most of it intentional, living off severance and enjoying time with my daughter).

Fast forward to today. I took a position at $20,000 less than I was making, I needed to go back to work and this was all that was out there. This job is not a good fit, the commute stinks and I am sinking financially.

How do I explain this when interviewing? I think I blew my last two interviews and I don’t want to keep making the same mistake.

My objective is to work closer to home (or if I have to commute make more money), make more money (closer to my old salary) and find a better company.

Please help!

Paul Powers: We all make mistakes in life. Accept this one, learn from it, and move on. I would address this issue only if asked. If asked, you can say something like, “I was hopeful that the assignment would turn out better than it did, it was my mistake and I’m looking forward to moving on.”

Tannersville, Pa.: What advice can you give older workers, trying to re-enter the job market?

Paul Powers: Do not think of yourself as older, think of yourself as bringing more skills and experience.

Stay current in your field thru professional journals, technical publications, and active participation in professional associations and networking groups.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Thanks for taking time to “talk” to us. I have two questions. I have been told and I have read that, when accepting a new job, annual leave can be negotiated along with salary. However, I have never been able to successfully negotiate more vacation time. In fact, in my career, two companies gave me more money in salary rather than an extra week of vacation. Why is that and why do the experts insist otherwise?

Also, I have been told not to give a salary range when asked, but to say that my salary is negotiable based on responsibilities and the job description. I am always pressed to give an expected salary. Is it better to give a range rather than waste everyone’s time with a job that would offer too low a salary for me?

Paul Powers: Some employers will negotiate about any element of a compensation package, some only a few elements, some have little flexibility at all. If vacation is a vital point for you, always try to negotiate it - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As I answered in an earlier question, dealing with money is a tricky issue, deserves more attention than we can give it in this format. I suggest that you refer to that section of “Winning Job Interviews.”

However, every question that is asked deserves an answer. Your pre-interview research should have given you an approximate salary range for the job in question -- so have some numbers ready to go. You can always add “but these are just general numbers from my research, I realize your organization’s ranges may be different and I would prefer to hold off further talk about money until you decide that I’m the right person for the job.”

Atlanta, Ga.: In interviewing in a room with more than one person, what is a good ice-breaker?

I am the type that takes initiative. Should I sit back and wait for them to say something or make small talk?

Paul Powers: In a group interview it is important to know with whom you are speaking. If this information is not offered up-front, you can start by introducing yourself and asking others to do the same, and ask what their roles are in the organization.

Stay away from the small talk... this is all business.

Baltimore, Md.: I have recently been offered a promotion and a pay increase at my current job at a bank. Prior to this offer I was looking for new career opportunities in the area. The job is not challenging me anymore, and I find myself dreading coming to work. I am hesitant to take the promotion, to only submit my resignation in a month or so. I know it’s hard to find a job that you truly enjoy all the time, but I remind myself that money isn’t everything. Should I take the promotion, or wait and see how my submitted resumes play out?

Paul Powers: Is the promotion you are being offered something that you can tailor to your interests. If so, I would take it and try to turn it into something great. You don’t know how long it will take for the resumes that you have floated elsewhere to land you something better. If something better arises, then you will have to make a choice. But for right now, take the opportunity you are being offered and try to make the most out of it.

Silver Spring, Md.: What is the best way to answer the following question: what are your weaknesses? I simply dread that question because it is obvious that you do not want to present yourself in a negative way but on the other hand I want to be sincere and truthful. Any suggestions?

Paul Powers: The traditional answer to this question is to take a strength and carry it a step too far. However, I prefer that you identify an area that you had earlier determined that was a weakness (especially a technical area) and that you already have done something about fixing.

Washington, D.C.: I wanted to comment on following up. I had interviews with staff members (after initially interviewing with the executive director) and I followed up with handwritten thank you notes to each of them. When the executive director called to make me an offer, he made a point of letting me know that he was very appreciative that I did that for his staff. So, yes, old fashion thank you notes are still okay!

Paul Powers: Good point. But if your penmanship is terrible, (like mine) remember to let the computer do the work for you.

Chantilly, Va.: How do you prepare yourself for an “elephant in the room” type question? The EITR might be something like why you want to leave your last position or what your current boss will say about you etc. These questions tend to bring out some kind of physical reaction even if you’ve practiced and trained yourself to handle the words.

Paul Powers: If you are concerned about your physical reaction to a particular question practice answering it while video taping yourself. With enough practice, your response will improve.

Baltimore, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. I’m submitting early hoping that you’ll post a response before my telephone interview at 12:30. This telephone interview is for my second “career path” job post graduation. My first, and current, job is with the Army who hired based on my resume alone -- no interview process just a security clearance background investigation. The director said this is to be 15 minute “screening” phone call (learn about me/learn about them). I’ve never done this before so I don’t have any expectations. What sort of topics come up and are discussed in this type of phone call? Would it be unwise to admit up front I’ve never done this before. Obviously it’s too early to get specifics about compensation however are general salary ranges an acceptable topic of conversation to gauge interest? My current job has lots of benefits that I’d like matched or exceeded by any future employer -- this seems like an in person interview discussion. What topics are appropriate in a phone interview for determining if both parties wish to proceed with an in-person interview? Thanks for your time.

Paul Powers: Phone interviews are screening interviews -- the employer is trying to learn or confirm that you have the requirements to do the job. If you are satisfied that this has been accomplished you can raise issues about compensation. However, remember that interviewing is like dating - let’s confirm that there is a good match before planning the particulars of the honeymoon.

D.C.: Hi, this is kind of a pre-interview question. I’m trying to make a career change from teaching English to full-time writing or editing. What is the best way to address a career change in a cover letter? I feel like getting ‘in’ I’ll have trouble with. And what kinds of questions should one prepare on in an interview regarding career- changing? Do you know of any local professional writing associations to join? Thanks.

Paul Powers: I’m unaware of any specific organizations in your area. But a little research on the web will help you.

Expand your network until you find a few people who have made the kind of transition you are thinking of and see what their experience and insight can teach you.

Bowie, Md.: How can you “interview with confidence” if you are extremely overweight? And don’t tell me to lose it; I’ve tried and it’s not coming off.

Paul Powers: Find a clothing store where you can get a couple of interviewing outfits in which you feel comfortable. This will add to your confidence.

Your smile, your handshake, your positive attitude, your enthusiasm for this job are what is going to sell you into the position. Developing all of these will help you build your confidence.

Arlington, Va.: I am 23 years old. I have been on the job hunt for a while, looking to live and work in the D.C. area. I have been living in Roanoke but my lease is about to end and I am getting ready to go back and stay with my family until I get a job. I have gotten only a few interviews in the area. I constantly work on my resume and cover letter. I recently started working on networking as well. I also use a friend’s address who lives in Arlington now in hopes that this will increase my chances of getting more interviews. I do not have a full-time job holding me back from coming to the area when I get invited in to interview. I have the means of making the move work without the employer’s help also, so I decided it was time to fib just a little bit with my location.

I believe my lack of interview experience makes it difficult to land a job I am really interested and believe I would perform well in. I have practiced and even had a mock interview video taped, but I still get annoyingly nervous when faced with a real interview. Also, I do want to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, so when employer’s want to know what my goals are, I tell them. Then I believe they are reluctant to hire me knowing that I want to continue my education.

I would appreciate any advice you may offer. I am trying and this is something I want so bad. The search is getting a bit tiresome. Perhaps I am not using my persistence in the right way. I really believe I deserve to be in a position where I can utilize this motivation I have in me to benefit others and myself at this point. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response!

Paul Powers: From your question, it seems you are making a few mistakes that when added together may not bring you the success you want. Before I briefly get into the specifics, I suggest that you find and use a good local career coach. You can find one thru your alumni office or thru your local employment/unemployment office.

Fibbing about where you live, using other people’s addresses, providing information about future goals unrelated to the job, (Masters degree) are stumbling blocks you are setting up for yourself.

Since you are still getting “annoyingly nervous” it shows that your interview preparation has not been sufficient. I don’t want to beat up on you but you’ve got to get more practice until you can control those butterflies in your stomach.

Good luck!

Maryland: If someone told me in an interview that their credit suffered because no one had ever taught them the basic of credit management, I then will wonder if anyone has even taught the the skills of time management, crisis management, etc.

Paul Powers: I’m not sure how these areas are relevant to credit issues. But again, let me reinforce that the “best version” of the truth is always a good answer.

RE: Overweight: One other thing I might mention is that people who grow up overweight (I am one of them) often develop good, funny and charming personalities because they don’t rely on good looks to get them by. Let your personality come out to show you are a hard-working, warm person.

Paul Powers: Excellent point!

Anywhere, USA: How do you appropriately answer the question “What are your weaknesses?” I’ve heard both that you should be honest and that you should say something that could really be seen as a strength. How do you answer this question adequately without sabotaging your chances of getting the job?

Paul Powers: Nobody’s perfect at everything. Identify an area not critical to the job you are applying for and that you’ve already done something about improving.

Baltimore, Md.: Regarding interviewing with a group ... “Rather than looking around the room, remember to make direct eye contact with the person who asked the question.”

But also remember to give everyone face time. Even if one or two people ask a question, be sure to make eye contact with everyone in the room at some point in your responses so they all feel involved. If you have a group of five people and three love you but two don’t because they didn’t ask questions and then felt left out, that doesn’t help you.

And you can ask a few questions open to the whole group ... People love to talk about themselves and what they do.

Paul Powers: Good point, but remember this is an important opportunity to sell yourself, so try not to let it turn into a “chat fest”, by asking a good question or two yourself.

D.C.: Answering the salary question: I’ve been very successful with the following approach: “I’d like to turn that back to you and ask what the range is for the position.” Most of the time, the interviewer is impressed by the response, and I avoid under- or over-selling myself.

Paul Powers: Glad to hear that approach worked for you.

However, salary range is something you should already have a handle on from your research before you go in for the interview. Maybe you could try “From your web site it appeared that the salary range for this job was X to Y. If I’ve got that right it seems we’re in the same ball park.” Or if the range is below what you’re looking for you could say ‘ From your Web site ... but I’m hoping to move forward from my current compensation in the low-20s (or mid-30s, or high- 40s) ... using the concept of ‘range’ to your own advantage

Paul Powers: It was great chatting with you all. Thanks for your great questions. If you’d like to stay in touch or get future advice you can sign up for my free e-newsletter “Lifemap” by going to my Web site www.drpaulpowers.com

Best wishes to all.

Editor’s Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

 
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