With a continuation of last months blog topic in mind, I recently picked up the 2011 Edition of ‘What Color is Your Parachute?’  I first reviewed this book in 1994 as a job seeker and newly minted Engineering graduate.  I appreciated the books practical, to the point, and often entertaining approach to preparing and conducting a successful job search.  Last month I talked about some actions to help prepare for the interview.  This month I am going to take a brief look at what the book states are five core questions which the interviewer will want to have answered regardless of what is asked.

The candidate who best addresses the five questions will get the contract or job offer

Question 1: Why do you want to work here?

During interview preparation you reviewed the organization’s website and articles in the media.  Maybe you found out about a new contract the company had won or a recent environmental or charitable award it received.  Maybe you have done some research and found that the organization’s values are a close match with your own.  For the specific job, are the tasks required in line with your skills and what you enjoy doing?  In any case, the interviewer wants to know that you have a compelling reason for sitting across from him/her aside from needing work to pay the bills. 

Question 2: What can you do for us?

This is your opportunity to discuss your skills and knowledge about the job or the industry/sector the organization is in.  You want to be seen as part of the solution and not an extension of the problems the organization is facing.  For example, if an important project deadline is coming up and you are applying for a software development contract then you want to highlight your flexibility to work long hours or travel in addition to your technical prowess and focus on efficiency (assuming these are applicable of course).  Be prepared to give examples.  The interviewer will assume your past work is predictive of what you will do at their organization.

Question 3: What kind of person are you?

The interviewer wants to know if your personality is a good fit with their team and whether your values match those of the organization.  They know that this will directly affect key factors such as productivity and retention.  Part of your interview preparation is to look at strengths/weaknesses and this may include an understanding of your personality and how it would fit into this particular organization and position.  For example, a personality trait such as creativity may represent highly necessary attribute in one organization/position while a superfluous characteristic in another. 

Question 4: What distinguishes you from other candidates?

What is unique about you as compared to others who can do the job?  This is something that needs to be answered long before the interview.  For example, your thorough problem solving approach would be very valuable in bridge design as well as risk management.  In this example you want to convince the interviewer that your approach to problem solving is distinctive and valuable.  Hence you stand apart from other applicants. 

Question 5: Can we afford you?

For permanent positions the interviewer wants to have an idea of your salary expectations to ensure they can close the deal should they decide they want you.  While they likely have some flexibility in salary, they are governed by factors such as budget and what other employees in a similar position are paid.  In an early interview round you may try to sidestep the question until later however be prepared with a range in case you are pressed to provide one.  Many an interviewer will not want to pass a candidate to a later round or present an offer without first qualifying candidates as to salary expectations.  Where possible, try to avoid being the first one to mention a specific number.  Instead, ask the interviewer what they expect to pay for this type of position. 

So how about some other tips on how to best interview and get the offer?  The author of ‘What Color is Your Parachute? suggests several:

1. Speak and listen 50-50 during the interview

2. Answers to questions should be no more than 2 minutes at a time

3. Bring evidence of your skills to the interview if possible

4. Its worth repeating - never criticize former employers

5. Give quality examples - your past work is assumed to predict your future work

6. Always send a thank-you note right after the interview