Acing the Interview

How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You the Job

 Acing the Interview

Author: Tony Beshara
Pub Date: January 2008
Print Edition: $16.95
Print ISBN: 9780814401613
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814409527

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

What Today’s Job Seekers Need to Know About Themselves and Their Competition

This book is about how to answer and ask questions in the interviewing process so that you, the candidate, can get the best job possible. In order to answer questions correctly so that you can get a job offer, as well as ask questions so that you can evaluate a job offer, you need to be aware of your condition, so to speak, as a job candidate.

The emphasis of this book is not just to know how to answer and ask questions skillfully, but to put into context those answers and questions so that you can not only get a job offer, but choose the right one. Over the last few years, the context—that is, the market, the rules, the situation, etc.—of being a job applicant has drastically changed. The job search market is always erratic and highly volatile, and the past few years have been no exception.

There is a phenomenal amount of paradox in the context of being a job candidate today. On one hand, the U.S. economy has been adding over 110,000 new jobs every month for about the past two years. Unemployment has held at about 4.5% of the working population—close to a six-year low and a far cry from 6% to 6.3% in the early 2000s. But, even though the economy, on paper, is expanding, there is a phenomenal amount of erraticism with businesses in the United States.

We will discuss the context of the average U.S. company (if there is such a thing as “average” in today’s markeplace) and the hiring authorities in those firms in the next chapter. In this chapter, I’m going to describe the context of today’s job seeker. If you understand this context, answering and asking questions in the interviewing process is going to be a lot easier. You will understand better how to get the best possible job.

Gone are the days of looking for a job and at the same time seeking a “career path” within that same firm. If, as a job candidate today, you ask a hiring authority what the career path with the company will be, you will either get a big lie or, if the hiring authority is honest, you’ll get a blank stare, a pregnant pause, and a truthful answer of, “I really don’t know.”

Keep in mind that my perspective comes from personally working with thousands of hiring managers since 1973. I am personally on the front lines of dealing with hiring on a daily basis and have been since I began in this profession. Our firm deals with hundreds of companies on a monthly basis and thousands on a yearly basis.

This book is going to relate to you the context of real, in the trenches, frontline U.S. businesses and hiring in this country. Keep in mind that the vast majority of businesses in the United States employ fewer than 100 people. I will get into it further in the next chapter, but suffice it to say, most businesses do not, contrary to popular belief, operate with common sense and distinct business acumen. The sad truth is that many businesses in this country lack common sense and can be greedy and ignorant (often reflecting the people who run them). In spite of these negative factors, the U.S. business climate is still the most successful in the world and it will continue to be.

As a candidate, however, when you go to answer or ask questions in the interviewing process, you need to be aware that the vast majority of U.S. businesses and U.S. business people do not operate with pristine theory or foolproof business acumen. Complaining about it won’t do any good. You just have to deal with it.

Putting Yourself in Context

In order to perform well in the questioning of the interviewing process, you need to recognize a little bit about yourself and your peers looking for a job in today’s market. If you understand your own context, as well as the context of the people you are interviewing with, successful interviewing will be easy.

As mentioned above, the idea of going to work for an organization and building a career path for any reasonable length of time simply isn’t realistic. This is the reality of the context of today’s job candidate.

Highlights from a recent study published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor showed that:

• Persons born from 1957 to 1964 held an average of 10.2 jobs from the ages of 18 to 38. These baby boomers held an average of 4.4 jobs while ages 18 to 22. The average fell to 3.3 jobs while ages 23 to 27, 2.6 jobs while ages 28 to 32, and 2.5 jobs from ages 33 to 38.

• These baby boomers continue to have large numbers of short duration jobs even as they approach middle age. Among jobs started by workers when they were ages 33 to 38, 39% ended the job in less than a year and 70% ended in fewer than five years.

• The average person was employed 76% of the weeks from age 18 to 38. Generally, men spent a larger percent of weeks employed than did women (84% vs. 69%). Women spent much more time out of the labor force (26% of weeks) than did men (11% of weeks).

• This group also experienced an average of 4.8 spells of unemployment.Business Briefings recently reported that a 40-year-old average U.S. worker has changed jobs ten times.

The average 40-year-old worker in the United States changes jobs every two years. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has never attempted to estimate the number of times people change careers in the course of their working lives, my sense is that the older we get, the more stable we become in our jobs. In fact, a Department of Labor statistic bears this out. The DOL showed that the median tenure of workers aged 55 to 64 was 9.6 years—more than three times that of the younger workers. The worker at age 55 to 64, however, as we will analyze, sees the world differently then the 28- or 29-year-old worker. My sense is that the stability factor of these older workers isn’t as much a reflection of today’s business as it is a reflection of the values that were established when they first entered the work force thirty-five or forty-five years ago.

One challenge to compiling labor statistics is that there is no consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes a career change. For instance, if a person is promoted in an organization from a sales position to a sales manager’s position or from an accounting position to an accounting manager’s position, has his or her career changed from sales and accounting to a career of management? It would depend on how you define it as a career change. If a web designer was laid off and then took a job as a production supervisor for six months, then went back into web design, has he or she changed careers? There is no way of having a consistent definition of what “changing careers” means.

As a friend of mine, Paul Hawkinson, who is the editor of The Fordyce Letter (February 2007, p. 6), the foremost U.S. publication for the recruiting industry, writes that:

It seems that we’re becoming a nation of “itinerant fruit pickers” where almost all jobs are impermanent. When CEOs are playing “musical chairs” with increasing frequency and most other senior executive level jobs are just transitory in nature, it’s no wonder that America’s work force has adopted a similar mindset. Especially since employers are no longer keeping “retirement watches” in their inventory because so few of their employees are kept on board long enough to get them. Loyalty is a two-way street and that street is full of potholes these days.

Let’s face it; life on this earth is temporary, anyhow!

With this in mind, your approach to the interviewing process is going to be different. Your “career” will likely be a string of two-and-a-half- to three-year stints for at least the first 75% of your working life.

The Uncertain Attitude of the U.S. Worker

Although the economy is expanding and unemployment is lower than it’s been since the late 1990s, the perceptions of risk and insecurity on the part of the U.S. worker do not match this reality. Although people think the economy is better, they aren’t sure if they are actually better off as individuals. The average U.S. worker feels insecure about both job and future employment.

As stated above, the United States added an average of about 175,000 new jobs every month in 2006, and more than 110,000 every month in 2007, and we’ve gone from 6.3% unemployment in 2003 to between 4.7% and 4.5% today. The average income in the United States was up 6.5% in 2006 over 2005. Salaries were up 6.9% in 2006 over 2005. U.S. households’ net worth recently hit $52 trillion, which is a record high, and corporate profits also are up. As a country and as individuals, we should be encouraged if not elated.

But in spite of all of the positive signs, we as individuals are pessimistic, uncertain, and, to say the least, vulnerable. Countless corporate restructurings and layoffs have destroyed the concept of career-long employment that for too long sustained the U.S. workers’ confidence.

Lifelong employment is a thing of the past. Louis Uchitelle, who wrote The Disposable American (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), notes that, between 1981 and 2003, some 30 million U.S. workers were displaced due to layoffs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A modern form of contracting the workforce began with “layoffs.”

Quite a number of surveys confirm that the percentage of individuals “somewhat likely” or “likely” to be laid off or fired has steadily risen over the past decade. Layoffs are not going to go away, but they don’t have to be as numerous as they have been since the late 1990s. Uchitelle asks, “Are we going to once again be a community of people who feel obligated to take care of one another, or are we going to continue as a collection of individuals each increasingly concerned only with his or her well being? If we can band together again, as we did during the 40-year stretch that started in the Depression and ended with the Vietnam War, job security will gradually return to the United States,” according to Uchitelle. His hope couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even on the CEO level, stability is treacherous. In 2006, a U.S. company CEO departed either voluntarily or by force every six hours, double the number of CEOs who left their jobs in 2004.

Political commentator Ruy Teixeira* observed that the United States is a “nation of unhappy campers.” He cited a Hart Research Associates/AFL-CIO poll that found 54% of Americans are “worried and concerned about reaching their economic goals.” The majority of these people felt that their real wages were declining, felt that their earnings were not keeping up with prices, and worried “very or somewhat often” about the cost of living rising faster than their income. In spite of the reality of things like low unemployment and high household net worth, over 75% of Americans are both dissatisfied with the country’s economic situation and worried about achieving their economic and financial goals. The concrete facts don’t support our fearful attitude.

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