Wednesday, April 25, 2007

No Buzz in Worker Bee Interview

I have not had to interview in over 14 years. The process has gotten even harder than ever.

I am, of course, worried about how I word everything. That in itself is stressful. I always say too much or don’t say it good.

My most difficult part is thinking of specific examples. What if I rack my brain and I do not come up with any? Help! I am frantic about this. I end up being general ‘cause I have no specifics.

When have I gone above and beyond or outside the box? I honestly don't. I go to work, do a good job, have good and bad days, gotten a few extra awards for ideas that got implemented, but I am not a star employee. I am a worker bee. I am clerical support.

How do you tell everyone how special you are if you aren't? I am honestly not trying to be negative.

But the hardest one for me is: Give an example of a conflict situation and how did it end. God, how I hate this one, because they are too personal and I avoid confrontation as much as possible.

The second hardest is: Tell me about a time you were in a team, what was your role in the team and what was the outcome? What do they want with this one? We had meetings all the time and I don’t have a war story for it. What can I say and how?

For “What is your biggest weakness?” I think I am going to use either 1.) I’m overly analytical and detailed (as in needing to know too many whys. I’ll say that I am going to note any questions to research but let go of asking the why. 2.) I’ll say that in department meetings I listen and analyze the details and therefore I don't participate much. Actually, which of these would be better to use and how do I not get myself into trouble explaining?

As you can probably tell I am terrified of the whole thing and need desperate help and direction. I am getting a lot of interviews also. My resume is good, my last employer is sought after and I know it helps that I worked there. I have skills to add to them, I just don’t know how to get the rest across without damaging things. So far I have had probably eight interviews and not one offer. I know this isn’t working.

by Honey Smith, Professional Life Coach

It sounds like you have more going for you than you realize. It's probably hard to appreciate this as you've been burned in past interviews and aren't used to describing yourself in objective terms.

I have clients quite high up the "food chain" in their profession who struggle with the very same challenges when it comes to preparing for important job-related conversations. Interviewing reminds us of our vulnerability and desire to please. As a result, otherwise confident and competent people can freeze up in interviews.

It's helpful to remember that employers generally want to hire the best person for the job and that they have their own fears about their ability to do so. If you can cultivate compassion for them, you may also be easier on yourself.

How to ratchet down the stress and move forward? Here are a few ideas:
1. Acknowledge your strengths
No one can make you believe you are special. And if you don't at least seem to believe you are worth hiring, why will they?

Since you haven't had success being "honest" as you see it, why not experiment with being "boastful"? How would it be to act as if the job skills you've listed do matter tremendously? Reliability, stability and being a team player are all valued skills, not to mention humility, which is in short supply in all too many organizations. And you have it in spades!

2. Enlist help to generate specific examples; choose words that will do justice to you and then practice, practice, practice.
Is there anyone you can enlist to help jar your memory about specific examples? A friend, coworker, family member; or even an HR person or coach? The key is to have someone who will get you talking about your experiences, encourage you to "try on" different answers in a nonjudgmental and supportive environment, and then hold your hand as you practice giving those answers.

3. Your biggest worry: how to answer the universally hated question: "What's your major weakness?"
You have no trouble listing the downside of the way you operate, but can't think of how these same qualities serve you and your organization. Once again, you're in with the rest of humanity here, since we don't tend to see our negative behaviors as serving us in any way. But they do.

So, here's another game to try: For each quality you see as negative, imagine how it possibly could be a positive. If you can't think of anything, ask other people to come up with some. The more people you try this out with, the more clear you will become on which answer you prefer to use. A nice perk of this process is that you will understand and enjoy who you are and what you have to offer that much more.

Honey Smith, Ed.M. is a Professional Life Coach who helps job seekers fast forward their careers, master life transitions and fulfill their potential.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Here’s a snippet from The Toughest Interview Questions by John Anthony

What are your weaknesses: The intent of this question is not to embarass you. They want to know how you live up to challenges. Be sure to explain how you overcome each weakness you mention. For example: I take on so many different tasks that I am not great at keeping them as organized as I should, so I know [sic] carry a PDA with me everywhere I go.

Mr. Benrick’s post, The 6 Most Frequently Asked Questions in a Job Interview, includes this tip:
Question 4: What Are Your Major Weaknesses?
This is a trick question. Most job seekers don't handle this one well. If you discuss what you don't do well, you may not get the job. If you say you have no weaknesses, the interviewer won't believe you. Ask yourself what the interviewer really wants to know. He or she wants to know that you are aware of your weaknesses. The interviewer wants to know that you have learned to overcome them so that they don't affect your work. Using the second step of the three-step process would result in a response like this:

"I do have some weaknesses. For example, in previous jobs I would get annoyed with coworkers who didn't work as hard as I did. I sometimes said so to them, and several times I refused to do their work when they asked me to."

You have answered the question, but the response should not end there! Using step three of the three-step process would result in a statement like this:

"But I have learned to deal with this better. I still work hard, but now I let the supervisor deal with another worker's problems. I've also gained some skills as a supervisor myself I've learned to motivate others to do more because they want to, not because I want them to."

Did you notice that this weakness isn't such a weakness at all? Many of our strengths began in failure. We learned from them and got better. Your answer to any interview question should always present your positives.

Here’s one more example of how to answer the “weakness” question. This comes from Ask Brad: What Are Your Weaknesses? by Brad Karsh
Here is an example of how you should think about answering the weakness question:

One of the things I'm working on right now is becoming a better manager. I've been a manager for a while, and I'm constantly striving to improve. When I first started leading teams, I thought it would be fairly easy. I was the manager, they reported to me, and all those working on my team would do exactly as I said. It didn't take too long to figure out that's not how it works. What I've realized is that different people need to be managed differently -- not based on how I want to manage them, but on how they would like to be managed. A day doesn't go by where I don't think about my team and if I'm managing them as well as I can. For every project on our team, I try to think about what support, guidance and direction I can provide, and then act accordingly. Sometimes I need to be hands on, and sometimes I need to lay off a bit. I know I'm not perfect at it yet, but I'm hoping with even more practice I can become a better manager.

Job Lounger, do you have a question? Email ( it to me and I’ll post your question and an expert’s answer here in The Job Lounge.

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