Job Interviews 101: How to Ace 5 Key Questions Every Recruiter Will Ask

Jim Thomason, vice president of human resources for Nashville-based Thomas Nelson, a publishing company, usually asks candidates what they know about this company.

This question gets at whether you really want to work here -- or if you're looking for any job with any employer. Do you know the bare bones or can you demonstrate a depth of knowledge? Too often candidates don't do the research, or they assume the interviewer shares whatever they need to know about the organization. Wrong.

The best answer will allow you to show off your research -- it'll be clear that you've done your homework because you know the company, its history, the trends impacting the industry in which it operates, and its top competitors. This shows you're very interested in this employer, not just any company.

Question: What is your five-year plan?

Another common one that so many people dread: Where you do see yourself in five years? Wrong answers: In your job, on the beach, anywhere but here -- even if that's how you really feel. Or you feel like saying none of us can predict tomorrow; how can we possibly know what's five years ahead of us. Not good either.

The answer should reflect growth with that company. "I'd like to become the best sales person in the company and help train other sales leaders. I'd like to be the best science teacher in this school system to enable our classrooms to be used as a model of excellence."

If it's a small company, you may try: "I'd very much like to help build this company's bottom line so I'm able to take advantage of the great opportunities that a growing company has to offer."

Question: How do you handle high-pressure moments?

At accounting giant Ernst & Young, Larry Nash, national recruiting director, is fond of asking, "Tell me about the most high-pressure situation you've dealt with in the past six months." These days many examples may come to mind.

We all face challenges on the job and in life, but we don't all handle them the same way. Questions like this one are looking for specific anecdotes and situations, not hypotheticals. What you did in the past, not what you might do in the future.

If you've been at work, your answer may reflect a tight deadline you had to meet -- one that was perhaps sprung on you with little notice. Or maybe you've witnessed layoffs and you've had to absorb twice as much work with half the staff.

If the question specifies six months and you've been out of work during that time, then your answer will reflect a personal challenge. Did you have to make a big decision about the medical care of a family member? How did you go about weighing the options before making a decision? Have you faced a financial challenge?

Without divulging information that's too personal -- and may reflect poorly on your candidacy -- think about how to best answer. Recently a jobseeker told me that her most intense moment came at Christmas time.

Since both she and her husband have been out of work, they didn't want to splurge on their annual holiday vacation, yet they also wanted to shield their kids from any kind of financial burden. They weighed the options and realized financial responsibility takes precedent--and they wound up planning an exciting holiday at home. Everyone was happy.

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