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I think I have just bungled my first job interview for the year. In response to the question, "What's the best way to motivate a team?" I said, "Pay them a lot and randomly fire one or two of them from time to time."
 
I think they were expecting something more along the lines of "establish a high performance culture and reward goal-driven achievements" or some such management nonsense.
 
That's the thing with job interviews. You're not really supposed to answer the questions truthfully. For example, when they ask you why you are considering a change of role, the answer is obviously that you're doing it for the money. And everybody knows that of course, but you can't say so. You must say something about how much you admire their institution, the excitement of a new challenge, the opportunity to develop your career. That sort of thing.
I recently interviewed a very nice young lady for a role on my team. It was all going very well until I asked her why she was considering leaving her current role. She answered that she didn't get along very well with her boss and the rest of the team. Despite the fact that this is probably a pretty common reason for wanting to leave a job, saying this in a job interview is a pretty good way to not get hired. Who wants to hire a person who's hard to get on with?
I know from having interviewed many hopeful young bankers that, while interviewers ask pretty much the same questions, many people seem not to know the answers. So to save you from wasting your time wondering what to say I'm going to give you the answers.
The first question you'll be asked is something banal like "How are you?" Obviously the answer is not "pretty nervous, a little bit worried about my tie, and generally hoping you haven't read my CV too closely". But it's also not "good" or "fine". This question is designed to give you the opportunity to say something chatty. So, you should say something like "Great thanks. These are really nice offices, how long have you been in this building?" or "I'm fine. I'm glad you're nearby, the weather outside is shocking." Get it?
Then, on the job-related stuff, the answer to "Why are you interested in working for our bank?" is not "You gave me an interview." It's "Your institution is a world-leader and offers great opportunities."
Doesn't matter if it's true.
If you are asked what your strongest attribute is, resist the urge to say "coming up with sensible answers to inane questions". Instead talk about your work ethic, that you are a great team player, and a great leader, and always focused on performing at a high level. Slightly more amusing answers I have heard to this question are "I'm very decisive I think" and "My strongest attribute is my strength".
There is one question that really is difficult to answer, and that is "What are your salary expectations?" There is no good answer. If you tell them a number that is lower than they were planning on offering, you cost yourself money. If you tell them a higher figure, then they'll think you're too expensive and you will have cost yourself a job. What you really want to know is how much they are planning to offer you, so you answer by saying that you expect to be paid "in line with the market".
And don't fall for them asking you what you think the "market" is. They know that much better than you do.
The best way to make a bad impression is to write something on your CV that you're not ready to be cross-examined on. In an interview I asked a candidate, who had listed "reading" as an interest, who his favourite author was. "I haven't been doing much reading lately," was his disappointing answer.
I pressed on, trying to give him the chance to rescue himself. "So what was the last book you read?" I asked. Alas, all he could come up with was "I can't remember".
Although our employees generally need to know how to read, being a "reader" is not an important criterion. But having the sense to not write things on your CV that aren't true certainly is. Of course, if he had said that the mysterious "Alan Alanson" was his favourite author, he would have pretty much have ensured himself a job.
 
When telling the truth will surely cost you the job
Sunday, February 10, 2008