|Triumphing on Tests and at Interviews
A man with a violin case stood on a subway platform in The Bronx. He asked a conductor, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The conductor replied, "Practice! Practice! Practice!"
Tests. That old joke holds good advice for people preparing for employment tests or interviews. The tests given to job applicants fall into four categories: General aptitude tests, practical tests, tests of physical agility, and medical examinations. You can practice for the first three. If the fourth is required, learn as soon as possible what the disqualifying conditions are, then have your physician examine you for them so that you do not spend years training for a job that you will not be allowed to hold.
To practice for a test, you must learn what the test is. Once again, you must know what job you want to apply for and for whom you want to work in order to find out what tests, if any, are required. Government agencies, which frequently rely on tests, will often provide a sample of the test they use. These samples can be helpful even if an employer uses a different test. Copies of standard government tests are usually available at the library.
If you practice beforehand, you'll be better prepared and less nervous on the day of the test. That will put you ahead of the competition. You will also improve your performance by following this advice:
* Make a list of what you will need at the test center, including a pencil; check it before leaving the house.
* Get a good night's sleep.
* Be at the test center early--at least 15 minutes early.
* Read the instructions carefully; make sure they do not differ from the samples you practiced with.
* Generally, speed counts; do not linger over difficult questions.
* Learn if guessing is penalized. Most tests are scored by counting up the right answers; guessing is all to the good. Some tests are scored by counting the right answers and deducting partial credit for wrong answers; blind guessing will lose you points--but if you can eliminate two wrong choices, a guess might still pay off.
Interviews. For many of us, interviews are the most fearsome part of finding a job. But they are also our best chance to show an employer our qualifications. Interviews are far more flexible than application forms or tests. Use that flexibility to your advantage. As with tests, you can reduce your anxiety and improve your performance by preparing for your interviews ahead of time.
Begin by considering what interviewers want to know. You represent a risk to the employer. A hiring mistake is expensive in terms of lost productivity, wasted training money, and the cost of finding a replacement. To lessen the risk, interviewers try to select people who are highly motivated, understand what the job entails, and show that their background has prepared them for it.
You show that you are highly motivated by learning about the company before the interview, by dressing appropriately, and by being well mannered--which means that you greet the interviewer by name, you do not chew gum or smoke, you listen attentively, and you thank the interviewer at the end of the session. You also show motivation by expressing interest in the job at the end of the interview.
You show that you understand what the job entails and that you can perform it when you explain how your qualifications prepare you for specific duties as described in the company's job listing and when you ask intelligent questions about the nature of the work and the training provided new workers.
One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to have some practice sessions with a friend or two. Here is a list of some of the most commonly asked questions to get you started.
* Why did you apply for this job?
* What do you know about this job or company?
* Why did you choose this career?
* Why should I hire you?
* What would you do if... (usually filled in with a work-related crisis)?
* How would you describe yourself?
* What would you like to tell me about yourself?
* What are your major strengths?
* What are your major weaknesses?
* What type of work do you like to do best?
* What are your interests outside work?
* What type of work do you like to do least?
* What accomplishment gave you the greatest satisfaction?
* What was your worst mistake?
* What would you change in your past life?
* What courses did you like best or least in school?
* What did you like best or least about your last job?
* Why did you leave your last job?
* Why were you fired?
* How does your education or experience relate to this job?
* What are your goals?
* How do you plan to reach them?
* What do you hope to be doing in 5 years? 10?
* What salary do you expect?
Many jobhunting books available at libraries discuss ways to answer these questions. Essentially, your strategy should be to concentrate on the job and your ability to do it no matter what the question seems to be asking. If asked for a strength, mention something job related. If asked for a weakness, mention a job-related strength (you work too hard, you worry too much about details, you always have to see the big picture). If asked about a disability or a specific negative factor in your past--a criminal record, a failure in school, being fired--be prepared to stress what you learned from the experience, how you have overcome the shortcoming, and how you are now in a position to do a better job.
So far, only the interviewer's questions have been discussed. But an interview will be a two-way conversation. You really do need to learn more about the position to find out if you want the job. Given how frustrating it is to look for a job, you do not want to take just any position only to learn after 2 weeks that you cannot stand the place and have to look for another job right away. Here are some questions for you to ask the interviewer.
* What would a day on this job be like?
* Whom would I report to? May I meet this person?
* Would I supervise anyone? May I meet them?
* How important is this job to the company?
* What training programs are offered?
* What advancement opportunities are offered?
* Why did the last person leave this job?
* What is that person doing now?
* What is the greatest challenge of this position?
* What plans does the company have with regard to...? (Mention some development of which you have read or heard)
* Is the company growing?
After you ask such questions, listen to the interviewer's answers and then, if at all possible, point to something in your education or experience related to it. You might notice that questions about salary and fringe benefits are not included in the above list. Your focus at a first interview should be the company and what you will do for it, not what it will pay you. The salary range will often be given in the ad or position announcement, and information on the usual fringe benefits will be available from the personnel department. Once you have been offered a position, you can negotiate the salary. The jobhunting guides available in bookstores and at the library give many more hints on this subject.
At the end of the interview, you should know what the next step will be: Whether you should contact the interviewer again, whether you should provide more information, whether more interviews must be conducted, and when a final decision will be reached. Try to end on a positive note by reaffirming your interest in the position and pointing out why you will be a good choice to fill it.
Immediately after the interview, make notes of what went well and what you would like to improve. To show your interest in the position, send a follow-up letter to the interviewer, providing further information on some point raised in the interview and thanking the interviewer once again. Remember, someone is going to hire you; it might be the person you just talked to.