Be ready for tough interviews in today's tight job market Tricky questions need not be your downfall.

Career women

March 30, 1992|By Joyce Lain Kennedy | Joyce Lain Kennedy,Sun Features Inc.

Other than majors in engineering, computer science and health care, graduates this year may feel like a catastrophe has struck the job market.

How catastrophic? A federal recruiter who had signed up to pick graduates at the University of Texas-Austin called Barbara Euresti, the university's liberal arts placement center director, to announce that the recruiting trip was canceled.

It seems that his department has been eliminated and he asked if Ms. Euresti could help him find a job.

If you have friends graduating this year, a great gift is the encouragement to anticipate tricky interview questions. Here are a few with quick comments.

What kind of job are you really looking for? Don't spill your guts. Employers don't have time to explain banking to a person who would rather be a filmmaker.

Why are your grades so poor? If you cannot point to working your way through school as a compensation for so-so grades, discuss college as a maturing experience.

You have been reborn, know better now and will furiously apply yourself to the tasks you're given. Mean it.

What are your marriage-family plans? Say there's nobody special in the picture. Or say you're married but intend to delay children until your 30s.

One great answer for women: "I've worked hard for four years to interview with you. I feel lucky to be arriving on the job scene during a time when women have the fair chance to focus on their careers. Don't you agree?"

Do you think you'd be happy sweeping the floors? The answer is not that you'll be so good you'll be promoted overnight. Say every job is a learning experience, that you plan to dig in, learn and pay your dues.

How do you handle criticism? Recall a minor mistake. Then say you asked for advice on how to do it better and then did it better. Show you listen, that you are open to improvement.

What's the dumbest thing you've done? Another do-you-learn-from-mistakes parry. The formula is to admit the flub, tell how you've compensated. "I majored in art history, not the best preparation for advertising, but I have taken as many advertising electives as possible." Everyone fails. Employers want grown-ups who accept responsibility for failure and learn from it.

Where do you see yourself five years from now? Avoid answers of staying put or don't know. Instead, you see yourself in a job that permits continuing growth, ever greater challenges, opportunity to achieve. You hope to be in a position to "put something back into society" for the fine education you've enjoyed.

Can you describe a job or a boss you disliked? No knocking, no mocking. You didn't really dislike anything or think anyone was a dimwit. You're no troublemaker. Even in the fast-food sweatshop you learned a great deal about teamwork.

What is your job experience? The trick is to use the concept of transferable skills. Whatever you learned while flipping hamburgers, raising money for Sigma Q or rehabbing houses, explain how the experience transfers.

Martin Yate, author of "Knock 'Em Dead With Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions," suggests this winner: "The experience taught me that we all have a role in the company's success. If you were on your break but saw trash on the floor, you picked it up. You didn't wait until your break was over or for someone else to do it."

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