Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interviewing Excellence: Strengths Vs. Weaknesses

Assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the job interview candidates is a clichéd yet critical question that interviewers ask. Most often than ever, they know that they will not get a viable answer for the latter. So why do interviewers even bother asking this question?

Let’s look into this! As a candidate, I will talk about my strengths ostentatiously but when it comes to my weaknesses, I will think that I am either too good to have any or I might just start blabbering my real weaknesses which (for sure) will not get me the offer letter. It is easy to note that the interviewer would like to understand what the strengths of the candidate are in order to probe and ask further questions related to it. The answer to this question will help the interviewer decide whether the candidate suits the job profile or not; however, when it comes to the question related to weaknesses, the underlying question in the interviewer’s mind is “Is there anything I am missing that could eliminate you from this interview?” Through your answer, the interviewer is also seeking to understand whether you have a continual improvement mindset. They also want to know that your current weakness will not impact your performance at work.

Questions related to your strengths and weaknesses could be asked in several different ways. Let’s take a look at them –


  • What strength of yours will help you contribute most effectively to this job?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Why do you consider yourself the best candidate for this position?
  • What motivates you? / What are you passionate about?
  • Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?

  • What have you learned from your mistakes?
  • What do you think will be the most challenging part in the job?
  • Tell me about a developmental goal that you have set
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What would you want to work on improving in this current year?
So how do you really handle these questions?

Before going for the interview, take time and assess yourself. Run S.W.O.T. (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities; Threats) for yourself and see where you stand. Speak with your peers, seniors, mentors, juniors, friends and family to understand their perspective. Don’t give a justification for any weakness that is highlighted; instead accept it and think of how you could convert it into a strength (remember, they are just sharing feedback that you asked for…it is how THEY perceive you). Apart from S.W.O.T., you could also assess yourself under the KSA Model (Knowledge; Skills and Attitude). After completion of this exercise, pick the top 2 – 3 strengths that match what the interviewer is looking for. Be ready with pragmatic examples to support each strength, otherwise, it will sound absolutely pseudo and made-up.  (The above exercises should be done to genuinely improve oneself in the longer run rather than just for the sake of an interview)

Answering about your weaknesses could be stressful. Remember, there are 2 steps to this – 1. The real weakness (that should not be a handicap for the new role) and 2. Are you already working on it? Remember, it is all about how you sell yourself to the interviewer (Ref my previous article). Pick a weakness that is accepted for the job. If it is a finance interview, don’t talk about how you dislike mathematics and if it is a customer-centric role interview, don’t talk about how soon your anger bulbs get triggered. Pick a weakness like, “I am great while speaking with people individually; however, I get the jitters when I am asked to address an audience. I have started nominating myself for addressing public forums in order to overcome this fear / weakness.” Another example could be: “I am very direct while giving feedback to my colleagues and this, I think has been a weakness; however, through different training classes / coaching sessions, I have realized that there are different ways in which you speak with people at different levels; plus, I am now working on how to provide feedback constructively, rather than bluntly.”

I have also had experiences in the past where what’s worked perfectly for me is that I talk about something unorthodox as my weakness or strength; e.g. “As a personal weakness, chocolates are number 1 on my list; however, it also becomes a strength, when I see that it brings people together. I learned from my husband that when you keep a bowl full of candies / chocolates at your desk, other employees who you might not know, walk up to you and introduce themselves (of course, the excuse is to pick a candy from your desk). This way, you get to socialize and become familiar with your colleagues.”

Preparation is the key, but don’t respond as if you have memorized the answers. Speak naturally and that is what will show your confidence.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Interviewing Excellence: Tell Me Something About Yourself!

“Huh…that’s the simplest question. I can answer it.” Well, actually this is one of the toughest questions that you are asked during an interview. The answer to this helps the interviewer decide whether he wants to listen to you any further. Since you know that this question is coming your way, you need to prepare for it well in advance. You need to know what you should share not only to build rapport with the interviewer, but also to show that your candidature is fit for the open position.

I believe that we are all born salespersons. A child cries and sells the thought to his mother that he needs milk. Through a matrimonial site, we sell ourselves projecting our most favorable attributes. Similarly, when we go for an interview, we are selling our skills and qualities to the interviewer; however, you do not have a lot of time to sell yourself here. It’s always good to be prepared with an ‘elevator pitch’ of who you are as a person (An elevator pitch is a very brief summary of a product / service / business, etc… and its value proposition). This pitch should not be more than 2 minutes long, so be focused and KISS (Keep it Short and Simple). Of course you cannot sell everything in 2 min, but you can pick the top 3 – 4 features and voice them. By asking you this question, the interviewer has not given you an opportunity to narrate a thesis about yourself. When you talk about this, the interviewer is not only listening to you but is also observing your poise, passion and zeal with which you answer. If you prepare well, you will avoid all kinds of verbal fillers (“..umm, uhhh, etc…), stammering or stalling while you answer your first question.

Now’s the time to start answering your first interview question. The interviewer knows your name – it is there in the resume / computer screen. Do not start your answer with “Hi! My name is Rosy Bansal….bhah bhah bhah”. Let me help you here with some great unorthodox starting lines…

  • I believe that……………………
  • My personal philosophy is…………………………….
  • Wow! That’s my favorite question. Well, I Googled myself this morning and what I found out was………..
  • The way people know me / recognize me is……………………..
  • If Bollywood / Hollywood would make a movie on my life, I think it would be called…………………..
I usually recommend these unorthodox ways to start describing youself because, think about it now, the interviewer has been taking interviews the whole day long. After a point he too starts getting bored by listening to the clichéd answers that the 30 candidates have given him since 8 am. Give him the opportunity to instantly have a click in his mind thinking “Wow…that’s the most creative answer I have heard in the entire day!” The key is that while all the 30 candidates tried hard to pull the sledge, you creatively invent the wheel… break the pattern…make him smile. Believe me, this is why these ways work.

Now that you have had a winning start, remember to finish answering this question with as much poise as you started it. Follow the elevator pitch with the PPF formula. Not Public Provident Fund but a quick reference to your present, past and future – what you are doing in the present profile, the top 2 or 3 skills you gained in the past, and what excites you for future opportunities. Researching about the company will help you talk about your future plans.

Moving on, try not to rehash your resume to the interviewer. He already has it with him and wants to hear what’s not in the resume. Don’t bore him by repeating everything. “Walk me through your resume” should not be taken literally. Remember to stick to your elevator pitch and ask if the interviewer would want you to elaborate any point. The interview needs to start on an engaging note and not a monologue.

You need not be a Mr. Humble or a Ms. Modest while answering this question. Remember, you are a salesperson…be proud of your achievements but be factual (it will help you have control on being a show-off). Remember there is fierce competition and everyone wants to get in, thinking that they are best suited for the profile.  

Your first answer could make the interviewer think that you are either over-qualified or under-qualified for the job; planned or disorganized; well articulate or a bad communicator; someone who is simply confused or someone who is simply a risk to the organization.

Beware, it is not a first date, where you ramble everything about yourself, it is an interview, where you think carefully, frame answers mentally and then speak.

As I mentioned in my previous article, practice is the key, so that you sound naturally convincing. This way, you will get a step closer to winning some mindshare in the interviewer.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Interviewing Excellence: Cracking the Telephonic Interview!

Couple of weeks back, my husband told me that he had some job interviews lined up for the coming week. All were telephonic to start with and that is what gave him slight jitters. Not that he has not appeared for such first rounds; but, a telephonic discussion can always have a chill run down one’s spine. You can’t see the expressions of the interviewer; at times you don’t even know if there is anyone on the other side (thanks to the dead air), the attention span of the interviewer is short-lived, etc… Yes I agree that there are many pros to it as well, like you can have your resume in front of you as a quick reference guide and Walaah…! You can always access Google that gives you answers to all questions and no one will even know about it.

Having said this, it is extremely crucial for one to clear the first step in order to move to the next. Let’s see what could be the different challenges that one faces while appearing for a telephonic interview:
  1. Reduction of visual cues: The interviewee cannot see the interviewer and hence it becomes challenging to understand his body language, level of interest towards your answers and whether he is making notes as you answer his questions. These visual cues help the interviewee interpret how to respond appropriately and as desired. It also becomes difficult to demonstrate your interpersonal skills. All you have as strength here is your tonal quality, clarity of voice and the right intonation, so use it well.
  2. Logging into a bridge: With technology expanding every minute, the use of telecom in communication has become widespread. Since more than the last decade, Human Resources prefers to send you telephonic bridge details of the interview which is to be facilitated inter-geographical boundaries. If one is not well versed with these technicalities, he may get thoroughly confused at the last minute…leading to an unconscious press of the anxiety / panic button. Fear not, the solution is to try dialing into these bridge details at least 30 min before your call. In case of confusion, connect with the human resources person in advance, so that he helps you out.  
  3. Accent Issues: Well, this could be a tough one! Asking the interviewer to repeat each time can be stressful not only for the interviewer but a lot more for you and could be instantaneously terrorizing. The best way to combat this is to do your WiKi homework on the interviewer. This way, you will get some time to prepare yourself on dealing with the foreign accent. Also, listen when the interviewer speaks…do not interrupt. In case of confusion, check for understanding. If you still don’t follow, there is no harm in politely letting him know that he should speak slowly in order for you to reply in the most optimal way.
  4. Beware of Surprises: At times we find ourselves in a situation where the interview call has landed on our mobile device prior to the scheduled time. Oops! That could get challenging enough, especially if you are in the middle of your current organizations meeting (how do you suddenly excuse yourself from your manager) or stuck in traffic and have not reached home or you have vegetable vendors in your locality, or barking dogs or blaring car horns… Well, smile now, coz what you should do, is shut yourself from any kind of noise at least 30 min before the scheduled time of your interview. Do not plan anything at that time. Use that time to prepare yourself mentally.

These were some of the challenges that we face during our first interview round telephonically. Let me offer some more tips and tricks to you which have been practically demonstrated and have led to winning results…oh yes, my husband and few others who used these tips cracked their telephonic interviews like a piece of cake (of course your content knowledge and subject matter expertise should be great as well J)
  1. Take the name and other relevant details of the interviewer from the Human Resources department that contacted you. Research him out on social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and don’t miss Google. This will give you enough information about him – his work experience, the organizations he has worked with, if there is any common LinkedIn connection, awards & recognitions and his social behavior patterns.
  2. Use a landline phone if possible as mobile networks can be less reliable. If there is no option, ensure that your mobile device is well charged and has complete connectivity.
  3. If possible, use headphones while speaking. This way, you can be more expressive since you will be able to make those hand gestures to yourself.
  4. Take advantage of the invisibility factor. Phone interviews are like an “open-book test’. You know what I mean ;)
  5. Keep a pen and paper handy to make notes on any relevant points that are discussed.
  6. If you are nervous, wash your face with cold water (the one from the tap and not refrigerator). This will cool you down to a large extent. Release yourself if needed.
  7. Prepare a list of questions that you may want to ask the interviewer. It shows that you are serious about your candidature.
  8. Do a telephonic dry run of the interview with a friend / partner (whoever). Better still, record this conversation. Take feedback on how you sound on the phone. You will get answers to questions like: Should your voice be modulated to sound more professional? Are you speaking too fast / slow? Do you sound nervous? Are you being able to project your personality the way you want it to?
  9. Practice answers to anticipated questions. Prepare keywords for responses to questions. Have a summary of the concepts in front of you.
  10. Do not eat anything or chew gum during the interview.
  11. When a question is asked, don’t jump to the answer. Take 2 seconds to frame your thoughts and then respond in a poised way. Speak slowly and clearly.
  12. Address the interviewer by his name at least twice during the interview…it personalizes the conversation.
  13. Confirm the appropriateness of what you are saying or clarify points of confusion. Remember you cannot see any nods or quizzical faces on the other side, so don’t assume. Ask questions like, “Would you like me to elaborate? “Have I given you enough information?”
  14. Smile while answering. A smile can always be felt on the phone.
  15. Towards the end, feel free to ask the interviewer on what could be the possible next steps.
  16. Finally, thank the caller for his time and subtly communicate your interest in the opportunity. If possible, send the interviewer a thank you note.
Wow! These tips should do the trick for you. So go ahead and take that interview call boldly and confidently. All the Best!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Learning and Development – Cost Center or Profit Enabling Center? – Part 2

Now that you have taken your first leap and convinced the business leaders that as an L&D professional, you can make a difference to enhance their business, it is time to move to the next most critical phase – prove what you said…in other words, ‘Walk the Talk’.

This is where the real work lies. Remember, in part 1 of this article, you did a lot of research on the business by spending quality time on the shop floor?  In this phase, you will put all of your research study in a document and then get ready to prepare your training content. Keep in mind that while preparing the content what’s important is not what you want to tell your trainees, but what they need to know to become more effective and efficient at work.

Start by preparing a basic program flow to understand the duration and the key topics to be covered. Bear in mind, that the business cannot release its people for luxurious number of hours. Be wary of the duration, keeping in mind the criticality of the business. If required, plan the session for (say) 2 days (depends and varies accordingly), keeping 1 as a business day and the other as a non-business day (say Friday and Saturday, giving them the usual Sunday off). This way, it will be easy for Ops to release their folks. Otherwise propose to conduct the training on off-peak hours of a day, or on off-peak days.

Once you have an ok on this, formulate a first-cut draft which you can share with the business. Take their inputs to understand if you are on the right track. If yes, take it further to organize a final cut for your presentation. If no, seek some more time to understand where the gap lies – this is a very critical step, so no compromises here. Keeping your audience in mind, don’t forget to add lots of simulations, activities and real-time examples in your session. Experiential learning is the key.

After taking a final ‘go-ahead’ from Ops on the content, take at least 2 dry-runs with the facilitator, to see if there are any gaps. If it is a 2 days workshop, prepare content for 1.5 days, so that you have ample time for extra role-plays, questions, etc…

While the program is being conducted, it is always great to have a positive kick-start from a business leader. Let him inaugurate the workshop and request him to sit through as and when his time permits. Once the workshop is over, conduct a mini quiz to judge the participants understanding.

After the end of day 2, it does not mean that your job as an L&D professional also ends. Do not cut the umbilical cord yet. Let it gradually decay off. As a coach, spend time with these agents on the shop floor. Guide them wherever and whenever necessary. Make buddy’s and let them help each other. Remember to keep them charged at all times, by making them realize what difference they alone can make to the business.

At the back-end, ensure that while you continue coaching them, you are also monitoring their performance, in terms of any positive shift.  Keep reinforcing this regularly. Also, start creating mini competition platforms to ignite the challenger within them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Learning and Development – Cost Center or Profit Enabling Center? – Part 1

The question is crystal clear, but is the answer?…Are we part of a fraternity that is an unnecessary cost to a company’s financials or are we, in the real sense, being able to enhance productivity towards the P&L graph progressing northward?

Digging some graves here would mean that we led a function that conducted trainings either because some employees were sitting free and had no work (shows the inefficiency of their managers and ineffectiveness of the recruitment team whose hiring forecast was crap), or because there was a new product launch / update, so functional training had to be imparted? Operations would tell us what training needs to be done, what should be the duration, what should be the content………and so on and so forth…doesn’t this sound like “Operations team rules us and we have no say in the organization”? Does it not make you feel hand-cuffed???

Well, the tables have turned now and for those who have not turned them as yet, you better wake up!!!

Our key motive should and needs to be “Optimization and Enhancement of Operational Excellence”. Now the question is what do you do? First and foremost it is imperative that we ‘collaborate’ with Ops, instead of ‘becoming their slaves’. This can, for sure, be challenging initially, but believe me, once this is achieved, you will take your first giant leap towards contributing to the business of your organization.

Now the next question that comes up is ‘how’ will you do this? Start by understanding WHAT is the business. If as an L&D representative, you do not understand what business you are catering to, how will you decipher the customer’s needs vs actual production? Start spending time with the ones who are directly dealing with the customers, taking it to the senior management level where you will see why and how a strategy is made to enhance business. Spend more time on the ground / shop floor and ask questions till you are 100% sure with what and how a business unit functions. Simultaneously, communicate with peers of other companies or other industries, to work around a benchmark. As an example, I remember, when I was with ‘X’ telecom company, I would visit the market stores of ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ also, to understand what we were doing great or not too great. This helps in generating the needs for development and coaching.

Once you have good hold on the business acumen front, you will be more confident to walk up to your business leaders, stating (with numbers, figures and other data) the training needs of that unit. Explain to them that if the attrition right now is 40%, then what is it that L&D will do to bring this number to 20% and keep a turnaround time against it. You need to convince them through data only (they hate listening to English ‘gyaan’) that we can help your sales figures shoot up by 5 or 10%...Even a small positive movement will make a huge difference to the monthly / quarterly / annual P& L sheet.  

(…To be continued)