Interview Insights | Key Question: How would you create a welcoming environment? [Template & Sample]

This is what 45 people looks like.

This is what 45 people looks like.

Interview Question: How would you create a welcoming environment for diverse populations?

I am coaching a former attorney, with extensive relevant experiences, who wants to secure an opportunity within a large university in the U.S.

Prior to providing my guidance on how to best answer this question, I want to say that this client drove eleven hours for a day filled with interviews by 45 unique stakeholders. Yes, 45 opinions! She will be interviewed by 15 interviewers at a time in a conference room.

As you can imagine, my client not only will have to know how to respond to the toughest interview questions but also she will have to know how to make an entrance, work the room, and remain upbeat throughout an eight-hour day.

As part of my signature interview preparation program, I researched all 45 professionals via LinkedIn. Not everyone had profiles. However, I ended up with 34 useful profiles. Now, our strategy here was to use names strategically. For example, I knew she would be interviewing with various experts including an officer, athletics veteran, online learning expert, and a student government representative.

In preparation, I wrote questions for my client to ask these members during the interview. I gave her targeted questions, advised that she direct answers to the expert, and then that she include the group in the conversation in an elegant manner (similarly to how a dinner hostess ensures that everyone feels welcomed).

That was the strategy. I also drafted 15 questions for my client to prepare for on her end. This question above is just one of them given the nature of her intended job.

Here is how you can think about this question in the future:

  • What subtle differences go unnoticed yet can offend members of diverse populations?
  • Is there a process in place for how your employer welcomes diverse members of the population? If not, then what risks would this put the organization in?
  • Are there regulations that you must comply with?
  • Which best practices have you picked up when it comes to helping folks feel welcomed and utilized?

Here is a sample response:

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that the organizations with the lowest turnover rates amongst diverse populations are the ones that incorporate a consistent onboarding and off boarding process.

After learning in great detail from my network about your onboarding process, I can tell that you’ve gotten buy-in from different members of diverse populations. They told you what it would take for them to feel welcome within their first 30 days of employment. I know about that breakfast with an affinity group leader. I see the value of assigning senior executives as mentors. I know that introducing folks to your ombudsman is one of the most effective ways to prevent escalations down-the-line.

I’m not as familiar with your off boarding process however I imagine that you are in compliance with state and federal requirements as well as privacy standards.

On my end, I’d do an audit end-to-end from onboarding to off boarding and ensure that we have the systems in place to encourage conversations so that legal actions are avoided whenever possible. Does what I said align with your current system?

The key insight is that you ground your response in facts. Although, the opportunity that my client is pursuing is particular to the role of diversity and inclusion, this concept is found across an organization – from the executive team to entry-level employees.

Interview Insights | Key Question: What are your career goals? [Template & Sample]

career goalsInterview Question: What are your career goals?

This question tries to uncover a few things:

  • We want to know whether this job is the right fit for you
  • We want to figure out if you are realistic, optimistic, or a pessimist
  • We want to hear how you think

This question can be asked in a myriad of other ways. For example:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 15 years?
  • What’s your long-term game plan?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • How does this job fit into your overall career strategy?

Regardless of how an interviewer serves you this query, it’s helpful to go into an interview prepared with a vetted response.

As you brainstorm your best answer think through the following pointers to ensure that you are answering the question in a way that furthers your candidacy:

  • If I secure the job that I’m pursuing today then will I have many opportunities to gain the skills that I will need to secure my next role? Name some of those anticipated opportunities.
  • If I research LinkedIn for executives who have 5, 10, or 15 more years of experience than I, would I find professionals who have taken similar career steps as I’d like to take?
  • If I compare what I need to be successful in the role I’m pursing (in terms of skills and experiences) with what I will need to have refined to secure my next anticipated or desired position…would I uncover too many gaps? Alternatively, am I not trying to reach high enough?
  • Do I have an overall career strategy? Can I articulate this grand plan to a prospective employer? Have I been following this road map? Where have I meandered and how can I explain those windy turns?

Here is a sample response:

The strategy behind my career choices has been to consider roles that engage me intellectually, include client-facing interactions, and value actionable analysis. I’ve used these criteria as my filter and this filter has helped me evaluate and decide on the best career options for me during each and every turn in my career. This role in particular ticks those three boxes for me.

For example, after speaking with Tom Bart, I learned about the green energy project that he is leading. If I were a team member assigned to this project, I would have the opportunity to speak with our investors on a daily basis. I would also have a chance to showcase my analytical skills to help us ascertain our current and anticipated capacity levels, and I would be working through complex concepts that fascinate me.

I imagine that this role would also position me well perhaps five years down-the-line for a job similar to Tom’s whom I admire greatly and have valued as a mentor for the last three years.

The key insight is that you think about your response to this question in a way that shows you are considering the job that you want and all the subsequent steps that you’ll need to take to reach that longer-term position.

Do any of these sound like you?

  • You already made it past the phone conversation with human resources
  • You have a scheduled set of interviews with a hiring manager, perhaps direct reports, and with a few cross-functional players—all in one long day or over the course of a week
  • While you are in the initial stages of a longer interview process, right now your goal is to get beyond your next important meeting—it’s at the top of your mind
  • The opportunity you are going for ticks all your boxes: you’ll get to bring your relevant experiences and fill in some missing skills that you’ll need to land the right job down the line. However…
  • You are struggling with really accessing the times you’ve done certain things in the past, telling those stories in short sound bites and making them relevant to the job you want
  • You want to demonstrate how you can be successful in those other areas and build the confidence that you would need to go after a position like that
  • You feel like you were just in a professional car wreck: only 20% of the company was left and you have voices of self-doubt playing in your head
  • You feel less prepared than in the past because you’ve been out of practice interviewing—you haven’t trained or rehearsed very much

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, then I want to say that I’ve helped many people just like you.

  • Are you ready to develop applicable skill sets you can immediately and effectively put to use landing your next role?
  • Want to increase your sense of confidence before heading to your next interview so that you can land your dream job?
  • Could you use an edge over the competition?

DOWNLOAD my Signature Power Hour Interview Program below:

http://melissallarena.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Power-Hour-Interview-Intensive-Melissa-Llarena.pdf

Interview Insights | Key Question: Do you enjoy working in a structured environment? [Template & Sample]

istock-unfinished-business-2Interview Question: As a creative professional, can you thrive while working for a client with lots of rules and restrictions?

This question comes from a recent cover letter that I wrote for a former executive producer and creative director who strongly believes that at all times two beasts have to be fed in any organization.

On the one hand, you have to feed the beast who desires extremely ground-breaking and unique creative solutions that addresses client challenges (almost always).

Meanwhile, you have to feed the beast who expects a financial return on his marketing investment. This beast also happens to pay the bills and a creative team’s salary.

Given my client’s 17-plus year history in his industry, he has witnessed many benefits that arise when a creative team operates in a world of processes and systems. Ultimately, it is in that world where a creative professional is empowered to actually adequately feed those two beasts.

As a result, if you are a creative professional who is asked about what it’s like to work in a more structured environment with visual rules, established logo dimensions, or strict client demands then apply this filter:

  • Who came up with the processes/structure? (Side note: ideally, you were part of that conversation or influenced the discussions.)
  • Why was structure necessary?
  • What questions did those processes address?
  • How much time do you think was saved as a result of those processes?
  • Think about that one time when you were able to conceptualize your best work in light of those rules.

Example:

I’m no stranger to working with clients who have multiple requirements. As an animator for a firm that developed educational online content for children with disabilities who were able to function at different levels, my clients asked for the best creative ideas that met certain governmental requirements. My clients received government funding.

Now, I could have seen those rules as obstacles. However, I try to embrace challenges as opportunities. For example, I was given a one square inch space in which my Clob character could appear, move, and exit the screen. My goal was to use that limited space in my favor. I created the tiny creature. The Clob in this instance would try to stretch the space. He would fall off the screen. The character ultimately poked fun at this limitation. The piece worked well. When children responded to a question correctly and saw this character they laughed at his silliness. They were positively reinforced and many wanted to repeat the animation because it hit their funny bone.

The key insight is to show that you can produce amazing creative work within an established system. Side note: This is a real concern that HR professionals who hire creative employees have expressed. The portfolio is great…however, will they be excited about working “long-term” on big brands with at times severe limitations?

Yes, that is Vince Vaughn in the photo.

 

Interview Insights | Key Question: What has been your biggest accomplishment? [Template & Sample]

interviewquestionsInterview Question: What has been your biggest accomplishment?

The truth is that my children are my biggest accomplishments. This certainly resonates with the hundreds of moms that I’ve coached back into six-figure opportunities in corporate America.

However, it isn’t the best response to this question especially if you’re a parent who left a full-time role to focus on your family.

The elephant in the room, if this is your reality, is the following:

Is she really committed this time to working for us?

When you think about your greatest accomplishment with this background in mind, I want you to consider the following moments as the ones to highlight when asked about your greatest accomplishment:

  • When did you train or coach a peer into a desirable role?
  • How did you feel when you earned your last promotion?
  • What did you miss most from your time working in corporate America?
  • Who was in the audience during your most important presentation?
  • How did you shape your industry?

The key insight is to identify that time when you felt professionally invincible…the moment when you made mountains move…time stop…or jaws drop.

This is not a question that calls for humility. It forces you to consider truly why you are seeking to return to corporate America. It has to be authentic. You have to believe it. It’s a bit of a test. If you walked into that moment today and were just an excited as you were back then when it happened, then YES you are ready to commit to working again at this moment.

Here is a sample answer from a real mom:

My greatest accomplishment was when I created the social media strategy for Boomer+ Many, Many Reasons that earned the 2010 Gold Effie. I partnered with multiple agencies to ensure a consistent offline/online effort and that campaign resulted in a +.10% increase in market share. The key to that win and success in media has been starting with a consumer insight, supporting it with data, and empowering clients to sell ideas internally. The latter led to my ability to consistently build strong client relationships.

Side notes:

Yes, her son is her biggest accomplishment. However, earning that win really showcases that not only is she a great media strategist and client partner but also that her expertise rises above that of her peers’ and she was acknowledged as the best in her industry. Needless to say, she has more wins to come. What organization would NOT want to hire her?

Interview Insights | Key Question: Tell us about your leadership style.

Business Background and symbol

Interview Question:  “Tell us about your leadership style and how you inspire teams to perform at their best.”

This question comes from one of my top clients who went through my rigorous interview preparation boot-camp however he is not the first interviewee who has had to answer this question.

It pops up quite frequently for obvious reasons namely – what company doesn’t say that it wants to attract leaders?

As a result, it’s important to think through your personal and professional leadership priorities, ways you’ve identified employees to lead, and reputation.

You can cop-out and use the very common and often quoted phrase and say that you are a servant leader.

Otherwise, you can talk about your situational leadership.

I advise neither.

Instead try this:

  • Reflect on what you have deemed to be priorities throughout the course of your leadership roles. Have you always been driven by that monthly dashboard? In that case, perhaps you were an analytically-driven leader or a leader whose decisions revolved around what can be measured.
  • Consider how in the past you have cherry-picked potential leaders to join your team (s). Were you mostly drawn to the quiet genius types who rarely spoke up during meetings but when they did they shared something incredibly brilliant? If this is you, then maybe your leadership style is centered around being the voice of aspiring leaders?
  • Think about the key moments in your career where your leadership reputation has taken shape or when it has shifted. You could have been a type of leader who believed in leveraging resources and experts whenever possible during the 90s and following the Great Recession you have prided yourself on being a resourceful leader who has maximized very few resources with great success.

The key insight is that rather than select an overused adjective to define your leadership style.  It’s better to exercise your self-awareness skills and think about truly what has been the secret to your success in the past that is relevant to the task at hand in the job you desire.

Here’s an example to get you started while trying to tackle this extremely common question for anyone who has had direct reports in the past (or plans on this responsibility going forward).

My leadership style has evolved as a result of the type of professionals that I’ve selected to lead throughout the years. My best hires have been professionals who are quiet. The ones who really don’t believe in marketing themselves nor their ideas. Some folks would classify them as “unlikely” future leaders.

These are the folks who are quiet in meetings yet when they say something it’s always well thought-out, hyper-relevant, and quite frankly brilliant. As a result of my hiring folks like this, I would say that my style is all about serving as the voice of humble geniuses whose ideas would otherwise not get air time. I’ve had multiple opportunities to draw out from my employees their best ideas and have continuously figured out ways to coach these leaders so that they’ve become more comfortable selling their best ideas.

My best example was when I encouraged an Account Supervisor in X firm to draft a plan of his idea of having IBM’s supercomputer Watson actually play against humans on Jeopardy. Mike drafted the road map that made his idea a reality. Actually, Mike even played against Watson on TV.  I can’t say how impressed and proud I was to have mentored Mike. Mike is currently an editor with Entreprenuer.com where he filters stories that are published in its Marketing Ideas section and has represented the publication on numerous panels.

Are you struggling with the best response to this typical interview question? Leave a comment below and I’ll provide the guidance you need to get unstuck. 

 

 

 

 

Interview Insights | Key Question: “What are you looking to do?”

Miniature business team having a coffee break

Interview Question: What are you looking to do at this point in your career?

Sometimes this question comes right out of the gate during an informational interview, a screening interview, or during round one.

It’s unnerving most of the time simply because it’s the first question that you might be asked and truthfully you were hoping the conversation would start by asking you to walk them through your resume because you have a clear response for that question. Continue reading

Interview Insights | Key Question: “What questions do you have for me?”

leader light bulb as concept

Interview Question: What questions can I answer for you?

This question touches upon my biggest pet peeve.

So much of what I help job candidates do rests on the idea that precise responses that are also persuasive will win over interviewers. Continue reading

Interview Insights | Key Question: “Can you explain the gap in your resume?”

Young Woman On The Telephone And ComputerInterview Question: Why did you take time off during your career?

My clients have a minimum of ten years of rich experiences.

It’s hard for me to imagine not seeing a gap in a resume.

The reality is that various situations necessitate stepping away from a traditional career.

Some of the driving forces behind these decisions have included the following: Continue reading

Interview Insights | Key Question: “Why are you leaving your current role?”

Interview Question: Why are you leaving your current role?

It’s easy to complicate your response to this question.

It puts you in an uncomfortable situation.

If you are voluntarily leaving then not only do you have to justify why you took the role in the first place but then why it’s no longer the best fit for you. Continue reading