Joyce Lain Kennedy
Career Q & A
August 31, 2012
DEAR JOYCE: At 43, I'm feeling like a has-been. I was at my previous job for 18 years as I rose to become a department manager. When my employer relocated to another state six months ago, I chose to call it quits. I'm beginning to think the job interview questions I'm being asked -- "In a nutshell, what kept you in that job so long?" -- are judgmental about my perceived lack of ambition. Help? -- G.O.L.
DEAR G.O.L. -- Beat the interviewer to the punch! That's my take, and it's what Matt Bud advises in a newsletter to the 40,000-plus-membership organization that he chairs, The Financial Executives Networking Group (thefeng.org).
"There are some problems for which every answer is a loser in some way. Staying too long at one company or appearing to be a job hopper are two examples for which there may not be any good short answers," Bud writes. "Of course, you always stayed too long or not long enough at your various jobs. No one ever stays the right amount of time."
Bud suggests that you spend time thinking about the "right" answer and trying it out on people whose judgment you trust -- don't just road test it during an actual interview.
In addition to having the best possible answer ready, Bud explains why you should be the one to bring it up:
"You get to present the answer on your terms to the question the interviewer is dying to ask. If you let the interviewer bring it up, the question may not be framed in the best possible way and you may not have a good way of bringing the question back to where it needs to be."
Merely hoping the question leading to a loser answer won't be asked isn't a strategy; it's a resignation from a potential job offer.
DEAR JOYCE: A hiring manager asked me a strange question at a recent interview: "How do you spend your leisure time?" How come? That's my time, not the company's time. Right? -- T.J.
DEAR T.J. -- This subtle probe aims to find out what kind of person you are. Avoid naming activities that seem incompatible with the job you're seeking. Do not, as an example, emphasize your urge to spend every single minute in the great outdoors when you're interviewing for a sedentary desk job. The interviewer may think you'd be exhausted by the time you dragged yourself back to work on Monday, or that you would be bored stiff by inside confinement.
DEAR JOYCE: A recruiter asked if I could I handle my own relocation costs if offered the job. I stalled, saying I'd have to get back to her on that question. What's the norm today? -- H.B.
DEAR H.B. -- Employers still pay to move new hires, but the degree of their generosity depends on who holds the trump hand. Today's trend favors a lump-sum payment to cover such out-of-pocket expenses as the packing and moving of household goods, transportation of one vehicle, housing for a defined period of time and a house-hunting trip.
Ask the recruiter for cost estimates of the move and fact-check them with your own research; start by browsing for "moving cost calculators." Don't forget costs after your relo: Visit "living cost calculators."
Always get the cost agreement in writing when you're a new hire; it's well worth paying an employment lawyer to review the agreement.
DEAR JOYCE: I was caught off guard when an interviewer asked me: "How much do you know about our competitors?" Since I work for one of them, I said I couldn't go beyond published reports. Was this the right answer? -- S.S.
DEAR S.S. -- Your guess is as good as mine. Did you get the sense that you were being used as an industrial-spy pawn to reveal trade secrets of your current employer? Were you being tested to gauge how loyal and closed-mouthed you would be as a new hire? Could the question have been a routine check on how current you are about what's happening in your industry?
Whatever you decide, it's a good idea to keep your observations neutral, not negative. This could be a question with a loser answer.
(Email career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at email@example.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.)
(E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.)
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