Russell Reynolds Jr. has been in the executive search business since the 1960s. In his new book, Heads, he offers advice about how to answer the top questions you'll hear if a head hunter comes knocking on your door:
Why don't you tell me about yourself?
This common opener is designed to see how you handle yourself in an unstructured situation – how articulate and confident you are, and what kind of impression you make on other people.
It also shares a sense of your career trajectory, and what you feel has been important in your performance. The only wrong answer to the question is, "What do you want to know?"
You need to have practised for this question, and be able to offer insights that will interest the interviewer and highlight your top accomplishments.
How long have you been with your current (or former) employer?
If you're a job-hopper, this can be a very significant question. "Excellent performers tend to stay in their jobs at least three to five years," Mr. Reynolds advises. "They implement course corrections, bring in new resources, and, in general learn how to survive – that's why they are valued by prospective employers."
Even if job-hopping occurred because you were in situations where companies were acquired, closed or downsized, that can be held against you. The defensive move here is to try to get to know recruiters outside the hiring venue, through volunteer events and networking, for example, so they can have a better sense of who you are.
What is your greatest weakness?
Give an honest answer, in a confident manner, and explain how you are working on the weakness.
We're considering two other candidates for the position. Why should we hire you?
Focus on the strengths you bring to the table, rather than worrying about the other mystery candidates. Make sure it's clear that you want this job and look forward to working with the hiring firm. Show your enthusiasm.
Tell me about a situation where you did not get along with a superior.
The wrong answer would be, "I've been very fortunate and have never worked for someone I didn't get along with." Everyone has situations where he or she disagrees with the boss, so that answer will only lead the recruiter to question your integrity.
Give an example of a disagreement and show how you presented your reasons clearly and listened openly to other opinions.
What level of compensation are you expecting?
This is often asked early in the interview, to screen candidates who want more than the hiring company will pay.
Mr. Reynolds suggests presenting your compensation history and saying something along the lines of: "I applied for this position because I am very interested in the job and your company, and I know I can make an immediate impact once on the job, but I'd like to table future salary discussions until we are both sure I am right for the job."
What are your greatest strengths?
Describe two or three skills that are relevant to the job, offering examples rather than clichés.
Harvey Schachter is a Bettersea, Ont-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book review for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org