New Kind of Interview Questions in the New Normal

As more and more hiring avenues open up amidst the new normal, we find a change in mechanisms related to interviewing, onboarding and company culture. We have talked about onboarding, or more precisely about onboarding yourself in an earlier article. We have also talked about skills in demand for remote-workers. And now, we shall take a look at the new kind of interview questions one might need to start preparing for in the light of the post-pandemic world of work.

The interactions around the office space have changed, and there have been some new additions to the commonly asked interview questions. So, let us take a look at the kind of interview questions one might have to answer as the new normal brings in a need for new set of skills.

Let us see some questions, what the interviewers want to know through those questions and what you can do to use them to your advantage.

The chief themes of the questions will revolve around remote working, and the ability to self-direct.

Some questions will revolve around your experience of working remotely. Questions like:

  • Have you ever worked remotely? How did you adapt to the work from home challenge?
  • Which aspects of remote working did you enjoy and which ones were challenging?

The employers/interviewers would ask such questions to gauge your adaptability, your self-discipline, how you have set up your work from home environment, and in what ways would you manage hybrid workspaces. The obvious key is to make it clear through your answers that you can be productive from home, and show that you are comfortable enough in using remote-working technologies.

The nature of the interview has changed, and thus aside from a well-groomed demeanour, how you have set up your current meeting, your comfort with your equipment, care about the connectivity and a distraction-free environment will be the core things to be careful about, and they will be an answer in themselves.

Some questions will revolve around your communications skills. Questions like:

  • How would you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting?
  • How would you ensure that our teams collaborate safely with each other and clients?

These seemingly simple questions might be asked to gauge how you report and hold accountability. Moreover, organisations would also be looking for safety in the office space as well. Your answers should revolve, in addition to reporting and accountability, around specific examples of how you got things done with your team members, clients in your previous job when things were uncertain and members were absent.

Think of specific examples when you kept the client engaged through the uncertain situation, or at least how you plan/intend to do so.

Some questions will revolve around in what ways you took advantage of the situation.

The underlying theme is ‘how did you deal with a difficult situation?’

They would want to know in what ways did you take advantage of the various online resources. Moreover, they would also want to know if you took the time out to reassess your career and if there were any significant insights you had. Be prepared with answers about the various webinars, certification courses you might have attended, how you used your networking skills and if there are any new hard or soft skills you developed.

Expect questions about the extent of one’s comfort with a ‘return’ to the office and travel; keep your answers as well as potential alternatives and solutions in mind.

Finally, as a candidate, there are some questions you could ask to arrive at the right decision. Questions surrounding:

  • What technology will be used for the main tasks.
  • How communication will be carried out among employees, like details about online meeting invitations and scheduling, and who will be in-charge of those.
  • What tools and resources would the company provide to employees in case of remote-working.
  • Safety requirements and provisions made.
  • Return to office time-table and the extent of its flexibility.

Explaining the Pandemic Gap in Your Resume

In our earlier articles, we have charted out ways of hunting for a job during the pandemic, or onboarding yourself when you have been hired and there are limitations with the said process. Realistically speaking, many of us also had to leave our jobs. Many of us might still be on a look out! Worries might be creeping in about explaining the gap in our resume. Circumstances hit us and we had to remain unemployed and maybe we still are.

The unfair situation might be daunting. One might find wondering things like:

  • How can I explain the employment gap in my resume?
  • What to do if this gap keeps getting longer?
  • How do I make sure they know the gap doesn’t overshadow my skillset and competence?

Addressing these questions, let us delve into what one can do about explaining the gap year in the resume.

Be Honest about the gap:

The number one tip is to be honest about it. It might be tempting to cover it up or say something else about the gap. That is a not a good idea.

A lot of people have been affected by the pandemic when it comes to employment, and everyone knows it. Potential employers, hiring managers will understand your situation and it is best the gap caused as a result of the pandemic is made known.

One can add a little note or a small section in the resume letting the readers know the time period of the gap and that the pandemic was the reason of the gap. One can also add a similar line in the cover-letter. 

This brings us to the next point.

Highlighting the Brighter things:

The revelation has been made but how does one make sure that the gap doesn’t simply end up defining the resume?

The key is to making sure your skills, capabilities and certifications are up to date. If you took up some kind of online L&D while being indoors, add it! If you imparted your own L&D in some way, add it! If you attended any webinars, online workshops, training programs, add, add, add!

If the situation didn’t allow you to engage in much L&D then and you can do it now, go ahead and start, and add what you have started, mentioning the ongoing status.

If still your situation doesn’t let you have access to online L&D, make sure your skills and prior experience section are up to date and that you aren’t missing out on anything. You can still update bits about the soft-skills. Note that while additional L&D while staying stuck inside would be a bonus, it is still fine if you were not able to do any of that. Again, remember that potential employers will understand. But wait, we aren’t done yet!

Contacts and References:

Now is the time to use your references well. Talk to your mentors and seniors and ask them if they would be fine to be listed as your references. Potential employers will understand the gap in your resume and they might get in touch with your references. In the absence of recent work experience, a sense of how you are as a learner, how you approach and handle responsibilities will be a good anchor for the potential employers, which they can get from your references.

Make sure you tell the people listed in your references about job-seeking efforts and what you have been up to lately and how you have handled your situation. Keeping this bit about what you have done lately and how you have been handling the job-seeking is also a good thing to bring up during the interview.

And finally, even if you haven’t landed an interview yet, hang on and know that a ton of people all over the world are in the same boat. Keep up the fighting spirit and use the challenging situation to learn, adapt, and persevere more. Remember to keep developing yourself under pressure in whatever way possible, remember to be antifragile!

The ‘Fun’ Twist: Tackling Some ‘Interesting’ Questions

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In many of our previous posts, we have talked about answering those commonly asked questions well. Questions like “can you walk me through your CV?”, “can you tell me about yourself?”, among others. Answering these generic, formal questions is relatively easy because these are the questions we expect.

But what if we are suddenly asked a question and the answer is expected to be…fun?

In other words, how should questions like the following should be answered?

  • Can you tell me a fun/interesting fact about yourself?
  • What are your other interests?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

 

Why Such Questions:

The logic is similar to the one behind “can you tell me about a weakness?”. That is, the interviewers want to take a look beyond the candidate’s interview persona. Such questions give them a sense of what they are like outside the office.

Everyone is formal and serious during the interview, but the world beyond the interview involves undertaking tasks, managing teams, coordinating with colleagues, talking to clients and associates, maintaining interpersonal rapport. A well-rounded  persona, with proportionate amount of seriousness and fun won’t harm, right?

Such questions are thus beneficial for the interviewer to know more about a candidate, and for the interviewee to show a different side of their personality.

 

What Can Such Questions Do:

Such questions asking about interesting aspects of one’s personality give the person getting interviewed opportunities to:

  • Shift the interview from a formal question-and-answer session to a more conversational interaction. We talk about this more later on.
  • Talk about their hobbies (if any, given that these days people don’t have hobbies) and interests
  • Give a sense of what they would be like during out of the office formal events like conferences, dinners, etc,.
  • Talk about themselves as a worker by drawing analogies

 

The Shift:

This is one of the strongest reason to cash in on such questions, when asked.

Answering (and listening to the answers of) generic questions can get boring. It’s not going to be interesting beyond a point. Think of the interview in terms of rhythm. Changing rhythms keep us engaged. Questions which take a look about the beyond the professional life  can change the rhythm of the interview.

There are times of a calm, almost quiet rhythm, when one talks about the more formal issues, like their skills, their work experience, their strengths and weaknesses; there is a little rise in the tempo perhaps when one begins to talk about how one handled a difficult situation. The rhythm will get peppier as one starts talking about the “fun” things. It will keep the interview interesting.

 

 

How Exactly Is One Supposed to Talk about this?:

You have been asked something about yourself. Generic is the last thing you want your answer to be. Relevancy and specificity are some qualities to keep in mind. And the answer should connect to some aspect of your professional life in some way, be it how the interest helped you develop certain soft-skills, or how you got better at a hard-skill.

An example will make it clearer.

A: “I like art.”

B: “I like art. I am not a pro, but I like drawing illustrations based on the everyday things I see around. The last illustration was about the quiet that I noticed in my building when the electricity went off, and how the people came out to talk to each other. It initially started as idle doodling but now I think I have developed an eye for minute details and for making ordinary tasks interesting.”

A is too general. What does it tell about the interviewee besides the fact that they pursue art in their spare time? Not much. On the other hand, B gives a sense of what the interviewee pursues, what their view of the world is like, and what other skills they have developed in the process. Fun fact indeed!

 

Talking about a fun or interesting fact about yourself in a balanced way can give the interviewer a sense of what kind of a worker and a person you are. It can give a glimpse of your soft-skills, good qualities and how you act when faced with challenges.

 

Avoid These Mistakes: What Not to Do For an Interview

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In the past, we have talked about the things which should be done before, during and after the interview. Today, we are going to talk about the things which shouldn’t be done when it comes to interviews. In other words, we are going to talk about some common mistakes to avoid if you want an interview to go well.

First, let us look at some very basic mistakes:

  • Turning up late: Time management and a margin for handling unforeseen delays should be thought of beforehand.
  • Dressing inappropriately: This includes being over-dressed and/or under-dressed. Being appropriately dressed matters, not only because of the impression it will create, but also because your level of comfort in your own skin will be reflected in how you conduct yourself.

Now, let us look at some not so basic mistakes to avoid:

 

  • Not Knowing Your CV Thoroughly:

An updated CV is important. But what is also important is knowing what you have included in it.

As basic and even silly as it sounds, it is a good idea to go through your own CV and polish up on your own understanding of the kind of brand you have created for yourself.

A question like “can you walk me through your CV?” shouldn’t leave you clueless about where to begin and what all to include in your response.

 

  • Talking Negatively About the Current/Previous Employer:

Perhaps the reason you are looking for a change is because your experience with your current employer is not going too well. You can’t wait to resign and you are desperate for a change. Or you have already resigned.

Your experience with your current or former employer may or may not have been that great, but it’s necessary to remain as diplomatic as possible when asked about them (except in very serious cases). That is, if being positive is out of question.

Bad mouthing the current or your former employer can go wrong in multiple ways:

What if the interviewers know them?

What if it gives the impression that you are telling only your side of the story?

What is the guarantee for the interviewers that you will not bad mouth them in the future?

 

  • Not Doing Enough Research:

By this, we mean research about the company, about the position you are interviewing for, the work culture and if possible, also about who is going to interview you. Good research gives the impression that you are taking the process seriously. Bad research leaves you clueless, hesitant in your responses and often leads to misunderstandings.

Moreover, research also includes researching on some potential generic interview questions and preparing loose scripts as responses. While it’s necessary to give space to spontaneity, it is also important to be as well prepared with the available information and knowledge.

That brings us to the next point.

 

  • Not Paying Attention to Social Cues:

Remember, we are talking about a “loose script” and not a recorded answer.

As the interview goes on, paying attention to the social cues, the changes in body language, expressions is necessary. And it’s not entirely one way: as you pay attention to what the interviewer says, you could ask relevant questions wherever necessary, or at the end of the interview.

Trying too hard to stick to a script only makes the response come across as too superficial, too generic, too robotic, too mechanical and less human.

 

  • Not Directly Answering the Question Asked:

A question is asked because the interviewers want to take away some key points from your answer.

Many candidates might feel the urge to side-step a question, especially if it means talking about a not so successful stint. Questions like:

-What are some of your weaknesses?

-Can you tell me about a development goal you have set?

-What is that one thing about you which you think you can improve upon?

As we talked about the article about answering such questions, it’s a bad idea to dismiss the question altogether by asserting you don’t have any weakness. Also, you don’t want to talk about a weakness and then through logical leaps and play of words prove that it is in fact, a strength. This may sound clever but can make you come across as cocky and a wiseacre.

If you are uncomfortable answering the question, let them know but don’t remain silent.

That brings us to the next point.

 

  • Over-sharing or Under-sharing:

Sharing only the relevant information about skills and experience is necessary, no matter what the interview question is. Unnecessary personal details and digressions, using too much jargon don’t lead anywhere. On the other extreme, giving only generic or incomplete answers could also become a problem; you don’t want to miss out talking about the remarkable things you did.

In one of our previous articles, we talked about the STAR method, especially when it comes to behavioural questions. To freshen it up a bit, STAR, stands for:

S: The situation and its details.

T: The task one is assigned with.

A: The action taken.

R: The result of the action.

 

Keeping this formula in mind will help you make sure you don’t over-share or focus on irrelevant details. It will also keep you from going into the other extreme of not sharing  crucial bits.

 

 

 

A clear grasp of the don’ts will ultimately result in a confidence necessary to ace any interview. Sometimes, a not-to-do can be more useful than a to-do list!

How to Answer “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

 

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We can never talk enough about interviews. In the past, we have talked about answering some generic interview questions like “can you walk me through your CV?“, “can you tell me about yourself?“among others. Today we will discuss about how to talk about your weaknesses during an interview. In other words, how to answer “what is your biggest weakness?”

Some variations could sound like:

-What are some of your weaknesses?

-Can you tell me about a development goal you have set?

-What is that one thing about you which you think you can improve upon?

 

Why is this question asked, you wonder. There could be a couple of reasons like:

  • To try to look beyond your interview persona, wanting to get a more comprehensive understanding.
  • To see how self-aware and self-reflective you are.
  • To try to understand your standards of good and bad.
  • How you overcome a professional hurdle and a challenge which is essentially self-created.

 

Interviews can be really stressful and talking about one’s weakness can further increase the level of anxiousness. The following tips and cues will help you to prepare well and answer the question with conviction.

You can’t talk about each and every minor weakness you have. You need to “pick” a weakness which is real, relevant to the professional setting and fixable. Let us delve more in the three adjectives used:

 

  • Real:

The weakness picked should be real and authentic. You shouldn’t randomly “pick” a weakness from a Google search generated list of generic weaknesses just because its answer is readily available online and it sounds good.

Nor you should just invent or “borrow” a weakness you don’t actually have just for the sake of answering the question.

For your answer to be convincing and specific you have to talk about a weakness you think you actually have. Interviewers can generally see past inauthentic storytelling and generic answers.

But make sure to differentiate between a peculiar habit and a weakness. That brings us to our next point.

 

  • Relevant:

Peculiarly bad habits might be seen as a weakness in a sense but if they don’t interfere with your professional life in any way, talking about them is useless. After all, the interviewer wants to know how you overcome challenges at work and more specifically how you overcome professional challenges which involve just you.

For example, nail biting when nervous is a peculiar habit but it doesn’t really concern work.

Talking about weaknesses which will never even potentially affect your work in any way is useless. Your inability to draw won’t matter if you are not involved with the fine arts and graphic designing.

 

  • Fixable:

The weakness you talk about should be fixable.

Let us look at an example of a fairly quickly fixable weakness and one of a weakness that may take time to fix. Lack of delegating skills is a fixable weakness which can be learnt by simply reminding oneself to delegate and learning a few tricks; whereas a fear of public speaking is a weakness one overcomes gradually.

So when you talk about a weakness, let the interviewer know the steps you are taking/planning to take to tackle that.

A note of caution here: a weakness which goes against the nature of your job should get you thinking whether you want to go for such a job in the first place. Plus it risks becoming a red-flag for the interviewer. Could a salesperson who doesn’t have good interpersonal skills be a good salesperson? Or could a person who works in an ad agency afford to not be creative? Your shyness might be irrelevant in a job where you mostly work on your own but a hurdle if your job will involve talking to team members and large groups.

 

Finally, this brings us to how not to answer this question:

  • By not answering the question: No one is without a weakness. Make sure you don’t dismiss the question altogether by asserting you don’t have any weakness.
  • Mental gymnastics: You don’t want to talk about a weakness and then through logical leaps and play of words to prove that it is in fact, a strength. This may sound clever but can make you come across as cocky and a wiseacre.

 

Thus talking about one’s weakness could be seen as one exercise of planning self-improvement and self-reflection. Talking about a real, relevant and fixable weakness can help the interviewer as well as the interviewee in seeing things with clarity.