The Jobing Foundation is proud to support the American Payroll Association and the American Accounts Payable Association through our job board partnership.  We happily support this partnership through hosting their accounting/HR/finance job boards at www.americanpayroll.org/job-board and www.americanap.org/job-board.

The Jobing Foundation recently hosted a webinar for APA and AAPA members entitled The Interview: Your Appointment with Your Future is Now.  The webinar was such a smashing success, that even spilling over a bit on time; we still didn’t have an opportunity to answer all the great questions asked.  This post hopefully will answer a few more of these great questions.  And maybe a few more readers will glean a bit of insight at the same time…

PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW

Q: ­Are there any recommended techniques to diffuse nervousness? Or the jitters during an interview. Thank you.­
A: Several tips here… First, be sure to prepare.  When you have done your research, know the names and spellings of who will be interviewing you, understand the culture of the company, and done some practice ahead, you’ll find that you’ll feel more confident.  Also, arrive early.  If you don’t know where you are going or the traffic patterns in the area, be sure to take a trial trip the day before even to allow plenty of time.  Being even one minute late can throw off your game.

Q: ­To confirm, is it OK to call the company that you are going to interview with to get names and titles? ­
A: Oh most definitely.  I realize that many recruiters put on their voice mail or on their advertisements “no calls please.”  This means please don’t call when you send in your resume.  In this case, they have somehow contacted you to set you up for an interview time.  It’s not only OK, but it’s considered taking that extra step when you ask for the names and correct spellings of the people that will be interviewing you. 

Q: ­If you appointment is at 11:00, what is considered an appropriate time to arrive and when is the arrival time considered too early? ­
A: It’s never too early to arrive (in the parking lot).  In other words, you don’t want to be pulling up to the interview just as it’s supposed to start, go get yourself a head start.  I suggest going into the office between 10 and 20 minutes prior to your appointment time. 

Q: ­How does the pre-interview discovery change when you are working through a recruiter at an employment agency and don’t have that “first contact” with someone from the organization? ­
A: You can ask all the same questions to the recruiter that you would have asked the person at the company directly.  I believe it’s always good practice to use your network to also find someone that works at the company.  Maybe in this case, you wouldn’t want it to be someone in HR, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared regardless of who is sending you in to the interview.

Q: ­If you don’t know anyone at the company you are interviewing at, is there a “right way” to ask to interview an employee? ­
Q: ­How do we best approach someone to ask questions about the company? ­
A:  In the webinar, we discussed the idea of interviewing a current employee of the company to understand the culture, what’s expected on a daily basis, and more.  If you don’t know anyone, use your social network to see who of your contacts knows someone and ask them to refer you.  Or, if you really can’t find anyone, take the time when the person who sets you up for the interview calls you.  You can certainly ask them some questions about the interview, such as “why do you love working at the company, what is the dress code for the office, and could you tell me a bit more about the culture?”  This type of questioning shows the interviewer of your interest and sincerity about the job.

Q: ­It will be ok to wear a pants suit? ­
A: It all depends on the formality of the company, and sometimes even the part of the country.  The rule of thumb is consider what you would wear on a daily basis on the job and step it up a notch.  With MOST companies today, the dress is more business casual than it was a number of years ago, so yes, a pants suit is usually okay.

Q: ­In interviewing for a position in which the job is currently held by someone that will be replaced, and the company is confidential, what can/should you ask?  Your hands are tied as far as asking about the company­.
A: I disagree.  You certainly can ask the person who sets you up for the interview most of the same questions.  Also, you can contact your network contacts and say that you are researching the idea of working at their company or a company “similar” to theirs and ask the questions in a broader format.

Q: ­How much detail should you put on your resume? ­
A: Resumes are a whole other subject from this webinar.  I would suggest visiting the Job Search Tool Kit provided by the Jobing Foundation on the Job Board page of either www.AmericanPayroll.org/Job-Board or www.AmericanAP.org/Job-Board.  There is a module that goes into more detail here about resumes including how much, what to include, etc.  

Q: ­ What is your opinion about resumes sent electronically and cover letters? I have heard that some feel that if sending electronically you don’t need a cover letter but to include that in the e-mail text.­
A: First off, you mentioned “opinion” and I 100% agree.  There are a wide variety of opinions when it comes to both resumes and interviewing.  So all of my responses are opinions.  That said, I agree that you do not need to send an attached cover letter.  One attachment in the form of a resume is enough.  Use the body of your email for the cover letter contents.  The reasons for this is 1) it’s less for the recruiter to open; and 2) some email software automatically creates a zip file for more than 2 attachments.

Q: ­If you are applying for a position out of state, how do you improve your chances for an interview?  How do you reassure them that you will travel for the interview?
A: One tip could be to create the appearance that you are already “in state”.  In other words, you can get a cell phone number from your carrier that forwards to your phone, you can use a return address of a friend or relation in the local area.­ Another is to be very specific to the employer in your cover letter about what date specifically you are planning on moving and when you will be in town for an interview. 

Q: ­I work in accounting for a company that has decided to close.  I do not have a college degree and I am looking for assistance on how to present myself in my resume to assist in being selected for an interview without having the degree.  ­
A: You sound like someone that has the “or equivalent work history”.  You’ll see this used in many job advertisements.  My suggestion is that you go ahead and apply for positions requiring this if you feel you can qualify.  Some companies are willing to look at work history in lieu of education.  Some are not.  So you may have to double the number of resumes you send.  Also, do not include an education section on your resume.  If you only include high school you may bring extra attention to the missing degree.  I always say that do what you can to get the interviewer to call you without stretching the truth.  This at least gives you the opportunity to explain your unique qualifications in person.

Q: ­What if the recruiter asks you “what are your salary requirements” during a pre-interview and insist on an answer?­
A: First off… know.  Know what the market range is.  Know what you need in order to make a living.  Know what you made before.  Then you can ask if they have a range in which they are considering for the position.  It’s okay to answer a question with a question one time.  If they ask again, it’s rude not to answer with something.  State a range of what you feel is reasonable and state that you are flexible even with that based on the total picture.  What’s most important to you is the working environment and company. 

Q: ­Is there a general rule as to how long a resume should be?
A: It depends on your experience, but we suggest 1 to 2 pages.  Only go on to the 2nd page if you can fill up at least 3/4 of the page and the content for the 2nd page is still relevant to the position for which you are applying.  Again, for more information on resume writing, we suggest reviewing the modules in the Job Search Tool Kit at either www.AmericanPayroll.org/job-board or www.AmericanAP.org/job-board.

Q: ­Should you put your salary range on a resume?­
A: Never!  Your resume is not the same as a job application.  Some applications do request this information.  Or you might be asked to provide salary requirements in the job advertisement.  When you do choose to include it, include a range in your cover letter only… not on the resume.

Q: ­How would you suggest getting into private payroll as opposed to public accounting?­
A: It sounds as if you are currently working in the government sector…  I realize that there will be differences, but in general the concepts are the same.  Take a few classes, do some informational interviews with others you know from your network that are in private payroll, and then start applying… You may want to adjust your resume to be more of a functional resume.  Omit the skills that do not cross over.  

Q: ­Many companies contact applicants via email to set up first interviews.  Can you provide some insight regarding etiquette for these situations?­
A: Consider this like an abbreviated version of the phone call.  Feel free to go ahead and set a time, and then ask if there’s a time pre-interview when you might call to ask some questions.  If not, ask if you might ask some questions via email.  Be careful to ask fewer questions, so make them impactful.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Q: ­Our company has affiliated with another company and we all have to go through an interview.  The interview is suppose to be for them to determine what we know within our job.  My problem is I know I will not be doing the same job. Not sure what questions to ask. ­
A: You have a real advantage.  You know the company culture and policies.  I’d suggest the questions you ask may serve a dual purpose.  You can ask them in such a light that the interviewer actually “pictures” you in the job.  Ask questions such as, “When I transition to the new job and knowing the skills I have, how do you envision me succeeding?”  Also, ask questions about the differences, what the new teams will look like, and what the company need in its employees now.

Q: ­Would it be better to memorize your question or write down and read from your notes, or would that be rude to read while in a interview­?
A: Oh definitely, it’s okay to write them down.  In the webinar, we suggested bring a pad folio with you in order to take notes during the interview.  I suggest going back a few pages on this legal pad and writing down some questions.  During the interview when you are asked if you have any questions, you can say, “Yes, may I refer to my notes?”  This shows the interviewer that you cared enough to take the time to do your research. 

Q: ­Would you ever discuss salary during a first interview?­
A: If the employer does not bring it up, hold off.  The first interview needs to be about what’s in it for them.  Spend the interview showing the employer why you’re the one.  Once they offer you the job, you are in a much stronger position to negotiate an even higher compensation package.

Q: ­Traditional questions also include what is your salary?  What if you do not care to answer that?­
Q: ­How do I respond when the interviewer asks what my salary is currently?­
Q: ­How should you respond when asked your exact current salary? or what benefits you currently have and what is your contribution to them?­
A: It’s okay to ask about a range.  Or just state that you are flexible depending on the demands of the job and the current market rate.  Remember, that the compensation includes more than just the pay rate.  It includes all types of benefits and perks in addition to the pay. 

Q: ­Is it okay to ask about company benefits/perks during the interview?­
A:  It really is not the time to ask about benefits or perks during the interview.  The time to ask when you’re offered the job so that you can fully evaluate the offer.

Q: ­Isn’t the question “What do you do for fun” considered of a personal/private nature?­
A: What you do for fun is not necessarily considered personal or private as long as you choose to answer it in a socially acceptable manner.  Such as you might talk about outdoor activities or what type of reading you do. 

Q: ­If you were terminated involuntarily through no fault of your own do you say that?­
Q: ­What if you were laid off?­
A: Terminated through no fault of your own or laid off are basically the same.  It’s when you are fired “for cause” that causes a sticky situation.  Feel free to discuss the situation in which you were let go.  Just remember to keep it positive.  And never talk badly about a previous employer or supervisor.  Even if you are terminated “for cause” it’s okay to discuss the positives such as what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, or the idea that it really just wasn’t the right employer or culture for you.

Q: ­How do you answer your career goals if you are already at what is considered the top of your profession? i.e. director of ap­.
A: Even when you’re not at the “top of your profession”, this type of question is really designed to see if you are going to stick.  You don’t have to talk about moving up.  Your career goals can include continual development within your profession in order to benefit your employer by improving productivity and reducing expenses.

Q: ­What tips can you give for older job seekers?  Is there something a person over 50 might need to do differently than someone in a younger age bracket?­
Q: ­For people who are more senior (55+), how do you answer questions about your career goals?­
A: Go against the stereotypes.  There are several reasons for “age discrimination”.  Some less experienced interviewers may believe that an older worker needs to be paid higher or used to making more.  In this case, feel free to openly discuss salary requirements to dispel the idea that you are over market. This is often the case when they state that you are “overqualified” for the job.   Others may believe you are less technically savvy.  Be prepared to show you skills and your ability to compete.  Build on your strengths rather than your weaknesses including your dependability and ability to take direction.

Q: ­Being laid off for 1 year, how do I explain today being out of work since it’s not by choice­.
A: In these economic times, this is unfortunately more the norm.  Employers are understanding of it.  As a matter of fact, the employer that you are interviewing with may have done lay offs in their company within the past 18 months as well.  You can explain that you had some luxury of being able to wait for just the right company and the right cultural fit.

Q: Would you provide us with an example response to answer an interviewer’s question related to why you were fired?
A: I suggest keeping it short and to the point.  Always stay positive.  For instance, the position or the company was just not the right fit for me. 

Q: ­If you have been working in an entry level position and are interviewing for a higher level position how would you stress your abilities when you really haven’t had any experiences?­
A: Oh but you have had experience.  All of us that are moving progressively through our career path had to start somewhere.  You want to stress the situations in which you have already applied the skills required for the higher paying position.  For instance, even though you may not have had any direct reports in your previous position, give examples of how you had to show supervisory skills such as mentoring, training, and working in a team.

Q: ­As an entrepreneur trying to get back into the corporate environment how do you go about answering some of these questions?­
A: As an entrepreneur, you’ve had to utilize a myriad of skills.  Oftentimes, this means you may have been exposed to a broader set of situations than your corporate counterpart.  Go with your strengths… explain your work ethic, your ability to solve problems on your own, and your tenacity.  I have found is that, if an interviewer has never been an entrepreneur, he/she may not understand the difficulties and the struggles involved.  Talk about your ability to overcome adversity as well as be sure to stress that you wanting to transition back to the corporate world is by choice. 

Q: ­Would you notify an employer of a disability upfront or wait until the 2nd interview to discuss?­
A: This is one of those situations where I have to say “It depends.”  It depends how visible your disability is.  It depends on how open the employer is.  It depends on how comfortable you feel in your ability to do the job with or without accommodations.  If your disability is immediately apparent, then go ahead and bring it up.  Talk about how you compensate, and especially how it might affect your work performance.  If the employer is actually openly recruiting from disability resources such as the vocation rehabilitation centers, then it might give you an advantage in some way.  Finally, consider your personal comfort level in the discussion.  Remember, they are not hiring your disability.  They are hiring your ABILITY.  Keep the focus on that until you get the job offer.

Q: ­On the questions for the Interviewer–is it really okay to ask why the person who had the job previously succeeded or not?
A: Absolutely it is.  It’s a pretty generic question.  What it reveals is your ability to know what is important to that employer.  The conversation does not have to bring up names or divulge specifics, but you can discuss what is it that they like or dislike in an employee.

Q: ­Should a person use the same steps when doing a phone interview?­
A: Yes.  Be aware though that a phone interview is a shortened version of an in-person interview.  You may want to keep your questions down to just one or two.  And at the end… DO ASK.  Ask for the next step.  Ask for the in-person interview.

Q: ­Should you ask the interviewer what the turnaround rate is in the company? Are there long term employees currently working for them?
A: ­The term in the HR world is “turnover rate”.  And honestly, most hiring managers may not know this specific.  An HR professional usually will thought.  This average rate varies greatly from industry to industry, geographic region, and external economic conditions.  In other words, just asking a percentage does not really give you a good picture.  I suggest just asking a generic question such as, compared to similar companies in your industry, would you say you have a higher or lower turnover rate?  And then follow up with why do you think that is?

Q: ­Is it appropriate to ask why the former employee left this open position?­
A: It is okay, but keep it generic.  You might want to ask some thing like, “What do you believe is the number one reason why former employees have chosen to move on from this company?”  This might give you a clue as to the culture. 

Q: Is it acceptable to tell a potential employer that you just had personality differences with your employer and that is why you are leaving or left your position?
A: As I’ve said before, keep it positive. Talking badly about a previous employer could reflect poorly on you today. Keep it short and to the point.  Such as I found that the company just wasn’t the right fit for me (or the position).  Maybe then add why this particular position is different, such as, “After reviewing the way you implement your payroll procedures, I believe that this is much more appropriate for my style of working.”

Q: ­At the end of the interview when asked if you are still interested and you’ve decided you are definitely not, is it okay at that time to say so, or should you wait to see if you get an offer from them?­
A: From my experience, it’s usually pretty apparent and you won’t be offered the job.  But don’t say so during the interview.  You may walk out and find that you’ve had a sense of buyer’s remorse.  Give yourself a day to let it settle in.  Then when/if you are offered the job, you can be candid and positive about that you’ve “chosen to go in a different direction.”

FOLLOWING THE INTERVIEW

Q: How would approach negotiating after an offer?­
Q: ­How do you find out what the company benefits are? Medical/dental/401k/life insurance…­
Q: ­How do you negotiate a salary?­
A:  Negotiations are best set up AFTER the job is offered.  When the job is offered, it is because you are considered their #1 candidate.  This puts you in the driver seat.  I’ve often seen hiring managers ask to start the search over again if the #1 candidate does not accept the offer.  When they offer the job ask what the base pay as well as the appropriate benefits.  Ask specifics about things such as what percentage they pay of health insurance coverage.  This helps you evaluate the complete compensation package.  For instance, one employer may pay a smaller base pay, while providing greater health benefits and 401k contributions than another.  If it’s the job you want, feel free to accept it.  However, I suggest asking for one business day to consider the offer.  This gives you an opportunity to really consider the pros and cons.  Finally, for most professional positions, there is some negotiation room.  It might be in base pay, an opportunity for a bonus, or even a few extra days off.

Q: ­Are there are special tips in handling a team interview process in that you are being interviewed  by a group of people at the same time. ­
A: Be sure to address each of the interviewers.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make in this situation is to address all your answers to whom you believe to be the most senior or the main decision maker.  A group interview, usually means a team approach to work as well.  You may want to bring examples of team work you’ve done in the past.

Q: ­If you are interviewed by different people, do you send a thank-you note to each of them or just to the key interviewer?­
A:  Yes.  You should send a thank you note to all interviewers.  Be sure to get the right spelling and titles of each individual.  If possible, ask if you may have a business card from each interviewer.

Q: ­Just a comment:  Once when I sent a hand-written thank you after an interview, after I had the job for a while the person who hired me revealed that when she received my note it made an impression that she could read my handwriting.­
A: I often will say “tell me the salary range that is being offered” and based on my experience and the information we discussed today, I may be better able to tell you where I fit within that range.

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