How do I Answer This Interview Question: If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?

Interviewing can be nerve racking, a bit stressful, but super exciting at the same time, right?  We do our best to prepare, practice  and rehearse what to say and be well equipped to answer the typical interview questions, such as, “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, or “why do you want to work for us?” But, what tends to catch us off-guard, are those questions we don’t expect, the ones that are unrelated to the position.

But, there is a way to prepare for those bizarre interview questions! Really, you can actually have fun with them!

I will share a question that I was asked when I was interviewing for a marketing role at a large, well-known company.  My interview was with a hiring manager and a senior sales associate, and they asked, “if we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us”?  I felt like I was staring at them for an hour before I answered, but in reality I sat back and pondered for a minute on how best to answer. My first comment was, that I really like cooking and friends have told me that I am a good cook and an even better host!  From there, it was easy, I made sure to be considerate, I asked if they had allergies, any dietary restrictions, and if they enjoyed sweets! I proceeded to put together a well-thought out menu, right down to the dishes and centerpiece!  I also added, that our dinner gathering was more about the company than the food (they seemed to like that.)  By the way, the company was Disney Publishing, and yes, I got the job!

The reason these bizarre or unrelated questions are asked is often designed to assess your ability to think on your feet and get a sense of your personality.  People who interview you want to hear your thought process and how you handle challenging situations.

Think First, Then Answer

So, take your time when answering a random interview question. Your interviewer (or interviewers, in my case) has designed the question to be intentionally testing and won’t necessarily expect you to have an immediate answer at your fingertips.

Think about what the company does and what role you’re applying for and what the responsibilities are. If there is an opportunity to show off organizational skills, technical ability or math skills in answering the question, this is more than likely what the question is designed to do.

In most cases, these bizarre questions are an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity and about how you could approach the problem/challenge. Remember, there may be a number of possible answers and not necessarily a right or wrong answer. Check out this post about Rubik’s Cubes and 747’s for a similar approach to answering these types of questions.

Your willingness to embrace an unusual question and your efforts to provide a logical answer will be looked upon favorably by an employer, whatever answer you eventually arrive at!

This post was written by Christine Hathaway. Christine is an Associate Director of Marketing and Communications for Co-op and Career Development here at Northeastern. She is our in house marketing guru and is passionate about planning events, working with others to create powerful marketing materials and presentations and enjoys an occasional kick-boxing class or two! Tweet her about this post @CareerCoachNU.

How Do I Answer That Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

Do you know what your career path looks like for the future?

For many of us, this is such a tough question.  We’re just not sure exactly where we want to go, or what kinds of opportunities will present themselves.  But, sometimes we get asked this question, which means you need to be ready for it before you walk into the interview.

First, take a step back and think for a moment about the kinds of things that you enjoy most related to your past/current work, and take some guesses on what kinds of things you’d like more of in the future.  Next, look closely at the job description, and provide an answer that would be in good alignment with that role.  For example, if you are interviewing for a job in sales, but you are really hoping to go into PR someday, you’ll want to share an answer that is truthful and that also fits well with the job you are applying for.

In this particular scenario, here’s what you might say:

“While I’m not sure of the exact job title I’d like to have in 5 years, I can say that my goal is to further develop my client relationship building, writing and presentation skills. I’m excited about this job in sales. I’d like to really dive in and learn how to be successful in this role at your organization, then eventually branch out and see in what other ways I can assist the team. My work satisfaction comes from being challenged, pushing myself and seeing what new things I can learn and contribute to along the way.”

Sabrina Woods is an Associate Director at Northeastern Career Development and also has a private practice as a Holistic Career / Life Coach & Linkedin Trainer.  She has been in this field for 15 years and is a Husky (BA in Business) plus has a Masters in Holistic Counseling from Salve Regina University in sunny Newport, RI.  When not working at NU, teaching Linkedin or coaching private clients, Sabrina loves to hike, bike and kayak.  For more about Sabrina, go to www.sabrina-woods.com.

How do I answer this interview question: What are your weaknesses?

AD I dont understand the question

This interview question is often asked in conjunction with “What are your strengths?”. That part of the question should be easy to answer since it essentially is asking you why you’re a good candidate for the position. But weaknesses? Does the interviewer want to know why you’re NOT qualified for the position?  No. Is it a trick? Probably not, but  perhaps the interviewer wants to see how well you know yourself, or how thoroughly you’ve analyzed the requirements of the position and your ability to perform them,  or to see if you’re serious enough about the position to really spend time thinking about it instead of offering the throw away “turn a negative into a positive”. I beg of you, don’t follow that advice, it is just so much “blah blah blah”. BUT if you do go with that, please give it some substance – provide some good examples of why it is a positive.

A different strategy for answering this question is to re-frame it as though the interview question is, “What are your weaknesses in regard to this position?” this will give you a focus to work from.  Maybe the job or internship you’re applying to is a little bit of a stretch (which is a good thing), but maybe that means there are some gaps in your skills/experience? It can’t be anything central to the position, but there will probably be some areas in which you’ll need a little bit of extra support. Those are your weaknesses. Don’t stop with identifying them, think about what support you’ll need to fill the gaps and how long you think you’ll need it.

Examples of a good response:

For a position that requires significant participation in two teams:

I prefer working independently, but I appreciate the value of working in teams, so 6 months ago I volunteered to participate in a team that is working on a small research project. I’ve been surprised that I’m becoming accustomed to and enjoy this work model. For this position I think it would be helpful if I could begin by working with one of the teams and then in a few weeks add in the second team.

Conversely for a position that requires working independently:

In my classes and activities I have most often worked with other students and enjoyed close faculty or leader supervision and was uncomfortable making decisions and carrying them out on my own. I realized that I might not always be able to do that, so this semester I completed an independent study project.  My professor was out of the country for a portion of the semester so we had 2 meetings early in the semester, then while she was away we had 2 Skype appointments and a few emails. As I result I have started to enjoy and become more comfortable making decisions on my own. For this position I think it would be helpful if my supervisor would remind me to work on problems and develop solutions on my own before seeking her advice. I think it would take a few weeks before I will be comfortable working independently.

This post was written by Kate Famulari. Kate is an Associate Director of Career Development here at Northeastern. She is our in house government job guru and is passionate about helping Northeastern students find meaningful careers! Tweet her about this post @CareerCoachNU.

How Do I Answer This Interview Question: How many Rubik’s Cubes fit inside an airplane?

rubiks-cube-329546_1280

Umm wait what? I thought this was a job interview, not a test of my knowledge about the iconic puzzle cube invented in 1974. What in the world does this interview question have to do with measuring my ability to do the job in question? More than likely, the interviewer doesn’t even know the right amount of cubes that fit inside the plane, and probably doesn’t care to know. In reality the final answer isn’t so important; rather the interviewer is more concerned with how you got to that answer! This kind of question may be asked to gauge your problem solving ability and how well you deal with vague situations.

There are a lot of unknowns in this question, and that is the point. If you are presented with a situational question like this, clarify! Ask questions about the problem to help you better understand the answer you are about to give. Thinking “out loud” (sorry introverts!) in this setting will allow the interviewer a peek inside your thought process so they can follow along as you solve the problem. Remember, the math, and final answers may not always add up for this type of question and that’s ok!

Example:

You: Before I give an answer I feel is correct, I’d like to ask a few clarifying questions. What model airplane is this?

Interviewer: It is a Boeing 747.

You: Great, and could you tell me more about this 747? Is it fully loaded with passengers and luggage? How many seats does it have? Is it totally gutted and we are just filling the empty shell?

Interviewer: This 747 is totally empty. There is no luggage, passengers or seats in the plane. For this problem we are curious about how many cubes can fit in the hollow shell of the 747.

You: Perfect, can you tell me more about the cube? Is it a standard sized cube? Could you give me the specific dimensions of the cubes that we will be filling the plane with?

Interviewer: Sure, the Rubik’s Cubes are 3x3x3 inches.

You: Fantastic! So to summarize, we are assuming that this 747 is empty, with no people luggage or furnishings inside, and the volume of each cube is 27. With this knowledge, I my best estimate would be roughly 150,000 Rubik’s Cubes inside the 747.

And there you have it! Just remember that these types of questions are less concerned with the actual answer, but more about how you arrive at the answer. Happy interviewing!

Mike Ariale is the Assistant Director of Career Development & Social Media at Northeastern University. He specializes in disability employment issues, and works with many other diversity initiatives on campus. When not at work, you can find doing heavy bag work at the boxing gym, hanging out at the latest SoFar concert, or enjoying Boston’s foodie scene! Tweet him @CareerCoachNU

That end of the interview dreaded question…. Do you have any questions for us??

Interview Questions

It would be easy to take this question literally, and think to yourself, I just want to get out of this interview, so you say “no, I don’t have any questions for you.”

Bad idea! You want to leave the employer with the impression you are the one for the job and that requires you to ask more questions!

Why does the interviewer ask this question?  To find out if you can step back from the long hours of interviewing and ask some broad processing questions. In a nutshell, the interviewer wants to know how you think.

This is a great opportunity for you to not only show them that you are a big picture thinker but you’ll also find out if your need to tell them anything more about yourself!

So, what are some good questions you can ask?

  1. Tell me more about the culture of the office or company? Or how would you describe the culture of the office or company? (You want to make sure this is the right fit for you too.)
  1. What are the opportunities for professional development? How do you develop your employees to take on more responsibilities?? (You are exploring advancement opportunities.)
  1. I read that your company is moving in X direction, or just made X acquisition; can you tell me more about that and how it might impact the company both short and long-term? (You’re showing them that you have done your research on the company.)
  1. What do you see as the greatest challenges for your company over the next 5 years? (Again, you want to learn more about the company.)
  1. Are there any special projects coming up that you’d want me to work on if I got the job? (You’re showing your interest in the job.)

And finally….

  1. Is there anything you need to know about me that will help you to make a decision?
  1. What happens next in this process? (You want to know the timing of their decision.)

Sharri Harmel works in career development at Northeastern University, acting as the liaison to the College of Engineering. She loves international travel, creative thinkers and good books, all with equal passion. Tweet at her about the article @careercoachNU!

How Do I Answer This: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

dont know what i'm doing

“Uhh, good question”: A great way to buy yourself a second to organize your thoughts, not so great when you actually don’t know the answer to the interview question. Every Thursday, throughout the summer we’ll tackle a hard-to-answer interview question as part of our Summer Interview Crash Course series on the blog.

This week’s question:  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“Um, working here?” Well, yes and no. This question is really trying to gauge how much you’ve thought about how this job will align with your long term goals. It should also speak to your professional ambition as well as your ability to think about both the short and long-term. Even if you picture yourself running your own business or perhaps in the interviewer’s shoes, you can’t really say those things out loud. I’d still suggest being honest about your ambition, but focus it more on how this position would support your long term goals. You can keep you answers relatively general, but be prepared if they decide to push for more details.

Example: Eventually I would love to be leading my own sales team. Based on my research and from talking to others in the industry, *name of company* really invests in the career growth of their employees and many people who start off in this position eventually move into a more managerial role.

You could then ask the interviewer to expand on the career trajectory of this role, but it is likely that they will take the lead and agree with you and tell you some success stories.

Kelly is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach. She is also the “blog master” for The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University (Go Huskies!) with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Tweet her @kellydscott4.

Ten Top Tips to a Winning Case Interview!

picjumbo.com_HNCK3988Whether you’re studying Business, Engineering, or Computer Science, you may likely have to master the case interview.  Depending on the organization and your interviewer, it may either be the format of your whole internship or after graduation interview, or a part of your overall interview experience. Kudos to our employer partners and presenters as these tips have been adapted from Case Interviewing workshops presented by Liberty Mutual and Vistaprint, as well as from Northeastern University faculty presenters and a panelist who was a student Case Competition Winner.

Here are the Top Ten Tips to Ace Your Case!

1. How long do you have for your case?

Many employers will do a 45 minute or a 30 minute case question. Having an understanding of approximately what you have to work with for time is important.  It’s also absolutely fine to take 45 seconds to collect your thoughts before starting to tackle the question. Moreover, often, it’s expected!

2. What are some of the issues at the core of your case?

Be sure you understand the case. Does it pivot around a new market entry or product launch, a finance, technology, or innovation case, or does it have multiple overlaps to other areas? What framework are you going to use? While professionals sometimes disagree on the importance of deciding on a framework, identifying the business problem(s) at the crux of your case, as well as your hypothesis, helps you determine your strategy and a structure for your answer. This is true whether you are tackling a case as part of an internship interview, or for an awesome after graduation opportunity!

3. Ask questions and take notes.

Your interviewer will often give you the bare bones of a case, sometimes as little information as possible. They may take two to three minutes to provide an overview. You can help yourself to excel by asking good questions. Great questions include:  how are you measuring success? Is it solely profit or are there other metrics or criteria? What are some of the “barriers to entry”? Are the competitors across the street—literally? Do you need capital? What questions are priorities to ask versus optional? Asking questions, determining shared assumptions, and eliciting clarifying information demonstrates strong analytical skills. Expect some push back and be prepared to support your answers.

4. Put some math around it!

While your analytical skills are undoubtedly super, you’ll impress your interviewer more if you back up your answers by showing strong quantitative skills. Starting with a conceptual understanding of the case is fine. However, you can be sure your prospective employer is looking to see if you can do the math!

5. Show your strategic thinking abilities.

Case interviews allow applicants to shine when they can use their strategic thinking skills to adapt and change gears quickly in analyzing business situations.  Flexing your strategic thinking skills is important, no matter what type of interview you are on and it’s absolutely critical on internship or after graduation case interviews. While some questions are more brainteasers (“how many balloons would it take to fill this interview room”—a real question asked of an applicant!), the case questions we’re focusing on here are complicated with a lot of moving parts (“we’re launching a new water filtration product fall 2015 in xyz country which is a new market for us…”). Whether it’s a brainteaser, a case about a new product in a new market, or something completely different, let your prospective employer see the logic behind your thought process, as well as what solutions you arrive at. Show them how you break the case problem down.

6. Think holistically about the problem.

Although your case might be focused in one area, for example, finance, being able to “connect the dots” to other functions like marketing, supply chain, technology or innovation management, demonstrates your intellectual capital and versatility, as well as the value you would bring to that prospective employer. It illustrates your ability to anticipate how different choices may have different impacts and may change the recommendations you select. Thinking cross-functionally will allow you to showcase your abilities and provide a stronger answer.

7. It’s not always about the right answer, 

it’s about how you frame the analysis. It’s about making a connection with the interviewer and being the right person, not just for the job, but for the team and organization. It’s about being the professional you are, especially under the pressure of a case. In some cases there is no one right answer.  If it becomes apparent that you made a mistake, don’t panic! Admit your mistake. Stay focused and calm under pressure. Don’t assume you’ve lost the job. Employers tell us that many candidates who have made a mistake will still land that offer.

8. Do what helps you create the right space to be in before the interview.

Clear your schedule. Do you need to go to the gym? Do you need to review your notes? Don’t go to the interview hungry and expect your best brainpower. This is great advice given by one of my panelists during a case prep workshop. Implement what works for you and throw out the rest.

9. Picture yourself confident and successful.

What you can control, control, and release the rest. There is lots of ambiguity around an interview. You can’t prepare for everything so prepare as best as possible and then create the conditions of your success by relaxing into the interview, enjoying the intellectual challenge of the case, and staying confident that you’ll be successful.

10. Use Your Resources!  See: Case Interviews on the Career Development website which has Interactive Cases, a YouTube Case Interviewing channel, links to company websites that feature case interviews, and other resources!  Check with your professors! Glassdoor is another great resource for checking out types of questions candidates before you have been asked at that company. Leverage all your resources.

Now go out and crush your next case interview!

Ellen Zold Goldman is Senior Associate Director here at Career Development and liaison to the D’Amore McKim School of Business. She loves all things international, as well as all things Business.

First Impressions, Or How Job Interviews Are Like Tinder

tinder gifSwipe right or swipe left? Most users of the dating site Tinder take mere seconds to decide whether to connect with a potential partner or to banish that person to the reject pile.  Would you be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take a potential employer much longer than that to form a strong impression of a job candidate? Being invited to interview for a job means that you and just a few other candidates were chosen, possibly out of hundreds of other applicants, to make your case in person.  Given this chance, it’s important for your in-person performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And that begins, and unfortunately sometimes ends, with your first impression.

gross cher reactionIn one study, 33% of hiring managers surveyed said that they knew within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they would hire a candidate. In the same study, conducted by Monster.com, 65% of bosses said that appearance could be a deciding factor when two of the candidates being interviewed are otherwise very similar.  Appearance includes not only clothing but hairstyle, hygiene, makeup and jewelry.

What you wear must fit well and be clean and in good repair, including your shoes. Select and examine your outfit before the interview so if cleaning or mending are in order, you will have time to do it.  If you’re planning to wear something new, make sure you remove the tags and stitching in the pockets or pleats. Be conservative with makeup unless the job you’re after requires big floppy shoes and a fake red nose.  Likewise, jewelry should be unobtrusive except if the norm for your industry says otherwise. Regardless of industry, skip the cologne or aftershave; you have no way of knowing whether any of your interviewers have allergies or sensitivities. If you smoke, you may not be aware of the tobacco smell clinging to your coat, clothing or hair, but your interviewer will be, and most likely will not be impressed.

Knowing what to wear can be tricky. Your goal is to dress like you belong in the organization where you’re interviewing, preferably on the more formal side. For consulting, financial services and legal positions, that means wearing a suit for both women and men.  In other fields, it is up to you to do a little sleuthing to find out what is the norm. You may look crisp and professional wearing your suit, but if you’re meeting with people in a much more casual environment, they could take one look at you and decide that you don’t understand their culture. Dressing up may not score in your favor if it isn’t what other employees do, since an interview is largely about determining fit.

When you walk into the interviewer’s office, be aware of your posture. Convey a confident attitude by standing up straight and walking purposefully. A natural-looking smile is also important, as are a firm handshake, a heartfelt “Pleased to meet you” and good eye contact.  Practice these things with a friend until they are second nature.

If this seems like a lot of work for the first 90 seconds of your interview, don’t forget that without that great first impression – swipe left! – your well-prepared interview talking points may fall on deaf ears.

Author Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2015. Email her at s.loffredo@neu.edu.

Image Source: Tinder Gif; Cher Gif

What should YOU be asking in an interview?

notesLet’s face it — Interviews are nerve-racking. Everyone knows how to dress and that they need to research the company. We’ve all probably practiced answering typical interview questions, too! But what questions should you be asking when the tables turn and the interviewer says, “Now, do you have any questions for me?”

Here are my go-to questions and why I ask them in every interview:

Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?

It’s great to know about your coworkers, there’s no doubt about that. This question is mainly geared to give a better understanding of team structure and dynamics. However, the use “I’ll” shows a confidence in your ability to get the position and crafts an image in the interviewer’s mind of you working in that role.

What opportunities are there for growth?

Whether you’re a co-op student or interviewing for a full-time job, nobody wants a stagnant position. From this questions, you can discover how you can move up within a company or what additional responsibilities you can take on. This question also tells the interviewer that you are eager to work and to grow as an employee!

How does the company measure success?

While this isn’t the most common question to ask, it’s one of my favorites. Success is key to any business and knowledge of how the position can add to that is key.

What is the company culture like?

This is, without a doubt, my #1 question to ask. On paper, the position could be perfect you, but are you really the best fit for the company? Really take their answer into consideration, because company culture can affect your happiness, work, and success.

Preparing for a Case Interview

art of interviewing

What is a case interview?

As you prepare for co-ops, graduation, and beyond, it is likely you’ll come across case interview questions during the hiring process. These are questions that pose hypothetical problems to the interviewee to identify their ability to gather new information quickly, process the information, and make an informed decision. They are most often associated with management consulting and investment banking interviews, but can also be used by tech companies (like Vistaprint), to assess critical thinking skills for a variety of roles.

Here are a few examples:

How many bars of soap are used each week across the world?

How many eggs are sold annually in the United States? (This was asked of me during an interview with an advertising agency in Boston.)

If you owned a flying car company, how much would you charge per car?

How is a case interview different from a behavioral interview?

Case interviews differ from behavioral interview questions in that they are specifically designed to examine your thought process, while behavioral interview questions assess personality traits and past experience. Case interviews focus on what you’re able to do now instead of what has been completed in former roles. Being put on the spot this way can be intimidating for the interviewee, but there is a wealth of resources available that can prepare candidates to successfully navigate case interviews.

Case Interview Preparation Tips:

  • Practice
    • Just like anything else, getting better at case interviews requires practice. Case in Point is an excellent resource, as is good ol’ Google.
    • Keeping a notebook with your practice case notes in it is a good way to identify areas to improve and provides practical review material as an interview date approaches.
  • Focus on the Skills Needed for the Position
    • There are many different types of case interviews (marketing sizing, profitability, brain teasers, etc. – see a good list) that can be asked by a hiring company. It’s important to consider the type of position being sought when preparing for a case interview question.
    • A company looking to fill a financial analyst role is more likely to pose M&A, cost cutting, or profitability questions, while brain teasers are often used during engineering interviews. Know what to expect going in!
  • Research the Company
    • Before every interview it’s always a good idea to search for “[company name] interview questions” to see how other interviews been structured for past candidates. This can help identify what type of case questions are often posed based upon the position being sought.

Tips for During the Interview:

  • Confirm the Desired Answer
    • Before starting, it is critical to confirm with the interviewer what the desired answer looks like. You do not want to reach the end of the case and realize the answer is not what the interviewer is looking for.
  • State Assumptions Clearly
    • Stating assumptions clearly and out loud will allow the interviewer to follow your train of thought throughout the case. This is what they are most interested in; they want to know how you think.
  • Ask Questions
    • Asking questions demonstrates your ability to gather and digest new information – a key skill for any role.
    • Sometimes important information regarding the case is initially withheld and is only revealed if asked – so make sure to ask!
  • Simplify (and Check) Your Math
    • Expect there to be mathematical elements to a case interview, but don’t get bogged down with it. Round where it makes sense and, when assuming variables, use easy numbers. Be comfortable with quick “back of the envelope” calculations and be sure to watch those decimal points.
  • Arrive at an Answer
    • Always be approaching the desired answer! It is easy to get sidetracked during a case. Always. Be. Closing (the case).

Additional Resources:

Kyle Risley is currently a Senior Marketing Associate within our Organic Search team. Kyle has been with Vistaprint for 1 ½ years and is also a Northeastern alumni who studied Marketing and minored in Economics.