"IF YOU WERE A CAR ..."
BY JEANINE "J.T." O'DONNELL AND DALE DAUTEN
Dear J.T. & Dale: I have solid years of experience in accounting and after a recent move, have begun interviewing. I have found myself confronted with odd questions, such as, "If you were a vegetable what would you be and why?" (My answer was, "An olive because I could dress up in Christmas colors ... or I could wear basic black and hang around with my favorite Italian dishes.") Another question was, "What kind of car would you be?" (I answered, "A Cadillac Deville -- classic, powerful, understated.") I have no idea what my answers to such questions provide the interviewer. Can you shed any light on the subject? Incidentally, I was not hired. -- Regina
DALE: Well, Regina, maybe you're too funny -- J.T. can't stop laughing at your ...
J.T.: Although an olive is a fruit, not a vegetable -- maybe that's why you didn't get the job.
DALE: That's J.T.'s idea of a joke, and she still won't stop laughing, so let me get started. Managers realize that interviews are artificial conversations. As I tell the managers I work with, "The person you interview is never the person you hire." Wise managers understand this, and try to see the person's work, or at least discuss workplace situations. On the other hand, there are managers who simply try to shake up interviewees with offbeat questions. Perhaps the questions derive from Barbara Walters' question, "If you were a tree, what tree would you be?" A famously ridiculous question that unfairly stuck to Walters -- actually, she was interviewing Katharine Hepburn, who said she'd like to be a tree, and Walters simply asked what kind of tree, a clever response to an odd statement.
J.T.: OK, I've recovered, and let me say, Regina, that I love both your responses. If the two questions were from different interviewers, then it's an odd coincidence. Perhaps both managers attended a recent seminar on recruitment techniques. And while I doubt such questions will catch on as interviewing techniques, it's safe to say that it won't be your last experience with unique interviews. As clever and quick as you are, that shouldn't be a problem.
DALE: Unless, of course, you let on that you find them fatuous. Play along, but meanwhile, try to get a real conversation going by asking questions. My favorite is: "What kind of people do best here?" Ask that, and the interviewer might never get around to the stupid questions.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I quit my job in 2003 to stay home with our first child. Our son recently started school, and since then I have been looking for a job. I thought that it would be easy considering my experience in operations and project management, but it has been anything but. The problem is that we recently moved cross-country for my wife's career. I do not have a network of contacts here, and I am not a social butterfly. -- Cal
J.T.: Start by looking at all the ways in which you've gained new friendships since moving. Have you been involved in your community activities related to raising your son? In a religious organization? Reach out through these networks, and ask for advice and guidance on the best way to look for work in this area. The idea is to play the "six degrees of separation" game.
DALE: The history of "six degrees of separation" is interesting but lengthy -- Wikipedia has thoughtful piece on the subject. But back to Cal, who's no social butterfly. Here's one trick for shy people: Offer help rather than asking for it. Network by joining professional organizations relevant to your field and volunteering for committees and other endeavors where you work with others.
J.T.: Meanwhile, identify the notable firms in your area that employ project managers and call them directly. These are your peers, so introduce yourself as a newcomer who could use some guidance on the best way to find a job in the area. While not everyone will take the time to chat with you, if you can meet with even one, then you'll be able to ask key questions and have another start at constructing a new network.
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Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell.com. Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success" (John Wiley & Sons). Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
(c) 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.