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I’ve been applying for several key positions in different companies. The experience exposes me to different hiring managers who would raise at least three hardball questions during job interviews. What’s behind these dumb questions, anyway? – Puzzled Look.
A toddler seems to know all the questions while a teenager seems to know all the answers. That’s why an adult hiring manager asks “dumb questions” -- its easier to correct job applicants than to suffer dumb mistakes when they get hired. Further, many applicants in today’s job market give wrong answers because they’re getting easy questions than “dumb” ones as you’ve labelled it.
When I was active in corporate recruitment many years back, one of the valuable books that I used to help me process job applicants was a New York Times bestseller – “The Book of Questions” (1987) by Gregory Stock. I used it many times over to calibrate, formulate, and localize my own set of killer job interview questions depending on the type of applicant and the nature of job vacancy.
Stock’s 265 questions are hypothetical but imperative to help examine one’s fundamental values, beliefs, and aspirations -- which are keys for employers looking to hire the best and the brightest. When I bought a copy at a bookstore in the U.S. in 1988 -- I was with my wife who was seeking medical attention for a life-threatening illness -- the first thing that I read was, “Would you accept 20 years of extraordinary happiness and fulfilment if it meant you would die at the end of the period?”
That question about happiness and death prompted me to create many derivatives from Stock’s book like this one: “Would you accept a work assignment that pays the highest salary and benefits for one year or regular work with reasonable pay package that offers lifetime employment? Which do you prefer and why?”
What’s the point of this “dumb” question, anyway? It’s all about job contentment and satisfaction which is a time-tested poser in this age of job-hoppers. It’s similar to the give-away, ‘’Will you be a satisfied employee or a complaining pain in the neck?” which is related to a simple, but trite quizzer, “What gives you satisfaction on the job?”
This question is appropriate to organizations suffering from a high turnover rate. Except for those in the retail and service industries who swear by 555 jobs, many employers look for people who believe in a mutually-satisfying, long-term work relationship.
In my 30-plus years in human resources, I’ve formulated more than 100 killer questions to test people, but I’d rather yield this space to the contributions of active senior corporate human resource executives who are generous to share their own oddball questions on the following subjects:
-- Management of issues, mistakes, or problems: “Tell me about a decision that you made in the past that was a failure. Looking back, what happened and what could you have done to reverse the outcome?” – Ernesto Espinosa, president of Asia-Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management and vice-president of Energy Development Corp.
-- Work determination and performance: “When you have done this job and it is time for you to move on, what do you want to be known for in this job? In other words, what is the legacy that you would like to leave behind this role?” – Ramon Segismundo, senior vice-president & HR head of Manila Electric Co.
-- Support system and career development of colleagues: “How many of your (colleagues) in the last ten years have surpassed your achievements and what have you contributed to their success?” – Josephine Fernandez, president of Bankers Council for Personnel Management and first vice-president/deputy head for HR group at Metrobank.
-- Inter-personal relations and conflict management: “How do you deal with a difficult boss?” – Nic Lim, senior vice-president for Corporate Human Resources at JG Summit Holdings.
-- Thorny dilemma and no-win situation: “Suppose you are working in a family-owned corporation. At the beginning, you were told by the owner -- who is (also) your boss -- that no one is untouchable. Anyone who commits acts of dishonesty should be fired. One day, in a surprise audit, you find the owner’s daughter -- who is the cashier -- short of cash by P50,000. What would you do?” – Atty. Ranulfo Payos, vice president of Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines and chairman of Change Management Intl., Inc.
-- Personal development and character: “If there is anything in your personality that you want to improve on, what would that be?” – Atty. Tess Garcia, senior vice-president for Labor and Employee Relations at The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank.
-- Key learning and insights from the past: “If you are given the chance to travel through time, back into the past or into the future, which period would it be and why?” -- Elizabeth Canlas, vice president for HRMG of First Philippine Holdings Corp.
-- Expected compensation and salary negotiation: “How much are you worth?” (This question is tricky especially if you want the job badly but do not want to appear too cheap or price yourself out of a job offer, or appear indecisive.) -- Belen Layno, director for HR & admininstration at Fluor Daniel Philippines.
-- Another one one on compensation: “What salary do you think you deserve?” -- Jeffrey John dela Cerna, country head for HR and Regional at Avon Cosmetics Inc.
-- Knowledge of business and industry trend: “What are the good and worse things you heard about our company?” (This evaluates the applicant’s understanding of the prospective employer and its business, which is easy to do with all available information found in the internet.) – Raul Ramirez, vice-president for HR of Leslie Corp.
-- Stress management and decision-making skills: “Share with me an incident in the past wherein you had to make good and quick decision with limited information.” -- Leandro Cruz, manager for Corporate Human Resources at Emerson Electric.
Lastly, how do you respond with a winning answer to these questions? Let me give you this one-liner advice. The best answer must be credible, true-to-life, and measurable to the last detail. Your answer must stand the scrutiny of follow-up killer ones by your interviewing authority.
Now, if you want more of these dumb but contemporary questions better check William Poundstone’s “How Would You Move Mount Fuji?” (2003). It offers “impossible” questions that are intellectually-stimulating, even for those who are applying for non-management positions.
Here’s one teaser: “Suppose you’re hired as an IRS agent. Your first job is to find out whether a nanny agency is cheating on its taxes. How would you do it?”
DO YOU WANT TO CHALLENGE THIS ADVICE? Essentially, this article is for non-management people who may not have the courage to challenge their situation with toxic bosses for fear of retaliation or job insecurity. Send your question or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Rey Elbo on Facebook or LinkedIn for his random management thoughts.
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