The employer wants to know about your adaptive skills. Are you easy to get along with? Are you a good worker? Your former employers and other references may tell of any problems you had-or they may not. As you know, many employers check your references before they hire you, so if anything you say as a response to this question does not match what a former employer or other reference says, it could be bad news for you.
Be certain to discuss your job search plans with former employers. Do the same with anyone else who may be contacted for a reference. Clearly tell them the type of job you now seek and why you are prepared to do well in it. If a previous employer may say something negative, discuss this issue openly with that employer and find out what he or she will say in advance.
If you were fired or resigned under pressure, you can often negotiate what would be said to a prospective employer. Lots of successful people have had personality conflicts with previous employers. If these conflicts are presented openly and in the best light possible, many interviewers are likely to understand. It may also be wise to get a written letter of reference, particularly from a not-too-enthusiastic former employer. Such an employer is rarely brave enough to write you a totally negative letter. The letter may be enough to satisfy a potential employer. Larger organizations often don't allow employees to give references; if you are worried about a negative reference, this rule may be a great relief to you. Check it out by calling your former employers and finding out their policy.
If possible, use references that will say nice things about you. If your exboss won't, find someone who will. Often, an interviewer appreciates an honest response. If you failed in a job, telling the truth is often the best policy. Tell it like it was, but do not be too critical of your old boss. If you do, it will make you sound like a person who blames others and does not accept responsibility. If you were partly at fault, admit it, but quickly take the opportunity to say what you learned from the experience.
"My three former employers will all say I work hard, am very reliable, and am loyal. The reason I left my previous job, however, is the result of what I can only call a personality conflict. I was deeply upset by this but decided that it was time I parted with my former employer. You can call and get a positive reference, but I thought it only fair to tell you. I still respect my ex-boss and am grateful for the experience I gained at that job. While there, I received several promotions, and as my authority increased, there were more conflicts. Our styles were just not the same. I had no idea the problem was so serious because I was so involved in my work. That was my error, and I have since learned to pay more attention to interpersonal matters."
This response could be strengthened by the introduction of positive skills along with an example that includes some proof to support them.
"Why Are You Looking for This Sort of Position and Why Here?" The employer wants to know if you are the sort of person who is looking for any job, anywhere. If you are, she or he will not be impressed.
Employers look for people who want to do what needs to be done. They rightly assume that such a person will work harder and be more productive than one who simply sees it as "just a job." People who have a good reason to seek a particular sort of position are seen as more committed and more likely to stay on the job longer. The same is true for people who want to work in a particular organization. A good thing about this question is that it allows you to present your skills and other credentials for wanting this particular job.
Knowing in advance which jobs are a good match for your skills and interests is most important. In responding to this question, mention your motivations for selecting this career objective, the special skills you have that the position requires, and any special training or credentials you have which relate to the position.
The question has two parts. The first is "Why this position?" The second is "Why here?" If you have a reason for selecting the type of organization you are considering or have even selected this particular organization as highly desirable, be prepared to explain why. Use the research techniques in chapter 3 to become as informed as possible.
An experienced manager or a sharp office worker could use this type of response:
"I've spent a lot of time considering various careers, and I think that this is the best area for me. The reason is that this career requires many of my strongest skills. For example, my abilities in analyzing and solving problems are two of the skills I enjoy using most. In a previous position, I would often become aware of a problem no one had noticed and develop a solution. In one situation, I suggested a plan that resulted in reducing customer returns of leased equipment by 15 percent. That may not sound like much, but the result was an increase in retained leases of more than $250,000 a year. The plan cost about $100 to implement. This particular organization seems to be the type that would let me use similar problem-solving skills. It is well-run, growing rapidly, and open to new ideas. Your sales went up 30 percent last year, and you are getting ready to introduce several major new products. If I work hard and prove my value here, I feel I would have the opportunity to stay with the business as it grows-and grow with it."
This response uses the Prove-It Technique nicely.