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"What Will Your Former Employers (or Teachers, References, Warden...) Say About You?"

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 hador 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.

Sample Answer

"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.

Sample Answer

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 growsand grow with it."

This response uses the Prove-It Technique nicely.

"Why Don't You Tell Me About Your Personal Situation?"

A good interviewer will rarely ask this question so directly. If this question is asked this directly, simply ask the person something like, "What is it you would like to know?" In this way you show them that you have nothing to hide. More often, interviewers use casual and friendly conversation to get the information they want. In most cases, the interviewer is digging for information that would indicate you are unstable or undependable.

Other issues may be of concern to an employer as well. Often, these are based on assumptions the person has about people with certain characteristics. These beliefs are often irrelevant (and some may seem to be in bad taste or even illegal), but if the employer wonders whether you can be depended upon, dealing with these doubts is in your own best interest. Be aware that even your casual conversation should always avoid reference to a potential problem area. In responding to a question about your personal situation, be friendly and positive. Your objective is to give employers the answer that they need to have, not just the one they may seem to ask. See chapter 5 for guidelines on handling illegal questions.

Examples of Appropriate Answers

The following responses address the personal issues that employers are most concerned about.

Young children at home:

"I have two children, both in school. Child care is no problem because they stay with a good friend."

Single head of household:

"I'm not married and have two children at home. It is very important to me to have a steady income, so child care is no problem."

Young and single:

"I'm not married, and if I should marry, that would not change my plans for a full-time career. For now, I can devote my full attention to my career."

Just moved here:

"I've decided to settle here in Depression Gulch permanently. I've rented an apartment, and the six moving vans are unloading there now."

Relatives, upbringing:

"I am one of three children. Both of my parents still live within an hour's flight from here, and I see them several times a year."

Leisure time:

"My time is family-centered when I'm not working. I'm also active in several community organizations and spend at least some time each week in church activities."

All of these responses could be expanded on, but they should give you an idea of the types of approaches you can take with your own answers. The message you want to give is that your personal situation will not hurt your ability to work and, indeed, could help it. If your personal life does disrupt your work, expect most employers to lose patience quickly. It is not their problem, nor should it be.

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