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Career-Life Times, Issue #21 -- How to Answer "Problem" Questions
October 15, 2005
Greetings, and welcome to the latest issue of CAREER-LIFE TIMES! Thank you for subscribing! I hope you find this little publication to be informative, useful and entertaining.
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“What is the toughest problem you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?”
This is a very common interview question and provides you with an excellent opportunity to shine. Everyone wants to hire people who are good at solving problems, so think of a good example concerning a problem that faced your company and not just you personally. The bigger the problem, the better.
Give specific examples of the skills and techniques you used to resolve this problem. Emphasize the successful results.
Be generous in sharing credit if it was a team effort, but be sure to highlight your specific role.
“When I assumed the role of Chief Dog Groomer, team morale was low, sales were lackluster and customers were dissatisfied. I immediately took action to identify the specific problems, analyze alternative solutions and pick the best options, and set a timeline for implementing the corrective actions. I reorganized the team structure and established written goals that focused on teamwork, improved customer service and increased productivity. One specific example is that I implemented a ‘satisfaction guarantee’ for quality and timeliness with each grooming service, and tied in performance-based rewards for employees. These actions greatly improved morale and increased our sales by 48% in the first three months.”
Here's another interview question that is very similar...
"Describe a situation where you used your own initiative to solve a problem."
It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked both, but have two different problem-solving examples ready just in case, with one emphasizing initiative.
“I once received a last-minute request from the General Manager to prepare a letter to residents of a neighborhood that was undergoing emergency sewer repairs by our agency. My boss was on vacation, but she had asked that I attend an off-site meeting that same afternoon. There was no way I would be able to get the letter done and also attend the meeting. I decided, of course, that the General Manager’s request took priority. But the off-site meeting was on a very important topic and I knew my boss was relying on me to attend. So I immediately called the chairperson of that meeting and made arrangements to participate via speakerphone. By eliminating the 45-minute travel time, I was able to complete the GM’s letter and still participate in the off-site meeting.”
Preparing for these types of questions in advance is very important. It'll get you thinking about your specific accomplishments. Even if these particular questions are not asked, you'll probably be able to use versions of your prepared answers in response to other questions.
For any job interview: anticipate likely questions, prepare answers that are specific (and as relevant to the position as possible), and practice, practice, practice!
I’m a fan of the hit TV show “Lost.” In case you’re not familiar with it (can you believe some folks don’t watch TV?), it’s about a bunch of plane crash survivors living on an island full of mysteries. I always find it to be entertaining. But a recent episode was also (probably unintentionally) educational.
In that episode, a character named Hurley was assigned the task of controlling a newly found stash of food. Although it’s obvious from his size that Hurley loves to eat, he wasn’t thrilled about being in charge of the food. Why? Because everyone liked Hurley, and that was very important to him.
“Everything’s going to change,” he lamented. He knew his fellow survivors would want the food, and they’d be mad at him when he did his “job” and kept it from them. The thought of losing their friendship stressed him out so much that he planned to destroy all the food rather than perform the difficult job he’d been assigned!
Like Hurley, many of us hesitate to tell our boss when we are feeling overwhelmed by a task we’ve been given. Bosses just don't want to hear it, right? Well, it depends.
In many situations, your boss may be so busy that he can’t keep track of the work you're doing or the problems you may be experiencing. Unless you speak up and tell your boss that you’re having difficulty with an assignment, he'll assume everything is fine.
While the boss is unaware of your dilemma, you’ll struggle on your own to find a way to get the job done, becoming more frustrated and stressed about the assignment. It may even affect your mood and judgment so much that you’ll make a big mistake.
If this happens, your boss will not appreciate hearing, "But I couldn’t handle it; I was overwhelmed!" Saying that after the fact will be much worse than telling your boss up front—before mistakes occur—that you're having trouble with your assignment.
If you’re tasked to do something a certain way, and you feel there’s a better alternative, speak up!
Hurley eventually came to his senses and did this. He went to his “boss” and suggested doing something completely different from the task he’d been assigned. To his amazement, the response was “Sure, go ahead.” Rather than controlling access, Hurley gave everyone food, they all remained friends, and the episode had a relatively happy ending.
Of course, real life doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’ll just have to deal with a difficult job (or difficult boss) the best you can, with no way around it. But instead of assuming that’s the case, find out. Do what Hurley did. Talk to your boss about it. Explain potential problems, and propose alternative courses of action.
Who knows? Maybe all is not “Lost!”
Are you considering a career change? Would you be interested in one that's not going to become obsolete or outsourced? One that is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing occupation in the U.S.? It offers good pay and benefits, and you'll be doing something that literally saves lives. Yes, I'm talking about nursing.
Over the next six years, more than 620,000 new registered nurses will be needed. Baby boomers are retiring -- many of them are nurses (thus vacancies are occurring); many will be needing nurses as they age; and the preventive health care industry is rapidly expanding to help care for the aging population.
All of this translates into a fantastic career opportunity.
The median annual salary for nurses is just under $50,000. Registered nurses typically make about 30% more.
Of course, it's not without challenges. There's a lot of training involved, and hours are often long and involve shift work.
For more detailed information about this career field, go to CareerOverview.com/Nurse-Careers.html
Even now, months after it happened, it surprises me when I think about it. No phone call. No heads up. No discussion. As I opened the email from a business associate, checking my messages from an airport lounge, I expected a routine update. Instead, I read a message severing our relationship.
What startled me wasn't that this person decided it best to change a business situation. These things happen. It was how she informed me of her decision that brought the pain. You see, it's not just what you do that matters, it's how you do it.
I discovered more about her in that instant than I had in the months we worked together. I learned she took the easy way over the right way; lacked relationship courage; and retreated from difficult encounters. Her intention was to severe the current working relationship, but in the process she also severed my respect. You see, how you do what you do speaks volumes about who you are and what you value. It's a telling impression that leaves an imprint on those you touch.
Sure it's easier to use email to terminate relationships, deliver bad news or launch print-grenades. Just like it's easier to give advice when you don't have to live with the results; give orders you don't have to follow; and point out flaws you don't have to fix. And it's easier to be reactive instead of proactive, trade long-term sustained results for short-term gains and tell your boss what he wants to hear instead of what he needs to know.
All these things are easier. But easier isn't better, and easier won't get you winning at working results. Choosing the right way will. But that means finding the courage to pick up the phone and have the unpleasant conversation, terminate a relationship that's not working or deal with conflict in honest ways. It means confronting issues, being hands-on as needed and letting your life's actions speak to who you are.
I've found in my twenty years in management, people who are winning at working don't take the easy way, even when the right way is difficult or fear producing. How they do their work is as important to them as what they do. And while we all slip at how we do our work at times, out of anger or frustration, people who are winning at working know when they've slipped and keep striving to do better.
You see, the impressions we make by how we go about our work, last. Bad impressions can destroy trust, eliminate respect and derail careers. But good impressions can create trust, earn respect and build your career. Sometimes you may not like the decision, but you can still respect how someone executed it. That's a good impression.
Want to be winning at working? Choose the right way to do what you need to do, not the easy way.
© 2005 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved. Visit WinningAtWork.com for archived columns, "Ask Nan," info about Nan's upcoming book, or to contact Nan.
Do You Love Books? I love books. Thrilling novels, informative self-help and how-to books, even an occasional biography now and then. If you love to read, too, you'll be interested in this cool new book club I've found.
Each book costs $9.95. Even the latest best-selling hardbacks! There are no shipping fees.
It's called Zooba (I have no idea why), and it works kind of like Netflix... except you don't have to return anything. You pay $9.95 per month, and this covers the cost of one book per month. You make a list of the books you want, and they'll be automatically sent to you, one per month, in the order of your list. You keep the books. You can add to or change your list at any time. You can also buy additional books at any time, for $9.95 each, with free shipping.
There's no annoying club-chosen "monthly selection" to worry about declining!
It's amazingly convenient, they have a nice selection, and it's cheap!
For example, the first book I ordered was "The Historian." It sells for $15.13 on Amazon.com. Shipping & handling is an additional $3.99, so I'd pay $19.12 for that book through Amazon. But I paid only $9.95 through Zooba -- a savings of $9.17 on just that one book! Pretty cool, huh?
Remember, the holidays are coming up quickly, and books make wonderful gifts! Here's the link where you can check it out: Zooba
Networkaholics Revealed! Are you interested in networking? If not, you should be. Everyone should be.
Chances are your perceptions about networking are wrong. I know mine were, before I started working on this book: "Networkaholics Revealed! True Confessions From People Who Networked Their Way to Success (And How You Can Do The Same)."
This book started out as a self-improvement project. It really opened up my eyes, and I've since used networking strategies to help my business and my job!
While this book is not specific to career networking, there are chapters, tips and stories devoted to that.
If you're curious, check it out at the link below. But if you want to order it, do NOT order it from that page! As a subscriber to this newsletter, I'll give you an exclusive 50% discount.
Just send me an email and I'll tell you how to get it.
Here's the link to information about the book: NetworkaholicsRevealed.com
Remember, if you want to order it, do NOT do so from that page. Send me an email, instead, to save 50%: Bonnie@best-interview-strategies.com
Job Interview Success System. My unique step-by-step program is the best way to prepare for and WIN your next job interview... guaranteed. Click here for details: Job Interview Success System
to make a living at what you love;
there's only a scarcity of resolve
to make it happen."
From a strictly mathematical viewpoint it goes like this:
What Makes 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?
If: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K = 8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%
K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E = 11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%
A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E = 1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%
B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T = 2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%
AND, look how far ass kissing will take you:
A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G = 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%
So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that while hard work and knowledge will get you close, and attitude will get you there, it's the bullshit and ass kissing that will put you over the top!
Cookie Crazy. I'm working on a new website. It's not ready yet, but will be www.CookieCrazy.com. It has nothing to do with job interviews. Well... maybe if you brought some cookies to the interview it might give you some brownie points. But it's going to be a just-for-fun site, with all kinds of cookie recipes, stories and resources. I've been cookie crazy for a long time, and this site will offer a kind of therapy. Anyway, the point of this ramble is to invite you to contribute your favorite cookie recipes. Especially ones you've invented yourself. General cookie tips and stories are welcome, too. Just send me an email: Bonnie@best-interview-strategies.com
So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at Bonnie@Best-Interview-Strategies.com
Please forward this to your friends!
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P.S.S. I apologize for the glitches (especially in links) you may see if you receive this as straight text. If you can receive your email in the HTML format, choose that and it'll look a lot better. Don't worry, I won't have any slowing graphics.
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