Our SpouseBuzz.com readers appreciated the what-not-to-wear-on-an-interview tips from our friends at the MOAA. But once they were dressed, our readers were far more interested in what they should say when faced with impossible interview questions.
“Personally, I hate, hate, hate ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ and ‘What do you think is your greatest weakness?’ ” noted one reader. “They're the sign of a truly bored and/or lazy interviewer, but in this economy the interviewee can't simply get up and walk out in response.”
So what do you say to the four most impossible interview questions for military spouses? We went directly to the recruiters at the MOAA Military Spouse Career Fair to get some answers for you.
1. Tell me about yourself.
Our readers point out that an interview is not a date. The interviewer clearly doesn't want to know that you like your steaks medium rare and you prefer your socks fuzzy and peeking through the holes in your Crocs. So what's the best way to prepare an answer for this?
“I would never ask an interview question like that,” said David, a recruiter for a major bank. “Instead I would say, ‘Tell me what there is about you that makes you want to work for our company.' ”
David said that what he is looking for when it comes to this kind of question is not so much what you say but how quickly you gather your thoughts.
This question is often your opening bid in the interview. One way to game this question is to practice several answers ahead of time in front of a mirror or with a friend. What sounds strong? What can you say that makes it obvious that a person like you would apply for this kind of job?
2. What brings you to the area?
This kind of question (in towns near Fort Drum or Fort Campbell) seems to be fishing to find out if you are a military wife. It is illegal for an interviewer to directly ask you whether you are a spouse. But should you tell them?
All of the recruiters I spoke to had a different answer. Marion Spencer, a human resources manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Andrews Air Force Base, said that he definitely wanted to hear that an applicant was a military spouse.
“Our first priority is veterans and military spouses,” Spencer said. “That is the focus of our business. We want to be the first point of contact for those jobs.”
Other employers with a strong military presence or who serve a military audience also said that it was an advantage to disclose your status as a military spouse. Familiarity with the military can be an asset in those jobs.
Yet other recruiters acknowledged that employers can be reluctant to hire a spouse for fear that they will move out of the area. Several recruiters noted that if your resume is dotted with military towns (say, Jacksonville, San Diego and Okinawa) the recruiter already knows the answer to the question before it's even asked.
So be truthful. Some of the recruiters thought it was more of a disadvantage to appear as though you were not telling the truth than it was to disclose that you are a military spouse.
The key to answering this question seemed to be making an effort to see what the interviewer is really asking: How reliable are you going to be? Are you going to be able to show up on time every day? Is your childcare arrangement so tenuous that you will constantly call in sick? Will you be asking off weeks at a time so you can go stay with your mother during the deployment?
The best answer here might be your past work history. Tell your employer about how committed you are to your job and your history of reliable, engaged work.
Still, some of our military spouse readers advise you to jump over the question completely or say what is true, but not exactly what the interviewer is looking for.
”My philosophy is be honest, but being honest doesn't mean divulging everything in your life,” wrote reader Ophiolite.”The best way to deal with these questions is to have a ready answer that doesn't divulge your entire life history.”
Acceptable answers might include, “I’m looking for a new experience.” Or “I came to the area because I like the weather.” Or “I love the area and hope to stay here a long time.”
3. What are your weaknesses?
This is the kind of trite question that shows up on the Comedy Channel all the time. The lame comic says, "What are my weaknesses?? I’m such a perfectionist!!!"
So it is kind of a dumb question. But it still gets asked. What do you say?
Catherine Young, a human resources manager at Fort Belvoir, said that you play this question in two parts. You demonstrate that you have enough self-awareness to know that there are things you need to improve, and then you tell the interviewers what you are doing to improve on that very thing.
Maybe you have been in a client-facing job for the past few years and you noticed you just aren’t as good at it as some of your co-workers. So that is why you are applying for this behind-the-scenes programming job because you are more detail-oriented and like to work alone.
Or maybe you had problems with lateness when you were young until you started telling yourself that “on time” actually meant “15 minutes early.”
Or maybe you never quite understood how to task your coordinator at your past job until you heard a good solution on your Manager Tools podcast that worked great.
Hear the weakness question as a question that asks how you recognize, manage and solve problems.
4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
You may peer five years into the future and see yourself with a moving truck. Or even two moving trucks. So what do you tell the interviewer that isn’t a lie? And what if you aren’t at all sure what the military holds for your family in the next five years?
Spencer said that when he asks that kind of question in an interview, he is looking for a response that indicates the person wants to move up the ranks. He wants someone who would like to move from being a clerk to a manager and beyond.
Bob Hill with First Command Financial Services told me that he is looking for a career vision from applicants. He is looking for people who want to progress in their field, explore their niche, become go-to experts. “We don’t have jobs here,” Hill said. “We have careers.”
So when you prepare an answer for this question, think beyond the military and the moving truck. Where would you like to be in five years? What would you like to know? What skill sets would you like to have by then? Show the interviewer a future in which you are even more valuable than you are right now.
Interview questions are never really impossible. There are always answers; some work better than others. So before your next interview, recognize that these questions are coming and practice your answers so that an interviewer gets a chance to see what an asset you would be.
-- If you have more impossible interview questions, let us know in the comment section below. We want to help military spouse job hunters connect with the work they want the most.