You've made it past the online job search and have been called in for an interview at headquarters. Confident of your accomplishments, experience and dress, you firmly shake the recruiter's hand and carefully sit down across from him.
Why do you want this job? What motivates you? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
It's fair to assume that you've been prepping for just these types of questions. And, certainly, you know exactly how to describe your "shortcomings" with a smile on your face and a positive spin--"I'm hyper-organized."
Yet at many companies, those old stand-bys, asked every day by hundreds of managers and human resource officers trying to assess job candidates, have been joined by a new line of questioning. What distinguishes the new from the old? The picture of the ideal job candidate and employee has shifted from a black-and-white snapshot of "job experience" to a 3-D look at personality, engagement and fit with a company's culture.
How happy are you, on a scale of one to 10? What books are you reading? What do your parents think about your career aspirations?
And there's also: How lucky are you, on the ten-point scale? How would you describe the work environment in which you would like to work, and how does that compare to your current environment? What values in an organization are more important to you?
The new questions have a two-fold goal. They're meant to get around the problem of answers that are too predictable and too practiced. And they're designed to assess a candidate's disposition and temperament and her potential impact on the workplace environment--because the last thing companies want is a disrupted or unhappy workplace.
In many HR offices and talent recruitment agencies, "fit," "chemistry" and "happiness" represent increasingly important components of hiring decisions. Last November the Society of Human Resource Managers released a poll that found that most interviewers, 54% of the sample, base their final hiring decision on "chemistry" with the candidate. And while "directly applicable skills" are still important--at 56%, they ranked as the most necessary requirement and the characteristic that made a candidate stand out most positively--"fit with the organization" ranked second at 42% (members could choose more than one answer).
At the same time, the spread within academia of the economics of "happiness studies" has also changed the picture. In books like What Happy Companies Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Company for the Better, by Dan Baker, Cathy Greenberg and Colins Hemingway, some experts make a case that happy companies perform better. Another great example comes from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School finance professor Alex Edmans, who analyzed 100 of the largest American companies and found that firms with satisfied employees produce returns that are more than double those of the overall market--14% per year compared to 6% a year.
Interviewing practices vary widely, and it's impossible to predict the questions individual job seekers will confront. "Some firms are extremely organized, and will schedule six interviews for a candidate in one day, with each interviewer assigned something to ask about," says Janice E. Abert of Abert Associates in New York. "Other firms--particularly the smaller ones--are more willy-nilly."
But it's the trend that counts. Abert confirms that even when most questions asked are old standbys, most companies are trying to dig a little deeper into personality. "When I get feedback about interviews from my candidates, I hear 'Joe was very conservational,'" she says.
"They want upbeat people who think they can conquer the world," says Susan Goldberg, who runs her own executive search and career coaching business in New York. "I tell people to smile more often, because people want to be around people with a positive attitude."
Career coach Donna Sweidan of Careerfolk.com, agrees. She believes that more interviewers are asking candidates about the books they've read and the movies they've seen, for example, as well as why they left their last position. "It demonstrates what interests you have, where you are trying to learn and what you are trying to develop," she says.
Earlier this year the Society of Human Resource Management circulated an article among members advising them that "it never hurts to have a few 'creative' questions in pocket that, when answered, could help break the tie in a competitive job candidate situation." It was titled "How 'Bout Those Wild 2009 Interview Questions?"
Culled from a recruitment site called Glassdoor.com, the 25 top oddball interview questions included some that were simply bizarre -- for example, "How many hair salons are there in Japan?" But others, such as "Say you are dead. What do you think your eulogy would say about you?" and "If both a taxi and a limo were priced exactly the same, which one would you choose?" are clearly aimed at understanding personality and psyche.
Tamer, more corporate employers may not ask loony questions--though interviewers are individuals, after all, and therefore unpredictable. But in 2010, it's clear that interviewees may well face less-than-standard questions about themselves that require natural, spontaneous and yet thoughtful answers.
Here's another one in vogue: On a scale of one to 10, how in control of your own destiny do you believe you are? Your answer better be high.