Interview Series 3: Answering Those Interview Questions
Robyn Lamb, RCV founder, Cape Town
November 14 2017
RCV International, a Cape Town-based recruitment company continues their series on job interviews. Their subject is Lisa, an experienced book publisher who has just been retrenched. Since Lisa, like most people, feared that she would appear inept and foolish by her answers to questions, Vuyo and Robyn of RCV International decided to work on this aspect. They gave her a list of likely interview questions and suggested that she prepare answers to them and they would then give her their feedback.

To the first question ‘What do you consider to be your main strengths and weaknesses? Lisa wrote on her main strength.

‘I think my greatest strength is that I’m a real people person. It’s the quality my assistant singled out in her speech at my work farewell. She said it was a great comfort to her and others in my department knowing that there was someone who would always be there for them.

My ability to get on easily with people and be empathetic helped greatly with my relationships with authors. Most were either school teachers or university lecturers and being authors of adult education books was crammed in on top of everything else they did, so many were bad about keeping to deadlines and responding to editing interventions. I was generally good at getting them to be cooperative. I had teaching experience at university while studying, so I understood what pressures my authors were under. I knew for example, it would be no good expecting chapters during exam times when they had a heavy marking load.’

‘What you wrote in your second paragraph is very good.’ commented Robyn. ‘You illustrate the application of your main strength to your work well. However, I have reservations about the first paragraph. Point one: Don’t use clichés. Do you know how many times job interviewers have heard those two tired old expressions ‘people person’ and ‘being there for someone’? Avoid all clichés. Your language in the second paragraph is much more professional.’

‘I agree’ joined in Vuyo, ‘and on that point, I’d also caution your giving that rather personal, emotive example in the first part. You give the impression that you are too ready to drop everything to lend a kindly ear. Not what your possible future employer really wants to hear. Delete paragraph one.’

In response to the question What are your weaknesses? Lisa wrote

‘I’m too much of a perfectionist. While this serves me well in many respects (errors in books for instance are unacceptable), it has caused a few projects I’ve been involved in to get behind schedule. For the past month since I was retrenched, I have been taking a time management course. Already I can see ways of being certain of producing a good, useful book without trying to minutely check everything that others do.’

‘Nice’ commented Robyn. ‘What I like about that response is that you manage to be frank about your weakness without putting off somebody considering employing you. You do this by showing that you are working to improve it and the weakness is partly a strength anyway.’

‘Good point also,’ added Vuyo, ‘ that you make about doing something positive about yourself the moment you were retrenched. It shows a lot about you. You don’t lie about weeping and moaning. Instead, you use some of your retrenchment package to pay for a course that will help you to manage your perfectionism.’

To the question ‘Why were you retrenched?’ Lisa wrote:

‘I was retrenched because my company made the decision on economic grounds to end their production of adult education books. They were expensive to produce because to be effective and appealing to that market, they had to have a lot of illustration, some of it in colour. Fortunately, the people who worked with me could be absorbed into other departments in the company. However, there were no vacant publisher positions so I was retrenched. Management emphasised that it had nothing to do with my performance as a publisher. You may have read this in the reference I included with my CV. I have a copy with me if you care to glance at it now.’

Robyn and Vuyo agreed this was a good and dignified reply to a difficult question. Most people are shocked and aggrieved by retrenchment and Lisa had felt strongly that she deserved something more than retrenchment after 13 years of dedicated work for the company. Correctly, nothing of this hurt and anger is detectable in her reply. She states the facts clearly and objectively.

Article by RCV International, recruitment agency Cape Town

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