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'Why Should I Hire You?' and Other Favorite Interview Questions

'Why Should I Hire You?' and Other Favorite Interview Questions

Brian A. Young likes to spend time with potential hires, even if they won't report to him. "It's the most important thing you have — the people — so we take a lot of time in hiring," explains the vice president and CIO at Creighton University in Omaha.

Young, like many hiring managers, puts great effort into the interview process. He says it's a chance to move beyond the résumé and learn more about the skills and personality traits that candidates can't encapsulate on their CVs — an especially important task as the IT labor market continues to tighten.

"It's not frenzied, but it is tougher hiring people. A lot of the activity is to find good talent, [not] just bodies," says Shadman Zafar, CIO for the telecommunications line of business at Verizon Communications Inc.

With that in mind, we asked some IT executives to share their favorite interview questions. Here are their responses.

Describe your toughest assignment so far. "You get an immediate feel for their weaknesses as they're telling a story," Zafar says. "You can also tell how they counter their weaknesses."
Share with me a conversation you had with your boss or others in your life where some feedback you heard was tough to take. "I think that shows a lot about someone's willingness to listen well and act on that feedback," Young says.

In response to this question, a woman once told him that her boss said she needed to learn when to abandon e-mail and communicate in person. She said she then went around to friends to get their feedback so she could find ways to improve. She also said she was hoping to take a public speaking course to help her communicate better. Good answer.

What will you do if you don't get this job? Responses to this question show how seriously candidates take their career paths, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT staffing company. Individuals who are also applying for other jobs or planning to further their qualifications in a specific field demonstrate a commitment to their aspirations. That's a plus.
But those who can't articulate a plan might just be trying something new on a whim. Moreover, Lee says a candidate's response tells her how fast she has to move: If someone says he has other interviews, Lee knows she has to act fast.

One of the more interesting responses she has had to this question is, "You can't afford not to hire me because I'll go work for your competitor."

Lee says she has hired candidates who have given that response, but it has to be delivered right. It needs to sound confident, not arrogant.

Why should I hire you? "It's the opportunity to see if the individual wants the job," says Sherry Aaholm, executive vice president of IT at Memphis-based FedEx Corp. "I want to see if they're passionate and if they've done their research into that position."
One interviewee gave a classic wrong answer: "Because you already know me." A previous relationship won't get a candidate the job, Aaholm says, nor will such an uninspired answer.

Have you ever had to terminate someone? Aaholm says responses give her insight into how well candidates work with their teams, whether they're willing to help develop and train people who are struggling, and whether they can make the tough decision to let someone go when it's just not working out.

Tell me about a problem your company had and how you used technology to solve it. "You want to see how they use the knowledge, not just that they have the knowledge," says Robert Rosen, CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Md. Rosen says he slightly alters that question for candidates applying for more customer-oriented IT positions, asking, "What business problem were you trying to solve, and how did you bring value to the customer using technology?"

What are your long-term goals? "I want people who have a vision and a goal," says Robert Moon, senior vice president and CIO at LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., a developer of technology-based learning products in Emeryville, Calif. Moon says he can also determine, based on the candidate's response, whether he can mentor or move the person through the organization to help him reach those goals.
"My favorite answer is, ‘I want your job,'" Moon says.

What book is currently on your nightstand? "It gives me an idea about the type of person they are. Are they readers? Because that means they tend to be learners," says Brian L. Abeyta, second vice president in the project management office of the IT department at insurance provider Aflac Inc. in Columbus, Ga.
Abeyta says he's not looking for specific reading material, but rather sincere answers. He says he suspects that people who tell him they're reading a project management methodology book are just trying to impress him. "I've had a few people say they don't have time to read, or they read magazines," Abeyta says, adding that he puts a premium on getting honest answers.

How close are you to the technology, and how important is that to you? "I've found that most often, [the answer] I get is what's important to them as opposed to what they think I want to hear. It's a broad enough question that people start talking," says Joel D. Jacobs, acting CIO at The Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit company that provides research and development support to the government.

Jacobs says he usually hires high-level IT workers, not hands-on developers. Yet various positions still require different levels of in-depth technical know-how. This question helps guarantee the right fit between the candidate and the position.
Jacobs says one candidate initially responded with a "deer in the headlights" look and said he hadn't thought through a question like that. He then explained that he sometimes dug deep down into particular technologies to develop better understandings, although he didn't want to spend all his time working at that level.

Jacobs says the candidate's ability to so clearly articulate a response to the surprise question impressed him. Moreover, the candidate's response was consistent with the open position's work requirements, another bonus. Jacobs offered the candidate the job.

Mary K. Pratt
Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass.
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