Each year I conduct about 100 interviews, this means over the past 8 years I have probably had 800 applicants sit in front of me and tell me that they are the right person for whatever job is available. I know that interviews make people nervous, they make me nervous too, but people still never cease to amaze me.
I have a series of questions that I always ask when I am interviewing people for my book department. The company has a series of questions we are supposed to use as well but I rarely use them because they are typical and anybody can study for them, therfore hiding their true selves. My assistant has a set of questions she always uses as well, we sit down and ask a prospective employee a group of questions that allow us to decide if they are right for the position. Here are some questions we ask and here are some good answers and bad answers. I did not make up any of these answers I promise! These are all things I have heard in my 800 plus interviews:
JRH: Can you start out by telling me about yourself?
Good: I graduated from... with a major in English and I am going for my Masters in publishing. I love reading and think it would be fun and challenging working in the bookstore environment.
Bad: Well, what would you like to know?
Key point here- I know it can be hard but when you walk into an interview be prepared to talk a little bit about yourself, and if you find it hard to talk about yourself then talk about why you want to work in a bookstore. This brings us to our next question.
JRH: Tell me why you are interested in working in a bookstore
Good: I am looking to learn more about books and I love recommending books to people. I have some retail experience and would love to be able to use it to sell things that interest me.
Bad: I love reading and it would be fun to be around books all day.
This is a close one- We love to hire people who love books and can talk about books with customers, but your day is not full of reading, fondling, and smelling books. Unfortunately we don't have three hours of your day set aside to read. We love people who want to work in a bookstore because they love books and they want to SELL them to other people. We can not hire you because you love books and want to be around them. I know its hard, but it's the truth.
JRH: Tell me what you are reading now
Good: I am reading blah blah blah by blah blah
Bad: Well, I am not really reading anything I can't seem to find a book I like
Key point here- you are interviewing at a bookstore, be reading something or have some book knowledge so you can at least say you are reading a book. An equally bad answer is a book that doesn't exist or not being able to remember the title of the book you are reading or the author. We have a lot of book knowledge and we can tell if you are faking it.
JRH: Tell me about one of your characteristics that you feel might be a weakness?
Good: You can say anything, just tell me why you think it is a weakness
Bad: Ok not anything, please do not tell me that your biggest weakness is that you are a perfectionist.
Key point- I have interviewed 800 people and 750 of them say that their biggest weakness is that they are a perfectionist. I wouldn't say that it is a weakness, plus I know that you are all not perfectionists because then the whole world would be perfect (and its not). Therfore, I think that you are all LIARS and that is a weakness!
These aren't all the questions I ask, and depending on the interview I change my questions around a bit. The best interview is one that evolves into a comfortable conversation about the job you are interviewing for and what characteristics you possess make you the right person from the job.
Good Luck if you ever have to sit down across the table from me in an an interview. I am warning you now to be prepared and I am very picky. In my defense all I am looking for is somebody who will work well in my department.
By the way:
JRH: What are you reading now?
JRH: I am currently reading two books, The Crying of Lot 49 and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.