How to answer the interview question: “How would your supervisor describe you?

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“How would your supervisor describe you?”

The reason the interviewer is asking this question is because they want to know how you got along with your boss and if you will be a problem employee or a 5 star performer. This question can be a bit tricky, especially if you didn’t have the best relationship with your former manager.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

The important thing here is to not badmouth a past manager or the company in general. The insurance industry is a small world and whether you like it or not, hiring managers will back-check with people they know such as carrier reps or former coworkers.

First, if you have a job description for the position you are applying for, look at the qualifications section. If it has words you know your former managers have said about you in past reviews or to others, use those words when answering this question. Just be prepared to back them up with concrete examples.

For instance, if the job requires strong detail orientation, and you were praised for your ability to work accurately, say something like: “My managers have often commented that they wished they were as detailed as I am. Last week, my boss came over to my desk and complimented me on the amount of certificates I processed and how none of them required any revisions.”

If you don’t have a job description, think about the skills you feel are needed for the role and pick the most vital ones. These skills are the “meat and potatoes” necessary to perform the job. Then, share a past experience or two when you were praised for these skills. If you have a letter of reference or a thank-you letter from a customer, offer to share it with the employer. The written word speaks volumes, especially if it is on company letterhead.

What if you know your past manager will not have “good things” to say about you and they are a well-known figure in the insurance industry? It happens to everyone at some point; there are just some people we don’t get along with no matter how hard we try.  Do not try to bypass the question or answer indirectly.  Instead, use the question to illustrate how you deal with difficult people and difficult managers.

For example: “My current boss and I have had cultural differences, and at times we have struggled to get along. If you asked her to describe me, she would say I’m not shy and I’m not afraid to voice my opinion. She might also say I am a little too quick to want to change things. However, she will also tell you I always put the customer first. She would say I go the extra mile to make sure my work is done right and on time and that I’m highly organized and extremely dependable.”

The bottom line with this question is to answer it honestly, directly and not give “fluff” answers that the interviewer can see right through. Your candor will be appreciated and it demonstrates that you aren’t afraid to deliver bad news when necessary.

 

 

How to answer the interview question: “What Are Your Strengths?”

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What Are Your Greatest Strengths?

Tips to Answer This Question:

Here’s what most people say:  I’m a hard worker, good team player, a people person, get along well with everyone, nice, friendly…etc.

The problem with these answers is that the hiring manager expects that of you already, or they wouldn’t be interviewing you!  These answers don’t get you anywhere.  They don’t have “food value” by themselves.  They must be illustrated with examples that demonstrate how you have used the skill.  Do not use cliché and tired words that every recruiter and hiring manager have heard a million times.

Before the interview, list out your strengths and try to come up with one to two examples that really demonstrate each skill.  This way you will be ready with your answers and won’t freeze up under pressure.

Here’s an example for “I am a hard worker”:

“We were recently working on a very tight deadline renewal proposal for a customer.  There were a number of quotes that we needed to review and one of the people on my team was out on vacation.  I stayed late and worked diligently with the remainder of the team to make sure that we got the proposal out on time.  As a result, we were able to retain the client and renew the business.”

Here’s an example for “I am a people person”:

“I have always been told I have really good people skills.  Recently one of our best customers called in with a big messy claim.  She was pretty irate and not happy with how the claims adjuster had treated her.  I calmly listened to her concerns, suggested a couple of ways we could work through the problem, then contacted the adjuster’s team manager, explained the problem, and was able to get the claim back on track.  The adjustor called the client, apologized for their rudeness, and as a result, the customer called me back and thanked me for getting involved, and even wrote a thank you letter to my boss.”

Make sure to back everything up with a little story that shows your strengths in action.  Watch for “buying” queues from the hiring manager such as head nodding or agreement sounds that give you valuable feedback that your answer is hitting home.

 

 

How to answer the interview question: “Tell me about yourself?”

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“Tell me about yourself?”

People hate this question because it is so open ended and there are too many answers, however, it is probably one of the most asked interview questions, especially in phone interviews.  Knowing how to handle this question can make the difference between advancing to the next stage or being told “we have other candidates that we feel are better fits for the position”—a nice way of being told, “thanks, but no thanks”.

When you are asked “tell me about yourself”, ask the interviewer, “I’d be happy to, where would you like me to start?”  This allows the employer to tell you what aspects of your background they want you to address, and most importantly, keeps you from having a long-winded answer that isn’t what the employer wants to hear.  They rarely want to know all about your youth and where you grew up.  They typically want to know about your professional experience, but typically won’t ask the question directly.  Remember, this is sometimes used as a “trick” question.  Often times interviewers ask this open ended question because they want to see how you will answer it; personally or professionally, or a combination of both.  What they really want to know is how you can solve their problems?  Remember, you are hired because you either make money, save money, or makes things go more smoothly.

Here’s an example for a sales person: “After graduating from college, I took a job as a salesman at the XYZ insurance company.  I wasn’t experienced in insurance sales, but I worked really hard and became their Rookie of the Year.  After only three years, I was promoted to a Sales Manager and my team was recognized as the most improved sales team in the Western Region.

Here’s an example for an administrative person: “I started out in the insurance industry as a receptionist and policy clerk.  I didn’t have my license, so I studied on my own time and passed my insurance exam on the first try.  My boss, seeing that I had a knack for the business, moved me into an Account Assistant role.  I worked hard to learn the book and was rewarded with my own accounts in only 12 months; this was a record in my office.  I have since moved up again, and now I’m a Senior Account Manager working with our most prestigious clients.”

Your answer to this question shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 minutes long. It should be concise and well thought out. Getting this one right will open the door to the next step; the face to face meeting.

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How to answer the interview question: “What are your weaknesses?”

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“What are your weaknesses?”

This is one of the toughest and least liked of all of the interview questions.  The problem with this question is that you have to answer it, if you say, I don’t really have any”, then the employer won’t believe you or will think you may be hiding something, however, if you say the wrong thing, without an explanation, you can be out at first base.

So what is the right answer?  It depends on how the question is asked.  Very few employers will ask this question directly anymore.  Often times it is couched inside of a more positive sounding question, such as “what are some of the areas that you have been coached on in the past?” or “what is an area that you have been working on for self-improvement?”  These are much nicer questions, but don’t be fooled; the hiring manager is asking you to reveal your weaknesses.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

The key to answering this question is advance preparation!  Start by thinking about the constructive comments that former managers have given you.  Criticism is never easy to stomach, so you need to think about the changes in behavior that you made, if any, as a result of your boss’s coaching. List the behaviors that were pointed out as “areas for growth and development”, another nice way of saying weaknesses, and think about how you responded to the advice. Think about how you applied the advice and changed your behavior in the workplace.  What were the results with your peers, with customers, with your supervisors?

Here’s some examples:

Too chatty in the office/not focused enough on your work: Explain that you were coached that you needed to be more focused and less chatty in the office. Show what you did to correct the situation, explain how you were able to handle more work in less time, and then give an example of the positive feedback you received from your boss and peers once you corrected the behavior.

Turning in work late/problems with prioritization: Explain that you used to have challenges with personal organization and task completion. Then show how you solved the problem by getting up an hour early or get everything ready the night before so that you aren’t running around frantically in the morning looking for things.

Spelling/grammar problems: Talk about how you took some remedial classes to correct the problem and how your boss complimented you on your improved written communication as a result.

Don’t let the “weakness” question get you down.  Show that you are accountable for your behavior in the office, are coachable, and can solve problems.