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

“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. This might have happened already once they saw your résumé — before they even scheduled the first interview! Do not make up answers here; you will be found out.

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 past 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 made 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 — 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, bring it out and 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; 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; it demonstrates that you aren’t afraid to deliver bad news when necessary.

 

 

How to answer the interview question: “Do you have any questions?”

“Do You Have Any Questions?”

I can’t tell you how many times hiring managers have told me they aren’t pursuing candidates because they didn’t ask enough questions and didn’t know anything about the company. When I follow up with the candidates and tell them this, I get, “What do you mean? I asked a lot of questions,” or “They didn’t really give me a chance to ask any questions.”

Why does this happen? Your questions aren’t the right questions — the ones the interviewer wants to hear!  Preparing your questions ahead of time is the key to mastering the end-of-interview Q-and-A.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

Keep this simple thought in mind: you are probably one of five or more candidates visiting on that day or over a short period of time. The interviewer has lots of work they should be doing, their own deadlines, and they know they’ll have to work late all week to catch up. This is especially true of line managers who will be your supervisor. These are busy people who are frantically fitting in interviews around their already over booked schedule.  You need to make sure they don’t see your questions as a waste of their time.

The key here is to avoid questions that don’t advance you in the process or demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the position. You want to pose the right kind of questions to the appropriate people. Often times a miss in this key question area is the difference of landing the job or getting a “no” form letter in the mail.

Example of questions for a Team Lead of a Service Department: This person is interested in making sure that you will follow procedures, get your work done quickly and efficiently, and not be a headache to the rest of the department. You are going to get a “technical” type of interview from this hiring manager. Don’t ask this person about far-reaching topics a CEO or Partner would answer, such as corporate giving or corporate vision. Ask about things that are important to this person: the day-to-day job duties and procedures.  Ask for specifics about how renewals are handled, documentation, claims advocacy, face time with the client, etc.  Remember, the quality of your question shows your understanding of the industry and the job you are applying for.

Make sure you listen to the answer and follow up with two more questions that reflect your understanding of their answer.  Make sure your follow up questions make sense and are not random. This is your chance for give-and-take; you don’t want to look like you need to get through a laundry list of questions.  Also the way that the interviewers answer your questions (with specifics, vaguely, or dismissively) will give you clues as to what it might be like to work with them on a daily basis.

A great question strategy is to use words like “we” and “us” and “I” in your questions, then listen to see if the employer responds back with answers that include the word “you” or if they respond with “the candidate we choose”.  You want them to see you in the position, and when they include you in their answers, you know that they feel positive about hiring you for the role.

For example: “When I start on a renewal, will I sit down ahead of time with the producer to work through a strategy or will I get all the quotes together and then present my findings to him?” If the employer sees you in the role, they will respond with a “we” or “you” in their answer.

At the end of the Q-and-A session, you will start to feel the interview “wrap up.” Your goal is to get the employer over the speed bump of indecision. You want real feedback so you know where you stand. Don’t be afraid to ask when they will make their decision and whether they see anything that would prevent them from moving you to the next stage of the process.  If they present you with concerns, it will give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.  If they see you as a “go” for the next step, you will have the opportunity to schedule a follow on meeting or at least know that they intend to include you in a second round of interviews.  Either way, the interviewer will appreciate your candor and desire for the job.

 

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

“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 and should be concise and well thought out.  Getting this one right will open the door to the next step; the face to face meeting.

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

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 has heard a million times.

Before the interview, list out your strengths and try to come up with 1 to 2 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 carrier’s adjuster team supervisor, 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.