Interviewers are supposed to stick to questions relevant a person's ability to do a job. Many do. Many are looking to get around discrimination laws. Some questions not legal during the interview are fine once you're in.
Classic job interview footage on YouTube from the first episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," aired originally September 19, 1970. See Lou Grant ask all the "wrong" questions and how Mary fields them.
Jan Northup, president of Glendale, Ariz.-based Management Training Systems, Inc., offered these tips.
Resume is keyword:
“Think about what job you’re applying for.”
While resumes can be the luck of the draw, you can swing the odds in your favor. Resumes often are uploaded into large organizations’ computers where software screens for keywords. If the right keywords are there, then your general information will be put into a category for review and a possible interview opportunity.
“Pick words out of job descriptions.”
Dress the part:
“Personal appearance is the No. 1 reason people didn’t get a job.”
Dress one level above the job you are seeking. Even though the company may have a casual-dress policy, it doesn’t mean you go to a job interview in jeans. For men, shirt, slacks, and even a tie and jacket would be appropriate; for women, slacks are always good, as are nice dresses or skirts.
“If you don’t look professional, interviewers won’t think you can perform professionally.”
Talk the talk:
“Jump right into your skills, talents and expertise.”
At your initial interview, this will be the likely first question: ‘Tell me something about yourself and your background.’ It’s not the time to unload personal baggage. So don’t say, ‘I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Arizona, I’ve always been interested in sports…’ Try this: ‘For the past six years, I’ve been working in electronics communications. I got promoted to lead a tech department where I supervise six team members. I enjoy a fast-paced environment that offers challenges and is goal-oriented.’
“They don’t care anything about you personally, they want to know if you can do the job.”
“Many people cannot state what their skills and talents are.”
Don’t say, ‘I work pretty well with most people.’ Instead, say it in a positive way: ‘I have highly honed interpersonal skills.’ If that sounds too much like corporate lingo, try, ‘I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different teams and with people at all levels, I’m comfortable working with all those people.’ Develop a 30-second elevator talk about yourself and your background; rehearse it aloud and in front of other people so you’re comfortable.
“Practice, practice, practice.”
Neither Eeeyore nor Tigger be:
“People want to work around positive people, not work around those who are always negative.”
If you start bad-mouthing your previous employer – ‘the management stinks,’ or ‘the company was not good with finances’ – interviewers will worry that you’ll talk negatively about their companies. They also want to know that you take responsibility seriously. So, the Winnie the Pooh analogy.
“If you start talking about problems, you’ll be seen as an Eeyore; but people don’t want Tiggers either, airheads with lots of energy; there’s a fine line between being positive but not looking at responsibilities.”
Wrapping it up:
“Be prepared for the end of the interview.”
Interviewers will ask if you have questions. Be prepared to follow up on points raised without being redundant and without raising personal issues. Generally, save questions about pay, holidays, vacations, stock options and other policies for a second interview. You should be able to find out most of those answers before you go anyway. Good questions that may draw out more details: ‘When will the job be available?’ ‘Is there a more-complete job description,’ ‘Is travel involved?’ – then interviewers may ask if you’re willing. Then you might bring up child- or adult-care responsibilities.
“We’re not asking anyone to be dishonest, but too many people give too much information.”
Where were you born? Are you an undocumented immigrant? You're a citizen of Albania? When were you naturalized?
You're how old? Were you born before moveable type was invented? Conversely, are you too young for this job? Do you have any experience?
What religion are you? Which church do you belong to? You need to take off Christmas/Yom Kippur/Ramadan?
Are you mentally stable? Are you on any medications that keep you stable? (Do you have any extra you can share?) Are there restrictions on your driver's license? Do you get tired in the afternoon (see also: You're how old?)? Has Alzheimer's set in yet or are you just sundowning at this point? Did your previous job give you a heart attack?
(Do you play well with others? Or will you open us up to sexual-harassment and hostile-workplace complaints?)
(Can you take criticism? Would you go postal? Do you smash computer keyboards? Kick copiers?)
(Can you toe the company line? Or are you a union organizer? Do you Tweet nasty things about your boss?)
For editor/writer of an in-house publication:
1. We rely heavily on AP style here. Give an example of common miss-use of AP style.
2. Why would someone with your background be interested in this job?
3. Walk us through your editing process.
4. Name an example of a large project you have been in charge of.
5. How would you feel about sources reading the stories ahead of publication.
6. What did you like best about your most recent job and what did you like least.
For government/community-relations job:
(Compiled from several interviews)