Author Archive for James Trotta

James Trotta began teaching public speaking in 2002 and interview skills in 2008. Somewhere in between he began teaching intercultural communication, public speaking, and resume / cover letter writing.

Describe yourself and what makes you unique, 150 characters or fewer

If you ask around, you’ll hear a few different approaches to this question as well as some vitriol aimed at interviewers who ask job candidates to explain why they are unique.

Some people say to explain how hiring you will benefit the company and the interviewer. That’s an important message, but it probably needs to be delivered with the answers to every other question, not as an answer to what makes you unique, try to catch our eye.

My advice is to tell a story that shows the interviewer something about you. If you’ve studied fiction writing, you’ve heard “Show, don’t tell.” The same rule applies here. Show the interviewers or the application readers something about who you are.

My wife recently came up with what I think is a great answer to the question what makes you unique in 150 characters or less: I found Lucky in Jirisan a week before the floods. I cried when the vet put him on an IV and said it was 50/50. I laugh every time he licks my nose.

This is a short story that shows you my wife is an animal lover and has saved / adopted a stray named Lucky. It doesn’t tell too much though – Is Lucky a dog or a cat or a bear? Where is Jirisan? There’s more to the story, which is critical if you are answering this question on a job application. Now they should call you for an interview to get the answers. If they ask during the interview, it’s still good to show them something but not everything. An interview is a discussion so don’t give any speeches.

Is it a fair question?

It may seem unreasonable to disqualify a candidate because they can’t think of something clever to say about themselves. But some jobs require clever people who say creative, interesting things.

I think it’s fair to ask people to show that they have some personality. If you can’t think of anything interesting to say does that mean you’ve never done anything fun? Does it mean you can’t open up with the interviewer? Of course as describe yourself in 150 characters or less becomes more popular, it also becomes less useful as people will have prepared for the question.

Interviewee question: tell me about yourself

I just had an interview with a decent company. I think it went OK. I just want to ask your opinion on something.

In school, we had several accounting professors who were partners in big fours, some were CFOs, COO, and CAO. Basically they weren’t people from the street, they were successful individuals.

Whenever it comes to interview they always tell us to ASK QUESTIONS. Not only ask questions at the end, but also in the middle and in the beginning. They always put an emphasis on this.

Today I had an interview where the first question was tell me about yourself. After I finished answering, I asked the interviewer to tell me about herself. She gave me a smile like WTF you asking me questions/almost like rolling eyes, and did not answer the question.

Did I do something wrong? Should I have been one of those guys who should have waited until the end? I swear it was an awkward moment.

Well, yeah, you did something wrong. Asking questions is good advice but why would you ask her to tell you about herself?

You should be asking questions about the job and the company, not about person interviewing you. So the work environment matters but not specifically the personality of the interviewer. There are exceptions though – if you can ask the interviewer a question about them and the job, that’s good. Something like how long they’ve been there and how long they plan to remain (if the interviewer is leaving soon that might matter to you) could be appropriate. Something about their management style makes sense if you’d be working under the interviewer. Would you tell me what’s made you so successful here? would be a strong question to ask thanks to the embedded compliment. It doesn’t sound like ass-kissery but it ought to give the interviewer that warm fuzzy feeling that says you respect her.

Relationships between Korean students and American teachers

Here’s a Korean’s view on the cultural differences between dealing with teachers in Korea and in America.

One aspect of American culture I really cannot adapt to is the way students behave to their teachers. English has no honorifics so there is no way of speaking with respect to older people. I cannot call a teach ‘you’ or use their first name. In high school we say “teacher” and in university we say “professor.”

In addition, US students say hi to their professors by waving. In Korea we bow. In class, Americans interrupt the lecture with questions. In Korea we have to wait for the professor to pause. It seems that in Korea we really have to be much more careful to be polite to our professors.

I’ve noticed a difference in the concept of right and fairness as well. One of my friends goes to university in the US, and he told me a shocking story. He became really close friends with one of his professors. They went out for lunch, played tennis together, and the professor even invited him to his house. When the semester was over, he got a B. He thought he would get an A easily since they were friends but the professor just gave my friend the grade he earned. In Korea people expect preferential treatment when they know each other but in the US I guess opportunities and results apply to everyone the same.

Interview experience: Lotte Department Store Seoul (sales management)

The job aptitude test started at 7:50 AM and the interviews started at 9:15.

First interview

This was a high pressure interview where two workers grilled me. I remember a few questions:

Have you gotten any suggestions that you found hard to accept recently? How did you react?
Tell us about something you did creatively in a group.
Tell us about a time you were working ina group and had to make some changes.
Tell us about a time when you were group leader. How did you lead?
What personal skills do you have to make a good a group? Describe how you use these skills at the group’s first meeting.

Second interview (English skills)

Here I was one on one with a native speaker.

Introduce yourself.
Why did you apply for a position in sales management? What is sales management?
Tell me as much as you can about Lotte Department Store.
Tell me about your internship experience.
Tell me about your hobbies.

Third interview (discussion / debate)

They put six of us in a room and gave us a topic: The game industry is developing rapidly in Korea but we should make a bill to prohibit adolescents from accessing internet game sites to protect them. We had 10 minutes to think and then moved to the interview room with two interviewers. The put is in two groups, pro and con. The idea was to listen carefully to the opponents reach some sort of compromise.

Fourth interview

The final interview was the executive interview. There were three executives and three interviewees. This time the atmosphere was pretty relaxed.

Introduce yourself briefly.
What are your strong and weak points?
What do you think of our company president, Shin Guek Ho?
Do you know how many Lotte Department Stores there are in Korea?
Tell us about your volunteer experience. What did you learn from it?
What current issue are you interested in?
Tell us about IT technology and how we can use it in our department store.
What can you do better than other job applicants?

Interview experience: Daewoo International 2010 (Steel)

I was in the afternoon group so I arrived at noon and the interview started at 12:30. It was a personality interview where six executives asked questions of me. I was the only interviewee and the atmosphere was very heavy.

What do you know about our company? Tell us in English.
Why did you apply here?
What are our strong and weak points compared to our competitors?
Why did you apply for the steel sector?
Tell us as much as you can about the steel industry.
You have an interesting hobby. Why do like boxing and what have you learned from boxing?
How god is your English and do you speak other languages?
Tell us about a failure you’ve experienced.

Interesting that there weren’t many personality questions in the personality part of the interview.

Then they put me ina room with a laptop, gave me a topic, and 45 minutes to prepare a presentation. “What are the main issues of CEPA with India and what is your opinion? Suggest business strategies for our company.”

I used the net to do some research and created a PowerPoint presentation. Then I delivered a 5 minute presentation to 4 workers who asked some follow up question on my content.

Tell us more about the water business.
How did you think of trading cotton and silk between India and Korea?
Where did you get your information?
Tell us more about the natural gas business.
Sum up the presentation in Korean.

Beyond culture shock: he blew his nose in class

A fun story from one of my students:

When I first went to America there were many things i wasn’t familiar with. The most shocking story of all happened during my first day in American school. A kid sitting next to me stood up in the middle of class, walked all the way to the back, took a Kleenex from the box, and he started to blow his nose.

It was beyond culture shock. I couldn’t even imagine this ever happening in a Korean school, but no one was surprised. It’s one of the most embarrassing things you can do and should never be done in class. Like farting real loud in the middle of class.

In Korea, people sniffle to avoid blowing their nose in class. It was the other way around in America. I got used to this pretty quickly and I started to love it. But one time I blew my nose in class in Korea. Everyone looked at me as though I had just farted. I learned it’s important to know when to switch my gear.

Toilet paper at the kitchen table

Here’s a cultural difference that a student of mine noticed:

I went to an American university for one year and lived in a dorm with my American roommate. I used to cook Korean food for us and we enjoyed eating together. However, he was shocked and disgusted when I wiped my mouth with toilet paper after the meal.

Interestingly, I noticed this when I came to Korea and saw toilet paper where I didn’t expect it. In Korea, people use toilet paper for all kinds of things. In a lot of restaurants you’ll see rolls of toilet paper on the tables. Koreans use toilet paper in the bathroom and in the kitchen or on restaurant tables. For some it takes a little getting used to.

Lunch with a Canadian friend from a Korean perspective

Consider this story from one of my students:

When I met my Canadian friend, I suggested we get lunch together. When she showed up for the lunch date, my Canadian fried had brought her friend along – a total stranger to me.

In Korea, this kind of arrangement is between the inviter and the invitee. However, in Canada it’s relatively easier to get along with strangers and make new friends so they easily bring their friends with them.

When I asked the rest of the class, about 50% said it would bother them if a friend brought a stranger along to this kind of lunch that was supposed to be between two friends. More Korean women than men said they would find it uncomfortable or offensive.

In America and Canada, I think fewer people would find the situation awkward, especially since this was a casual, friendly meeting as opposed to a business lunch. When we get together to chit chat or hang out, we often feel ‘the more the merrier’.

The contrast is that, in Korea, being placed in a situation where you have to socialize with strangers is fairly awkward. For an example of what I mean, one thing that surprised me about Korea is that on the first day of class, students would be quiet – as if they were taking the final exam. They didn’t want to introduce themselves to the strangers sitting around them.

Personality question: Who was your favorite Beatle?

Believe it or not I had a boss who would always ask people who their favorite Beatle was. If they said John he considered them radical or left leaning, if they said George they were moderate centrists and if the said Paul he considered them more conservative or right leaning. If someone said Ringo he felt they had something to hide or where just trying to impress him with a different answer as no one really liked Ringo. While it might seem very wierd, it always seemed to provide a pretty accurate brief analysis of the individual as we found out after they were hired.

I’m just relating a unique question one of my former bosses (I’m retired) used to ask and how he interpreted some responses. Obviously anyone who would think a final hiring decision was made based on the response is an idiot. However, it was a good question to throw people off their game a little during the interview process and often got some interesting conversations going as they tended to relax more and talk more about themselves. I say whatever works!

Notice how the emphasis is on getting the interviewee off their game and getting an interesting conversation going. When you get interview questions, one of your main goals is to make the conversation an interesting one. Interesting people get hired because the interviewer would probably like to work with interesting people.

So don’t get too thrown off your game by these types of questions. Be yourself and be interesting. Let your personality show and be likable.

And, since the person who asks this question probably likes the Beatles, you should have a favorite and at least appreciate their music. Don’t say that the Beatles suck and everyone who likes the Beatles is a tool. Name one, and say what you appreciate about him. And be willing to have a friendly conversation.

Great question. (smile) I’d have to say Paul is my favorite. The thing I admire most is his work on A Garland for Linda – it’s just such a beautiful tribute album and Paul did a piece on there and I’m sure that his influence helped get the other great artists to write for the album. And it shows real love, something I think we have to admire.

Trick questions

Most interviewers are smart enough not to use them but some claim that trick questions are good for spotting people like to spew BS. I don’t like these questions personally but there is something to that. These questions make it easy to spot when someone is pretending to know what they’re talking about.

Given the numbers 1-1000, what is the minimum numbers of guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint higher/lower, for each quess you make?

The answer is 1, by the way.

Where a banana costs $0.20, an apple costs $0.40, and an orange costs $0.60, how much does a pear cost?

I prefer apples and oranges anyway so I wouldn’t even ask.