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5 job interview questions (and tips on answering them)

At first glance, Eric Cowperthwaite, Chief Security Officer at Providence Health and Services in Renton, Washington, doesn't care how excellent a job candidate's credentials and experience look on paper. He wants to see how much of an impression they make on his team.

"It doesn't matter how much I like you or how impressed I am by your skills. Show up and rub the team the wrong way, that's the end of the line."

That's is why when Cowperthwaite is vetting candidates for the security department at Providence, a not-for-profit Catholic health care services organization, he has every one of them meet with the team they will be working with BEFORE they get to sit down with him. He believes their impression is what matters most.

"It costs a lot in terms of team dynamics and effort and work that goes undone if you bring someone in that doesn't fit," said Cowperthwaite. "If someone doesn't fit, you have to start all over again in six months and hire someone else."

That said, if a perspective job candidate does get in front of Cowperthwaite, it is fair to say they have proven themselves to a large extent already. But he still has three important questions he wants to ask.

How do you collaborate?
Cowperthwaite asks this to gauge a candidate's attitude. Are they easy to get along with? Or do they use an "I'm in charge" attitude when collaborating with other team members, as well as people outside of security?

"It's a pretty open ended question," said Cowperthwaite. "I want to know: how do they build teams? What is their approach to working with others? Probably the most common thing I run into is folks whose approach to collaboration is to try to force teamwork from a position of assumed authority. They show up and say 'I'm from security and we are running a security project and I need you to do X,Y, and Z.'"

This kind of answer rubs Cowperthwaite the wrong way. That is not how he wants his team to collaborate with others. Instead, he'd rather hear that the candidate has a skill in team building that gives them a less abrasive edge when approaching others.

"The better answer is: 'I sit down with them and explain what my needs are and ask if they can help.' That's a far better answer."

Why do you want this job?
"Whether they are employed or unemployed, I'm curious," said Cowperthwaite. "While I happen to think working in my organization is a great thing, I'm curious what attracts them to the job."

For obvious reasons, Cowperthwaite said this can help weed out the frequent job jumpers simply looking for a short term opportunity to advance their resume credentials.

"I like the idea of people who are committed to doing great security work and being part of a team and contributing to my corporate mission and culture," he noted.

He's also received many bizarre answers.

"I had one candidate tell me they were applying for the job because it would solve their commute and toll problems. Call me crazy, but those don't seem like reasons why I should hire you. At no point did they tell me they were excited to be part of my team and to do great information-security work."