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Could it be that Christmas is a good time to search for a job? That's what Lee Hecht Harrison, an outplacement and career services firm, says.

"During the holidays, competition is reduced and most organizations have developed their budgets for the coming year and can predict their hiring needs and goals," says Leonard Posey, senior vice president and general manager of Harrison's Parsippany, N.J., office.

If you do manage to get an interview between all the vacations and merrymaking during the holiday season, are you prepared? Recently, I chatted online with Doug Hardy and Jeff Taylor, the authors of the Color of Money Book Club selection for December, "Monster Careers: Interviewing." For a transcript of the chat go to www.washingtonpost.

Based on the questions coming into the chat, many people clearly aren't sure what to say or do during and after interviewing for a job. Time ran out during the discussion, but both Hardy and Taylor agreed to answer more questions. Their responses may help you.

Q Interviewers always like to ask what your weaknesses are. How honest should you be when asked that question?

A Hardy and Taylor agree that you should always be honest. "Although candidates typically try to spin a weakness into strength by saying, 'I'm a perfectionist' or 'I overwork,' employers have heard these ploys a thousand times. Instead, identify your weakest point in the job's noncritical qualities, and outline your plan for overcoming it."

Q My husband and I are moving to another state. We will have to take temporary jobs. How bad will our resumes look if we moved halfway across the country and worked at Lowe's while interviewing for a job that is a better fit for our skills and education?

A This comes down to the way you tell your story, Hardy said. "I've met many employers who admire candidates that did everything, including temporary work, to wind up with the ideal job." In your cover letter or e-mail, tell the truth. "If you sound like you're in control of your career, that says good things about you."

Q I have an interview for a position and the pool has been narrowed down to me and one other person. How do you approach a salary discussion when you know there is another qualified candidate being considered?

A It's all about you, says Taylor and Hardy. Act as if you were the only candidate. "Throughout the discussion focus not only on a number but on what the employer will get when they hire you. They will compare the total package of your skills, experience and character, not just the price."

Q What's the best way to find out the salary of the position being offered? Often interviewers seem hesitant to share this information, which is a major consideration to interviewees.

A Research the salary range by networking with friends in the profession, and check out the salary research information on Monster's Web site, www.monster. Click on the link for "Career Advice" and then look for "Salary Center."

"It's often best to let the interviewer mention a salary range first, although they usually frame it as a question. If you know generally how much the job pays, and you've determined a range you're comfortable with, you can throw out a range but make it broad, at least 20 percent around the figure your research has determined is the market rate."

Here's some additional information from the Web site.

w Don't talk about salary too early in the interview. You can avoid the question until you're on the short list for the job by saying, 'I'm sure this position pays a competitive salary, and I'll be happy to discuss that if you have come to the point where you'd like me to consider an offer.'

w When the employer becomes interested in hiring you, then it's time to use the salary information you've researched.

w Keep in mind that it's not all about the cash. When weighing a job offer, consider not just your base salary but benefits such as bonuses, profit sharing and stock options if they're available.

Write to Michelle Singletary in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington, Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.

Q Why is it that company executi

ves can't be bothered to tell a job candidate if they didn't get the position? This happened to me in a recent search (several times with major, reputable Fortune 500 corporations) and to many other job seekers. I understand for lower-level jobs with hundreds of applicants that they only call people they want, but it's disgraceful at executive levels.

A The companies don't bother "because they're busy, or they're not organized or things get away from them," Hardy said. "The reasons are usually that ordinary. None of these are excuses, of course. If I were you in that situation I'd practice my professional demeanor and respectfully follow up, even if the answer looks like it's no.

If they never get back to you that says something about their business, or lack of organization. Don't take it personally. And when you're in a position to hire, remember to follow up with every candidate, so they don't have to endure what you have."

Write to Michelle Singletary in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington, Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.

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