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Interview Tips

What is an interview? Too many candidates think of it as merely an evaluation of their technical ability to do the job in question. In fact, it is much more. An interview should be seen as a combination of the following:

  • A fact finding opportunity for both parties
  • A time to present your skills and experience in a way that is tailored to the needs of the company
  • A time to sell your abilities and elicit a job offer

It is not a semi-passive conversation in which you answer their questions and then wait to see if they want to offer you a job. It is a sales process and the process requires preparation.

A SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW is dependent on many factors. Among these are preparation, presentation and follow-up.

In much the same way as you might prepare for an exam, preparation for your interview will enable you to both address questions in the event they are asked and to participate actively and positively in the interviewing process.

Showing insight and understanding, demonstrating how you "fit in" with the organization, and following through after the interview will also significantly increase your chances of securing an offer of employment.

PREPARATION

Your Personal Inventory

Anticipate what you are likely to be asked, and prepare your answers. Obviously, your strengths and special skills are attributes which you want to convey to your interviewer. Being able to specifically detail your accomplishments is very important.

It would be useful to make a list of your personal strengths and abilities. Knowing what is on that list will arm you for the type of questions you are likely to be asked. Familiarize yourself with the list, but don't prepare to make a memorized presentation.

Identify your goals and be ready to demonstrate how the prospective organization relates to them. Remember that your interviewer may probe about long-term commitment, so if you know where you want to be 5 or 10 years from now you'll be able to answer more confidently.

In anticipation of questions about any weaknesses, be prepared to explain how you might convert these to strengths in a different setting.

Researching the Company

Find out as much as you can about the prospective employer. Your Personnel Consultant will help you understand the organization, its products and/or services, its clientele and its competition. If time permits, obtain a copy of the company's most recent annual report. Trade and industry publications may also be helpful. By referring to the company's literature during the interview, you will let the interviewer know you have done your homework, as well as demonstrating preparation and initiative. Also:

  • Check to see if the company has been the subject of recent news. (You can check through the reference desk of your local library.) Asking questions about recent corporate news will show your thoroughness.
  • Check their web site. You found ours, now look for theirs. Show you are resourceful and up-to-date in your computerization.
  • What can you find out about the managers you will meet? Your recruiter should be a good source of information regarding the people with whom you will interview. Where did they work before? How long have they been on board? What has their career growth been? If possible, ask acquaintances and colleagues who may know.
  • Prepare a list of good questions based on all of the above and on your needs and interests. In order to be effective in the process, you must ask questions to be sure you fully understand the duties of the job; its short-term and long-term expectations.

Beyond preparation, there are a few basic pointers to keep in mind in any interview situation, including telephone interviews. (Given the costs of flying candidates to interviews, more and more companies are using telephone interviews as a first step in the hiring process. Don't be put off at such an arrangement, but don't take it lightly either. It is the gateway to a visit to the office.)

Dressing for the Interview

Your appearance will provide your interviewer with a first impression, even before you shake hands. Accordingly, dress, haircut, manicure and personal hygiene are essential in landing a position.

Men should wear a conservative business suit, preferably dark blue or gray. A white or soft pastel shirt complemented by a tie is appropriate. Shoes should be well shined. Always carry a briefcase or portfolio. Samples of work should be referred to but not presented unless asked for by the interviewer. For women, suits and blouses are proper, as are tailored conservative dresses. Again, a briefcase or portfolio is desirable.

Some caution in dress. Men: avoid sport jackets, summer attire, and open collars. Women: no pant suits, slacks or jeans (designer or otherwise). Don't carry a large shoulder bag.

The Countdown to the Interview

  • A day or two before the interview, call your Personnel Consultant to confirm the time of your appointment, and get the spelling and pronunciation of your interviewer's name. Get directions to the location, especially if it is in an area you don't know.
  • On the day of your interview, plan to arrive a few minutes early. Punctuality makes a good impression, so allow extra time for traffic delays. If for some reason you find you will be late, call your Personnel Consultant to let him or her know you will not be on time. You consideration will be appreciated.
  • When you arrive, it may be necessary to complete an application, whether or not you have submitted a resume. On any question of salary requirements in the application, it is advisable to state "to be discussed."

PRESENTATION -- THE INTERVIEW

First Impression

It is here that all of your advance preparation will pay off. Your appearance, handshake, eye contact, confidence and ability to both answer and ask questions will set the tone for a successful interview.

When you meet your interviewer, smile, and greet him or her with a firm handshake. It is at this moment that your evaluation has begun. An air of self-confidence will help convince the interviewer that you can handle the stress of this first meeting. Be observant, and quickly try to establish good rapport.

Remember why you are there. Your objective is to get the job, or at least to go on to the next step in the interview process. Don't get lulled into a friendly conversation, no matter how comfortable it may seem. You are competing for a job in a world of many applicants. Maintain your edge.

Be Responsive

Remember, your interview time may be short, so you must get your point across quickly and concisely. Be both factual and sincere when stressing your achievements While each interview is different, there are some questions which you are almost certain to be asked. Your potential employer may want to know more about your education and previous work history, why you are considering a change, how you'd carry out the duties of the position, and how willing you'd be to relocate.

Be forthright. Answer questions directly, even if it means admitting you don't know something. Usually, directness will win out over an indirect attempt to get by.

Be precise. Say exactly what you mean. Don't leave it up to the interviewer to "understand." Your message, your intent, may not survive the filter of someone else's interpretation so choose your words carefully. If you don't get your message across effectively, there will be no second chance.

Listen Carefully

When asked a question you don't understand, seek clarification and respond accordingly. The skills in you "personal inventory" -- the responses which you prepared before this interview -- will allow you to answer with confidence and sincerity.

Be Positive

Interviewers are likely to ask pointed or potentially negative questions such as why you left your prior companies. Answer honestly, but in doing so try to respond positively. For example, if asked why you had changed jobs three time in five years, you might explain that each position offered a higher degree of challenge and fulfillment, and cite the accomplishments in each of the positions.

Be Professional

You should not be critical of your current or previous employers. To do otherwise suggests disloyalty. It also means that your entire demeanor must be positive. It is possible to be assertive and yet be tactful.

PREPARING YOUR OWN QUESTIONS

What to ask -- and not to ask

Asking questions about the company is an excellent interview technique. Such questions as "What will be most important for me to accomplish?" and "Why is the position open?" not only show the interviewer you're interested, they give you information to help you proceed with the interview. You should also make inquiries about the company's current status and future growth plans. Ask questions about plans in the department and your potential future.

Don't volunteer personal opinions. You don't know the person who is interviewing you and his/her personal feelings.

Don't discuss compensation. Let them bring it up. However, be prepared with a figure in mind which is the minimum you will accept.

Closing the Interview

Remember that you are selling yourself and this is the time to close the sale. If it is the first interview in a multiple- interview process, then ask for the next interview. Companies like to see interest on the part of applicants. If all other factors are equal, they will probably prefer the one who shows interest by asking good questions and by asking for the position.

Declare your interest.

  • At each interview, at each stage, as the interview reaches its natural conclusion, tell the interviewer you are interested and why.
  • Based on your new understanding of the position and its duties, tell him/her what you feel you can contribute.
  • Ask to go on to the next step.
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When speaking of your experience, talk in terms of personal accomplishments. Be specific and talk about achievements which relate to the new position. You have to build your case. Make it a compelling one.

FOLLOW-UP

Immediately after the interview, call your Personnel Consultant. It is important that the Personnel Consultant have your input on the interview. He or she can more effectively represent you when following up with the company.

At this time, the Consultant may suggest a phone call of short note to the company expressing your interest and restating your attributes for the job.

If you anticipate an offer, your Personnel Consultant will help you carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages. In fact, your Consultant will be of help throughout the process to secure a position and compensation package that's right for you.