The success of your interview will largely depend on your ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy like this, you’re in a better position to freely exchange ideas and demonstrate your suitability for the job.
In addition to empathy, there are four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived and will affect how much rapport or personal chemistry you have with the employer.
1. Enthusiasm –
Enthused about the job? Show it! Leave no doubt about how interested you are in the job. Employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open… Wouldn’t you rather turn down an offer than have a prospective job evaporate because of your lethargic interview?
2. Technical interest
Employers look for people who love what they do and are eager to dive into the nitty-gritty of the job.
Don’t toot your own horn. After all, no one likes a braggart. But the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost always be more favorably received.
The last thing you want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. Sleepwalkers rarely (ever?) get hired. You may be laid back, but in an interview, you need to convey intensity.
Remember that most employers know how stressful interviewing for a new position can be, and they will do everything they can to put you at ease.
The Other Fundamentals
Interviewing also involves the exchange of tangible information, so make sure to:
- Present your background thoroughly and accurately
- Gather data concerning the company, industry, position, and specific opportunity
- Link your abilities and the company needs together in the mind of the employer
- Build a strong case for why the company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make from building rapport and asking the right questions.
Never leave an interview without exchanging fundamental information, for your sake and the employer’s. The more you know about each other, the more potential for establishing rapport and making an informed decision.
Basic Interviewing Strategy
You can answer interview questions in two ways: the short version and the long version.
When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long version.”
The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, “What was your most difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.
You must always remember that the interviewer asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what the interviewer needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer will do just fine?
Say you were interviewing for a sales management position and the interviewer asked, “What sort of sales experience do you have?”
That’s exactly the type of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience. Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s neatly packaged.
One way to answer the question might be, “I’ve held sales positions with three different consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like me to start?”
Or, you might say, “Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in consumer product sales with three different companies and held the titles of district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my background would you like to concentrate on?”
By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go.
After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing the important details that are important.
Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job
I have a friend who’s the hiring manager of an electronics company. He told me about how he once brought a candidate into his office to make him a job offer, but the candidate wouldn’t stop talking long enough for my friend to make him an offer.
I’m not suggesting that an interview should consist of monosyllabic grunts. It’s just that nothing turns off an employer faster than a windbag candidate.
By using the short version/long version method to answer questions, you’ll never talk yourself out of a job.
The Prudent Use of Questions
Beware: An interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask some high-quality questions of your own.
Candidate questions are the lifeblood of any successful interview because they:
- Create dialogue that lets the interviewer and you learn more about each other and visualize what working together will be like once you’ve been hired.
- Clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities.
- Indicate your grasp of the fundamental issues discussed so far.
- Reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial.
- Challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of knowledge or commitment to the job.
Your questions should always show empathy, interest, or understanding of the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because the employer’s company has some piece of work that needs to be completed, or a problem that needs correcting.
Here are some effective questions:
- What’s the most important issue facing your department?
- How can I help you accomplish this objective?
- How long has it been since you first identified this need?
- How long have you been trying to correct it?
- Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done? What was the result?
- What other means have you used? For example, have you brought in independent contractors, or temporary help, or employees borrowed from other departments? Or have you recently hired people who haven’t worked out?
- Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?
- Is there a unique aspect of my background that you’d like to tap in order to help accomplish your objectives?
Such questions will give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, and indicate your concern for satisfying the company’s objectives.
Give It Some Thought
Here are seven of the most commonly asked interviewing questions. Give them some thought before the interview occurs.
- Why do you want this job?
- Why do you want to leave your present company?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your personal goals?
- What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
- What do you like most about your current company?
- What do you like least about your current company?
The last question is probably the hardest to answer.
Rather than pointing out the faults of other people (“I can’t stand the office politics” or “I don’t get along with my boss”), place the burden on yourself (“I feel I’m ready to exercise a new set of professional muscles,” or “The type of technology I’m interested in isn’t available to me now.”).
This way, you avoid pointing the finger at someone else or coming across as a whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak negatively about others.
Think through the answers to the above questions because:
- Hemming and hawing over fundamental questions won’t help your chances of getting hired. (The answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.)
- These questions will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy on an interview.
If you don’t feel comfortable with your answers, maybe the new job isn’t right for you.
Money, Money, Money
There’s a good chance you’ll be asked about your current and expected level of compensation. Here’s the way to handle the following questions:
Question: What are you currently earning?
Answer: “My compensation, including bonus, is in the high-90s. I’m expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the just over 100.”
Question: What sort of money would you need in order to come to work for our company?
Answer: “I feel that the opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer.”
Notice the way a range was given as the answer to the first question, not a specific dollar figure. However, if the interviewer presses for an exact answer, then by all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so forth.
In answer to the second question, if the interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you should also suggest a range, as in, “I would need something in the low- to mid- fifties.”
Getting locked in to an exact figure may work against you later, in one of two ways. Either the number you give is lower than you really want to accept or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer never comes.
By using a range, you can keep your options open.
Some Questions You Can Count On
There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.
First, there are the resume questions that relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and so forth.
Resume questions require accurate, objective answers. After all, your resume consists of facts, which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Avoid answers that exaggerate your achievements, or make you seem opinionated, vague, or egocentric.
Second, interviewers will usually want you to comment on your abilities or assess your past performance. They’ll ask self-appraisal questions like, “What do you think is your greatest asset?” or “Can you tell me something you’ve done that was very creative?”
Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain past certain actions or require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. “How would you stay profitable during a recession?” or “How would you go about laying off 1,300 employees?” or “How would you handle customer complaints if the company drastically raised its prices?” are typical situation questions.
And lastly, some employers like to test your mettle with stress questions such as, “After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?” or “If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?” or, “It’s obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time talking?”
Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while you’re under pressure. Off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive posture, so stay calm and give carefully considered answers.
A stress question may remind you of a Miss Universe beauty pageant. The finalists are asked before a live television audience of three and a half billion people to give heartfelt and earnest responses to incongruous questions like, “What would you tell the leaders of all the countries on earth to do to promote world peace?”
Of course, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process. Just don’t go over the edge.
Even if you could anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities, and your reasons for considering a new position; and to handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.
At the conclusion of your interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to cover so far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.
During your interview wrap-up, make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you’re exploring, as long as they’re genuine, and their timing has some bearing on your own decision-making.
The fact that you’re actively exploring other opportunities may affect the speed with which the company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively influence the eventual outcome, since the company may want to act quickly. However, your other activity should be presented in the spirit of assistance to the interviewer, not as a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic. Play it straight with the interviewer.
And remember to maintain a positive attitude. In today’s job market, you’d be surprised how often victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.
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