The outcome of a job interview can be decided within the first 30 seconds! Scary but true!
You can confidently glide through these critical seconds of your job interview by being enthusiastic, upbeat and positive, starting with a firm handshake, a genuine smile and friendly eye contact. Then, already knowing that you look great, show your interviewer that you are likeable, determined and exceptionally well-informed during the balance of your interview!
That's all there is to it! Well, maybe not quite ... but you'll be off to a great start, which is more than most other candidates for the job will be able to say.
Two words that are key to a successful job interview: creativity and persistence! Be constantly on the look-out for ways to pleasantly surprise an interviewer - such as providing him or her with a copy of your job search/career portfolio.
Job Interview Basics
Prepare. Have your facts ready! Be sure to do your homework. Research the company and learn as much as possible about the position. Review your relevant experiences and be ready to support past job accomplishments with specific information targeted to the company's needs.
Adapt. Be sensitive to the interviewer's style and body language, while paying attention to the office decor (books on the shelf, pictures on the desk, awards and certificates on the wall, etc.) This can provide you with valuable clues to help you tailor your interview.
Relate. Be sure everything you talk about is relevant to the position for which you are applying.
Encourage. Invite the interviewer(s) to share information about the company and the position as part of your responses or when you are asked if you have questions for the interviewer.
Note: A too frequently overlooked, but potentially key influencer in this whole process, is the manager's administrative assistant. Remember, he or she is the manager's gate keeper, calendar keeper and phone screener. This person can become an important ally, so court their favor by introducing yourself - just shake their hand and thank them for facilitating the interview process. (Don't go overboard or it will come across as pandering.) This person can help you schedule a follow-up meeting or ensure that when you make a follow-up phone call, the boss will know - maybe by putting a pink call-back slip on their chair instead of dumping your call into an already overflowing voice mail box. And if you take the job, remember who helped you get there!
Preparing for a Job Interview
The obvious point of putting preparation strategies in motion is to be sure you're ready for just about anything that an interviewer can throw at you and to enable you to maintain your composure throughout.
When you can answer these questions, you will be strategically ready for just about anything.
- What have I enjoyed most about my career so far?
- What are my transferable strengths and skills?
- What are my weaknesses, AKA the areas in which I need development?
- What have been my biggest achievements?
- What wouldn't have happened if I hadn't held my previous position?
- What specific examples can I provide to back up my value claim? (These will be in your portfolio.)
- What will my current boss miss most about me?
- What will my direct reports say about me?
Prepare your answers to these questions as soon as possible in case you don't have a chance to complete the entire preparation process before the interviews start.
Have interim business cards professionally printed - they don't have to be expensive if you shop around a bit and they are well worth the cost. Don't print them yourself on your computer. Your name, address (use a P.O. Box if you don't want your address out there), phone number and email address is all the information that's really necessary. You may want to add some sort of tag line - your last job title if it's relevant to the type of job you are seeking (i.e., Information Management Specialist) or use the generic type of work you are seeking, followed by the word "Professional" (i.e., Operations Management Professional). I've known women in the job-hunting mode to use something like "Professional on Hiatus" which is OK but avoid anything that a stranger would think sounds too "cute".
And don't just save them for use on job interviews. You need to be attending every networking event you can find and, contrary to your normal networking practice, leave your cards with everyone you speak. Don't forget to collect theirs too!
The Five Major Types of Job Interviews
And How to Prepare for Each
The search for new ways to interview prospective employees is a never-ending one for many organizations. Even though you can’t predict which ones they’ll use, if you prepare for the most common ones, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
The Structured Job Interview
Employers use this type to identify your skills, abilities and experience so they can be sure you have the right competencies for the job. Prepare for this type by reviewing the job description and any other information you have about the job for which you are applying. List specific examples of ways in which you’ve demonstrated that you have “the right stuff”.
The Behavioral or Situational Job Interview
Employers use this type to find out how you will act and react in certain situations. The questions will be about how you’ve behaved in past situations and hypothetically about how you would behave in the future. The questions are a little difficult to predict so your best bet is to listen to the questions carefully and be sure you understand them. Then take a minute to think about what they are looking for. Give an honest, positive answer. Wherever possible, back up your answer with an example.
The Panel Job Interview
Employers sometimes want job candidates to speak to a number of managers and potential peers. This type of interview can take most of a day. A favorite tactic is to have one interviewer be aggressive while another is sympathetic to see how you perform under stress. Don’t be put off or lulled into a false sense of security if this happens. Prepare for this type as you would for the Structured and Behavioral types. Focus on the person asking you questions and maintain good eye contact. It’s better to ask an interviewer to clarify his or her question if you have any doubts about what they are looking for. It also buys you a little time to think about your answer.
The Technical Job Interview
Employers may want to conduct a “hands-on” assessment for a technical position. For instance, if you are applying for a market research position, you might be asked to analyze some data or make a mock sales call if you are applying for a sales position. As long as you have the relevant experience and have done your homework about the company, you should be fine with this type. Again, be sure you fully understand the question and keep your cool.
The Telephone Job Interview
Employers may use this remote screening technique as a first step in filling a position. Assuming the potential employer has scheduled this type ahead of time (they almost always will), prepare as you would for an in-person interview. Don’t be surprised if you are put on speaker phone and find several people on the other end. Jot down everyone’s names and try to direct any questions you have to a specific person. Be sure you are not at work so you can complete the call privately without interruption. Listen to the interviewer’s tone of voice. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything going on around you.
How to Answer and Ask
Job Interview Questions
Preparing to answer interview questions is a lot like cramming for a final exam! In one form or another, there are ten questions that are always asked. You absolutely have to be prepared to answer them. Knowing your responses ahead of time can make or break your interview.
And as if answering tough questions isn’t enough, you need to be prepared to ask questions also! At the end of your interview you’ll probably be given a last opportunity to make a great final impression! This isn’t just a courtesy but is used by employers to draw some conclusions about your level of enthusiasm and analytical skills. Your questions also provide you with an opportunity to avoid an anti-climatic ending to the interview. Make them relevant, genuine and intelligent.
Checklist for Your Job Interview Day
The big day has arrived – job interview day – and you are well prepared. Just to be on the safe side, use this checklist to be sure you don’t forget anything in the last minute excitement.
- Re-read the job posting or advertisement and your working notes the night before your interview so your subconscious can work on them and make your answers come more easily the next day.
- Be sure you arrive on time, or better yet, a little early (not less than five or more than fifteen minutes). If you are traveling a distance or into a city, check on traffic, road conditions or anything that might cause you a delay.
- Double-check the location of your interview. Some companies have multiple locations within one metropolitan area and you want to be sure you arrive at the right one. Also, with many offices located in business parks these days, be sure you know which one is the right building. It’s not a bad idea to make a dry run in advance to be on the safe side.
- If you’re driving to your job interview, double-check your directions. Construction on the interstates is never-ending and you don’t want to wind up going in the wrong direction with only minutes to spare.
- Re-read your resume the morning of the interview and be sure have a clean copy with you.
- Finally, review and check off the items on your list of things to take with you:
- Your portfolio
- Your interim business cards
- Your contact’s name and number in case you’re delayed
- A good looking folio, pad and pen
- The list of questions you want to ask
- Your cell phone – remember to turn it off during the interview
- Reading glasses if you need them
- Whatever you might need to touch up your makeup and hair
- Any emergency meds you usually carry.
- Look smart! You’ll have a good feeling for what to wear from your research about the company. If there is any doubt, err on the conservative side. Well-manicured hands, accessories and/or jewelry that are also conservative, and no perfume complete your look. Take a last quick peek in the mirror on your way out the door. Knowing you look your best is one less thing to have on your mind. Got your watch on? Good.
- And last, but not least, when you park in the company’s lot for your interview, be sure to take your keys our of the ignition. (I once interviewed a woman who was so nervous she locked her keys in her car and had to come back and ask us to call a locksmith for her. She wasn’t asked back for a second interview.)
Job Interview Follow-Up Etiquette
According to human resource professionals, only about 10% of people who interview for a given job take time to write a thank you letter. A golden opportunity forever lost!
Without interview follow-up, you may fall off potential employers’ radar screens – even though your resume, cover letter and portfolio are first rate and your interviews are going well.
Writing to express your appreciation can put you into the top 10% of applicants very quickly. And it costs practically nothing in time or money.
The following two brief stories are about how two women job interviewees became memorable to the people who hired them.
Professor Howard Stephenson wrote a book about people who knew how to survive during the Great Depression. In it he tells the story about a redheaded young woman who answered a newspaper ad for an office assistant. When the young women showed up at the business, she found a long line of job applicants ahead of her. Sizing up the situation, she went to the nearest Western Union office and had the following telegram delivered to the job interviewer: “Don’t hire anyone until you talk to the redhead at the end of the line”. Shortly after the telegram was delivered, the interviewer came out of his office with the telegram desperately clutched in his hand. He identified the redheaded sender, took her into the office, said, “You are exactly the sort of assistant we need here”, and hired her on the spot.
When I was part of a management team in Colorado, one young woman who applied for a position on the team was a native New Orleanean. We were very favorably impressed by her resume and the way she conducted herself during team interviews, but were concerned about how she would manage the altitude and climate change. Someone mentioned this to her as she was leaving at the end of the day. Two days later, we received a thank you letter from her (the only thank you we did receive) that included a couple of Polaroid pictures she’d taken of herself dressed in a ski cap, parka, gloves and a huge smile in front of her open freezer door. She was offered the job and accepted it over the phone minutes later!
Believe it or not, some candidates have actually gotten different jobs with the same company as a result of this type of follow-up.
Kudos Where They're Due
This advice on surviving and thriving during the job interview process represents a compilation of information from a variety of sources: my personal experience, several friends who are recruiters, several other friends who are human resource professionals and a website devoted entirely to interviewing – http://www.interviewstuff.com. Thanks to all who contributed!
Return to MAKING A JOB CHANGE from JOB INTERVIEW