Interview

Interview Prep

Since interviewing involves the exchange of specific information, make sure to:

  • Present your background in a thorough and accurate manner.
  • Gather data concerning the company, the industry, the position and the specific opportunity.
  • Link your abilities with the company needs 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 this information. The more you know about each other, the more potential you have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.

How to Interview

To a large degree, the success of your interview depends on your ability to discover the needs of the interviewer and to empathize with the interviewer.

Ask questions to verify your understanding of what the interviewer has said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy, you are in a better position to freely exchange ideas and therefore demonstrate your suitability for the job.

In addition to empathy, there are four other fundamentals to a successful interview. These influence the way your personality is perceived and will affect the degree of rapport—or personal chemistry—you share with the potential employer.

1. Enthusiasm – Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it's unnecessary to do this, but 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 be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?

2. Technical Interest – Employers look for people who love what they do and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.

3. Confidence – No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who's sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.

4. Intensity – The last thing you want to do is come across as "flat" in your interview. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back person, but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.

Note: most employers are aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position and do everything they can to put you at ease.

Basic Interview Strategy

There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, we suggest you 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."

The reason you should respond this way is because it's often difficult to know how to specifically answer each question. A question such as, "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.

Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer is the one who asked the question. Tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a long answer when a short answer is just fine?

Let's suppose you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, "What sort of sales experience have you had?"

That's the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don't use the short version/long version method. Most people 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 is, "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 simply 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 let the interviewer know that your thoughts are well organized and you want to understand the intent of the question. After you learn what the interviewer is looking for, you can spend your time discussing in detail the things that are important for this position.

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, which will not only enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but will help you visualize what it'll be like working together once you are 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 be slanted in such a way as to 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 work which needs to be completed or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that are very effective:

  • 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, 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 exploit in order to help accomplish your objectives?

Questions like these not only give you a sense of the company's goals and priorities, they indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company's objectives.

Prepare

Here are seven of the most commonly asked interviewing questions. Review these before the interview. Think through the answers to the questions for two reasons. First, it won't help your chances to hem and haw over fundamental questions such as these. The answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.

And second, the questions will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy on an interview. If you don't feel comfortable with the answers you come up with, maybe the job isn't the right one for you.

  • 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: What do you like least about your present company?

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"), it's best to 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").

By answering in this way, you'll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across as a whiner or complainer.

Negotiate

Here is the way to handle questions about salary.

  • What are you currently earning?
    Answer: "My compensation, including bonus, is in the high 40s. I'm expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the low 50s."
  • 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 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 be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase and so forth.

In the 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 50s." Getting locked into 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 is not made. By using a range, you can keep your options open.

Types of Questions

There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.

First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, etc.

Resume questions require accurate and objective answers, since your resume consists of facts that tend to be quantifiable—and verifiable. Try to avoid answers that exaggerate your achievements or appear to be opinionated, vague or egocentric.

Second, interviewers usually want you to comment on your abilities or assess your past performance. They 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 certain actions you took in the past, 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 last, some employers like to test you 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. Since off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to put you in a defensive posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered answers.

Of course, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so long as you don't go too far.

Even if it were possible to anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities and your reasons for considering a new position. 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.

Wrap It Up

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.

It's a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you're exploring, as long as they're genuine and the 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 so as not to lose you.

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.

Remember to maintain a positive attitude. The better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of getting the job.