The Interviewing Process: How to Be Prepared

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1 The Interviewing Process: How to Be Prepared Presented by: Cindy Chernow, Chernow Consulting 1

2 Interviewing Techniques Preparation for the Interview: Do some self-evaluation: Develop a clear understanding of your education and experience their value to you and to an employer. Identify your skills, abilities and interests. Assess yourself in such terms as intelligence, creativity, leadership qualities, communication skills, interpersonal skills and technical skills, etc. Be prepared to cite examples that will bring these qualities to light. Research the job and the organization: Learn as much as you can about the nature of the job. Find out about the requirements. Think about the arguments you can muster to prove you can handle the job. Learn as much as possible about the company, its size, products, structure, sales, funding source, etc. Talk to some employees, if possible, to find out what you can about the working conditions. I. The Interview Itself Familiarize yourself with typical questions: Be sure you answer the question. If the question isn t clear, ask for clarification. Take the time to think about your answer. If you don t know, state that you need to think about it or can t answer at that moment. When practical, elaborate on your responses. You need to give the interviewer some indication of what you know and how you think. (Always provide examples when possible.) Don t hesitate to be the initiator. Introduce information that you think is important. Consistently emphasize positive, strong points. If necessary, explain negative points, but don t make excuses. Be prepared with a few pertinent questions relating to the position and organization. Examples: type of training, growth plans, relocation policies, opportunities for advancement. Keep the questions job-related. II. Typical Interview Format Introduction phase that usually sets the tone of the interview. This is usually some direct questioning about your background and qualifications. Sometimes you are asked to respond to an open-ended question such as, Tell me about yourself. Use your resume as a mental guide. This is a great time to share information you want and get control of the interview. Make yourself unique. Interviewer presents information about the organization. During this time there may be an opportunity to ask questions. Try to relate this information to your background, skills and goals. Summing up time. Add any information you might have omitted earlier. Ask questions if there had been no previous opportunity to do so. Find out the next step. Will there be another interview? When? How soon could you expect to hear from them? Behavioral Characteristics Remain calm. A relaxed manner will produce a comfortable interview. Exceptionally restrained or controlled behavior can influence the interviewer s manner of interviewing. Remember the importance of body language. Don t slouch or appear bored. Maintain good eye contact. Speak clearly and appear interested and enthusiastic. Be responsive to the interviewer s statements. Be yourself. Without boasting, try to sound confident and capable of doing the work. Dress in good taste: Appearance does count, particularly first impressions. 2

3 Preparing for an Effective Interview This is a self-help exercise to aid you in organizing your thoughts in preparation for a successful interview. Respond to those questions that are relevant to your background. Elaborate as much as you can, but be specific. The questions in parentheses can guide you in responding to the primary question. 1. What information do I have concerning the company, organization, and/or job? (Where did I obtain this knowledge? Why am I interested in this position?) 2. What is my educational background? (How is my background relevant to the job? Specific classes, degrees?) 3. What is my work experience background? (How are my experiences relevant to the job? What skills did I use in previous experiences that are relevant to this job? What did I contribute in my past jobs?) 4. What are my career goals? (How are my goals related to the organization?) 5. What are my personal skills and abilities? (How do these skills relate to the future job? What are specific examples of how I used these skills?) 6. What interested me in seeking this job, organization? (How are my career goals related to my interest in the position? What knowledge do I have concerning the job, organization? How does my background relate to the skills in this position?) 7. My strengths are (How did they develop? In what activities? How are they maintained?) 8. My weaknesses are (How am I improving them?) 9. What additional information would I want the interviewer to be aware of? (Summarize if appropriate or add information that seems essential.) 10. Questions that I may want to ask the interviewer, i.e., what are the opportunities for promotion? What kind of training is provided? 3

4 What Happens During the Interview? While each interview will differ, there is a pattern and generally three common characteristics: the beginning, middle and conclusion. The typical interview usually lasts minutes, although some may be longer. A typical structure is as follows: Five minutes small talk Fifteen minutes a mutual discussion of your background and credentials as they relate to the needs of the employer Five minutes asks you for questions Five minutes conclusion of interview As you can see, there is not a lot of time to state your case. The employer may try to do most of the talking. When you do respond to questions or ask your own, your statements should be concise and organized without being too brief. You need to control more than half of the 15-minute personal discussion in order to make your key points. It Starts Before You Even Say Hello The recruiter begins to evaluate you the minute you are identified. You are expected to shake the recruiter s hand upon being introduced. Don t be afraid to extend your hand first. This shows some assertiveness. It s a good idea to be safe and arrive at least 15 minutes early. You can use the time to relax. How s Your Small Talk Vocabulary? Many recruiters will begin the interview with some small talk. Topics may range from the weather to sports and will rarely focus on anything that brings out your skills. Nonetheless, you are still being evaluated. First impressions often are the most important so this phase of the interview can be very critical. Even though the small talk seems informal and relaxed, it has a definite purpose. Recruiters are trained to evaluate candidates on many different points. They may be judging how well you communicate on an informal basis. Do more than smile and nod. The Recruiter Has the Floor The main part of the interview starts when the recruiter begins discussing the organization. S/he may spend a great deal of time talking about the position and the organization, while discussing your background. Or it may work the other way. Be prepared for either scenario. If the recruiter discusses vague generalities about the position and you want more specific information, ask questions. Don t be afraid to ask questions during this part of the interview. Don t interrupt the recruiter in midsentence, but ask your question at the first opportunity. When the recruiter begins talking about your resume or asking for clarification, it s time to emphasize your positive traits. Your background may not be typical and the recruiter may be puzzled about your qualifications. You should indicate through thoughtful answers why you are an excellent candidate for the position. You may have points in your background that could be construed as negative; i.e. no participation in outside activities, no related work experience. It is up to you to convince the recruiter these points are not negative, but positive attributes. Admit your shortcomings, then point out three quick hard-hitting strengths (even if unrelated to your weakness) that are relevant to the job opening. Employers seek people who have direction and motivation. This can be demonstrated by your answers to these innocent-sounding questions. It s Your Turn to Ask Questions When the recruiter asks, Now do you have any questions? the best way to blow the interview is to say, No, you ve answered everything I need to know. There is little chance the two of you could have covered everything. You should be able to ask at least five or six questions at this point. Questions should elicit positive responses from the employer. Also, the questions should bring out your interest in and knowledge of the organization. By asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions, you show the employer you are serious about the organization and need more information. It also indicates to the recruiter that you have done your homework. Don t ask questions simply to impress the recruiter and make the interview run over. Ask a few questions and indicate that you still have some things you d like clarified, but you realize time is almost up. The recruiter may suggest a meeting later in the day or writing for more information. The important thing is to be aware of time constraints on the employer and allow the recruiter to decide whether to extend the interview. The Close Counts, Too The interview isn t over until you walk out the door. The conclusion of the interview usually lasts five 4

5 minutes and is very important. During this time the recruiter may be assessing your overall performance as well as how you handle yourself during the last few minutes. It is important to remain enthusiastic and courteous. Often the conclusion of the interview is indicated when the recruiter stands up. However, if you feel confident the interview has reached its conclusion, feel free to stand up first. Shake the recruiter s hand and thank him or her for considering you. Being forthright is a quality that most employers will respect. Expect the Unexpected During the interview, you may be asked some unusual questions. Don t be too surprised. Many times questions are asked simply to see how you react. For example, surprise questions could range from, What is your favorite book to What time period would you like to have lived in? These are not the kind of questions for which you can prepare in advance. Your reaction time and the response you give will be evaluated by the employer, but there s no way to anticipate questions like these. While these questions are not always used, they are intended to force you to react under some stress and pressure. The best advice is to think and give a natural response. Evaluations Made by Recruiters The employer will be observing and evaluating you during the interview. Erwin S. Stanton, author of Successful Personnel Recruiting and Selection, indicates some evaluations made by the employer during the interview include: 1. How mentally alert and responsive is the job candidate? 2. Is the applicant able to draw proper inferences and conclusions during the course of the interview? 3. Does the applicant demonstrate a degree of intellectual depth when communicating or is his/her thinking shallow and lacking depth? 4. Has the candidate used good judgement and common sense regarding life planning up to this point? 5. What is applicant s capacity for problem-solving activities? 6. How well does candidate respond to stress and pressure? Turning the Tables in the Interview It s Your Turn You ve sat through most of the interview and have answered all the recruiter s questions. You know you ve made a good impression because you prepared for the interview and your answers were articulate and decisive. You ve come across as a very bright, capable candidate when the recruiter asks something you didn t anticipate: Do you have any questions? As you try to form an impromptu question, it is apparent to the recruiter you didn t prepare any questions. You could kick yourself because you had thought to prepare on everything the recruiter would ask you, but this. You realize now that the positive impression you tried so hard to create and reaffirm during the interview may be at risk. If you don t have any questions prepared and you try to cover your mistake by asking a spur-of-the-moment question, chances are you have damaged your chances for a successful interview. Some recruiters refuse to hire people who don t ask intelligent questions. Don t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions make sure it is information that you need. During the first part of the interview, the recruiter was in control and asked the questions. This was an attempt to determine if you could fit into the organization, via your qualifications, abilities, background and personality. It s your turn now to see if the employer offers what you are seeking. Prepare Questions in Advance You should have a list of questions prepared for this crucial part of the interview. Every question you ask should demonstrate your interest and confirm your knowledge of the organization. You should read publications in the field. You can get information about new products or policies by reading general magazines or trade publications. It is appropriate to address some of your questions to what you have read. Of course, the questions should reflect something positive if the company is currently involved in labor problems or a lawsuit, don t bring up embarrassing situations. Ask questions about new products, how research and development is structured at the company, management strategies at the company, how the company has changed, and potential product growth. Some of the publications providing a wealth of information are: The Internet, Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, and The Wall Street Index. 5

6 Questions to Ask Employers 1. What are the opportunities for personal growth? 2. Identify typical career paths based on past records. What is the realistic time frame for advancement? 3. How is an employee evaluated and promoted? 4. What is the retention rate of people in the position for which I am interviewing? 5. Describe the typical first-year assignments. 6. Tell me about your initial and future training programs. 7. What are the challenging facets of the job? 8. What are the company s plans for future growth? 9. What industry trends will occur in this company? 10. What makes your firm different from its competitors? 11. How would you describe your corporation s personality and management style? 12. Is it company policy to promote from within? Tell me the work history of your top management. 13. What career opportunities are currently available for my degree of skills? 14. What are your expectations for new hires? 15. Describe the work environment. 16. How can you utilize my skills? 17. What is the overall structure of the department where the position is located? 18. Why do you enjoy working for your firm? 19. What qualities are you looking for in your new hires? 20. Why did you want to work for this organization? 21. What characteristics does a successful person have at your company? Questions Not to Ask Not only should you know what questions to ask during the interview, but also it is important to know what questions not to ask. You don t want to alienate the recruiter by putting him or her on the defensive. The following areas should generally be avoided: 1. Avoid asking questions that are answered in the company s annual report or employment brochure. Recruiters are familiar enough with their own information to know when you haven t done your homework. If some information in the annual report isn t clear to you, by all means ask for clarification. 2. Don t bring up salary or benefits in the initial interview. This is a major mistake. The first person to talk money generally loses. The recruiter may choose to bring up the information, but if you do you will appear more concerned with benefits than the substance of the position. 3. Avoid asking any personal questions or questions that will put the recruiter on the defensive. This includes questions such as the interviewer s educational background, marital status, past work experience, and so on. This information is none of your business. 4. Don t ask questions that have already been answered during the interview. If you have prepared a list of questions and some of them have been addressed during the interview, do not repeat them. 6

7 Preparing for the Interview The most commonly asked questions 1. Tell me about yourself. 2. What are your greatest strengths? 3. What are your greatest weaknesses? 4. Tell me about something you did or failed to do that you now feel a little ashamed of. 5. Why are you leaving (or did you leave) this position? 6. The Silent Treatment. 7. Why should I hire you? 8. Aren t you overqualified for this position? 9. Where do you see yourself five years from now? 10. Describe your ideal company, location and job. 11. Why do you want to work at our company? 12. What are your career options right now? 13. Why have you been out of work so long? 14. Tell me honestly about the strong points and weak points of your previous boss (company, management team, etc.) 15. What good books have you read lately? 16. Tell me about a situation when you work was criticized. 17. What are your outside interests? 18. The Fatal Flaw Question. 19. How do you feel about reporting to a younger person (woman, minority, etc.)? 20. On Confidential Matters 21. Would you lie for the company? 22. Looking back, what would you do differently in you life? 23. Could you have done better in your last job? 24. Can you work under pressure? 25. What makes you angry? 26. Why aren t you earning more money at this stage of your career? 27. Who has inspired you in your life, and why? 28. What was the toughest decision you ever had to make? 29. Tell me about the most boring job you ever had. 30. Have you been absent from work more than a few days in any previous position? 31. What changes would you make if you came on board? 32. I m concerned that you don t have as much experience as we d like in 33. How do you feel about working nights and weekends? 34. Are you willing to relocate or travel? 35. Do you have the stomach to fire people? Have you had experience in firing many people? 36. Why have you had so many jobs? 37. What do you see as the proper role of a good (job title you re seeking)? 38. What would you say to your boss if he s crazy about an idea, but you think it stinks? 39. How could you have improved your career progress? 40. What would you do if a fellow executive on you own corporate level wasn t pulling his weight, and this was hurting your department? 41. You ve been with your firm a long time. Won t it be hard switching to a new company? 42. May I contact your present employer for a reference? 43. Give me an example of your creativity (or analytical skill or managing ability, etc.). 7

8 44. Where could you use some improvement? 45. What do you worry about? 46. How many hours a week do you normally work? 47. What s the most difficult part about being a (job title)? 48. The Hypothetical Problem. 49. What was the toughest challenge you ve ever faced? 50. Have you considered starting your own business? 51. What are your goals? 52. What do you look for when you hire people? 53. Here, sell me this stapler (pen, desk blotter, clock, etc.). 54. The Salary Question How much do you want? 55. The Illegal Question. 56. The Secret Illegal Question. 57. What was the toughest part of your last job? 58. How do you define success, and how do you measure up to your own definition? 59. The Opinion Question What are your views on abortion (or some other controversial subject)? 60. If you won a $10 million lottery, would you still work? 61. Looking back on your last position, have you done your best work? 62. Why should I hire you from the outside when I could promote someone from within? 63. Tell me something negative you ve heard about our company. 64. On a scale of one to ten, rate me as an interviewer. 8

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