Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Working Life: Acing the Interview
How to make every interview experience a winner
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay gives the lowdown on how to ace interviews each and every time. By spending some time preparing properly--everyone can ace their interviews. The following article summarizes the key elements you need to know.

We all know that not every job interview, even a great one, results in getting a job offer. But sometimes a good interview can lead to an offer in another department, or a referral to another company or organization, so whether you get that job or not, the interview is the most crucial and memorable factor.

Prepare thyself
Preparing for the interview is key and there are four categories to cover.

  1. Know the company. This is the best place to start. You’ve got to know the company, their products, services, markets, etc. You should research their history, structure, management, recent trends, growth areas, stock price, etc. Read papers and magazines, search on-line. What are their key challenges? What is their culture like? What kind of people do they hire? Do you know anyone who works there? If so, talk to them. Brush up on who the company is and what they do. Interviewers are impressed with breadth of knowledge about their company, especially if it is relevant and timely. Read the trades and try to talk intelligently about a new product or service. Show that you follow the industry and the company.
  2. Know the job. What is it, what are the general responsibilities? Who will you report to? What are the expectations and daily responsibilities? Many of these will be answered in the interview itself, but it important to know what it is you are interviewing for, that way you can bring to bear your relevant experience. Find out as much as you can beforehand so your questions will be smarter and more targeted.
  3. Learn about the interviewer. A key element to a successful job interview is building a good rapport with the interviewer. So it helps to find out about him or her if you can. This is easy through Internet searches, trade publications, etc. Learn about the background and career progressions of the interviewer, so that you can understand who they are and where they are coming from. You might also discover some common ground, like a shared alma mater or a shared love of rock climbing. You can also flatter the interviewer by pointing out a career milestone or particularly impressive initiative. Just don’t come across as smarmy. Sincerity will always win out. Remember, the interviewer is the gatekeeper here, so play your hand well.
  4. Be up to date on the industry and the profession. At the job interview you should be able to discuss industry and professional trends. You should know where that company and others like it are headed. You should know the challenges and trends for that career and in that industry. Being able to intelligently discuss trends and challenges will set you apart. Remember, you are more than a candidate for a job; you are a potential problem solver and contributor to that organization.

Staying calm
You’re prepped and ready. You are brushed and polished and armed with facts and figures and impressive statistics. You’re also sitting in the waiting room sweating bullets. Relax. Easier said than done, right? Actually, there are lots of techniques you can use to stay calm.

The first is to make sure you are thoroughly prepared. By now, you should have practiced your answers, out loud. This helps you develop “muscle memory.” Literally talk yourself through the interview. Verbalize what you are going to say ahead of time. You’ll be amazed at much this will help relax you.

Second, visualize yourself doing well in the interview before the interview. See yourself talking confidently and easily. See yourself answering the questions thoughtfully and intelligently. See the interview going smoothly. Almost everyone at the top of their game, from professional athletes to actors, uses visualization techniques to achieve very real success. It works.

Next, remember to breathe. Taking long slow breaths is really the best and most proven way to relax your body and your mind. Inhale slowly counting to six. Start low in your belly and inhale up through your chest. Hold it briefly and exhale slowly, counting to six. Feel the oxygen course through your stressed out body. This will help lower your heart rate and calm you.
And keep a hankie ready if you get sweaty palms. No one likes a wet handshake.

Body language
A picture speaks a thousand words, and so does your outfit. Dressing appropriately is imperative. A first impression is made in the first three seconds—make sure yours is one of a confident and competent professional. For men, this means a dark suit and tie. For ladies, a conservative suit and blouse or shirt. Your outfit should convey confidence and good taste, but it is you who should stand out, not your loud tie or low cleavage

When you meet the interviewer offer a firm handshake. Make eye contact and thank them right off the bat for meeting with you. Wait for the interviewer to invite you to sit down. Then, be aware of your body language. You want to project open, relaxed and confident body language. Sit up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. Look the interviewer in the eye. Smile. Don’t cross your arms, don’t touch your face or hair nervously, don’t jiggle your legs or feet and don’t stuff your hands in your pocket or sit on them. You want to project confidence.

When responding to a question, speak directly to the person who asked it. Don’t look around the room. Listen carefully to the questions—your interviewer is giving you important clues—make sure you answer the questions asked.

Don’t talk too much. This is a fatal error many people make. Rambling on during your interview is a sure sign of weakness. Practicing beforehand, out loud, will help you give a complete answer without the extra baggage

Don’t be too familiar with the interviewer. Be friendly, but professional. Be energetic but not overly familiar. Do not overreach your position as candidate.

Don’t be arrogant. Learn the difference between confidence and arrogance and practice it.
Familiarize yourself with behavioral interviewing techniques where you use your past experiences and behaviors as an indicator of your future success. In other words, if you can demonstrate through examples that you accomplished something before, the interviewer may have the tendency to believe you may do it again. Be prepared to succinctly talk about past successes with concrete examples. Again, practice.

What do they want?
Obviously, they want something. They want a position filled, sure, but they really want a problem solved. Here is what the interviewer wants to know:
  • Do you have the skills for the job?
  • Are you motivated and enthusiastic?
  • Are you willing to learn?
  • Can you take initiative and problem solve?
  • Will you fit in the organization?
  • Do you understand the company and its purpose, goals and challenges?
  • How do you compare to your competition?
  • Do you want the job?

You should also have some questions for the interviewer. Many will probably be answered in the course of discussing the job, but this is also where listening well during the interview comes into play. The best questions come from listening to what is asked during the interview and asking for additional information. Other areas for questions should be around what is important to you as a potential employee—remember, you are interviewing them as well.

Some questions you may want to ask the interviewer:
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges goals in the next 24 months? (For the job and the organization)
  • What kind of person succeeds in this organization?
  • Where are you in the interview process and how should I follow-up after the interview?
  • How and when will you be notified about the position?

The follow-up
The first thing to do when the interview is over is go home and write a hand written thank-you note. The note should be written to the person with whom you interviewed (and make sure you have their name and address correct). The note should be on good paper and should be just a few lines long. It should thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview for the position, convey that you are excited about the prospect of working for that company and that you look forward to hearing from them soon. In this day and age, it is perfectly acceptable to send an immediate thank you via e-mail, but it should always be followed up by a hand written note.

In truth, the most agonizing part of an interview is the wait. Employers are notoriously bad about letting you know if you didn’t get the job. And by the way, if you are an employer, I need to remind you that it is totally unacceptable to invite someone to interview at your organization and then leave them hanging for long periods of time. You have a responsibility to the reputation of your organization to treat candidates with respect and courtesy. That said, as the interviewee there are a few things you can do to speed this along.

First of all, you should ask the interviewer or recruiter where they are in the interviewing/hiring process. It could be that they have structured a three-month window to interview for the position and you may have come in at the very beginning. If this is the case, you may be in for a long wait based on their time line. It is important to find this out when you interview so that you don’t spend months agonizing.

No matter what, get a date by which you expect to hear something. Then, follow up once or twice, no more, if you haven’t heard by the promised day. Of course, these dates may change if there is a second or third interview process. Just remember, there is a fine line between an appropriate follow-up and being a pest. The stronger a candidate you are, the more likely your call, note or e-mail will be received courteously. But unless invited to do so, don’t follow-up more than once a week.

What if you don’t get it?
If you didn’t get the job, it is perfectly okay to request feedback. Don’t push too hard, just ask politely who they hired and why. You want to find out what qualities or qualifications you lacked, what you could work toward. You don’t want to put them on the spot or make them feel bad. And you certainly don’t want to be confrontational or argumentative, so be sure to be courteous and respectful. Say, “Thank you for the opportunity. May I ask what things I might work on to be better prepared for a position like this?” Or “What experience or qualities did the person you hired possess that were lacking in my application?” Try to keep it positive and friendly. You can ask for feedback but very often people will not give it. But if you have built a strong rapport with the interviewer or recruiter and are courteous you stand a better chance of having your questions answered.

Remember, even if you didn’t get that job, if you have built a good rapport with the interviewer or recruiter they will remember you for another position or refer you to another department or organization. You can leverage that interview process into another job or networking resource if your behavior was professional and courteous. They will remember how you acted, how you dressed, whether you were prepared, the language you used, whether you followed up with a thank you note, whether you were gracious after not getting that job. If you handled it correctly, that relationship, even if it didn’t yield a job that time, can lead to one in the future.

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