The interview is the most important 60 minutes in the job search. A great deal is at stake, yet the research indicates that most people are not well-prepared for the interview process. This lack of preparation can be good news for you, because reading this book can help you substantially improve your interviewing skills, thereby giving you an advantage over the majority of job seekers.
I have observed many employers who are willing to hire people who present themselves well in an interview over others with superior credentials. This chapter is based on substantial research into how employers decide on hiring one person over another. Although the interview itself is an incredibly complex interaction, I have found that there are simple things you can do that make a big difference in getting a job offer. This chapter presents some of the things I have learned over the years, and I hope you find them helpful.
Six Common Types of Interviews
Before we get into the specifics of how to succeed in interviews, it might help you to read about the different forms your interview might take. Your first interview is likely to fall into one of these six categories:
- The preliminary screening interview. In the most common type of first interview, you meet with a person whose role is to screen applicants and arrange follow-up interviews with the person who has the authority to hire. Other times, you may meet directly with the hiring authority, whose primary focus is to eliminate as many applicants as possible, leaving only one or two. These one-on-one interviews are the focus of the techniques presented in this chapter.
- The group or panel interview. Although still not as common as the one-on-one interview, group interviews are gaining popularity. You could be asked to interview with two or more people involved in the selection process, or I've even known of situations where a group of interviewers met with a group of applicants at the same time. Many of the techniques used in this book work well in these settings, too.
- The stress interview. Some interviewers intentionally try to get you upset. They want to see how you handle stress, whether you can accept criticism, or how you react to a tense situation. They hope to see how you are likely to act in a high-pressure job. For example, this type of interviewer might try to upset you by not accepting something you say as true. "I find it difficult to believe," this person might say, "that you were responsible for as large a program as you claim here on your resume. Why don't you just tell me what you really did?" Another approach is to quickly fire questions at you, but not give you time to completely answer, or to interrupt you mid-sentence with other questions. I hope you don't run into this sort of interviewer, but if you do, be yourself and have a few laughs. The odds are the interview could turn out fine if you don't take the bait and throw things around the room. If you do get a job offer following such an interview, you might want to ask yourself whether you would want to work for such a person or organization. (If you turn down the job, think of the fun you could have telling them what you think of their interviewing technique.)
- The structured interview. Employment laws related to hiring practices have increased the use of a structured interview, particularly in larger organizations. In this type of interview, the interviewer has a list of questions to ask all applicants and a form to fill out to record the responses and observations. Your experience and skills may be compared to specific job tasks or criteria. Even if the interview is highly structured, you will likely have an opportunity to present what you feel is essential information.
- The reality interview. Some organizations now use a method commonly called "reality interviewing." Instead of asking traditional questions like "What is the best way to handle customer complaints," the reality interview asks more specific questions like "Tell me about a situation when you handled a customer complaint. Be specific in telling me what you did and what happened as a result." The objective is to get applicants to present specific things they did in the past as a way to indicate how they are likely to handle similar situations in the future. You might be asked very specific questions like "Your sales efforts resulted in a large order to an important customer. The order needs to go out right away to meet the customer's needs, but the accounting department has put a freeze on this account due to slow payments in the past. What would you do and why?" These kinds of questions provide excellent opportunities for well-prepared job seekers to present the skills and abilities that are needed for the job they want.
- The disorganized interview. You will come across many inexperienced employers who will not do a good job of interviewing you. They may talk about themselves too much or neglect to ask you meaningful questions. Many employers are competent managers but poor interviewers, and few have had any formal interview training. The best way to handle these interviews is to present the employers with the skills you have to do this job. Give them the answers they need to hire you even if they neglect to ask the right questions.
What do you want to accomplish in your next interview? Although most people know that the interview is important to both you and the employer, few job seekers have a clear sense of what they need to accomplish during those critical minutes. Later chapters describe interview techniques in more detail, but what follows will help you get a quick understanding of the most important things to do in an interview.
1. Make a Positive Impression
Employers rarely hire someone who makes a negative first or later impression. These tips can help you make a positive impression before and during your interview.
Before the Interview
What happens before the interview is extremely important, although it's often overlooked. Before you meet prospective employers, you often have indirect contact with those who know them. You might even contact the employer directly through e-mail, a phone call, or correspondence. Each of these contacts creates an impression.
There are three ways an interviewer may form an impression of you before meeting you face-to-face:
1. The interviewer already knows you. An employer may know you from previous contacts or from someone else's description of you. In this situation, your best approach is to acknowledge that relationship, but treat the interview in all other respects as a business meeting.
2. You have contacted the interviewer through e-mail or by phone. E-mail and the phone are important job search tools. How you handle these contacts creates an impression, even though the contacts are brief. For example, both contact via the phone and contact via e-mail give an impression of your language skills and ability to present yourself in a competent way; e-mail also quickly communicates your level of written communication skills. So if you set up an interview with the employer, you have already created an impression, most likely positive enough.
You should call the day before the interview to verify the time of your meeting. Say something like: "Hi, I want to confirm that our interview for two o'clock tomorrow is still on." Get any directions you need. This kind of call is just another way of demonstrating your attention to detail and helps to communicate the importance you are placing on this interview.
3. The interviewer has read your resume and other job search correspondence. Prior to most interviews, you provide the employer with some sort of information or paperwork that creates an impression. Sending a note, letter, or e-mail beforehand often creates the impression that you are well-organized. Applications, resumes, and other correspondence sent or e-mailed in advance help the interviewer know more about you. If they are well done, they will help to create a positive impression. (For quick advice on putting together an effective resume, see Same-Day Resume, another book in the Help in a Hurry series.)
Administrative assistants, receptionists, and other staff you have contact with will mention their observations of you to the interviewer, so be professional and courteous in all encounters with staff.