Industry News

Interviewing: Be prepared

a women sitting at her desk with her laptop taking notes

If you have held your current job for a very long time and haven’t had to perform in a job interview for ages, your skills could be rusty.  On the other hand, if you been interviewing almost daily, for months on end, your delivery could be a little flat; you could sound like you memorized all your facts by rote.

There’s a happy middle ground between nervous babbling and mechanical recitation.  Today you are going to learn how to find that middle ground and be the most satisfactory person to interview.

Step 1: What to Bring With You

  • The company or interviewer’s phone number in case you are delayed
  • Work samples, if required, but nothing proprietary
  • A compact 6 × 8 binder for note taking, and a functional pen
  • Copies of your résumé (identical to the one you already supplied)
  • Thoughtful, insightful questions for the interviewer (see Questions, below)

Step 2: Arrival in person or video

Granted, in today’s era of video/zoom meetings, your interview is very likely to be conducted via a video call and in fact, we know that many hires are being made without a physical meeting ever taking place.  Conversely, it may be a combination of video and an eventual physical meeting.  Regardless of how the format in which the interview is conducted, the following information should still provide you some excellent tips and pointers on how to make a strong impression.

If possible, scout the location ahead of time.  Know where to park or where the bus stops; know the proper entrance doors, and which set of elevators to use.  Use the washroom ahead of time so you won’t be distracted.  Use the mirror while you’re there–nothing unzipped–no toilet paper stuck to a shoe–no distracting cowlick sticking up out of the top of your hairstyle.

It is an axiom that you do not want to be late; you also do not want to be early.  Plan to arrive no more than 15 minutes before your appointment time because it makes the interviewer feel pressured.  You probably brushed your teeth, but have a breath mint before the interview anyway.

Be polite to everyone—including the receptionist—since anyone could be consulted about you.  In life the best way to judge someone is by how they treat their waiter, or any staff seen to be of lower rank than them.  You are under observation from the moment you walk in the door.

Step 3: Appearance and Choices

  • Men: Conservative suit in dark blue, gray, or black
  • Women: Conservative dress or business suit
  • Dress shirt, clean and ironed
  • Subtle tie, not garish or bright
  • Men: Calf-height dark socks; no skin showing with crossed legs
  • Men: Black shoes, polished
  • Women: No open toe shoes
  • Clean hands and fingernails; manicured, low-key polish
  • Groomed hair–don’t brush while wearing your jacket (dandruff)
  • Subtle jewelry
  • No strong perfumes or body sprays (interviewer may be allergic)

Step 4: During the Interview

Use positive body language during the interview; lean forward slightly to indicate interest.  And remember it’s not a staring contest; a friendly gaze is sufficient, but give everybody a rest and break eye contact occasionally, as you look down to take a note.  The first person to deliberately break eye contact is usually the person in charge of the conversation; it is usually best to let the interviewer have the first break so s/he doesn’t think you are trying to dominate the conversation.  It happens in the first few seconds.

The interview is your opportunity to sell yourself, and make no mistake, that’s what you’re doing.  At the same time it’s also a learning opportunity, so spend half the time listening, and the other half selling your qualities.

Don’t answer the wrong question; sometimes they are so open-ended that you cannot tell what they expect.  If the question doesn’t seem relevant, they may have phrased it in a way that makes sense to them, based on their knowledge.   Rephrase the question back to them to determine what answer they really want.

“Tell me about yourself.” should not be answered with “Interestingly enough, just like Abe Lincoln, I was born in a log cabin…”  It may be a fascinating tale, but unless it’s closely tied to the subject at hand, it is irrelevant.  Instead say “I’d be happy to…where should I start?” which invites them to be more specific.

Step 5: Questions

As to the questions themselves—make sure you ask about the vital things that will let you decide if this is the right opportunity for you.  For example:

  • What do other employees like most about working here?
  • What is the measure of my success in this position?
  • What accomplishments must I have after three, six, and nine months in order to be considered successful in this position?
  • Tell me about the best person you ever had in this position and what made them special.
  • Why did my predecessor leave this position?
  • What do your best employees have in common?
  • What are the biggest challenges in this role?
  • Tell me about your background and what attracted you here.
  • Where do you see the company in 3-5 years and what part would I play in that?
  • What are some of the company’s short and long range objectives?
  • In what areas does this company excel and in what areas does this company have some limitations?
  • What are the company or department goals for this year and next?
  • How will I be evaluated, and how often?

Step 6: What You Should Tell Them

Imagine yourself as the employer; standing in their shoes, try to see what qualities they need from an applicant in this position.  Be prepared to answer unasked questions.  When you pose some of your questions, you’ll get a feeling about what they deem to be important.  When asking “What qualities do your best employees share?” do you have those qualities?  Well, speak up and work it into the conversation.  Give a couple of examples that demonstrate them.

You have a lot of information in your head about your accomplishments, but you may not articulate some good points because they’re not fresh in your mind.  So here’s a solution:  Make a list of your accomplishments, achievements, and contributions.

Review it, especially before an interview, to make sure that it’s in the top of your mind.  Here are some examples to help you start writing your list:

  • Did you cause or directly influence an increase in productivity, efficiency, or sales? Calculate it as a percentage, because interviewers like solid numbers, or an actual dollar value.  How did you do it?  What made your technique or approach more effective than others?
  • Did you create a new system or alter an existing one to make it significantly better? Why was the change necessary?  What was the consequence of the change?
  • Were you promoted? Why?  Interviewers don’t like to hear that you were promoted just because you put in your time.  Give them a reason; you did something worthy; you were creative; you showed that management acumen—give them a hook to hang that promotion on.
  • One particular favorite is training—an interviewer hearing that you are willing to invest your time to make somebody else a better employee is both rare and remarkable. Tell about your success with training.
  • Were you a contributor to a major direction change in your company’s goals or objectives? How did you persuade management to your point of view?  What were the consequences?
  • If you managed to change the scope of your job, explain how that came about. Did you undertake a project that was not in your job description or part of your responsibility simply because it appealed to you?  Did others have their responsibilities changed because of your actions?  What were the net results?

Finally, don’t be afraid to scribble reminder notes about these accomplishments on the last page of your folio.  You can quickly consult them, as you are chatting, to make sure you don’t overlook any important points that you want to make.

Step 7: Closing

OK, you got through the interview and you retain your enthusiasm for the job.  You will want to ask what the next steps are; how they perceive you fitting in to the organization; and if there are any areas which they think might need further coverage, which you shall be happy to supply.

Here’s a nice sample closing statement:

“I like what I have heard today and am very interested in moving forward. I understand you are looking for someone in this role who has (A, B, and C) and as we’ve discussed, I have (specific experience with A, B, and C). Before I leave, are there any more questions about my background or qualifications that I can answer or clarify for you to better assess my fit within your team?”

Step 8: Civility

It may seem like ancient history; something your grandfather did “in his day”, but there is never anything wrong with being civil and sophisticated.  It sets you apart from the “me-me-me” crowd and lets them know how you will treat customers and clients in the future.

Simply put, send a handwritten card, or an e-mail, to the people that you interacted with, thanking them for their time and consideration.  Include little details of the meeting so they can remember you particularly.  It’s your last chance to make a good impression and place yourself in the forefront of their thoughts.

The Takeaway

Some of you will look at this enthusiastically and say “this is exactly what I needed”; some of you will look at it as another chore to complete on the path to gainful employment.

I will let you in on a little secret:  People who complete this enthusiastically will do far better than people who look at it as drudge work.  It is exactly the same principle at work as smiling when you speak on the telephone.  The smile subtly alters your intonation and people can “hear” that you’re smiling.

Think of something positive or funny while you’re working.  It will manifest itself in the final product.  Now get out there and do it—you can handle this!

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