The Art of Interviewing

  • Sep 08, 2005
  • Gerri Teal
  • Career advancement

The best way to think of a job interview is to consider it as an opportunity to exchange information. You are interviewing the employer in a similar way to the employer interviewing you. This initial exchange of information will determine whether there is enough compatibility to continue to a second interview. Try to get as much information as you can when you are first contacted to set an interview time. Ask what the process is, who you may be meeting and how long you should expect to be there. Forewarned is forearmed.

Some employers may not divulge the process and surprise you with things like psychological tests and forms to fill out. Stay flexible – this may be a tool to gauge how you handle unexpected events. From the moment you walk in their door, be courteous and behave professionally to everyone you speak with. The person sitting at the reception desk may have input as to how you handled yourself, and how you behaved towards that person. The person sitting at the reception desk may not be the receptionist at all, but may be a manager or supervisor covering the desk for a few minutes.

The interview will consist of the exchange of both tangible and intangible information and initial perceptions. For tangible information, be sure to:

- Present your background in a thorough (but not long-winded) 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; and

- 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.

The intangible fundamentals will influence the way your personality is perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport or personal chemistry you will share with the employer. Some of these fundamentals will include:

Enthusiasm – No matter how highly skilled or well-suited to the position you are, if you have a lethargic or bored attitude, you will not proceed to the next interview. If you have a genuine interest in both the position and the company; let your enthusiasm come out. Faked enthusiasm, however, can be spotted a mile away.

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

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

Basic Strategy

There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, a suggestion of what to say would be "Let me give you the short version. If you need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I'd be happy to go into greater depth and give you the long version."

Suppose you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, "What sort of sales experience have you had in the past?"

Well, that's exactly the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don't use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their memory relating to their sales experience. Your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it's condensed.

One answer to that question might be "I've held sales positions with three different electronics companies over a ten-year period. Where would you like me to start?"

Another answer might be "I've had ten years experience in electronics equipment 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?"

These answers will show the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you head off in a direction that the interviewer really doesn't want you to go.

Sometimes, a candidate who talks too much can talk themselves right out of a job!

Candidate Questions

You should prepare some questions yourself to clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities. Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or understanding of the employer's needs. Keep in mind that the reasons for this interview is because the employer's company has some piece of work which needs to be completed, or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that have proven to be very effective:

- What's the most important issue facing this 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?

- Is there a unique aspect in my background that you feel would help to
accomplish these objectives?

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

Most Common Interviewing Questions

Give these questions some thought before you go to your first interview.

1. Why do you want this job?
2. Why do you want to leave your present company?
3. Where do you see yourself in five years?
4. What are your personal goals?
5. What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
6. What do you like most about your current company?
7. What do you like least about your current company?

The last question is probably the hardest to answer. Rather than pointing out the faults of other people, i.e., "I can't stand the office politics", or "I don't get along with my boss", it's best to say "I feel I'm ready for some new professional challenges", or "The type of technology I'm interested in isn't available at my current company".

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

It's not possible to anticipate every interview question. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities and your reasons for considering a new position, and to handle the interview with honesty.

Wrapping 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 good practice to make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you may be exploring, as long as they are genuine, and their timing has some bearing on your own decision-making.

The fact that you're actively exploring other opportunities may affect how quickly the employer makes the hiring decision. It may even positively influence the outcome, since the company may want to act quickly so as not to lose you. Do not use this as a negotiating tactic.

Ask for an approximate time frame as to when you should expect to hear from the employer. Also, don't be afraid to close by telling the employer that you feel very positive about this meeting, and that you feel that your background and experience would be ideal for their needs.

Remember to keep a positive attitude and most importantly that courtesy and manners still go a long way to making a positive impression!