February 23, 2011

No one has to tell me that interviews are stressful.  I’ve had my share.  And I know that asking anybody to remember much more than their name and to pull off a good handshake is presumptuous, and probably useless.  However, I’m fond of folly and I know you’re smart so I’m offering just a handful of hints for acing the interview.

Even a preschooler can count to five – one for each finger of a single hand.  If you’re thinking you might forget a critical point, scribble the hint on a finger-tip.  That’s what Sarah Palin did during the vice-presidential debates, and look how far those tips took her!

NUMBER ONE: Only sweat the first 30-seconds.  Remember the adage, “You never have a second chance to make a good first impression?”  Well, it’s true.  Most employers report that their choice is made in the first few minutes and the rest is just validating that first impression.  What do you need to win “the first impression rose?”

§  A good, solid (and dry) handshake

§  Great grooming – from shiny clean hair to shiny, clean, appropriate shoes.  For almost all jobs, the proper attire is a suit – dark blue tests best, and minimal jewelryand scents

§  A SMILE – it’s the most important thing that’s often missing

§  Good etiquette – repeat back each person’s name when you’re introduced; remember “please” and “thank you” to everybody (even the security guards and receptionists)

NUMBER TWO: Be prepared to answer the Big Three Questions well. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse your answers to the questions always asked:

§  “Tell me about yourself”

§  “What are your greatest strengths/ weaknesses?”

§  “Why do you want this job?”

If you don’t have smooth answers ready, there’s a guidebook on EPPIC called “SPP Great Answers to the Toughest Questions” in the Document library.

NUMBER THREE: An Interview is a Dialogue – listen twice as much as you talk. This is hard since interview subjects think they’re there to prove they have the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities to do the job – and that’s partly true, but there are several problems with that approach

§  You put a terrible burden on the interviewer because the poor soul has to keep making up new questions to ask

§  You learn nothing about critical aspects of the job which makes you seem disinterested and doesn’t give you a chance to decide if you are interested

§  You’re so busy talking you don’t give yourself a chance to reflect and make sure you’ve showcased your selling points

Now that you’re sold this is a good idea, I’ll tell you how to do this.  Practice with your friends so you’re comfortable with the structure of the exchange –

1)      If the question comes from the standard repertoire of strengths/ weaknesses/ future plans, answer it as you rehearsed and follow up with “How do you think would this particular _______ impact my ability to do a good job in this position?”

2)      For a question that addresses a specific aspect of the job, answer the question with a very short, one or two minute, story that demonstrates your appropriate knowledge or skill.  Never answer any question with a simple “yes” or no” since it stops the flow.

3)      After your statement, ask an open-ended question that gently solicits feedback.  For example, “How would my background fit your needs in this regards?”

4)      This gives you an opportunity to recover if your answer fell short of their needs.

NUMBER FOUR: More than the interviewer needs to know what you know; they need to know they like you!

Almost every interview subject forgets that interviews are all about chemistry, not physics.  The employer would not have called you in for an interview if they didn’t feel you had the knowledge and skills to do the job.  What they need to know, now, is whether it is you they want to do it.  Relax!  If you’re called in for an interview, your odds have improved from 200-to-1 in the resume round to 3 or 4-to-1.  Those are great odds.  All you need to do is make friends, or colleagues.

NUMBER FIVE: Ask for the job! Do you know that the number two reason people aren’t hired after an interview – after Number One, blowing the first impression – is that they never asked for the job?  It’s disheartening to be an interviewer and spend an hour or two with someone you like only to have him stand up and say, “That’s it, then?  Thank you very much,” and walk out the door.

It’s rare that you’ll get the offer right then, but always be prepared at the end of the interview with three questions:

1)      Something about the position itself – why is it open; what happened to last person employed in that position? What is the primary mission of the group for the next 12-18 months … .  Whatever you feel is appropriate.

2)      “If you have any reservations about my suitability for the position – and, of course, I hope you do not – would you mind sharing them with me so I might address them?  I’d hate for there to be a misunderstanding about my qualifications – and I want you to know I’m really excited about the job and look forward to working here.

3)      A last question about the hiring process –next steps, time frame, assessment process.

Right after the interview, stop in the lobby and write notes to yourself about points you think you nailed or particular rapport.  You’ll use those in your thank you notes.

OK – you’re all set!

Got it?