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Seven Tips for Successful Job Interviews

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Explores various ways to prepare for and respond to common interview scenarios, including the current trend toward behavioral interview questions.

This insightful discussion helps job hunters prepare for the all-important interview. In addition to general tips and trends, listeners will learn about the increasingly common behavioral interview techniques and how to best respond to behavioral interview questions.
If you have any employment or job search questions, please call Colleen at 314-539-5481 for assistance in connecting with a career center in the St. Louis Metropolitan area.

Duration: 13:37 Audio MP3
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Transcript

Many job hunters find the interview process daunting. To impress hiring managers, they know they need top-notch answers to tough questions, good listening skills, an ability to sell themselves and perhaps most importantly, high self-esteem. Nevertheless, candidates shouldn't feel intimidated.

A job interview is primarily a business conversation where two parties try to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Recognizing that fact will help you feel like a self-confident professional instead of a discouraged supplicant. Focus on your value to an organization rather than your need for a job.

By the time you're invited to meet a hiring authority, you've probably survived several rounds of screening. You're now among a small, elite group of candidates who all look good on paper and are more or less equally qualified. To get an edge on the competition and win a job offer, take the following steps:

  1. Develop rapport. First and foremost, the person you work for must like you and vice versa, since you'll be spending considerable time together on the job.
    In the early part of the interview, concentrate on getting comfortable with the hiring manager and establishing good chemistry. Begin your conversation with small talk, a much overlooked and underrated skill. See if you have anything in common, such as hobbies, schools or mutual acquaintances. Convey your pleasure at being with the hiring manager by smiling a lot and using positive body language.
  2. Discover the company's need. The interviewer likely assumes that everyone being interviewed meets the job's basic requirements. Therefore, your objective should be to stand out from the pack by discovering the company's current problems and addressing them intelligently. Ask questions such as, "Why is the position open?" "What's expected of the person who will fill it?" and "What issues or concerns need to be dealt with immediately by the person you hire?" Then listen carefully to the answers. The job description will tell you what skills you need, but only the interviewer can tell you what the organization really needs in a new hire.
  3. Meet the need. Once you know the company's most pressing concerns, use your past experience to show you can successfully resolve them. Make a clear connection between what you've done in previous positions and potential job requirements. Describe similar problems you've solved in the past, using anecdotes that will make your examples come alive. Avoid blowing your own horn excessively, though; implying that you're a jack-of-all-trades will only create disbelief, not confidence.
  4. Take ownership of the position. Wherever appropriate, act like part of the team by using plural and possessive pronouns when referring to the company or the job. For example, say things like, "Where do you see our sales going in the next year?" "How frequently do we take inventory?" or "I plan to bring our machine shop into the 21st century."
    By putting yourself in the job during the interview, you place the employer in the position of having to "fire" you if he or she plans to offer the job to anyone else. Inertia is on your side. This technique requires considerable skill, confidence and chutzpah, but it makes a powerful impact when done well.
  5. Ask questions. Keep the interview conversational by asking appropriate questions throughout the meeting, rather than just at the end. When you share some of the responsibility for the course of the conversation, you can keep it from becoming a de facto interrogation. Ask smart questions to demonstrate your technical expertise and follow-up questions to display your listening skills, which most companies prize highly.
  6. Be prepared. Even if one of your greatest talents is an ability to think on your feet, avoid going into a job interview "cold." Prepare by reviewing your resume, looking for ways to verbally support the accomplishments written there. Try taping one or two practice interviews, preferably with a friend who can ask tough questions. Then, note your mistakes and correct them before you meet with employers.

You should also research the company and, if possible, your interviewer. Use Google and other search engines to find relevant articles. Business directories, such as Sorkin's and Dun's might provide more personal information about key company executives, and networking contacts can be a treasure of valuable "off-the-record" information.

Other preparation includes:

  • Make sure you have all your paperwork ready. This includes extra copies of your resume, a couple of copies of your master reference list, and a completed application, if one was sent to you in advance.
  • Dress appropriately. When you're making arrangements for the interview, ask what the company dress code is, then plan to dress one step up from that. Remember, you're not dressing for the job, you're dressing for the occasion.
  • Be on time. Get directions when you're arranging the interview, then drive the route you'll be taking the day before the scheduled meeting, at about the same time of day. That will give you the latest update on traffic conditions, and you'll also be able to figure out the best place to park, how to enter the building, etc.
  • If traffic is worse than expected, and it looks like you might be late, call in advance from the car to let them know. Ask how they want you to handle it. Don't show up late and then tell them why - that will be interpreted as simply an excuse.
  • Have some questions prepared in advance about the job and the company. At some point in the interview you will likely be asked if you have any questions. Having questions shows that you are genuinely interested in the company and the job, and makes a good impression. Remember, the quality of your questions can reveal a lot about your ability to handle the job.

7. Ask for the job. Your goal in any interview is to get an offer of employment. So just like a salesperson asks for the order, say in your own words to the hiring manager, "I want this job." You'd be surprised how few people say these simple words to close the deal.

These tips by themselves won't get you your next job, but they will improve your standing against the competition and provide you with the edge you need to succeed.

Contrary to popular opinion, the best qualified job seeker doesn't always get the job. More often than not, the best interviewee gets the job. This is a problem not only for qualified job seekers, but for employers themselves, who often make a bad hiring decision after a candidate has put on a good show.

The newest style of interview is designed to uncover the truly talented candidates and distinguish clearly between the qualified and the eloquent. It's called a behavioral interview.

Let's say an employer needs someone for a job that requires flexibility, the ability to adapt to changing conditions over a short period of time. In the past, an interviewer might ask, "Are you a flexible person? How do you adapt to changing conditions?" The days the questions are likely to be more pointed: "Give me an example of how you dealt with an obstacle to an important project." Or, "Tell me about a time when you had to change course at short notice. What happened?"

In times of increasing competition and low consumer confidence, customer service is more important than ever, even for people who don't ordinarily have direct customer contact. Interviewers these days focus more attention on a candidate's ability to attract and keep customers, regardless of the job description. Some customer-oriented interview questions might go like this: "Give me an example of how you handle problems with customers." Or, "How do you go about establishing rapport with a customer? Give me an example of how you gain a customer's confidence."

With the flattening of organizations and the use of increasingly intelligent software, employees who previously were told what to do and how to do it now find themselves having to make their own decisions on how to handle many situations. Some interview questions designed to uncover initiative include: "Did you ever work in a situation where the rules and guidelines were unclear? Tell me about it. How did you feel about that? Give me an example of how you handled a situation like that." My personal favorite is, "Did you ever hear the old saying, ‘Ask for forgiveness, not permission'? What do you think of that saying? When have you had to ask for forgiveness?"

The flattening of organizations has also led to the need for employees to make decisions that could have serious effects on the company's bottom line. But making decisions like that takes some gray matter to know how to deal with ambiguities, even when sophisticated decision-making software is being used. Interview questions designed to get at your decision-making abilities include: "Give me an example of how you develop information to make decisions." And, "When you've made a decision that turned out to be a mistake, how have you corrected it?"

If you haven't interviewed for a job lately, you may be in for some surprises. You should prepare very carefully for an interview by reviewing your past accomplishments and practicing how to present them effectively. You should have about a dozen different stories that you can use to respond to behavioral interview questions. While you can't predict the exact questions you'll be asked, you can prepare stories that cover common work place themes, such as authority, conflict, customer service, decision making, problem solving, teamwork, adapting to change, etc. When you do that, even if the question deals with something outside your specific experience, you can respond with a story that covers the same theme. Your response to the question might start out like this: "Hmm. I've not had that exact experience, but let me tell you about the time . . ."

At the very least, every accomplishment and most of the major responsibilities mentioned in your resume should have stories behind them. By doing so, you'll be able to handle most of the behavioral questions that come your way.

Interviewing is an important component of a successful job search. By following these tips and suggestions, you will not only improve your interview skills, but you can help the employer make sure he or she gets the right person for the job.