Interviewing

You probably know that you shouldn’t swear, smoke, accept an alcoholic beverage, or chew gum in an job interview. You know that you should arrive five to ten minutes early and dress well, but there are a few other things you should know that aren’t quite as obvious:

Answer interview questions honestly. If you don’t fit at the company you’re interviewing with, you will be happier and more successful working elsewhere. However, make sure you emphasize the things that are most likely to get you the job offer. Focus on the good things about yourself and what you can do.

Research the company. Just a little bit of knowledge about the company will really impress the interviewer. (It’s possible that your research will tell you that you really don’t want to work for the company—valuable information at this point in the process.)   Start by reading the ad carefully. Ask for company literature. Talk to other people who work for the company. Talk to people who buy from, or sell to, the company. Google the company and search the databases of local newspapers.

Many (if not most) companies use, “behavioral interviewing,” meaning that the interviewer asks for specific examples of instances where you exhibited the skill he or she is looking for. Based on the key words from the job ad and based on what you learned as you researched the company, prepare specific examples (stories) that show you have exhibited the skills the employer is looking for. Use the language from the job ad and your research—if “troubleshoot” appeared in the ad, say, “troubleshoot,” in your story. Start with a clear, simple point like, “I’m good at troubleshooting mechanical machinery.”   Then take about one minute to share an example with the interviewer: “We had a paper machine at the last place I worked that just wouldn’t stay aligned. The paper kept rolling off one end. Several of us had reset the controls on the optical guide but nothing worked. I got out the manual for the guide and realized that it had been installed upside down. The machine worked perfectly after we fixed that.” End by repeating the point, “So I think I’m pretty good at troubleshooting mechanical machinery.” This is likely the single most important thing you will do to prepare for your interview.

Prepare answers for the standard questions. You don’t want to sound surprised by the question, “What are your weaknesses?” (Many of the standard questions are listed in the appendix at the end of this assignment.) Just as you did above, state a clear point and support it with a story/example.

Practice saying the answers you’ve prepared. The third or fourth time you explain an answer you’ve prepared, you will seem much more articulate than the first.

Wait to ask about pay and benefits until the second interview. This is very important. Psychologically, you need to be offered as many positions as possible. When you don’t get a job, it’s important for you to know whether it was because they couldn’t afford you or because the interview didn’t go well. If you go through the interview and get the rejection letter in the mail, you won’t know why they didn’t hire you. If they ask you what type of compensation you’re expecting, say that you’re sure they will make you a competitive offer and that your career, not the pay, is your top goal. If they ask again, give them a number—you don’t want to seem difficult. Find out what the average pay is for similar positions and ask for about 5% more than the average. After all, you’re not just average.

Don’t complain about or criticize past employers or coworkers. This will only make the interviewers imagine you complaining about them.

Have five to ten questions ready to ask the interviewer. (Bring a written or typed list of the questions to the interview.) These questions should tell the interviewer that you are very interested—that you can’t wait to start. “Can you tell me more about what I’d be doing?” and, “Can you show me the area where I’d be working,” both send the correct message. Try, “What are you looking for in a (insert job title here)?” Try, “What could the last person who did this job have done better?” In addition, you need to figure out whether or not you want to work at this company, so short of asking about pay and benefits, have questions ready that will help you learn about the work.

Dressing for a successful interview is a little more complicated than just dressing well. One widely held rule of thumb is that you ought to dress one step up from what you’ll wear to the job. For example, if you’re applying to be an auto mechanic, a dress shirt and khakis will serve you better that wearing a suit and tie. Why? You want to help the interviewer imagine you doing the job. Avoid loud jewelry, piercings, ornate fingernails or outlandish hairdos—they don’t help the employer imagine you doing the work. Wear subdued, neutral colors.

Let the interviewer direct the interview—follow the interviewer’s lead. Talk about half the time. Let the interview decide whether or not they would like to engage in some personal “small talk.” If they do, you should; if they don’t, stick to business.

Make sure that you give the interviewer what he or she has asked for. For example, if the interviewer says, “Tell me about a time that you used you problem-solving skills at work,” and you answer, “I got really high marks on my last review for problem solving,” you haven’t given them the example they wanted.

Have extra copies of your resume and references ready, even if you’ve already sent them.

Beyond determining whether or not you have the basic skills you need to do the job, interviewers are gauging your honesty and confidence. How can you seem honest and confident?   Avoid cliches—try not to fill your speech with jargon. Make eye contact. Answer reasonably quickly. When you’ve finished an idea, stop talking and wait for them to respond. If you don’t know, say so.   Say that you’re confident in your skills but don’t brag or seem overconfident.