Know The Time And Place
Leave nothing to chance. Know the exact time and location of your interview. Purchase a pocket calendar and put all of your appointments in it with the name and correct spelling of the person you’ll be meeting, as well as the person’s title, and the name and address of the organization. If you’re unsure about the location, get explicit directions or drive by the day before so you’ll know exactly how to get there. Leave early for the appointment to allow for traffic tie-ups or other problems.
Arriving early for an interview can play an important role in getting a job offer. Knowing the exact time of the interview and knowing how to get there are crucial to arriving early.
Planning to arrive early is important for several reasons. If you are fighting traffic and unsure if you will make it to the interview on schedule, your mind whirls with thoughts such as, “Why didn’t I leave earlier? Why did I spend those fifteen minutes reading the newspaper? What is the interviewer going to think if I’m late?” Rushing and getting to the interview only a minute early, or a minute late, will make you feel frazzled. While you might get your thoughts together quickly and calm yourself down, you may have lost your edge. It’s hard to recover. But if you plan to arrive half an hour before the interview, and you get caught in heavy traffic, you will probably still get there at least five minutes early. Some ways to take advantage of an early arrival:
• Use the commuting time to prepare for the interview. Use your drive or bus ride to practice, to review your notes, or to listen to the “Psych Yourself Up” audio (see page 291). You should be rehearsing aspects of the interview, not swearing at thoughtless drivers who are making your arrival on schedule problematic.
• Take time in the parking lot or lobby to go over your notes one last time. This is also a chance to relax and focus. Visualize successfully selling yourself in the interview.
• Use the restroom and check your appearance in the mirror.
• Sit in the reception area and observe. How did the receptionist treat you? How do others treat the receptionist and each other? You’re watching for clues about the organization’s culture. Are employees happy, friendly, angry, or rude?
• Ask the receptionist if there is any literature on the organization for you to read. You may learn something you did not find in your other resources.
• Be relaxed, focused, energetic, and enthusiastic when the interviewer greets you. It is nearly impossible to be in that state if you rushed and barely made it on time.
Greet The Receptionist And All Employees With A Smile, Courtesy, And Respect
Receptionists are often asked by employers what they thought of you. A negative response (such as “rude”) will typically torpedo your candidacy. It is wise, therefore, to treat everyone you meet in the organization with friendliness and respect. A hiring manager asked a subordinate to take a candidate to the cafeteria for lunch while he attended a meeting. In the cafeteria the candidate got into an argument with the cashier. This got back to the manager, and the individual was not brought back for a second interview even though he had excellent experience and had interviewed well. Public relations was critical in the position; the manager simply could not take a chance on hiring the wrong person.
Stories abound about men who have gone to interviews in jeans, with dirty fingernails, or unkempt hair, and women who have attended interviews wearing curlers or low-cut cocktail dresses. Those folks did not get job offers. Some use their clothing to make a statement, justifying such dress with the self-defeating logic, “If they don’t like what I wear, I don’t want to work there anyway.” Such an attitude, however, only hurts the applicant.
The emphasis is on appropriate dress; there is no rule which fits all people. For male and female professionals, a conservative and properly-fitting business suit is recommended. Pant suits for women may be acceptable on the job but should rarely be worn for interviews. If in doubt, dress up. You may know in advance that office dress is casual, but don’t use that as a cue to dress down. It’s fine to be dressed in a suit while being interviewed by someone dressed casually. Everyone knows that when appropriate, people can dress down, but they have much less confidence that people are willing to dress up. Scents used by men or women should be subtle, with just a touch used. Jewelry should be conservative and limited. Unless you know it is highly accepted, a man’s earring should be removed for the interview. Beards and mustaches are generally accepted when nicely groomed.
Bring Pen And Pad
When the interviewer gives you some key information that must be written down, such as the name of a person or organization, you’ll want to have a pen and pocket-sized note pad handy. Otherwise save your note-taking for later. Upon leaving the interview, jot down notes from the interview in the lobby of the building or in your car. Jot down your impressions about the job and the organization. List any questions that you feel were not adequately answered. Begin with the company name and the division, the name of your interviewer and the person’s title, date and time of the interview, and the length of the interview. List the people you interviewed with and met (do your best to get people’s business cards). Then jot down a detailed description of the job, including what you like about it and don’t like about it. Indicate the key points you made and the specific experiences (accomplishments) you described. List the interviewer’s major concerns and how you responded. Consider for a moment what your next steps should be, and list those points. Then list points you wish you had made and things you said that you wish you hadn’t. Close with the actions you intend to take.
While I prefer the approach of taking notes immediately after the interview, some people would rather take notes during the interview. If you take notes during the interview jot down only key points, do it as unobtrusively as possible, and maintain eye contact as you take your notes. Your notes may be a little hard to read as a result, but you can always rewrite them later. The important thing is to give total concen-tration to what is being said by the interviewer.
Remember The Interviewer’s Name
Nothing is so important to people as their name. Anthony Medley, in his book Sweaty Palms, recalls an applicant who kept referring to him as Mr. Melody. She didn’t get the job. My pet peeve is people who insist on putting an r in Washington, making it Warshington. If you’re unsure of the pronunciation of the interviewer’s name, ask the receptionist. Do not call the person by his or her first name unless invited to do so.
Shake Hands Firmly
Offer your hand as soon as the interviewer makes the first move. If you are a woman, offer your hand first if you feel comfortable doing so since men are sometimes cautious about offering a hand to a woman. Most people like a firm handshake but detest both the limp and bone-crushing types.
Wait Before You Sit
Allow the interviewer to invite you to be seated and to indicate where to sit. If no indication is made, you can ask or simply sit down in the chair which is most obvious.
Bring Copies Of Your Resume
Take copies of your resume to each interview, as well as any relevant work samples. Carry them in a briefcase or a good-looking leather or leather-like portfolio. Copies of your resume come in handy if one or more of your interviewers lost it or forgot to bring it to the interview. Making sure they have a copy could lead to your being asked one of those great questions, such as “How did you manage to raise productivity fifteen percent?”
Follow The Interviewer’s Lead With Humor
People with a good sense of humor are fun to work with, but you do have to be careful how you sell this quality. The best way to sell a sense of humor is by demonstrating it—and I don't mean with a string of one-liners. To demonstrate your sense of humor, always take your cue from the interviewer. In most interviews I've been on, somewhere during the interview the two of us found something to laugh about. It might be that the employer said something amusing or told an amusing story. When he laughed, I quickly joined in with a sincere laugh or smile. When appropriate, I have then told an amusing story of my own, and again we laughed or smiled.
Avoid the belly-laugh, roll-in-the-aisle type of laughter. I have seen people laugh almost uncontrollably at their own joke or story while the employer barely cracked a smile. Watch the interviewer and match your laugh to his or hers. If the interviewer says something he thinks is quite amusing and he has a big grin on his face, you must at least be able to put a nice smile on yours. Think of how it would feel for the person across from you, who is laughing while you have a stone-cold stare on your face. In an interview the employer would immediately asks herself, “What's wrong with this person?”
Being a good joke teller could make a nice quality to have on the job, but it is rarely appropriate in an interview. And no one wants to hire a cut-up or a practical joker.
Don’t Appear Desperate
Don’t ask questions or make comments that make you appear desperate. Do not reveal that you are running out of money and therefore are willing to take any available job. People have been known to say, “I’ll do anything, just give me a job.” Desperate people may receive sympathy but are not given job offers. Instead of talking about how much you need a job, concentrate on all that you can offer the company.
Avoid Discussing Personal Or Family Problems
You should virtually never bring up a personal or family problem. It is almost never to your advantage to do so. If you mention problems, an employer might decide that your problems could lead to absenteeism or low productivity. There is no reason to mention that you are going through a divorce, that you’re about to have surgery, or that your child has a serious illness. If an employer asks questions that would require you to reveal personal or family problems, the questions are most likely illegal. (See page 172 for a discussion of illegal interview questions.)
Turn Off Your Cell Phone
Having your cell phone ring while in an interview is perhaps not as bad as having it ring in church or at a play, but use good judgment and turn it off as you are walking to the building where your interview will take place. Better yet, leave it in your car. Stories have circulated about people who actually answered their cell phone during an interview and carried on a conversation. I have not yet heard that any of those people were offered the position they interviewed for.
Get A Business Card From Each Person Who Interviews You
You will want to send a thank-you note to each person who interviews you. If you are interviewed by a panel, ask for a business card from as many as possible. Do not feel embarrassed about asking for cards. Each card will probably have the owner’s email address, which can come in handy in the follow-up process.
Ask What The Next Step Will Be
At the end of an interview with an HR representative or with the hiring manager, ask what the next step will be. Usually you will learn that more interviews will take place, and you may be told how soon a decision will be made on whom to bring back for the next round. If the timing is not mentioned, you can ask about it. If you do not hear from the manager or HR by that time, wait a few extra days and then, if you feel the need to, call and ask how the decision process is going.
Washington’s Fourth Law of Interviewing
As in physics, there are also laws of interviewing. Washington’s Fourth Law of Interviewing states: Employers will never make a decision by the time stated, nor will they get back to you when they say they will. Problems arise or other projects take on priority. Undoubtedly the manager wants to fill the position, but there are distractions or obstacles. So, when you want to know the answer to the question, “Did I get the job?” be patient for a few extra days before you call. Not having received a call when promised can mean that an offer has gone to someone else, but just as often it simply means there has been a delay. Clients of mine have often been invited back for second interviews weeks after they were told it would happen. Clients have also received job offers weeks after the point when a hiring decision was expected—after they gave up hoping for that particular position.
Sometimes the cause of the delay is that an offer has been made to another candidate. If the top candidate is employed, employers realize that the person may choose to stay with their current organization. If the person requested a week, for example, to consider the offer, the hiring manager cannot yet tell you that the job has been filled. At this point, the once friendly HR person and hiring manager are always in meetings and suddenly won’t return your calls. Be patient—you’ve done virtually everything you can. You prepared and sold yourself well, you sent a thank-you note, and you may have taken other appropriate, proactive steps as well. Now you must wait for the answer and continue to carry out your effective job search. If you stay active, it is much easier to handle bad news if it comes.
Don’t Burn Bridges
If you are not the candidate selected, call or write the hiring manager and say that even though you did not get the position, you would like to be considered for future opportunities. Resell yourself briefly and indicate (if it’s true) that you would like to work for that person and for the organization. Such efforts have led employers to refer individuals, who were not hired, to other organizations. Such efforts have also led to being offered the position after the original person either quit or did not work out. I’ve had two clients ultimately get the job even though another person first filled it. In one case the person who was initially hired had recently had a baby. After being on the job for two weeks, she realized she needed to spend more time with her child before returning to work. My client was immediately hired. In the other case the first person had not performed well and had quit after only three months on the job. My client was invited to compete with the other finalist for the position, and my client got the job. Both of these people had thanked the hiring manager for the opportunity to interview and had expressed continued interest in the position and the organization.
If You Forget the Question
As embarrassing as it is, virtually everyone has at one time or another started to answer a question, gone off on a tangent, and forgotten the question. One of my clients had this happen more than once. He came up with the idea of asking, “Does that answer your question?” It almost guarantees that if the answer does not hit the mark, the interviewer will point out where it didn’t, and in so doing will rephrase the question and point out what additional information is still desired.
When The Interviewer Doesn’t Ask Any Questions
Occasionally you’ll go to an interview where the entire time is spent discussing such things as trends in the industry, different management styles, or even a recent corporate scandal such as Enron. It can be very frustrating since no standard interview questions are asked.
Usually the explanation is that the interviewer is already convinced you can do the job and just wants to carry on a conversation to learn about you as a person. While a behavior-based interview would likely be the most effective way to do that, many interviewers have more confidence in their ability to learn about you by just talking with you. Keep that in mind before you start trying to control the interview and steer it in your desired direction. If you are concerned, and if it appears that the interview is drawing to a close, you could try this: “Mr. Johnson, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. Discussing new management techniques is one of my favorite topics. It appears to me that you recognize my ability to effectively handle the position. Is there anything you want to know about specific skills I have or more about my work experience?” This question should lead to a confirmation that you are right; the person simply wants to learn more about you as a person and is sufficiently satisfied that you can handle the job. At that point you can relax and just go with the flow. If, in fact, the interviewer is not convinced you are well suited to the position, your offer to talk about skills and experience will probably cause him or her to begin asking traditional interview questions.
One client had an interview of this type and felt cheated because she had spent so much time preparing for the interview. Based on how she described the interview, I was convinced that the hiring manager was just trying to assess her ability to work with her team. My client got a second interview, meaning she passed the first test, though she did not ultimately get the offer.
Look For Clues About Interests
Photographs or mementos on a desk or wall can often provide clues regarding a person’s interests. Discussing a shared interest can help build rapport at the beginning of an interview. For example, if a person’s office has a nautical theme, it may mean that the person loves to sail or study the subject, or it may simply mean that this person likes the visual effect of such a theme. Rather than assume too much, broach the subject with an exploratory question such as, “Do you sail?” The person may respond with, “I love to sail, how about you?” If you share a love of sailing, the two of you will probably have an interesting conversation and the interviewer will begin with the belief that the two of you share numerous values and interests. That will help you. If you don’t sail, you might respond with, “No, I don’t sail but I’ve always wanted to,” or “No, but I love to watch sailboats. It must be an interesting sport.” The interviewer might then share a few past experiences before getting fully into the interview. Listen attentively. Avoid over-stating your interest or experience in a hobby, however; it could come back to haunt you.
No Smoking Or Gum Chewing
If you’re a smoker and your interviewer lights up a cigarette and offers you one, tactfully decline. You cannot fully sell yourself with a cigarette in your hand. Chewing gum during an interview is considered rude.
Even if your interviewer uses salty language, keep yours totally free of profanity. Even among those who swear themselves, hearing it out of the mouth of an interviewee is a turnoff. Some interviewers will even use profanity as a test to see if you will join in. Don’t.
Keep It Interesting
Throughout the interview you must keep your responses interesting. One of the worst sins of interviewing is to bore the interviewer. Long-winded, rambling responses will cause the interviewer to lose interest. Responses that are concise and packed with key information, however, will maintain the interviewer’s interest. When you’re through, the interviewer may be so interested in the experience you’ve just described that he or she will ask a follow-up question. Anytime you sense you’ve lost the interviewer, finish your response as quickly as possible.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly
Go In With An Agenda
The employer has an agenda and so should you. In your pocket-sized notebook, using your own shorthand, list the points you want to get across and the examples you want to give. List a few questions that you can ask if the employer invites you to ask questions. Toward the end of the interview, you can glance at your agenda to see if you’ve missed anything. (See chapter 8, Develop Your Agenda)
Practice Your Intuition
Throughout the interview try to detect the biases of the interviewer. Everyone has biases, and sensing the biases of your interviewer can be a real advantage to you. For example, if your interviewer appears to be quite conservative, you as a liberal would be careful during any discussion of social issues. Other biases might include a belief that teamwork increases productivity, or that when quality is emphasized, profit will follow. When you detect a bias or belief that you personally hold as well, look for opportunities to demonstrate that you share those beliefs. It is human nature that most managers prefer hiring people who share their values and beliefs.
Ask About Needs
If you are interviewing with someone other than the hiring manager, ask about the needs or challenges being faced in the department. Such people are often less reticent to share these types of things than hiring managers.
Don’t Ask Throwaway Questions
In the first and second interview you will usually have the opportunity to ask only a few questions, so they should be questions which are truly important to you. Never ask a question just because you think it will show how smart or knowledgeable you are. Often people will pick up an interesting tidbit during their research and then will try to squeeze in a question about it in order to look good. The problem with this, however, is that most employers can detect the true intent behind such a question. Instead of scoring points, such questions can actually cause you to lose points.
Throughout your interview demonstrate that you value and appreciate team members. Show that when you work with a team there is synergy. Acknowledge the help you received from a mentor, a boss, or teacher, and specify how that person helped you. By doing these things it demonstrates that you are a self-confident person who trusts others and seeks out their help.
Many an interviewee has gotten into trouble by assuming too much. Don’t assume the interviewer knows exactly what he wants or needs in an employee. And don’t assume the interviewer knows all the right questions to ask. Help the interviewer decide that you are the right person by revealing as many strengths as possible during the interview.
Don’t assume that you did well or poorly in the interview. People have left interviews feeling they performed masterfully only to learn that the interview was a disaster. Others, who felt certain they’d blown it, have been surprised to get an offer. After each interview, spend a few minutes evaluating how you did and determine how you’ll do better next time. Do not waste time considering how poorly you did. Energy spent beating yourself up over what you assume has been a poor interview is self-defeating.
Leave The Interview On A Positive Note
As you exit the interview, express your interest in the position. Do not ask how you did, as doing so can be embarrassing to both you and the interviewer. It is fine, however, to ask what the next step will be and how soon you might expect an answer. Your goal is to get invited back for the second round. Everything you say and do should be geared to that purpose.
Follow-Up Phone Calls May Be Appropriate
Do not even consider a follow-up phone call unless you’ve already sent a thank-you note. A follow-up call can be made to express interest and thanks, or to clarify a point. You can come right out and say, “I just wanted you to know how interested I am in the position.” Because you may be interrupting the person, keep it short. You can also ask about the status of the position, but don’t do this unless it is past the date when you were told a decision would be made.
If your first interviewer has subsequently passed you on to the hiring authority, or someone higher up, call and thank that person. Feel free to ask for some advice on how to prepare for that interview or even ask what that person will want to know about you. Your statement could be, “Mr. Weirman, I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with you, and I wanted to thank you for referring me to Janet Carlson. I’m looking forward to meeting her. What do you think are the main things she’s going to be looking for?”
Look For Buy Signals
As soon as you hear phrases such as, “I think you could do a good job for us,” “I like [a particular quality such as determination] in a person,” or “If we offer you the job how soon could you start?” you know the employer is seriously interested in you. It does not mean, however, that the job is sewn up. Maintain a high level of enthusiasm and be sure to ask for another appointment. By all means state that you want the job.
Closed-Ended And Open-Ended Questions
All questions are either closed-ended or open-ended. A closed-ended question is one which can be answered with a yes or no: “Are you a college graduate?” “Do you believe the U.S. should sell high-tech equipment to China?” and “Are you a team player?” The first question requires only the simplest of answers—“Yes, I am.” Although the latter two could be answered with a yes or no, each of them invites a broader explanation. When a question is thoroughly and completely answered with a yes or no, stop—there is no need to go further. Most questions, however, really do invite elaboration. Inexperienced interviewers are the ones most apt to ask closed-ended questions. If you’re going to sell yourself in such an interview, most questions will require a 15–45 second response. Technically, “Do you work well under stress?” is a closed-ended question. No interviewer, however, is merely seeking a yes or no response. Clearly these types of questions require explanation even though they are asked in a closed-ended fashion. Remember the first rule of interviewing: every time you open your mouth, it is to sell yourself.
When You Blow An Interview
Occasionally you’ll come out of an interview knowing you blew it. You may have been overly nervous, or lacked enthusiasm, or there were questions that stumped you and you know it hurt you. In such cases it may be appropriate to call the interviewer and simply state that you feel that you blew the interview and that the person did not see you at your best. You might go on to explain that since you believe you are ideal for the job, you would like another opportunity to sell yourself. After your explanation you could simply ask, “Could I meet with you to give you a half-hour of my best?” Obviously this tactic should be used sparingly, only for those jobs you really want, and only when you absolutely know you blew it.