Interviews at restaurants may occur early in the interview process, but usually they are used when making a final decision. It represents the last opportunity to observe your social graces. The meal may also be used to test your ability at conversation and to see how comfortable you seem in such settings. The interviewer may be using the occasion to sense your promotability and your astuteness at interacting with senior managers. If you have already had two or more interviews with this person, and you notice that the interviewer is simply carrying on a conversation and is not asking typical interview questions, it is obvious that you are a finalist. The interviewer is seeking to observe another side of you. Accept this and do not work overly hard at mentioning personal strengths, but continue to show that your personality will fit in well with the organization.
Restaurant interviews tend to be more relaxed than other interviews, but they also require you to be more alert. There is a tendency to let down your guard during such an interview. While it is important to come across as genuine and willing to reveal yourself, you must also remember that even in this informal interview you are being judged, and therefore must take some care in what you reveal.
If the restaurant interview takes place early in the interview process, before you’ve had a chance to adequately sell yourself, you’ll face special challenges. Because of the relaxed nature of a lunch interview (which it usually will be), it is all too easy to simply chat and talk about topics that may be interesting, but do not help you sell yourself. You must be sure to take the opportunity to sell yourself whenever possible.
Avoid finger food (other than sandwiches) and potentially messy food such as spaghetti. Eat while the host is speaking so you can talk later. Order something priced the same as your host’s choice or slightly less. If unsure of the appropriate price range, ask your host what he or she recommends, since the person has undoubtedly dined there before. That will give you a clue as to the price range to look at. You can also casually ask what your host is going to have. Your host will always pick up the check. Merely thank the person for a delicious meal.
Do not order alcohol unless the host insists or orders for you. If you do drink, nurse it throughout the meal even if your host orders one or two more. If encouraged to order another, tactfully decline with a statement such as, “It’s very good, but really, this is fine.” If there is a bottle at the table and the waiter tries to pour another glass for you, merely put your hand over the glass and say no thank you. If your host pours another glass, accept it, but barely touch it throughout the rest of the meal. Remember, you’re being observed and you must be at your best.
A former supervisor of mine was taken to lunch by four executives. During the lunch they regaled each other with some off-color jokes. Sam chose not to get involved and only smiled politely as the others were laughing. Wise for him. If he had joined in with some stories of his own, he would not have been hired. It was all a test, and he passed.
In simulation interviews you are asked to demonstrate abilities by performing tasks or by taking on a role such as dealing with a difficult customer. For an office position you might be given a hundred folders and asked to alphabetize them. To test prioritization abilities you might be given ten tasks and be required to determine the best order in which to do the tasks. Relatively few interviews use simulation throughout. Far more frequent is an interview with one or two simulations. While most interviews contain no simulations, it is important to understand them and to have a sense of what to do in a simulation.
During an interview you might be given a situation with an angry customer, with the interviewer taking on the role of the customer. Or, you might be handed a pen (or some other object) and told, “Sell me this pen.” The interviewer will be looking for an ability to sell benefits and to ask for the order. This question used to be asked exclusively of salespeople, but is asked more frequently than in the past because every employee who has customer contact is viewed as a salesperson. See question 47 on page 218 for more on how to sell an object handed to you in an interview.
Prepare for simulation interviews by anticipating the kinds of things an employer might want to test you on through the use of simulation. Pick one or two and think through how you would handle it.
Being prepared psychologically is critical. The biggest problem people face is high anxiety when simulation is introduced into an interview. In simulations the key thing to remember is that there is rarely only one way to do something. You will generally be judged on your thought process. For example, if the interviewer takes on the role of an angry or difficult customer he is observing your ability to stay calm, to calm down the customer, to listen effectively, and to come up with good solutions.
With situation interviews, a situation is described and you must explain what you would do in those circumstances. It can be as simple as, “A customer calls and starts yelling because it is now five p.m. and an important package was to have arrived from the warehouse at one p.m. What do you do?”
It gets more sticky when you’re given a situation where it appears that you are going to lose no matter what you do. Consider this: You’re the sales manager and the production department is fabricating parts for a new and potentially huge customer. The parts are supposed to ship today. A long-time and major customer calls with a complaint that 10% of his last shipment of parts is bad and he absolutely must have good parts tomorrow morning. One of the two is going to get their products late yet both say they absolutely must have them on time.
These are difficult questions because you can’t anticipate them or specifically prepare for them. These questions are a test of your judgment. People face new situations frequently and they have to rely on their wisdom, their ability to think clearly under pressure, and their ability to get at the heart of an issue.
If you have been in a similar situation you could state that and ask if you could describe your actual experience. This will probably be permitted. If this question has a formal method for scoring (as they often do) the interviewer will insist that you answer the question as it was presented. You would then describe what you would do and why.
In situation interviews it is important to realize that how you arrive at your decision is often as important as the decision or action you propose to take.
This question should virtually never be answered with a simple “I would do such and such.” In addition to stating what you would do, you should also indicate the options you considered and why you selected the ones you did. Demonstrate that you are willing to make tough decisions and that you are prepared to defend your decisions and live with the consequences. As you finish describing which actions you would take you could then briefly mention a similar situation and how you actually handled it.
ON-SITE INTERVIEWS AT HEADQUARTERS
You’ve succeeded. You did well in telephone interviews and local interviews; now you’ve been invited to corporate headquarters for more interviews. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can increase the odds you’ll get an offer. Throughout the process demonstrate enthusiasm for the job and the company.
From the beginning, make sure you understand the process. The invitation will come from a human resources professional. Ask any questions you have at that time, but don’t worry if you forget something since you can always call later to clarify any points. Usually your plane tickets will be sent directly to you. The company will make a direct payment to your hotel. Occasionally they will reimburse you later, usually for miscellaneous expenses.
Make your trip as worry-free as possible. If you’re not sure how to get from the airport to the hotel, ask your contact person. If you’re not sure if you are to take a taxi to the corporate headquarters or will be picked up at the hotel, ask. It is your responsibility to get the information you need. Also ask how you should handle your incidental expenses such as taxis and meals. You will typically be reimbursed after submitting your receipts.
Know the schedule. Some companies will send you a schedule in advance, but others will give you the schedule only when you arrive. To be psychologically prepared, it is best to know in advance who you will meet and their titles. Ask your contact person who the people are and what they are likely to want to know. For example, sometimes one of the interviewers is a technical specialist, and that person’s primary task will be to test your technical knowledge.
You will normally arrive the night before your interviews. Being well rested for six to eight hours of meetings and interviews will be critical.
Your first appointment will probably be with a human resources specialist who will provide information about the company and will ask a few questions. Your next appointment will likely be with the person who would be your direct supervisor. After that you may meet future colleagues and perhaps your boss’s boss.
Lunch may consist of a quick bite at the company cafeteria or a long lunch at an expensive restaurant. Lunchtime is often used to chat in an informal way. In such a setting, relax and enjoy lunch, but remember that you are still being interviewed. Use the time to demonstrate that you are an interesting, knowledgeable person capable of speaking on numerous topics.
Be nice to everyone you meet. Some managers make a point of asking their secretaries what they thought of a certain candidate. Word that the person was rude is usually the kiss of death.
In the afternoon you may get a tour, particularly if you are interviewing at a manufacturing facility. The tour could be guided by your prospective boss, but it is more likely to be someone from human resources or a department staff person. Show enthusiasm by looking attentive and by asking questions. Tell them when something you are being shown genuinely impresses you. Ask questions about what they are doing to improve quality, or ask about any new products coming out. As you are casually talking, you can ask what the person likes or does not like about the organization. When asked tactfully, and after the two of you have gotten to know each other, this is a very acceptable question.
Your last appointment of the day will likely be with the human resources person you met at the beginning of the day. The person will try to answer any remaining questions. If you are still unsure of growth potential, this is the time to ask. This person will also want to discern whether you are likely to accept an offer if extended. If you know you would, do not hide your enthusiasm.
Before the interview, research the region you’ll move to. Learn about the cost of living, climate, and culture. Try to determine in advance if there is anything about the region to cause you to not want to move there. While on your visit, ask people what they like and dislike about the area.
The Ethics of On-Site Interviewing
Recruiters and placement directors are in agreement on the ethics of on-site interviews. If you have no interest in a company that invites you to an on-site interview, or if you know you would be unwilling to relocate there, do not accept an offer for an on-site interview just to get practice at interviewing or to explore a new city.
Go to each on-site visit with the intention of exuding enthusiasm and confidence, and of selling yourself at all times.
For college students about to graduate, the campus interview can make a tremendous difference in how well their careers begin. The organizations that visit campuses tend to be large companies which may be local, but more likely are from out of state.
Preparation is the key to success. Seek out opportunities to do practice interviewing with counselors at the placement center so you will be relaxed and confident. Get advice on how to dress.
Be sure to do your homework on the organization. Read the recruiting literature that the company will have sent to the placement office. This “tragic” story shows you why. In the very first question of the interview, the recruiter asked the candidate what he knew about the organization. He stared at the floor, saying nothing. After waiting for about 30 seconds the recruiter asked, “Did you read our literature?” At that point the young man looked up and said, “No sir.” The recruiter then stood up and said, “This interview is over!” He may have been a great candidate for the job, but one lapse in judgment cost him dearly. Recruiters are looking at the seemingly smallest things to try to assess you. In this case the candidate revealed a lack of initiative and preparation.
The campus interview is a screening interview and will last 20–30 minutes. Recruiters are especially looking for enthusiasm, potential, maturity, and a sense of whether you will fit into the organization’s culture. Recruiters from private corporations are looking for evidence that you value free enterprise and have some understanding of what business is really all about. This is especially important if you are a liberal arts major.
Remember, your competitors for these jobs will be people just like you: recent grads who have probably had the same type of low-level summer and part-time jobs that you’ve had. For that reason you are selling qualities and skills. Try to squeeze two or three quick stories into the interview which reveal your personality skills and transferable skills. Don’t be embarrassed by your summer jobs. Instead, speak about them with pride and describe how you strengthened your work ethic through those jobs and learned how to cooperate with others. Of course if you have gained any work experience which is directly related to the type of position you are interviewing for, make the most of it. If you had an internship in a related field, work hard to identify all of the skills you gained or refined, and look for ways to discuss your experiences during the interview.
Thank the recruiter for the interview, indicate that you would very much like a second interview at corporate headquarters, and be sure to send a thank-you note.
Stress interviews, which are seldom used these days, consist of questions and situations designed to put the interviewee under heavy stress. Supposedly the interviewee will reveal how he or she will actually react to stress on the job. It supposedly also reveals the “real you” and the level of poise one possesses. The stress is so artificial, however, that little is learned. Classic examples from the past included making the interviewee sit in a chair that had one leg significantly shorter than the others, or positioning the interviewee so a bright light shined directly in his or her eyes. Such interviews included making such accusatory statements as “You’re hiding things from us, aren’t you?” Put-down questions would include, “What’s wrong with you, why aren’t you making more money at your age?” While these bizarre techniques were seldom used, even during the peak use of stress interviews during the 1950s and 1960s, they reveal the lengths that employers were willing to go in order to select the right person.
Another form of stress questioning involves asking rapid-fire questions so that the candidate barely has time to think. A client once had an interview in which two interviewers sat at opposite ends of a rectangular table. While answering one person’s questions, his back was turned to the other. These two interviewers would each ask yet another question before the interviewee had finished the previous one, so he was constantly turning one way and then the next. Had he realized that he was being put through a stress interview, he could have simply turned to the one asking the fresh question and stated, “That’s an important question and I would like to answer it, but before I do I feel I need to fully answer Mr. X’s question.” Using this approach once or twice would have stopped their childish game.
A common form of stress is to use silence. You may have just completed an answer, yet the interviewer maintains silence and simply looks at you. If you break the silence, you lose. If you were truly finished with your answer you should remain silent. Maintain a soft look at the interviewer and begin to silently count the seconds. It is almost guaranteed that the interviewer cannot hold out for more than 15 seconds. If you find it difficult to maintain eye contact during the silence, look down, but do not show any nervousness or discomfort with the situation. If you absolutely cannot wait out the fifteen to 20 seconds of silence, don’t begin expanding your answer. Instead, ask a question about the job for clarification or a question about the company.
Interviewers May Confront You
An interviewer may begin challenging or disputing some of your statements. Immediately realize that you are being tested—probably to see if you can handle confrontations. One solution is to take the attention off yourself by eliciting your interviewer’s feelings. It could be as simple as, “What do you feel the best approach is?” or “How are you trying to deal with that at XYZ?” Another response is to tactfully ask, “Why do you feel that way?” While you should avoid arguments with a prospective boss, you need to show that you don’t cave in as soon as a more senior person challenges your beliefs or assertions. You can defend your positions without becoming defensive.
Although the pure stress interview is seldom used today, some employers still like to put people under stress at different times during an interview. The primary antidote to the stress interview is to simply recognize it. As soon as you realize the interviewer is intentionally putting you under stress, say to yourself, “Aha, I know what you’re doing, and you’re not going to get me to panic or get angry or become defensive.” Then become assertive, as the person receiving the rapid-fire questions should have.
JOB FAIR INTERVIEWS
With today’s tight job market, employers are looking at all the possible ways to find high-quality job candidates. Job fairs are one cost-effective way to accomplish that. Here are the reasons why you should attend job fairs:
There are real jobs there.
You get a chance to practice your “Two Minute Sell.”
You get a feel for what employers are seeking in the current market.
You’ll gain solid interview practice by having several low-stress interviews.
You can scout out organizations that you may be interested in.
You’ll come away with a nice collection of pens, yoyos, and other trinkets.
Before attending a job fair, determine who you most want to meet. A couple of days before the job fair, a full-page ad in the major local paper will list which organizations will attend, and will provide a floor layout indicating where each organization will be located. For many job fairs there will also be a web site where you can learn more about the job fair. Often there will be links to the web sites of the organizations attending. At a company web site you should be able to read about the organization and learn what their current openings are.
After reviewing a company’s web site, you should know what they are looking for. If not, many organizations will post at the booth a list of the types of positions they are filling. Most organizations will spend a few minutes with anyone willing to wait in line, so if you are really interested in the organization but don’t have a background they are currently seeking, stand in line anyway. While they will quickly realize your background does not match current openings, if they see potential in you, they will still give you some quality time.
You’ll meet all kinds of people at a job fair. One organization may send a recruiter who has been on the job for six weeks and knows little about the organization or the openings available. Others will send hiring managers who are there to conduct serious screening interviews with top candidates. Most will rely on their HR people who will be knowledgeable and helpful.
With some recruiters you’ll sense that they are genuinely trying to get to know you and your capabilities to assess how well you might fit into their organization. With others it will appear that they are just collecting resumes. Some will not only tell you about the organization and the available positions, but will screen you by asking two or three interview questions. The more closely you appear to meet their needs, the more time they’ll spend with you.
You’ll get about five minutes with a recruiter, so make the most of it. You’ll usually begin by presenting your two-minute sell—your well-rehearsed-but-not-canned-sounding sales presentation. (For tips on the two-minute sell, see page 77.) Pack as much valuable content as possible into two minutes. Each recruiter will speak to 8–10 people per hour during a ten-hour job fair, so you have to determine what will have the most impact. Your goal is to cause the recruiter to attach a note to your resume recommending that you have an in-person interview or at least a telephone screening interview. The recruiter will typically not know all the details about the jobs available or those that will be available soon, so it is especially important to sell the fact that you work hard, you’re a team player, you have an excellent background, and you’d fit well in the organization.
If you give your two-minute sell and answer a couple of questions, you’ll probably have time for only one or two questions about the organization. Determine in advance what you want to learn about it. Having visited the web site will help.
Be sure to get the business card of the recruiter you speak with. If you are truly interested in the organization, state that you look forward to an on-site interview. Add that you’ll call the recruiter in a couple weeks if you haven’t heard from anyone. Then follow up as you stated unless they give you other options.
If they don’t have any appropriate openings for you, ask for the name, title, phone number, and e-mail address of the manager who would hire someone with your specialty. Or, ask for the same information about a recruiter who specializes in people with your background.