Know As Much As Possible About The Organization
Knowledge about the organization you are interviewing with can pay big dividends. It will help you answer the questions, “Why would you like to work for us?” (see page 228) and “What do you know about our company?” (see page 231) It will enable you to ask good questions that demonstrate you have done your homework and that you know what you want.
You should conduct in-depth research before each interview. Before responding to a want ad, complete some initial research and create the strongest cover letter possible. Then, before a telephone screening interview, take further steps to research the organization. Before an in-person interview, do further research. Go further with each succeeding interview. You can afford to spend the time because with each step you are getting closer to an offer. If necessary, set aside other job-finding activities in order to concentrate on preparing for each interview. This extra effort is particularly important when you are excited about the position. Go all out to give yourself every opportunity to get the job. This extra effort can include talking to employees, former employees, suppliers, customers, and even competitors.
Failure to perform adequate research can prove disastrous. In a campus interview, a candidate was asked what he knew about the organization. Ultimately he had to admit that he knew little and had not read the company’s pamphlet that had been sent to the career planning and placement office. The interviewer rose and said, “This interview is over.” Don’t let such a thing happen to you.
Make full use of the Internet. If you don’t know an organization’s website address, use a search engine. Type in the name of the organization and usually one of the top ten items listed will be the website with its address. Don’t just skim through a few parts of a company website. If you have an interview you owe it to yourself to know everything possible. Most of your competitors will make a cursory visit and come away with little. Find out their mission statement and the goals of the organization, and learn as much as possible about their products. This will help greatly in your interview.
Know As Much As Possible About the Job
Thoroughly analyzing the job description will enable you to predict the questions that are likely to be asked. You can prepare for those questions and also establish your agenda (see chapter 8). With your agenda in place you’ll know which stories you’ll want to tell and you can work on determining which questions will enable you to share those stories. The following material was first used in Resume Power (page 232 in the 2003 edition) for the purpose of showing how to tailor a cover letter to get more interviews. If you used this technique to tailor your cover letter, you can now use it to predict the questions you’ll be asked in the interview and the points you’ll make with appropriate examples.
The following job description is very short, as are many ads that are placed in expensive media like newspapers. Job descriptions placed on the company’s own website are usually much more extensive. But the principle is the same—break the job down into its key components, and then list the experience you have that is related to each component. Also list examples that you could use to show you have expertise or solid exposure to the skill.
The analysis helps you learn the key attributes the organization wants in its ideal candidate. If you are missing a desired skill, determine what you’ve done that comes closest, or is similar. That will at least enable you to score a few points when you otherwise might have received no points.
NetCare, Inc., a leader in the software industry, has immediate full-time openings for Customer Service Representatives to provide order processing and quality customer service through its national call center. Mon. - Fri., various shifts available. Qualifications include excellent customer service/sales skills, professional enthusiasm to support Internet products. Previous customer service, PC/Windows experience is required, software sales experience a plus. Please mail your resume to NetCare, 534 NE Fourth, Philadelphia, PA 19108. No phone calls please.
Customer Service / Software Distributor
Duties/Responsibilities Qualified By
Order processing Learn new systems quickly. Was used to train new employees on the inventory system just three months after I started. Excellent typist. Type 65 wpm accurately.
Quality customer service Work hard to keep customers happy. Four years of customer service experience. Received many emails of thanks sent to me and my boss.
Excellent customer Get to know systems and procedures service skills well so I can get a problem fixed. Know how to satisfy customers. Work hard to resolve problems. Excellent telephone voice. Always pleasant and helpful. At J&J Electrical, promoted to highest level of customer support in just two years.
Excellent sales skills Handled inside sales for two years for an electrical wholesaler. Know how to produce add-on sales.
Professional enthusiasm Always enthusiastic and ready to
to support product line help a customer.
PC/Windows experience Broad experience in Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, and XP. Able to install software.
Customer service experience Four years experience in customer service.
Software sales Sold electrical products to electrical contractors. At J&J always in the top four out of ten inside salespeople, even though I had only been in inside sales for two years.
The more you know going into the interview, the more effective you’ll be. Knowing more about the duties is especially useful. One way to learn more about the job is to ask questions of your recruiter or the HR manager. Before asking your questions, indicate that you’ve been preparing for the interview and that it would help to know a little more about the position. You can ask about the duties, who the position reports to, opportunities, challenges, or problems. The recruiter or HR person may or may not be able to give further information, but there is no harm in asking. You may be amazed at how often you get more information. Many recruiters and HR people want applicants to be well prepared but they may supply additional information only to those who ask for it.
Learn as much as possible before the first interview, and learn even more during the first interview. When you are asked if you have any questions, use it as an opportunity to learn specifics about the job. At the end of the interview, use all of your accumulated knowledge to explain why you would make an excellent employee.
Do Something Unique Or Different
Throughout your job search, keep asking yourself if you can do something unique, something creative, or something unexpected that will make you stand out. Consider what happened to Jason when he used such a strategy. A major software company was interviewing three candidates for a purchasing manager position. Jason’s last interview was held on Thursday, and he was told he would be given the decision by Monday. Thursday night after his interview, he wrote a plan for purchasing that would help handle the firm’s rapid growth. On Friday morning he had a messenger deliver the proposal. On Monday he was notified he had the job because “We knew you wanted it.” Clearly, the extra effort and creativity Jason applied in this circumstance gave him the outcome he was hoping for.
Send A Thank-you Note
Sending a thank-you note, even one as short as three sentences, can be one of the most important things you do. When employers receive thank-you notes, they immediately remember you. Sending a note also makes you stand out positively because so few people send them. Most of all, you should send a thank-you note because it is the courteous thing to do. Thank-you notes can be handwritten or typed. Handwritten is more personal, but typed is more professional. Stationery that is monarch-sized (7" x 10"), or the standard 8½" x 11", are generally preferred to sending a card, especially one that says “thank you” on it.
Let the interviewer sense your enthusiasm for the job. Even specify those parts of the job which you are looking forward to or which would make excellent use of your skills. Do not hesitate to mention that you see the job as a challenge that you are more than ready to take on. Tell the interviewer that you want the job. Sell your confidence.
If you did not handle an objection well, the thank-you note provides a wonderful opportunity to cover it in a positive way. Sometimes, however, it is better to leave those missed opportunities alone and stick to more positive points. Bring up the objection only if you think that without covering it in your thank-you note you have virtually no chance of being invited back for another interview.
A typical thank-you note might read like this:
Thank you for the opportunity to meet you on Thursday. The position sounds quite interesting and challenging. I believe I can make a significant contribution. If you would like any additional information, please contact me at (207) 454-6952.
I would welcome the opportunity to work for (name of company).
Sincerely, Sandra Pendergast
A somewhat expanded thank-you note might read:
I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with you today. The position sounds very challenging and I am convinced it would make excellent use of my talents and experience. I know that I can make a significant contribution.
I am especially interested in the project management aspect of the position. For the past three years project management has been a major function of my job. Because of my ability to get tough projects completed on schedule, I’ve developed a reputation as the person to give the really difficult projects to. The system conversion project and the office renovation projects that I mentioned in our interview are just two of the many projects that I’m proud of.
I would very much like the _____________ position and I am especially looking forward to working with you.
Sincerely, Roger Hinen
It’s hard to go wrong with any note as long as you say thanks.
Check With Your References Before Using Them
Make sure your references are truly willing to speak on your behalf. When asking for their help, give them an out by saying, “If you’re really busy, I’ll understand.” If they don’t want to be references, don’t use them; they won’t do a good job for you. If you’ve had a major interview, call them and let them know to expect a call. Give them the background of the job and tell them why you’d be effective in the position.
Know How To Deal With Probing Questions
Whenever an interviewer feels obligated to ask probing questions, it is bound to hurt you. The key to handling probing questions is to eliminate the necessity of being asked such questions. Probes occur because the interviewer is not satisfied with the information obtained. The interviewer may follow up with another question simply because the initial answer was incomplete, or because the interviewer believes you may be withholding something. Your challenge is to provide enough information to satisfy the interviewer, but not so much information that it hurts you. Probing questions might arise around such issues as your weaknesses, why you were terminated, or why you’ve had four jobs in the last five years. Clearly, you can’t score points with questions like these, so the tendency is to provide an extremely brief answer. If interviewers suspect you’re avoiding something, however, they often go for the jugular. An interviewer could ask three or four additional probing questions and use up 10–15 precious minutes doing it.
Several approaches can help you preempt probing questions:
1) Know in advance what questions could potentially hurt you. If you were recently fired, you know what the difficult question will be. When you’ve decided which questions might hurt you, practice your responses.
2) Avoid sounding anxious or defensive in your answers.
3) Provide enough, but not too much information. Interviewees lean toward one of two extremes. Some are too brief in their responses and appear evasive. Others provide long-winded explanations in an attempt to cover every possible detail. Such long responses usually just provide more material for probing questions.
Effectively Answering Technical Questions
All interviews include questions that assess how closely your knowledge and experience match the job requirements. Your responsibility is to predict what the technical questions will be and then prepare for them. Technical questions are those questions that clarify whether you have the specialized knowledge and experience needed to fulfill specific job responsibilities. You may be asked how much experience you have with spreadsheets, developing marketing plans for software companies, or designing heart monitoring equipment. The list of technical skills is endless, but for your specific field you should be able to predict what the technical questions will be.
If you interview with several people at an organization, one of them will often be the most knowledgeable technically. That person will ask you the toughest technical questions.
You can rarely fool the technical person, so don’t even try. Microsoft is famous for using at least one highly technical person to really test you. If you say you are a power user of Excel, the Microsoft Excel specialist might ask you how you would go about creating a macro that would automate a particular function. If you claim expertise in the C++ programming language, you will be asked to go to a white board and solve a problem. You won’t leave until the specialist has thoroughly assessed your knowledge level.
You’ll want to claim as much expertise in your resume as possible without overstating it. Understating can result in no interview, but you will be unceremoniously dumped out of the interview process if you overstate it. Try to accurately project your real knowledge and experience level.
To predict technical questions, you need to know as much about the job as possible. Do everything you can to get a thorough job description. Ask questions of the recruiter or HR person before the interview. While the information may not always be available, no one can fault you for trying to obtain it. You can even be so bold as to ask the HR person or even the hiring manager, “What technical skills and experience are most important in this position?” Even if you don’t get all the information you’d like, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors, who will rarely ask for such information.
Many interviewees do not bother to evaluate their technical skills (also called work content skills; see www.cmr-mvp.com, and click on Books and Booklets). They say to themselves, “There’s no way to prepare for it—I’ve either done it or I haven’t, and I either know it or I don’t.” While there is a certain logic in this thinking, it is really just an excuse to be lazy. Remember the balance scale concept covered on page 2? The balance scale reminds us that the person who gets the job is the one who has the most weight on his or her side of the scale at the end of the interviewing process. It means that you must get as much weight added on your side of the scale with each question, because it is the combined weight of all questions, not just one or two, that makes the difference.
If you prefer to think in terms of points scored, the goal is to score as many points as possible on each question. If you’re asked what experience you have in planning for trade shows and you’ve never even attended a trade show, let alone coordinated one, you’re in danger of getting no points on that question. If caught unprepared, you should quickly recall things you’ve done that are similar (see page 14) and try to get a few points.
If you knew that one of the duties of the position is to plan and coordinate three trade shows annually, you would first read up on trade shows, and, if time permitted, talk to people who coordinate trade shows. You would try to learn the jargon so you could appropriately use all the right terms. Just for speaking the language, you’ll get some points. You would also describe the things that need to be done and demonstrate that you are more than capable of handling each task.
Having predicted that you’ll be asked about trade show experience, you’ll work hard to recall one or more experiences that are related or similar to trade shows. If you’ve attended trade shows but never coordinated one, you would point out that you know what goes on at trade shows and that you observed some of the planning or setting up at trade shows. If you worked closely with the person who coordinated trade shows for your company, you would describe what you learned from that person.
Here’s the problem when you haven’t done a particular thing that is called for in a job description: managers tend to forget that there was a time when they also had not done that thing. They also tend to forget that someone gave them the opportunity to learn it on the job. Often they learned it very quickly. You can do the same if given a chance. Don’t forget to sell the fact that you learn new things quickly. You could even say something like:
While I haven’t specifically coordinated trade shows, I certainly have all of the skills needed to do it. I have a good understanding of what needs to be done. I’m very good at coordinating events, which I’ve done on several occasions. I view a trade show as an event that has some unique features to it. I also plan well and I have an extensive history of completing major projects on schedule and at high quality. I’m sure in your career you’ve been assigned tasks that you had never done before, but with a little assistance from others and some experience, you became quite adept at. I’ve also been given new tasks and I always rise to the challenge. I would really enjoy coordinating your trade shows.
It is nearly impossible to have all the knowledge and experience an employer might like. Despite having some shortages, you may in fact be the virtually perfect candidate. The employer will see that if you 1) effectively describe your relevant experience and knowledge, 2) sell all the benefits you bring, 3) vividly describe appropriate past successes, 4) convince the person that you have related experience in areas where you’re weak, and 5) prove that you learn new tasks quickly. In addition you must show that you are a flexible, easy-to-work-with person who will fit right in with the other staff. To get the offer you must make all of these things happen. That’s why effective interviewing requires lots of preparation.
Getting Feedback From An Employer
Usually the interviewer’s facial expression will indicate whether a point you just made has been thoroughly understood, but not always. If you’ve just described something technical, and you’re not sure the interviewer understood, get feedback. It can be as simple as looking directly at the person and tactfully asking, “Was that clear?” If you are not sure you truly answered what the interviewer was asking you could ask, “Is that what you were looking for?” or “Am I giving you the information you need?”
Sometimes during an interview you can’t tell if the interviewer is truly interested or just polite. If you would like to say more about an experience or topic, but you’ve already spoken for over a minute and you’re not sure the person wants to hear more, simply ask, “Would you like to hear more about my experience with . . . ?” That enables the interviewer to respond, “That’s probably sufficient,” or, “Sure, it sounds like that was an important experience.”
Generally you should resist the temptation to overtly disagree with the interviewer. The interviewer may say something negative about a politician you admire or about a social policy you support. The interviewer may disparage a management concept that you believe strongly in. With few exceptions there is simply no need to inform the interviewer that you disagree. It just doesn’t matter. Any two people are bound to disagree on some issues, yet they are capable of working well together. Most disagreements are simply unimportant to your goal—getting the job offer. So, bite your tongue if you must, but stick to things that will help you score points. Disagreeing will rarely do that.
There are times when you must disagree. When you must, do it tactfully. The time to tactfully disagree comes when the interviewer makes a statement about you which you know is either untrue or is not as serious as the interviewer seems to think. The statements might include, It seems that you:
are a little too sensitive
don’t like to deal with details
have trouble getting along with people
tend to rule with an iron fist
find it difficult to stay with one company for long
One way to deal with the situation is to show some amount of agreement, but then state where you don’t agree. “I would agree that I ___________, but I wouldn’t say that I’m ___________.” In response to “It doesn’t seem that you like to work with details,” it might work out this way: “I would agree that a detail orientation is not my greatest strength. I really am more of an ideas and big -picture person. But when I’m overseeing a project I keep very close track of the details while keeping my eyes on our goals. When I can, I’ll delegate some of the details to others but I make sure those things are getting accomplished. I hold my people accountable.”
To make this work, anticipate criticisms or objections that might arise and determine how you would deal with them. See pages 11-13 for more on objections.
Create Positive First Impressions
Interviewers tend to arrive at quick conclusions about interviewees and are heavily influenced by negative impressions. A study published by the Canadian Journal of Psychology indicated that 85% of interviewers’ decisions were based on information obtained in the first four minutes of the interview. Just one unfavorable rating on one aspect led to a reject decision 90% of the time. This research merely confirms what we’ve known all along—first impressions are important. Make sure yours are positive.
Many first impressions occur within a minute and are primarily nonverbal. A warm smile as you greet your interviewer gets things off to a good start. Firm handshakes create positive impressions while limp or bone-crushing handshakes get the interview started in a downward trend. From the beginning demonstrate your enthusiasm and energy. Be friendly and open. When you arrive for the interview take a quick visit to the bathroom to check yourself out in a mirror. Check your hair, blouse, or tie to make sure everything is looking right. Make sure that buttons are buttoned and zippers are zipped.