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Keys to Interview Preparation

It has been said Napoleon won his battles in the tent. In other words, he did his planning before he joined the battle so that every contingency could be properly examined. You never know what may happen on the battlefield, but by being prepared, you can eliminate much of the uncertainty and nervousness, and know how to respond to different scenarios.  As always, get a good night’s sleep before the interview.

Be prepared to answer questions about your career goals; the best project you managed; your worst mistakes; and where you hope to be in 2/5/10 years.  How you respond to every question must be carefully evaluated. Negative comments are sometimes more memorable than positive comments.

Tips for the initial Phone Interview:

Generally, the first contact a prospective employer has with you is on the phone.  They want to test the waters to get to know a little more about you before investing in an on-site interview. This is your chance to make a good first impression, and here are some tips to help secure that face-to-face interview. Remember, your interviewer will not be able to see your body language so you must pay extra attention to presenting a positive impression verbally.

  1. Know what time the interview is to take place (do not forget to consider what time zone from which they will be calling). Give yourself plenty of time to collect your thoughts beforehand. Relax. Make sure you know the correct pronunciation of the interviewer’s name and his/her title. It’s a good idea to write it down next to the phone.
  2. Choose an area where you will not be disturbed. Make the family aware of the interview so there will be no interruptions.
  3. Have a copy of your resume in front of you for reference.
  4. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.
  5. Sit up straight, or even better, stand up. This will help your voice projection. Remember they cannot see you, so concentrate not only on what you say but also how you say it.
  6. Pay attention to your grammar. Speak clearly and directly into the receiver. Enunciate, never mumble.
  7. Have a high level of energy. Stay up-beat.
  8. Make your answers pertinent and concise. Avoid rambling.
  9. Let them know that you’re interested in the job opportunity. This is your chance to earn an on-site interview.
  10. Make sure that you enjoy the experience. It shows! You want to earn the opportunity to interview on-site.

Tips for the On-Site Interview:

  1. The Resume

    Study your resume before the interview so that you are completely familiar with everything in it. Refresh your memory on the facts and figures of your present/former employer. You will be expected to know a lot about your current or previous company. Bring a resume for each person you meet. Be sure to bring at least your resume and your business card since they are the most important props you need.

    Carry a leather folder or day planner to take notes or to keep information that the company may give you during the interview. A briefcase is fine, but a folder is preferred. Always bring two pens.

  2. Directions to the Interview Location

    Make a copy of directions to the interview location. Also, bring cash for parking so that you never need to ask the company to validate a parking stub or pay for parking. It is common courtesy to pay your own expenses for a local interview.

    If the employer covers the interviewing expenses for an out-of-town interview, wait until the interview has concluded (or the next day) to discuss reimbursement. The company may prepay major expenses and reimburse you for items such as car rental, cab fare, hotel, and meals.  You should pay for non-essential expenses such as phone calls from your room or the bar tab from the lounge in the lobby.

    Arrive for an interview when you are scheduled. It can annoy an employer to be told that the candidate for a 9:00 interview is in the lobby at 8:35. If your appointment is at 9:00, then arrive very close to 9:00. Carry a cell phone with you so that if you are running late, you can call to reschedule for later that day, or if not, later that week. If something unexpected occurs that you cannot control, simply explain the situation to the employer once you arrive. Once on-site, be sure to turn off your cell phone and pager.

  3. Appropriate Dress and Appearance

    We like to think we are judged on our qualifications and skills. However, clothes can make the person. To think otherwise is to ignore reality. Dress conservatively and preferably in darker colors. Pay attention to all facets of your dress and grooming.

  4. Name and Title of the Interviewer(s)

    Before the interview, find the names of your interviewers, and what their functions and titles are.

    It can be beneficial to know if you and the people you meet have anything in common like hometowns, schools, professional achievements, or personal interests.  These commonalities can break the ice at the beginning and create a bond with the interviewer.

  5. Understanding the Company’s Hiring Procedure

    To understand the hiring process, you should ask these questions:

    1. Can you describe to me the hiring procedure for this position?
    2. Are there any tests? Drug tests may be referred to as “physicals.” They may take a few days to schedule and process.
    3. How long would it take before you make a decision?
    4. Do you have any finalists?
    5. Who would make the hiring decision?
  6. Background Information on the Company

    Take time to go to the library and research the Internet to get information about the company and its history. Know their Mission Statement. Knowing something in all of these categories could significantly increase your odds of being hired:

    1. The Company’s personnel: Know the major players and who was recently hired or let go.  It is a good idea to know the history of the company and who the founders were. 
    2. The Company’s basic structure: What are the products or services they provide and to which customers, what are the various divisions, and whether they are privately or publicly held?
    3. The Company’s vital signs: How is the company doing financially, are they struggling or solvent, are they merging with a company, how is the stock faring?
    4. The Company’s divisional or departmental details: Is there a new product on the market or marketing strategy, is there an overhaul in the company’s accounting methods, or computer system?

    By arriving for your interview properly prepared, you can make a strong impression.

  7. A Complete List of Questions You Want to Ask

    Premeditated questions can be grouped into four different categories:

    1. Company questions deal with the direction, organization, policies, growth, stability, market share, and new products or services of the company or department;
    2. Industry questions deal with the growth, change, health, personnel, and technological advancement of the industry as a whole;
    3. Position questions deal with the responsibilities, scope, travel, and reporting structure of the position for which you are interviewing; and
    4. Opportunity questions deal with your potential for advancement within the company and the potential timetable for promotion.

    Here are some very useful questions:

    1. What is the most important issue your department is facing?
    2. How long has it been since you identified the need to hire someone?
    3. Why is the position open?
    4. Have you used your staff to get the job done?  What was the outcome?
    5. Have you hired anyone who has not worked out?
    6. Is there any skill you feel is critical for the job?
    7. What would be my first project?
    8. How do you foresee my career development and growth?
    9. What is the background of those who succeed in your department?
    10. When do you expect to make a decision?

    Make a list of the questions before the interview so that you do not rely on your memory.

How to Master the Art of Interviewing

There are four intangible essentials to a successful interview.  These intangibles influence the way your personality is perceived and can affect the rapport, or personal chemistry, you have with the employer.

  1. Enthusiasm:

    Leave no doubt about your level of interest for the job. Employers often select the more enthusiastic candidate if there is a two-way tie. Be positive and smile. Always maintain good eye contact. Listen carefully. Your goal is to get the offer.

  2. Technical interest:

    Employers want employees who love their job and who get excited at the prospect of getting into the heart of the job.

  3. Confidence:

    The candidate who is certain of his or her talents is viewed more favorably.

  4. Intensity:

    Do not come across as “flat” or low-key in your interview.

Most employers know how stressful it is to interview and will do everything they can to help put you at ease.

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job

Talking too much is not only annoying, but it may lead you to say things that you should not say. Do not let your nerves cause you to be long winded in your comments.

Money, Money, Money

There is a good chance you may be asked about your current or expected level of compensation. Here’s the way to handle these questions:

  1. What is your current salary?

    Answer: “My salary, with bonus, is in the high-seventies. I am expecting my annual review next month, and I expect an increase to the low-eighties.”

    If the interviewer presses for a precise answer, then be exact, in terms of dollar amounts.

  2. What would you need to work for this company?

    Answer: “I feel the opportunity is the most important goal, not the salary. If you make an offer, I am sure you would make a fair offer.”

    If the interviewer attempts to pin down your expected compensation, then suggest a range, such as, “I would like something in the low- to mid- eighties.” If you get locked in to an exact number, it may work against you. First, the number you give may lower their potential salary offer. Second, if number is too high, and an offer may never come. Using a range can keep both parties’ options more flexible.

Leave Your Laundry List at Home

Understandably, you need to be careful not to come across too strong by asking too many questions. Limit the number of premeditated questions to about a dozen or less.

Never bring up the issue of salary and benefits. If the employer initiates a conversation about these issues, fine. If it appears that your main motivation for changing jobs is the new company’s compensation and benefits, you probably will not get the job. There are better and more appropriate times to broach this subject without jeopardizing your candidacy.

Things to avoid during an interview:

  • Poor personal appearance
  • Limp, dead-fish handshake
  • Lack of tact/maturity/courtesy
  • Condemnation of past employers
  • Lack of confidence – nervousness
  • Failure to look the interviewer in the eye
  • Persistent attitude of ” What can you do for me?”
  • Lack of planning for career – no purpose or goals
  • Lack of interest and enthusiasm – passive and indifferent
  • Evasive – makes excuses for unfavorable factors in record
  • Over-emphasis on money – interested only in compensation
  • Inability to express thoughts clearly, poor diction or grammar
  • Overbearing – aggressive – conceited “superiority complex” – “know-it-all”
  • Lack of preparation for the interview – failure to get information about the company
  • Failure to ask good questions about the job and the company. This is most important

Wrapping It Up

Finally, remember to maintain a positive attitude. Stay focused and be passionate about yourself and the opportunity. A sense of humor, when appropriate, can be quite appropriate.

Show your appreciation

As you finish your interview, make certain that you thank each person for the opportunity to meet with them. Compose a thank you letter before the interview. Finish it when you get home and mail it that day.

Some of the ideas in this website were taken from the work of Bill Radin.

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