Seven Keys to a Successful Interview

Over the past thirteen years, I’ve had the pleasure of helping hundreds of job seekers successfully prepare for interviews.  Many people feel inadequate in these situations, but interviewing is a skill, and therefore can be learned, practiced, and improved.  Companies advertise a skill set, but usually prioritize their hires on attitude, personality, and culture fit.  The most qualified applicant on paper doesn’t always get the job.  The person they like the best usually does.  The goal of the interview is to get an offer!  With that being said, here are seven keys to a successful interview to help you accomplish just that if you learn, practice, and follow them.

GET A ROAD MAP FOR THE INTERVIEW.  Hopefully if you were going on a trip you’d make sure to have directions.  This is especially true of interviews, too.  Many times the interviewer will start by telling you about the company and position.  The key at this point is to listen very carefully to what they are looking for, so you can tailor your answers.  It is like an open book test and while you may have a lot more you wish to share about yourself, it is best to stick to the script that the interviewer has just laid out.  What if the interviewer doesn’t give you this road map and instead starts firing off questions instead?  I strongly suggest that you have the courage to take a moment and say something like, “Mark, I’m very excited about being here today, but would you mind backing up for just a minute and explaining a little about the position and what you’re looking for, so I can best demonstrate how my skills can fit it?”  Remember, it is your responsibility, not the company, to make sure the interview is successful.  You are the salesperson and they are the customer, so you need to figure out what they need so you can best explain how you can be the right solution to their hiring problem.

SHOW ENTHUSIASM.  Studies have shown that 55% of communication is non-verbal, 38% is your tone of voice, while only 7% are the actual words.  So, it is not what you say, but how you say it.  Showing enthusiasm doesn’t mean being someone you’re not, but it does mean being at your best.  You can tell when someone is excited just by watching a person’s eye contact and body posture and listening to their tone of voice.  If they’re not sure if you’re interested, they’re far less likely to want to offer you the job.  People like giving jobs to people who want them.  Enthusiasm can be a great tie-breaker between two evenly match candidates.

REASON FOR CHANGE.  Many interviews get derailed on this question.  You will be asked either why you’re no longer at your last company or why you’re looking to leave your current company.  You need to do your best to communicate a positive reason for change that explains why you’re looking to move on, or have moved on, while also not being a reason to avoid wanting to hire you at the next opportunity.  You need to stay away from appearing to have a chip on your shoulder or carrying resentment or disappointment to the interview.  Companies want people heading towards them, not running away from somewhere else.  Your problem with your last employer doesn’t need to be theirs, too.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES.  “Why should we hire you?” or “Tell us what you’d bring to our organization?” are questions asking the same thing, “What are your strengths?”  You should expect to demonstrate at least three well prepared and rehearsed traits with examples of each.  To avoid unnecessary rambling, I would suggest talking in numbers when answering.  For instance, “Nancy, I think there are three main things I would bring to your organization….”  What you’ve done is clearly outline during the response for the interviewer that there will be a 1, 2, and a 3 so you stay on track.  As for weaknesses, obviously this is not the value added portion of the interview.  No one likes being asked this question and you can’t say that you don’t have any weaknesses, so what do you say?  I suggest picking one, very generic weakness and show how you’ve been working on it, so it is at least neutralized by the end of the answer.  For example, “One thing I’ve been working on throughout my career is my organizational skills.  I’ve made great strides in this area by spending additional time at the beginning and end of each day planning things out and better using technology, but it still isn’t something that comes second nature to me, so I continue to make it a focus to improve at.”  The goal is to get in and out of this question and get back to talking about things that will actually help you get the job.

SALARY EXPECTATIONSOften candidates get asked during interviews for their salary expectations.  Please realize this is not a negotiation at this stage.  No offer is on the table and the interviewer is simply looking for information.  I would recommend not giving a specific salary number because if you do only three things can happen.  A) You can aim too high and take yourself out of the running, B) Aim too low and leave money on the table or C) Get lucky and say the exact number the interviewer was hoping you’d say.  Since the odds of the last option happening isn’t strong, I would strongly advise against giving a specific amount at this stage of the process.  Instead, I would answer their question with a question and try to find out what their salary range is for the position.  If you happen to know ahead of time, even better.  If pressed for an answer, I would state the range is acceptable and that at this stage you’re most concerned about the position and that you’re flexible.

ASKING QUESTIONS.  At the end of the interview, and ideally throughout, you should be prepared to ask questions of the interviewer to learn more about them, the position, and the company.  Remember, the person you’re meeting with will be a co-worker, and possibly your immediate supervisor if you’re hired.  You might be spending most of your waking hours around this person, so it is important to start building a rapport by finding common interests.  I strongly suggest asking Big Picture questions and staying away from what I call small picture questions.  Big Picture questions focus on the person, position, and company with a long-term view.  For instance, “Tell me about some of the challenges I should be ready for in this position over the next couple of years if I was hired?”  Or, “What are the first three things you’d like me to do if I was hired?”  You can do an internet search to easily find lists of these to draw from, but just make sure you have some prepared to ask and discuss.  The small picture questions to avoid however are ones that focus on things like health insurance, vacation, holidays, etc.  There is a time and place to learn more about these, but it isn’t at this stage of the interview process.

ASK FOR THE JOB.  Closing the interview properly is critical as it is your last chance to leave an impression.  Whether you’ve done great or just okay up to this point, how you finish often can be the tiebreaker between you and your competition.  If the interviewer isn’t sure whether you want the job, they will most likely look for someone else they are sure of.  Too many people mistakenly leave an interview hoping for the job rather than asking for it.  They say something like “Jane, thank you for your time today.  It was very nice meeting you and I hope to hear from you soon.”  Pleasant, polite, but certainly not memorable.  Chances are the interviewer has heard it numerous times and hearing it again did nothing to help separate you from anyone else.  I would strongly suggest saying something bolder like “Jane, when I came here today I was already excited.  But after meeting with you and hearing more about the opportunity, I’m even more excited because of what you said about (insert something here that they said).  I also feel confident that I’d be an excellent fit for the opportunity because of my ability to do (insert something here that you said during the interview that you know made an impression).  It would be a privilege to get this job and I would love to work here with you and your team.”   

 I hope you found these helpful.  Please feel free to ask me follow-up questions in the comments section or send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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