Interview Coaching

blackswan (uglyduck)
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Over the past 5 years I have interviewed and followed up interviews for hundreds of people. This means that I have learned what constitutes a good interview and I would like to share some hints with you so that you can get the most out of your job interviews.

Let's discuss the objectives of a job interview. What should they be? First-get the job offer. Second-get enough information in order to evaluate the offer. Everything you do should be geared to achieving those two objectives.

One thing to remember is that the person interviewing you, is not/may not be a professional interviewer. By preparing in -advance for the interview, you are in a position to control the interview and achieve your objectives.

In order to accomplish your objectives the single most important thing you need is the right attitude. What do you think I mean when I talk about attitude? Well, attitude in this case is whether you look at things from the positive side or the negative side. For example, when they ask you why are you looking for a new position do you take the positive approach in terms of "I am trying to move towards something" or do you take the negative approach with "I'm trying to get away from these things in my current job". This is how they can see whether you're coming with a positive attitude or with a negative attitude.

Another aspect of attitude is your approach to the interview, for example you can go into the interview with the attitude that "I am going to find out what's in it for me", or you can go in with the attitude of "I'm going to find out what they need and then I am going to show them how I can help them". Remember if you go back to your first objective which was to get them to like and want to hire you which of those two approaches do you think is going to work best? Obviously if you have the attitude of "what do you need, let me show you how I can help you", that's going to be the attitude that's going to get you the job ahead of the competition.

Basically you've got three minutes to make your first impression. You know this because whenever you meet someone you immediately gain a first impression of them. Also, when you walk into a company the minute you walk into their lobby you're going to get a first impression, well, the same is true when you're going in for an interview. The minute that person meets you they will form a first impression of you. That first impression is either going to be positive or negative. What you have to try to do is make sure the first impression is positive.

It is very difficult to change a first impression so that if their first impression is negative you're going to have a tough time through the course of the interview trying to convince them that you really are the right person for the position. Let's talk about the components that make a good first impression. First there is the way that you are dressed. Obviously you want to have the most appropriate business attire for the situation. I would suggest a two piece suite, white shirt, a tie that's not too "loud", shiny shoes and so on.

The second part of first impressions is the confidence that you project. For example, things like making good eye-contact, a -good firm hand shake, smiling. When you meet someone if you smile and project your confidence they will feel comfortable with you. These are the non-verbal clues that people will pick up.

A job candidate who shows interest and enthusiasm for a company and position will distinguish himself/herself from candidates who do not do this effectively. In fact, since there is always competition for every job opening, you want to make sure that you capitalize on this aspect of your interview.

What do you think is the most effective way to show interest for a company and a job opening?

1. Showing Interest
The best way to show interest is by asking questions. The kind of questions that you would ask the Personnel Representative are different from the kind of questions that you would ask the Hiring Manager.

I would focus general company-related questions to the Personnel Representative. These would include number of employees, annual sales, management style, or any other type of general question that you may want to ask. Any research that you do in advance to show that you have some knowledge of their business would also show interest.

When asking questions of the Hiring Manager, I suggest that you think of a funnel. In fact, draw a funnel and divide it into four parts. In the top of the funnel write the words "Business Users". Below that write the words "Systems Organization". Below that, write the word "Job" and below that write the words "What Do You Want?" The funnel can help you focus on the type of questions to ask and in what sequence. When you ask questions about the business systems users that the system manager supports, then you show interest in his primary mission. Then you ask how his department is structured to support those business users and the responsibilities of the job that he has in mind for you, then you show further interest in the details of his area of responsibility. Finally, when you ask him what he is looking for in the right candidate, you show him concern for his problems.

Asking questions enables you to accomplish four things: You show interest in the job and the company and this is important to be considered a good candidate. You also gain information about the job and the company that you can later use to evaluate a job offer. You also learn what the key requirements of the job are and will therefore be able to sell your particular strength to those requirements. Finally, you can demonstrate your knowledge -by asking questions that shows some insight into their environment.

2. Enthusiasm
I believe that showing enthusiasm is best done by providing the hiring manager/personnel representative with positive feedback to things that they tell you about the company and the job. For example, if they tell you that you will be learning about a new technology, you can say "That's terrific! That's exactly what I would like to do!" I have found that candidates demonstrating this sort of enthusiasm generate job offers more frequently than candidates that remain dead pan throughout the interview.

When you stop to think about the criteria a manager uses for hiring an individual, it basically comes down to two items: First-your qualifications; second-an assessment of how well you would fit in to his organization and his plans. Lets look at each of these criteria separately.

A manager will assess your qualifications by doing a number of things including asking questions about experience shown on your resume, asking specific technical questions to determine your knowledge of a specific need that he has, or just asking you to talk about your skills with respect to your areas of strengths. No matter how he approaches this assessment of your qualifications, it is extremely important that you know your resume and your background cold. From my experience I have learned that 90% of all the people who take interviews do a horrible job of communicating their background. Most people go into an interview and "wing it". Could you imagine going into a final examination at University without studying for it?

"Studying" for an interview, is just as important because it affects your career. As preparation for this interview, I recommend that you spend a minimum of one hour studying your resume, identifying your major accomplishments and preparing a dialogue to answer any questions that they may ask about your background and qualifications. This background should be specific with respect to what the accomplishment was, how you approached it, what the results were, who you worked with, and -what tools you used to deliver the result.

2.Risk Assessment
The second type of question the manager will ask is designed to learn more about you as a person and to assess the risk of hiring you within his department. The kind of questions they ask include the following: Why do you want to leave your current job? What are you looking for in a career move? Why did you leave your previous positions? There are other questions as well as these. It is very important for you to think about these questions in advance and to make sure that your answers will -generate a confident feeling in the hiring manager with respect to the risk of hiring you. Lets review the requirements of the job (as we know them) with you now so that you can prepare answers that accurately reflect what you want but are tuned to what the company is able to offer you at this time.

If you effectively handle both of the these types of questions we have discussed, then you will make the hiring manager feel confident that you are both qualified to handle the job and that you are exactly the sort of person that he would like to have in his organization.

We have talked already about questioning techniques and how to respond to questions. What I would like to talk about now is selling yourself and I don't mean selling your skills but rather in selling your strengths as an individual, being a match for the company.

When you first sit down in the interview, you have to be prepared to provide an initial overview of your background. Often the hiring manager will say, "Tell me about yourself", now, this can be a trap and what is very important is that you do not go on and on talking about every thing you have ever done in your background. Rather it should be a brief overview of your experience, no more than two or three minutes, and an opportunity for you to highlight your major strengths or accomplishments in your experience. -

It also puts you in a position to turn the conversation around and begin asking your questions in a way that we have already talked about. Prepare your overview in advance; practice it because this will make you come across as confident. It will -give you a chance to demonstrate how effectively you can present something.

Now I would like to talk about selling your strengths. Take a blank piece of paper and write down on it what you feel are your five greatest strengths, I'm not talking about skills, I'm talking about personal strengths (at this point you may need to help the person by thinking of what the different types of strengths are such as - fast learner, people orientation, good communications skills, reliable, hard working, consistent, etc.)

Beside each strength write down two or three good examples that prove or demonstrate that strength. These should be examples directly out of your experience. (As the person gives examples get them to write them down, assist them in constructing this table of strengths and proof statements, which they can then build into their conversation).

The way you can use this research into your own strengths is
A) through building it into your initial overview of your background or
B) building it into your active listening and responses to questioning. At the end of your interview, you should have presented each of these strengths with some examples. Take the opportunity to summarize these again at this point. You cannot take a list into the interview, but when you have done this preparation then you are far more likely to remember your strengths during the pressure of the interview situation.

Whenever you are selling yourself and presenting strengths or outlining accomplishments it is also very important to avoid vagueries or running on about an application. For example, if a manager asks you what you did on a project then answer that question and try to avoid the trap of expanding a great deal about the application, what the application does, etc.; spend most of your time talking about your accomplishments and your contribution.

It is also important to be very specific, because if you talk in vague terms it will be assumed that you either don't understand what you were doing or don't remember, neither of which will create a good impression.

Now lets take a look at the final part of the interview which is Closing off the meeting and getting some feedback. You will know it's the end of the interview because they will ask you something like "Do you have any further questions?" That is your clue that -this is the end of the interview. The first thing you do is summarize. You have been talking for an hour, a lot of things have been discussed, a lot of it is out of focus. If you can summarize then this will bring everything into focus. In point form, state what you understand the needs of this manager to be. For example you might say "If I understand you correctly you are looking for someone with a university education, two years of programming, an understanding of database technology and an ability to get along with people, is that correct?"

You also state how interested you are in the position, you might say something like "Based on what you said, it seems like an excellent opportunity for me". After you summarize, get his agreement that yes, you do have a good understanding of the job. Next step is to summarize the things that you have to offer. For example you might say "I hope I've shown you how I have the university education, how my experience with XYZ Company has given me the two years of programming, how my database skills are up to the level that you ordered and I hope through our meeting you will be able to get some determination of how well I can get along with people".

So you summarized what he is looking for, summarized what you have to offer and how it matches what he is looking for. The next step is to ask a question to get some feedback. Do not ask for decisions, such as "Can I have the job?" He will feel pressured and he will think you are very pushy if you do that. It is better to simply ask for an opinion such as "What do you think of me as a candidate?" so that you can get some feedback.

Now you'll get one of four answers in response to that question, what do you think those four answers are?

1) The first answer he might say something like "When can you start?" or "I figure you are outstanding and the perfect person for the position, I would like to hire you". This does not happen very often, but it might,and you have to be ready for that. If he says something like that, tell him either you accept or you're very interested (but if you feel uncomfortable you don't have to make your decision right there) and say "I would like to get back to you tomorrow". Now, based on my experience I do not think that this is likely but you have to be prepared.

2) The second answer to your closing question could be the opposite of the first answer, you might get something that is very negative. This will not happen because of the work that I have done in making sure that you have the skills that they are looking for before I put the two of you together.

3) The third answer you might get to your question is a "maybe" "I really like this, this and this about your background but I'm a little concerned about this". That's merely an objection. Try to handle that objection right there on the spot because there is no better opportunity to change the persons mind about something than when you're face to face.

Handling objections is very easy. It is something that we do all the time. You try to convince someone to do something your way, they may have some objections so you try to convince them. One of the best way to handle an objection is simply to ask more questions about it, if you hear any objection you might say "well, what is your concern about that?" or "Is that the most important part of the skill that you're looking for?". Quite often just by asking the right questions the objection, will go away.

4) The fourth possible answer you may get is the most likely answer "I have to interview more people". I am sure you have heard that before. If you hear that statement then the first thing is to empathize with this manager's problem, you might say "I can understand that you would want to hire the best available candidate and so I am sure that you will be interviewing a number of people for this position and I know that is not going to be an easy decision for you".

The next step is to ask if they think you have the skills to do the job. There are two parts to making decisions. The first part is, "Is the person qualified?" and the second part is "Do I have confidence in this person?"

So when he says ''I have other people to interview'' empathize with him and then say "however, do you think I can do the job?". At least get some commitment that you do have the skills to do the job.

That is essentially the end of the interview at this point, you should ask him what the next step will be, when he will be getting back to you, and thank him for his time.

When you go to the interview your objective is to get them to offer you the job, you need to know details about money before you ever accept an offer but you are not at that point yet. Therefore it is not to your advantage to initiate any question about money or benefits. It is far better to let the interviewer bring the topic up. In fact, many interviewers will not even bring this topic up in the first interview. However, if they do initiate the question you should handle it as follows: First of all DO NOT give them a number. When an interviewer asks you how much money you are looking for they usually have already determined in their mind what sort of money you would be worth to them. Therefore, if you throw out a number it is very likely that you will be either higher or lower than what they are expecting.

The best way to respond to the question about salary is as follows: Take the time to point out that while, salary is important because you have bills to pay like any one else, money is not the number one motivator; rather career opportunity and the company that you are joining are the most important factors.

You should also take a moment and summarize for the interviewer why you are interested in the job, pointing out career reasons and job reasons and then say "I am currently earning. ... ' and state your current salary (together with reviews coming up in the near term). Then say "I would consider any reasonable offer that you make because I am very interested in this job", now if they turn around and ask you what do you feel is reasonable answer the question with another question such as "Well, given my skills, what do you feel would be reasonable for this position?" You do not have to immediately turn around with a number just because they asked you another question. Avoid answering with a number.

Another way the topic can be presented is when the interviewer asks, "Well, would you consider X?" and throws a number at you. Then you can say "Are you making an offer?" and if they back-track and say "Well no, but if we did, that is probably the level at which we would offer you the job" then you can respond by saying "Well if that is what you feel is reasonable then please make me that offer, because I am very interested in the job".


Objective: To get the OFFER and gather the information necessary to make a decision.

Sub-0bjective: Convince interviewer you are:

1. Qualified - ie. confident
2. Interested - ie. enthusiastic
3. Ready to move/or commit - ie. serious

Structure (Modular):

A. Breach the ice (overcome initial nervousness)

B. Prepare a brief overview of your background (chronological)

C. Conduct an analysis of environment and the job.

Follow the funnel:

Business Users
I.T. Department
Tech. Tools
This group
The job

Prepare questions in advance
Be an active listener and sell yourself to show you are: Qualified (confident) and Interested (enthusiastic)

Money - $

Feedback and objection handling


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2001-11-6 -04:00
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