The process of interviewing is not to be taken lightly. Here is some advice based on many years of conducting and observing interviews, mostly one-on-one in the recruitment process.
Before the Interview:
- Do your homework – The people you will interview for a new job can’t help but be favorably impressed when they realize you know something about their company. In today’s world, the Internet is a wealth of information about companies and the people in them. If you have trouble finding information check with your Search Consultant, or the Human Resources Department of the company you are interviewing with. Other personal and professional contacts can also be helpful.
- Know who you will be interviewing – It helps to know as much about the people you will be interviewing as possible. Their backgrounds, how long they have been with the company, what their jobs are, how they will interface with the position you are interviewing for, and something about their personalities is valuable information to gather before an interview.
- Common names – If you know people in common with the people you will interview, be prepared to “drop” those names at the appropriate time. Don’t be too “in your face” with this information, but names in common can go a long way in helping them get comfortable with you.
- Rehearse your answers to the obvious questions – “Tell me/us about yourself” will almost always be asked as well as other obvious questions based on the position, industry and circumstances. Be ready with a good response designed for the position you are considering. Rehearsal is important, be prepared. If you are used to interviewing go over in your mind what you will say. If you are not used to interviewing “role-play” with someone who knows you.
- Questions that may not be asked but need to be answered – (a) Why are you here? Employers want to hear two things. First, that you have a fire in your belly to work for them. And second, the this job fits with your skills and interests. Have a few bullet points ready to show them that this is a good match. (b) What can you do for us? Ask not what the company can do for you, tell them what problems you can solve and what creative solutions you can offer. Dig around on the internet, and if possible talk to employees and visit company locations so you can offer concrete suggestions. Even if you miss the target, you’ll score points by doing your homework. (c) What kind of person are you? Companies don’t hire a toolbox or a bag of skills – they hire a person. Be prepared with a story or example to show them your values, approach to work, insight, etc. (d) What distinguishes you from the hundred other people who have applied? It’s rare for a company to interview only one person. Without trashing anyone else, be prepared to show them that you have better habits, work harder or have higher standards than the average person. (e) Can I afford you? It’s important for you to have an idea of your own worth. There are a variety of sites on the Internet that offer salary comparisons for different jobs. Don’t make this up; know what other companies are paying for someone with your skills and experience.
- Prepare your own questions to ask – Write down the questions you need to have the answers to and don’t hesitate to refer to your list during the interview. If you don’t get the answers to your questions during the course of the interview, make sure you ask. If you talk to more than one person during the interview process, you should hear the answer to important questions from more than just one person. Different viewpoints can be valuable
During the Interview:
- Be aware of the 50/50 rule – Neither you nor the person you are interviewing should dominate the conversation. If the person you are talking to is dominating, it is up to you to interrupt (tactfully) with a question to change the subject, or a comment that pulls the conversation back to you. People who dominate usually aren’t aware of it and will come away from the interview wondering why you didn’t say anything. If there is more than one person on their side of the table, then generally it should be 50% you and 50% them. There are exceptions but you should still have the largest percentage. A general rule of thumb is to limit your answers to their questions to 2 minutes.
- Use their name – Someone once said “the sweetest sound to someone’s ears is their own name”. Try to remember the person’s name and carefully use it in the conversation, but don’t over do it. Write it down discreetly, if it helps you remember. Whether to use a first name or last name depends on who they are and the situation. There really aren’t any standard rules with first or last names, you just have to rely on instincts. Generally, when in doubt us their last name until told otherwise.
- Refer to your notes – Don’t be afraid to refer to you notes. Nobody can remember everything, and they want to know that you are prepared and organized. Make sure your notes are organized so that you aren’t constantly shuffling papers around.
Following the Interview:
- Reflections – As soon as possible write down your reflections on each person you talk to. The more people involved, the more important this is, or they will all start to blend together. Answers to questions, mannerisms, body language, attitude and personality, and any other information you feel is important. You might be able to do some of this during the interview, but don’t count on it.
- Thank you letter – Your mother told you they were important, and she was right. Remember that they want to know if you are interested in them and their company, even if they are not interested in you. A letter of thanks is a must, whether or not you are interested in the position. This interview could be the beginning of a relationship that will result in something good for you sometime later, if not now. Nothing elaborate is necessary, unless the ask you to send them specific information. Don’t be afraid to emphasis your obvious strengths that coincide with their obvious needs. Individual letters to everyone you interviewed is best, but use your own judgment here. Copying in some people might be acceptable. Hard copy letters are best, but there will be situations where e-mail will work. Go with your instincts here.
Questions you should be ready to answer in an interview if there is strong interest from both you and them. Usually this doesn’t happen on the first interview.
- What is your current Compensation? Should be answered with reference to Salary, Bonus, 401k contributions, Pension Plan Contributions; omit sick days & vacations. Never bring up compensation unless they do. But when they do, you must have an answer and it must be accurate. If you give an inaccurate answer, and they find out otherwise, you will look bad no matter what. It is not out of line for a potential employer to ask for validation of your salary background in the form of tax returns or the like.
- What is your spouse’s career situation and would you going to work for us change his/her situation? Remember that they know if they move you and your spouse is not happy they are asking for trouble and their investment in you is threatened.
- When can you start?It’s OK to let them know about vacations or special events that have been planned to occur in the near future. Also, they probably don’t want you to burn any bridges with your current employer, so respect any projects currently in progress that would suffer if you left pre-maturely.
- What is it going to take (compensation) for this position to work for you? Do your homework here. Remember that they are not going to low-ball you. Unless they are stupid, and in which case you probably wouldn’t be talking to them anyway, low-balling you is a grave mistake on their part. Thankfully, it is pretty rare. Most likely they have a general idea what you have been making and what they want to pay, so chances are your answer is going to be close to what they have in mind. Don’t forget to figure out what the cost differentials are between where you live now and where they would want you to live. In other words, be able to backup your answer. Typically you are going to give them a figure higher than where you are now so you need to be able to substantiate the numbers. The major elements are:
- Taxes (State and Property)
- Spouse’s job change
- Increased responsibilities over your current position