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Important tips for your interview

This is a long article as it should be in order to give you useful pointers before going for your interviews. To help you read this more easily, we have divided the article into 4 sections, Before the Interview, At the Interview, Questions to Ask and Closing an Interview.

Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two job interviews you ever experience are going to be exactly the same. Therefore, no list of interview tips that either we or anyone else may give you is going to be equally applicable in all situations.

However, all interviews are sales situations with the job seeker in the role of seller. In recent years so much has been studied and written about effective selling and marketing that one could say that what had been the art of selling is now a science.

The interviewing tips that follow are based on the principles of effective salesmanship. Naturally, some will be more applicable in your particular situation than others. The purpose of these tips is to help you prepare in advance for every interview. They are intended to help you orient yourself ahead of time as to what it is you have to sell as well as how you hope to make the sale.

Interviewers generally prepare for interviews and have an idea of what it is they are looking to "buy." It is possible, if the interviewer’s original concept does not describe you to a "T," that you might change the interviewer’s mind in your favor during the course of the interview. But in order to convince interviewers that what you have to offer is best for them, you must first be fully aware of what it is you have to offer and how and why it is best for them.

While you should not go into an interview unprepared and simply "wing it," do not go to the other extreme and conclude that you can handle it all from a prepared script. Ultimately it comes down to just two principles:

KNOW YOURSELF, which does require preparation and with which these tips can help you, and...

BE YOURSELF, of which Shakespeare wrote, "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night to the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Before The Interview

  • Find out as much as you can about the company. Ideally you should know where it is headquartered, what its main products or services are, how big it is in terms of annual sales or number of employees, who its primary customers are and who are its main competitors.
  • If you can find out something about the person or persons who will be interviewing you, that can also be helpful. Particularly their job title, how long they’ve been with the company, who do they report to and their reputation within the industry. Any interests you may have in common might also be of value
  • Make sure you have directions for getting there
  • Be familiar with your strong points - those attributes that you have that other applicants for the same position do not necessarily have. Or, to put it another way, be ready to give the interviewer reasons for hiring you and not somebody else. Be prepared. Write them down before you go on the interview. Then carefully and repeatedly go over them in your mind. They should serve to enable you to stand out in the employer’s mind. As in all sales situations, the features that characterize you should be translated into benefits for the employer. Suppose you successfully served in the military. That is a feature of your past. You can, for example, turn it into a benefit by explaining that your success in the military is indicative of the fact you are a good team player, something most employers very much look for. If you have specific computer skills, show how you can apply them to meet the employer’s needs
  • If you are entry level or a career changer, make sure you know as much as you can about the industry you’re seeking to enter and your future job function in particular. Keep up with the latest trade publications or professional journals. Be familiar with the latest trends as well as industry jargon and buzzwords
  • Think you’re right for the job? Then bring along tangible proof. Employers are scared to death of hiring the wrong person and know that mistakes in hiring occur all the time. Anything you can do to alleviate those fears definitely strengthens your position. If you had good grades in school, particularly in courses that relate to the position you’re seeking, you might want to bring along a copy of your transcript. Likewise any certifications you’ve gotten or other proof of training. Most people who have won an award can show proof of it. Perhaps you were written up in a positive way in some publication. Bring along a copy. Ditto for any letters of recommendation you may have as well as performance reviews or thank-you letters and notes of appreciation or other testimonials from customers or clients. Any accomplishments in community or volunteer work? Certificates of appreciation, perhaps? Show proof of that. Don’t forget situations where you were part of a group and received some form of group recognition. Finally if you can bring along samples of work you’ve done in the past or even a videotape of you in action that are in any way related to the job, it can make that extra bit of difference
  • Bring along a list of three or four references. You might wish to read our section on References
  • Bring along a pen and pad in case the interviewer provides information you need to jot down
  • Though casual dress is becoming more common in many companies, unless you’ve been advised otherwise, it’s best to dress in conservative business attire
  • Be sure to allow ample time to get there, especially if you’ve never been to that location before. It’s always better to have to wait in your car or in a coffee shop than to arrive late. Be sure to telephone ahead if you are running late. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, it’s generally best to re-schedule the appointment
  • Have the right attitude. Always keep in mind that you are going on the interview because you have valuable skills and other attributes (such as the ability to get along with others, a good work ethic, etc.) that employers need. You are facing the prospective employer as an equal. Employers need good employees at least as much as you need a good job. If this particular employer should decide not to hire you for any reason, it is a certainty that someone else will. On the other hand, should you come across as desperately needing the position in question, you cease to be the employer’s equal. You subtly convey the message that you don’t have all that much to offer since if you did, you wouldn’t be so desperate for this particular position. Be honest. Be open. Be yourself. If the position is not for you, that’s OK. Taking the wrong job is almost always worse than not taking the job at all. No one has the right "chemistry" with everyone they encounter. Get enough interviews and you’re bound to encounter someone who speaks your language and vice-versa. Always keep your head high and your eyes on your goal. Always aim for a win-win situation. If you show employers you can meet their needs and they clearly see that you can, then they will have every reason to try to meet your needs as well
  • Be yourself. Getting a new position can be likened to getting married. Both you and the employer need as much relevant information about one another as possible. Be prepared to present yourself in an honest, forthright manner. Being hired and then let go shortly afterwards because the hiring manager got the wrong impression of you is worse than not being offered the position in the first place. Ask yourself, do you just want any job, or do you want a position in which you can truly succeed?
     

At The Interview

  • Be sure to look the interviewer in the eye when greeting him/her. Shake hands in a firm but not overbearing manner.
  • Unless the interviewer immediately takes the lead, you may want to say something to establish rapport and break the ice. Comments on a picture or a piece of office furniture, the weather, a current well-known community or sports event can all be appropriate. Mentioning a mutual friend or acquaintance can be even better.
  • When answering a question, be sure to maintain eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking. This is important, as it is indicative of both sincerity and commitment on your part. If you’re being interviewed by more than one person, concentrate primarily on the one who asked you the question, but also look at all of the others, each for a few seconds.
  • Keep in mind that every interview is a sales situation with you as the seller and the employer as the prospect. You think you’d be great in this position? Fine, but so does most every other applicant. You are not selling yourself so much as your ability to do a good job based on a combination of your specific skills, talent, aptitudes, experience, intelligence, character, work ethic, reputation, personality, academic achievements and possibly other factors as well. It is important not to come across as anxious or desperate. Realise you have significant skills and other specific attributes that are of value, whether to the company with which you are now interviewing or another company.
  • As those who have had sales training know, the seller should assume the sale. When you are discussing what you would do in the job, speak as if you know you’re the one who is going to get the position.
  • Nearly every hiring situation has to do with the employer’s need to solve a problem. Find out why the position is vacant and what are the main problems the employer needs solved by you. You may ask how and why the position became open. Explain how you will (not would or could) solve the problems and how and why you will (not can or could) do a better job than the former occupant of the position.
  • You will be asked a number of questions. You may be asked to describe your weaknesses as well as your strengths. We all have weaknesses. However, your weaknesses ought not to reflect on your ability to do an effective job. For example, a terrific sales professional may be weak at handling paperwork. A gifted artist may be a poor public speaker. A capable writer may be poor with numbers, but a bank employee should not be. You may be asked why you left previous positions and what former employers liked and disliked about you. Again, whatever they disliked should be irrelevant to your ability to do a good job for the company with which you’re interviewing. (If not, why are you there?)
  • Not every employer is a great interviewer. Do not depend on the interviewer to bring up all the issues that are significant to you and your ability to demonstrate what you have to offer. Here are some questions you may need to ask:
    • What are the main responsibilities for the person in this position?
    • What are the key attributes you are looking for?
    • What are the primary results you want me to produce?
    • What do you consider ideal experience?
    • What else can I tell you to help you evaluate my background?
  • In other words, you have to know what the employer’s needs are before you are able to demonstrate that you can fully meet and hopefully even exceed those needs.
     

What are the Questions to ask?

  • Only ask the questions if they will turn the conversation in the direction in which you want it to go. Suppose you have a major strength you believe might be relevant to the job but hasn’t yet been discussed. An elementary school teacher could ask, for example, if he or she would have the opportunity to utilise any musical ability they happen to have. A young attorney could point to his strong computer skills, etc. It is important to bring up anything that might give you an edge - anything that would make the employer think they would be getting more for their money if they hired you.
  • Be sure to show the interviewer any tangible proof of your ability that you brought.
  • Besides questions intended to enable you to point to your strengths and what you have to offer, there are questions you can ask that serve to show both knowledge of the position and an interest in it.

Here are some examples:

  • Questions about the specific nature of the business. For example, if it’s a law firm: What type or types of law do you specialise in?
  • To whom will I report?
  • Why did this position become vacant?
  • Are there any specific problems you would need me to solve? (Then explain how you can solve them.)
  • What changes do you foresee for this company (or department) in the near future?
  • Can you share some insight regarding the company’s long-range plans and goals?
  • Would you be willing to try me out on a freelance basis? (Ask this only if you don't think they're going to offer you a regular position.)
  • When would it be ideal for me to start?
  • DO NOT ASK ABOUT SALARY, VACATIONS, MEDICAL OR OTHER BENEFITS UNTIL YOU ARE OFFERED OR KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO BE OFFERED THE POSITION.
  • Have your list of references at hand in case you are asked for them but don’t be the one to bring up the subject. Many companies do not check references until they have made someone a job offer.
  • Be confident. Present yourself as competent, capable and very professional, but at the same time, NON-THREATENING. Often people are scared to hire the wrong person for many reasons not the least of which is they perceive someone to be a potential threat to them in their present position. The last thing most employers are seeking is a person who will "rock the boat." Too often job applicants feel they need to come across as eager, ambitious "hot shots." It’s fine if you’re in sales and all that drive and zeal are going to be directed at customers and potential customers who are, after all, outside the company. But to give the impression you’re out to "take over" when you’re being hired for a supportive position is usually a big turn-off. Of course if you’re being considered for a managerial or executive position, it’s another matter, but even here some caution is advised as it’s important to fit into the existing corporate culture. A quiet, self-controlled inner confidence is indicative of a consummate professional. Keep in mind that people who appear non-threatening but are effective, capable professionals tend to be the ones who are frequently promoted within an organisation.
     

The Close of the Interview

  • Effective salespeople try to close every deal as quickly as possible. They frequently employ "trial closes" to see if it’s time to clinch the deal. Job interviews are usually somewhat more complex in this regard. The employer may have set up a two- or three-stage interview process involving multiple candidates, which would preclude a final close on the first interview. However, if the interview is a result of an unsolicited "cold" proposal letter you sent to a company, you may be the only one being interviewed and an attempt to close would be in order. Here is a trial close that would be effective in a wide variety of circumstances:

    "I’m very much interested in the position, Ms. Jones, as it is precisely what I would like to do career-wise. I just need to ask you, based on where we currently stand, is there anything in my résumé or anything we have talked about today that might indicate to you that I would not be ideal for this position?"

    If she says there is, then you have just gotten an important opportunity to clear up a misunderstanding that could cost you the position. If she says there is none, it indicates you’re either the frontrunner or at least a serious contender for the job. You can then ask, "Where do we go from here?"
  • At the end of the interview thank the people for their time and indicate you look forward to being in touch.
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