Nail That Job Interview!

You got your foot in the door, and now you’re up for a personal interview. What do you do?

Congratulations! The company of your dreams liked your résumé; now you are scheduled for a job interview. Take a moment to savor it: In today’s precarious job market, just getting an interview can be a victory. Still, you’re only partway through your journey to employment. Making it to the next step has a lot to do with your performance during that interview.

Job seekers often misunderstand the job interview process. It’s not an interrogation where the hirer blasts pointed questions at the applicant to test his responses under pressure, or asks outrageous, irrelevant questions in order to check the candidate’s mental and critical thinking acuity. (Although I know one interviewee who was asked, “If you were to visit the zoo, what would be the first two animals you would see?”) It isn’t even wholly for the purpose of determining if you would be the right fit for the position offered.

The interview process should not be a one-way conversation totally controlled by the interviewer. Consider it more of a collaborative discussion between two experts concerning the position in question. You need to use the interview to pitch why you (being the expert in your field that you are) would be the best fit for the position. In this sense, you are nearly as much in control of the interview process as the interviewer is.

Successfully navigating this process requires starting long before you enter the room, and it continues even after you leave. It can be divided into three parts—or the three Ps: 1) the preparation; 2) the performance; and 3) the post-interview.

The Preparation

Not only is preparation the first step, it may well be the most important. Yet the most common error I come across when working with job interview candidates is their near total negligence of this step.

If you were asked to give a public address before an audience of a few dozen hiring decision-makers at companies you would love to work for—and for which you possess the career expertise—would you prepare that speech, or just wing it? Surely, if you really wanted a job, you would prepare—probably intensely and in detail.

The same applies for your sales pitch before one or two hirers at the job interview. Benjamin Franklin succinctly put it, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So prepare, and prepare hard. Here are some specific things to prepare for at your interview.

Review your résumé. Your interviewer is going to be basing most of his questions on your résumé, so know it well.

Find out all you can about the company you have applied for. Research the company’s website; request printed material showing what services or products the business offers; chat with a friend who worked or works there. When you shop for an item, you want to know what you are buying. Shopping for a job requires even more research.

Think of questions you would like to ask the interviewer. Now that you have done the research, formulating questions should be easy. Consider if you were offered the position immediately after the interview. What questions would you ask before accepting? What do you need to know about the job and company prior to beginning work? Write them down in an organized fashion and bring them with you to the job interview. Here are a few questions you may want to ask:

How do you measure the productivity of this position?

What critical issues require immediate attention at this position?

What are the parameters of authority for this position?

What benefits will be offered to the hired employee by the company?

Who will I be reporting to if I am hired?

Anticipate questions you believe the interviewer will likely ask you. Some common interview questions are:

What do you consider three of your greatest weaknesses?

What do you consider three of your greatest strengths?

Why did you apply for this job? Why do you want to work for this company?

What makes you think you can perform this job effectively?

What sets you apart from other employees in your field?

What do you expect as a starting salary?

Why are you leaving your present position?

Are you punctual?

What are your non-work-related hobbies, interests, talents?

If your associates were to describe you in one word, what would it be?

Prepare your physical appearance for the interview. Make your attire and appearance clean and professional. Shower; shave; brush your teeth; be sure your clothing is neat, clean and ironed. Also, no matter what job you are applying for, come dressed in modest business attire. Don’t chew gum; don’t wear too much cologne or perfume; don’t bring your kids; and don’t bring your cell phone. Look professional. The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized. First impressions are huge.

The Performance

After you have diligently prepared, it’s time to put all that effort into practice during the job interview itself. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Well, this is your opportunity to perspire!

Leave for the interview at least 20 minutes earlier than it would normally take to get there. There is nothing worse you can do for a job interview than arrive late. Those extra 20 minutes can make all the difference when it comes to traffic backups, car problems or getting lost. You can always wait in the parking lot for a few extra minutes, reviewing your notes for the interview.

Be happy. Smile. Be genuinely friendly, positive and uplifting in your demeanor, voice and wording. No one likes to work with a negative person. However, I emphasize genuinely friendly and happy. Don’t act. You’re excited and happy about the opportunity to be hired by the company, aren’t you? Then be happy!

Use the interviewer’s name. When you ask a question or give an answer, occasionally address the person by name like you would a friend. Well, Jim, this is what I think; or, Karen, this is what I would do. Don’t overuse it; just be natural.

Be yourself. Naturally, you will probably be a bit nervous. However, remind yourself as you are walking into the interviewer’s office that you are there because he or she asked you to come as the expert to help their business succeed. He or she felt, based on your résumé, you would be a top candidate for the job. Have confidence and know that you do have something worthwhile to offer the company with your skills, experience and work ethic.

Listen. Don’t come into the interview all guns blazing like John Wayne in a bar with bad guys. Allow the interviewer to ask the questions, especially at the start. Be courteous and alert. Listen intently to each question, and, after the interviewer gives you the floor, answer exactly what was asked. However, do feel free to add your personal input, thoughts and views throughout. In other words, be courteous, but don’t be a robot.

Sell yourself. The résumé is only the first step in trying to sell yourself to a company. The interview is the second and most important part. Yes, it is important to listen; however, don’t be too bashful to sell yourself. For example, when you are asked about what you feel you can offer to the company, tell them what you have to offer in detail and with enthusiasm and confidence. Explain the results you would like to create and how exactly you plan to accomplish them. Too many times, interviewees are unprepared and demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm, rigidness, somberness—and insecurity about themselves. This won’t get you the job! Sell yourself with the same drive you plan to perform your job if hired. You only have one chance to sell yourself, so make it count.

The Post-interview

This final, essential step is also too often neglected. The post-interview process—if effectively performed—can leave some of the most lasting and positive impressions on the hirer. That in turn gives you a much better chance of getting the job you seek.

Review the reasons you applied for the job and determine if they still apply after reviewing your interview notes. If they don’t, send the interviewer a note explaining this.

If you still feel you would be a great fit for the position, send a “thank you” note to the interviewer within 24 hours of your interview. Express gratitude for the person’s time, effort and consideration. Also, a “thank you” note is a great way to again advertise why you believe you would be the best candidate for the job. It also gets your name before the decision-makers one more time.

If you haven’t heard back from the hirer within a week of the interview, give him or her a call. This is a good action for a number of reasons. First, you never know if the company received your thank-you note and if they have forgotten about you. This gives you a chance to get your name in the forefront again. Second, by making the call you have another opportunity to express your interest in the position with enthusiasm. Also, you can follow up with any questions or additional thoughts you may have concerning the position or what you would be able to achieve within that role. The follow-up call also shows your persistence and seriousness about winning the job.

The next time you have a job interview scheduled, use the three Ps in your interview process: preparation, performance and post-interview. Remember, you are (or should be, if you’re applying for the job) the expert called in to discuss the position in question and explain why you are the perfect fit. Then, show your earnest desire for the position by providing post-interview contact. Diligently apply these points, and your transition from the job interview to the new job will be around the corner!