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Interview Readiness Checklist

Action Items: Day Prior to the Interview

Organize your briefcase/portfolio
– Copies of resume
– List and/or copies of publications, reports, manuals, etc.
– Completed generic application
– Business cards
– List of names/contact numbers of interviewers
– Recommendations/letters of reference

Conduct trial drive to interview location. You’ll want to arrive at the interview 10-15 minutes early.

Select/ready your wardrobe. A word about dressing for success. If you’re in doubt as to how to dress, ask. An interview is not just another day on the job. It’s better to err on overdressing than arriving too casually. You don’t want to be remembered as the only candidate who didn’t dress appropriately for the interview.

Review interview materials/practice responses

Get a good night’s sleep

 

Action Items: Day of Interview

Eat a light meal. You don’t want your stomach growling in the middle of the interview!

Rehearse responses while driving [without ramming into the car in front of you!!].  If you arrive to the interview location earlier than 15 minutes, continue practicing responses in the car.

Turn off your cell phone before entering the facility. [Even on vibrate, it can be heard!!]

Focus on projecting image of professionalism & confidence. Smile! Be friendly & genuine!

Don’t review notes while waiting to be interviewed. Instead, reinforce your confidence by reading material on display in waiting room.

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Contingency Planning for Interview Emergencies

Help!! Emergency!! What do you do if….

You’ve overslept or are in a traffic jam, and you’re going to be late.
Call your contact person at the company immediately. Apologize without going into detail. Very politely inquire whether you should continue proceeding to the interview or whether it would be more convenient to reschedule. Obviously, this scenario should be avoided whenever possible. Remember to have your cell phone with you and charged!

What do you do when the interviewer is unprepared, untrained or behind schedule? Or the interview just isn’t moving along productively?
Unskilled interviewers likely won’t take control of the interview. They may monopolize the conversation, telling and not asking, and not give you the chance to prove you are the best fit for the job.

When the interview is going nowhere, it’s time for you to take control! Say something like, “From what I understand from the recruiter and the research I’ve done, this position involves creating all advertising to support a new product launch in the 4th quarter. Is this correct? If you could explain the job in more detail, I can give you examples of similar experience I’ve had.”

Oops! The interviewer has just asked an inappropriate, potentially unlawful question. What do you do?
Most interviewers are trained to ask only job-related questions. Occasionally, however, poorly trained interviewers will stray into potentially discriminatory areas – personal information, such as marital status, age, religion, disabilities, racial or ethnic background, etc. What are your options?

To the extent possible, you always want to minimize the disclosure of such information in an interview. You can certainly refuse to answer, especially if you feel very uncomfortable with the question. Know that doing so may cost you the job.

You can try to change the topic, redirect the conversation and avoid answering the question. For example, to a question like “Will taking care of your children interfere with the responsibilities of this job?;” you could answer, “Can you tell me what you see as the major responsibilities of the job?”

You can answer the “intent” of the question. To the same question just cited, you could answer by saying something like, “I know there is considerable travel on this job. My previous job required a lot of travel as well. I have no problems with that.”

In any case, the fact that such a question was asked should cause you to rethink whether or not you still have interest in the company.

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Building Rapport in the Interview | The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

Making a Good First Impression
From the time that you first enter the company’s facility where your interview will be held, be cognizant of the image you are projecting – make it one that is professional, poised & friendly. Send a message that you are in control and very confident. Interviewers form impressions based on what they see on the outside – at least initially. They take you at face value. Remember the old adage: “You never get a second chance to create a first impression.” Treat everyone you meet, from receptionists to CEOs, courteously and with respect. You never know who gets the vote on whether or not to hire you!

Building Rapport
We’ve talked about the importance of self-knowledge in your interview. Now, let’s talk about how you build rapport with your interviewer. Good chemistry with your interviewer is always a plus. You can’t always control this, but there are some steps you can take to maximize rapport.

First, try and relax. If you’re like most people, you’re nervous and anxious as you begin the interview. Try to control those emotions. Don’t let them see you sweat! Go for your run, do your work-out or listen to your favorite music prior to the interview to calm your nerves and clear your head.

Conveying a “relaxed energy” will sustain you through the interview and support that image of being confident, comfortable with the process and clearly engaged. Some successful techniques include breathing deeply, planting your feet firmly on the floor with arms comfortably at your sides, maintaining eye contact with your interviewer and being grounded [staying “in the moment”].

Second, think of the interviewer as a potential colleague or customer [as opposed to the person of power & authority]. This will level the playing field for you – at least psychologically. An interview progresses more smoothly when you feel “in sync” with the interviewer – when your chemistry is compatible. While you always want to strive to be yourself in the interview, having the skill to interpret the interviewer’s personality traits and communication style can provide you a real advantage. Sometimes referred to as Neuro-linguistic Programming [NLP], here’s how it works in the context of an interview:

You observe the interviewer for clues revealed by such qualities as her office surroundings, appearance, demeanor, speaking style, nonverbal language, etc.

You build rapport – chemistry – and a more favorable impression by mirroring the interviewer’s communication style as you respond to questions. This may require you to stretch or alter your innate style to more closely match that of the interviewer. For example, if your interviewer’s desk is neat and orderly, you can probably assume that he is organized and straightforward in is communication style. To the extent that you can tailor your responses in a logical and direct manner, the better they might be received by this type of interviewer.

If your interviewer’s appearance, nonverbal cues and speaking style seems casual and informal, then mirroring your responses to that style might be in order. The opposite would be true if your interviewer is reflective and serious in her demeanor and dress, which would suggest a more formal interaction.

This approach, though very effective, is not for everyone. It takes time to learn and master this approach. In the end, being able to “read” your interviewer’s style is not as important as being a good, attentive listener. Listening hard helps focus your response.

Third, adopting a consultative selling mindset, where you think of yourself as a consultant and the interviewer as your client, will help establish rapport as well as gain traction as being a solutions provider.

Fourth, think of your responses as an opportunity to collaborate with the interviewer, to experience “give & take” and, in the process, to learn more about what he or she is seeking in the best fit candidate. Ask for feedback on your response: “Did I address your question?” If the question posed is unclear or ambiguous, ask for clarification: “Could you rephrase that question, please?” This personalizes the interaction and increases rapport. It also shows respect for the interviewer and reinforces your intention of providing the desired information in a quality manner.

Nonverbal Communication
Let’s talk about nonverbal communication. Some experts will tell you that nonverbal communication is more important than verbal during the interview. Why? Because our nonverbal behaviors often sabotage our words. When there is contradiction between the two, credibility and rapport is damaged. When faced with a contradiction, interviewers typically trust what they see and not necessarily what they hear. As a whole, body language is subconscious, more spontaneous and less controlled than speech. Following are some tactics:

Voice: speak slowly and clearly with appropriate pauses, pitch, projection and intonation. Your tone should be friendly, polite, confident and positive. Take a deep breath before speaking to reduce stress. Honor silence. Don’t fall to the temptation of having to fill the void with words that may detract from your impact. Avoid sighs, “umms” and “urrs.” Practicing will help.

Facial expressions: maintain eye contact without staring. Smile. Nod occasionally. Avoid frowning.

Posture: stand tall. Stride with confidence. Gauge distance and personal space interviewer seems to prefer.

Gestures: firm handshake, arms down to side (not crossed over your chest, which connotes lack of interest or resistance).

Body Language: project sincerity, honesty and openness by leaning forward. Sitting on the edge of the chair, holding arms tensely or playing with a pen denote tenseness, or worse, boredom.

Don’t forget – body language works both ways! Observe the interviewer for clues as to how your responses are being received. If you find the interviewer looking at the clock, you need to ratchet it up a notch!!

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Selling Yourself in the Interview

So often I hear clients lament that, while they think they can perform pretty well in an interview, they really dislike selling themselves. What are the push-backs I hear most often?

“It feels like bragging – exaggerating my abilities.”
“I’m taking all the credit for what the team I was on did.”
“It makes me uncomfortable to sing my own praises.”

Like it or not, interviewing is part of your marketing plan. You are the product. You have the experience, skills and achievements that will add value to the company. No one else is going to sell you for the job. [Hopefully, your well-chosen references will reinforce your value after the interview!!!]

It is what it is. Rehearse your responses to the inevitable question, “why should we hire you.” Create your personal value proposition to address this question. It should contain the value you bring to the table – your differentiators from your competitors. Deliver it with words and in a manner that you’re comfortable with. As you respond to questions, you want to continuously demonstrate how you are the best fit for the job. Be positive and interesting!!

If you don’t accept selling yourself as part of your responsibility in the interview, you risk losing the offer. Believe me, your competitors will not be so shy! You can use statements like “my bosses have always commended me on my ability to do such and such [fill in the blank].” Or, “previous co-workers have sought me out for my [fill in the blank] skills and expertise.” Or, “I’ve been fortunate throughout my career thus far to receive awards for [fill in the blank].”

One of your goals in interviewing should be to find opportunities to sell additional credentials as a match for their requirements. To accomplish this, a good strategy is to adopt a consultative selling approach. Think of your interviewer as your client and you as the consultant. Your “hidden agenda” in the interview is to identify opportunities to showcase experience and competencies that support your fit that the interviewer may never uncover through traditional questioning. Sometimes you have to create these opportunities. A good way to do so is to ask a strategic, relevant, penetrating question. “What keeps you awake at night?” “In my research on your company, I see that you’ll be going through a huge expansion next quarter. What are your major concerns?” Remember, get comfortable selling yourself – but sell what they are needing, not what you might prefer to sell [that may have no bearing on job requirements]. Don’t go “off point.”

As with any “sales call,” you have to know when to close. Listen and look for positive feedback and signs from the interviewer that corroborate that you’ve done a good job. Don’t continue selling when you’ve already made the sale! Stop talking, listen and give the interviewer a chance to hire you!

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Effective Strategies to Optimize Interview Performance

The interview can be thought of as a mutual exchange of information – a dialogue between two professionals regarding a common interest.  For the interviewer, the purpose is to obtain information about you that cannot be determined from your resume.  It also allows the interviewer to assess your skills & experience in terms of the job requirements as well as your personality, style, values & motivation as a fit for the organization.  The interview allows you to gather information about the job responsibilities and about the culture of the organization so that you can assess the potential for furthering your career.  Following are some strategies to help you perform optimally in the interview:

Set Goals for the Interview

Commit that you will evaluate your performance immediately after the interview to reinforce what you did well and improve what didn’t go so well.  If ever there were an exercise in continuous improvement, it is in the art of interviewing!  Incorporate your learnings into future interviews.  Another goal should be to ask enough of the right questions during the interview to glean ample information to help you decide whether or not the job and the company & culture are the right fit for you.

Use Strategic Answers

You will usually have no more than 60 minutes to convince your interviewer that you are the best candidate for the job.  Use the time wisely.  Select achievement “stories” [sometimes called PARs – Problem/Actions/Results] that were challenging and highlight your sills in difficult situations.  Tailor each story to the needs of the company as positioned in the job description.  Try not to use an achievement story more than once.  Push your “refresh” button and use that 60 minutes to showcase the bandwidth of your skills & accomplishments.

To keep your responses strategic and professional, never use jargon, slang or profanity or become overly familiar with your interviewer and let your guard down.  These tendencies diminish your power & your professionalism.

When asked a question about previous assignments, talk about the scope of the job, not merely the tasks.  Don’t simply tell the interviewer you managed a budget of $2M.  Use the opportunity instead to sell yourself, citing the scope of your responsibilities and the results you achieved:  “For the past three years I have managed the entire budgeting function for a $2M operating division with total P&L responsibility.  During that time I initiated a series of cost-reduction programs that saved $350K.”

Responding to questions with strong action verbs [eg., “directed,” “championed,” “transformed”] to convey leadership & decisiveness.  Be memorable.  Differentiate yourself from your competitors. 

Listen Hard

Give yourself permission to take a few moments to compose your answer before responding.  Don’t feel like you have to fill the silence.  Taking time to think about a question, rather than rushing to answer it, is a positive trait.  It indicates reflection and reduces the impression that your response is rehearsed.  Listening helps you learn and focus on the needs of the organization rather than being preoccupied with your ideas, opinions and desire to showcase your knowledge.  Listening keeps your assumptions & biases in check.  Most importantly, it will curb any tendency toward interrupting – a cardinal sin in any communication venue, but particularly in the interview.

Keep Responses Concise & Focused

Keep your answers concise – no longer than two minutes; preferably, no longer than one.  This is where practicing and timing your responses becomes crucial.  Brief answers translate as power & confidence.  Using a conversational [non-rehearsed] tone implies candor & authenticity.

Remember to answer only the question being asked.  Don’t ramble or offer irrelevant information, particularly personal data that detracts from the quality of your response.  Doing so will undermine credibility.  Stay on point!  Gear your responses toward answering the key, underlying questions of any interview:  “Why should I hire you?” and “Why are you the best fit for the job?”  Finally, remember that responding that you don’t know is far better than trying to finesse an answer.  You can’t invent experiences that you don’t have.  And, don’t apologize.

Use the Inquiry Method

When a question requires a detailed response and you sense your going over the two minute deadline, stop, take a breath and ask the interviewer if the information you’re providing is what he or she is looking for.  “Am I addressing your question?”  If you are on point, the interviewer will likely ask you to continue with your response.  This also gives the interviewer a break from listening to you!  After all, the human brain can only take in so much information!!  As previously mentioned, if the interviewer states a question in an unclear manner, it’s a good idea to ask him or her to restate the question.  Otherwise, you risk spending valuable time responding incorrectly to the intended question.

Bide for Time

When that dreaded, unanticipated question for which you have no answer is asked, what do you do?  Answer: bide for time!  You might say something like, ”Let me have a moment to think about that” OR “Could you rephrase that, please?” This will provide you a bit more time to think about a response. While this may feel uncomfortable to you and create some anxiety-producing silence, it is far better than talking too long about something irrelevant.  If your brain is still “locked up,” try to relate something about your career that is at least similar to the question.  For example, “This may not be exactly what you’re looking for, but I had a similar experience when …”  Let the interviewer decide whether it fits or not.  If you’re really stuck, respond that you don’t have an answer at the moment and request the interviewer return to the question later in the interview [chances are, he or she won’t!!].  If you think of an answer in the meantime, you can bring the interviewer back to that question.

Don’t Be Defensive

Think & respond positively.  Get rid of any negative thoughts prior to the interview.  If you happen to get a “drill sergeant” for an interviewer, who’s abrasive & constantly interrupts, don’t panic!  Don’t lose your cool!  Focus on what you can do for the company, not your present discomfort.  The interviewer is probably “playing” you to see how you react under stress.  Don’t collapse – stay positive – even if the questions or interviewer’s style are making you squirm!  You may even eventually gain his or her respect by managing your reactions and remaining positive.

Ask the Right Questions

Why is asking penetrating, thought-provoking questions important to your success in the interview?  You want to show that you’ve done your research and are motivated to learn more about the company and the job.  You want to differentiate yourself from the competition.  And, you want to determine if this is the right company and job for you.  Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.  You want these questions to be so insightful & perceptive that they become memorable to the interviewer.  So, just as you leave stock answers at home, leave those mundane questions [eg., “what are your benefits;” “what companies are your biggest competitors;” “when can I take vacation…”] at home as well.  Instead, ask questions like, “If hired, what would you expect me to accomplish in the first three months.” Create a list of questions to ask as part of your preparation.

Don’t wait for permission to ask questions or until the end of the interview.  Ask questions whenever they’re relevant or helpful to the process.  As the interviewer responds to your question, listen intently for any problems or challenges they identify.  Utilize your consultative selling skills to provide solutions and showcase the value you bring.

Evaluate if the Job is Truly the Right Match for You

Keep your focus on the goals you’ve set for your career and your self-knowledge about the kind of company culture that will enable you to flourish and be successful.  Even if the interviewer appears enthusiastic to hire you, you owe it to yourself to evaluate whether this is the right job for you.  While on-the-spot offers are rare in today’s market, they do occur.  Don’t make the mistake of accepting an offer prematurely.  Delaying your decision to give you more time to evaluate is far better than dealing with the consequences of accepting the wrong job with the wrong company.

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Strategies on Preparing for the Interview

Your resume can get your foot in the door, but it’s how you perform in the interview that determines whether or not you’ll get the job offer.  To shine in the interview, you need to prepare, practice & perform exceptionally.  Never go into an interview thinking you can wing it – not in this competitive market.

Most employers who view candidate assessment & selection as an organizational competency will employ a strategic and systematic approach to interviewing.  That’s why competency-based interviewing, behavioral-based interviewing and targeted selection have become the norms for many companies.  Why?  Because these interview models yield a more accurate and objective outcome.  A planned, consistent interview process, where the same questions are asked of all candidates, makes it more difficult for interviewees to fabricate answers and enables a fair comparison of all candidates.  As opposed to non-structured interviews, this systematic process carries a significantly higher validity rate.

If you know that a company incorporates one of these models in its selection process, your need to prepare & practice becomes essential.  You will not be “let off the hook” by being asked questions that can be responded to simply with a “yes” or “no.”  On the contrary, you will be evaluated on the quality of your answer, your delivery [communication style] and your credibility.

Every single question in an interview is just part of the bigger, essential question – “Why should I hire you?”  Interviewers are assessing “can you do the job?”  Do you have the experience and qualifications necessary to perform the job?  Have you done this job or commanded similar responsibilities before?  Was this in a similar situation or environment?  Can you demonstrate how you creatively problem solve and be held accountable for results?    This question attempts to assess your potential to do the job.  It assumes that successful past performance is a predictor of future performance.  That’s why, as you prepare for the interview, one of the most important first steps is to know yourself – your skills, your strengths, your achievements, your weaknesses, your values, your interests, your motivators.

Interviewers are also evaluating if you “will do the job.”  Do you have the interest, energy and motivation to perform effectively?  Can you demonstrate willingness to take on additional responsibilities?  Is it a good match for your skills?  Does this job fit in with your long-term goals and career direction?  From your perspective, you should be asking yourself, “Is this the type of organization where I can thrive, would want to work … and stay?” 

Most importantly, they are assessing whether or notyou’re a fit for the job… and the culture. Can you demonstrate collaboration and teaming skills?  Do your personal values, work ethic, work style and attributes map to those of the company?  Many employment relationships end prematurely when these are not in sync.

How do you learn about an organization’s culture?  It’s difficult.  You really can’t rely on a company’s website or its marketing collateral for this information.  They tell you what they want you to know.  You’re better off conducting research – listening to meetings the company leaders have held with financial analysts, reading blogs, gathering information on company awards, reviewing customer comments, reading employee newsletters, etc.  Informational interviews with current and former employees of the company you’re targeting can also be helpful.  Research LinkedIn profiles on employees.  If possible, go to the main lobby of the company and observe dress, behaviors and interaction of employees.

As you prepare, become intimately familiar with the job description, identify questions you anticipate receiving in the interview and script responses that focus on demonstrating how you meet each requirement.  Use powerful stories to convey fit. Consider creating a personal value proposition that enables you to showcase in the interview the benefits and solutions you bring to the table that your competitors cannot.  This provides you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from others being interviewed in a dramatic and memorable way.

Finally, in addition to doing due diligence in preparing for the interview, make time to practice.  Practice often and aloud.  Time your answers.  They should be under two minutes – preferably no longer than one.  By using good time management skills during the interview, you’ll be able to share maximum information about your skills, achievements & fit for the job and outshine your competitors!