Job interviews in many organizations are getting sophisticated these days. Psychological tests, role plays, and challenges to one’s “quick intelligence” and street smarts are often part of the package. While it’s impossible to anticipate everything you may encounter, here are ten tips that will help you negotiate the interview process successfully.
1. Prepare and over-prepare.
It is assumed that you don’t go in with egg on your tie, spinach in your teeth, or without a thorough knowledge of the organization and position for which you are interviewing. Beyond that, there’s an important principle that will enable you to be much more confident. It’s called, “over-preparing.” It goes like this: Plan your strategy–your answers to all the possible questions you may be asked or the challenges that may be thrown at you–and then practice, practice, practice. Role play and repeat your best responses until they are entirely natural, until they simply roll off your tongue with the apparent spontaneity that comes only with successive repetition.
2. Be particularly clear on what you know and what you want to achieve.
If your interview is resume-based (you’ve had to supply a resume either before or concurrently), have the facts of your stated objective, relevant experience, education, etc. thoroughly memorized and mentally supported. As to your job objective, be clear on what you want, as well as what you don’t want. There’s little room in the job market for the applicant who’s willing to take anything; he or she will usually get nothing!
3. Make sure your responses match your claims.
If, for example, you’ve taken extra coursework to qualify for a particular position, license, or certification, tie it into your narrative, e.g., “When I took my coursework for my CPA, I learned that …” Build on your resume, but don’t refer directly to it (assuming the interviewer has it in his or her possession); make sure the connections are there, but do it subtly.
4. Be clear about your strengths.
You’re almost certain to be hit with questions pertaining to your strengths and weaknesses. Know your strengths and emphasize those that relate specifically to the position for which you’re being considered. If, for example, you’re applying for a sales position, you might describe one of your strengths (if it’s true) as follows: “I’ve made a study of personality types and I’ve learned to quickly type people in terms of the kinds of approaches that might best attract them.” Be prepared, in this case, to back up your claim if the interviewer suddenly asks: “What type would you say I am?”
5. Describe your weaknesses as strengths.
This is tricky, so let’s think about why the question is asked. The interviewer probably wants to learn several things about you with this question, such as: whether or not you are arrogant (“I really don’t think I have any weaknesses”), whether you know yourself (“Well, I’ve never really thought about that”), and finally, what you are doing to eliminate your weaknesses. Here are two ways to answer this question so that you leave a positive impression in the mind of the interviewer: (a) Show that, in overcoming a weakness, you’ve learned. If, for example, there’s a period in your chronology that just doesn’t fit (say that you took a job selling cars between jobs as an accountant … it happens!), you might tell the interviewer: “One weakness, which it took me some time to overcome, wasthat I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to be an accountant. For example, in 1988-90, I worked as a car salesman. I did so because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to make accounting my career. That experience taught me that I really didn’t want to sell products, and that I was much more challenged by the opportunity to solve client problems. (b) Pick a weakness that is really a strength. If, for example, you’re interviewing for a job in an organization you know is hard-charging and unforgiving of average performance, you might say, “One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be impatient with people who aren’t willing to pull their full weight and give 110%.” In this case, your “weakness” may help you get the job.
6. If you’ve been fired, be forthright about it.
So many people have been laid off through no fault of their own in the past ten years that it’s no longer a stigma to have been fired–unless it was for justifiable cause (e.g.,- you socked your boss). Answer directly, but without a “charge” in your voice. Expressing your bitterness over being let go tells the interviewer (rightly or wrongly) that you can’t accept the realities of modern free enterprise — that downsizing is acceptable and often necessary.
7. Be clear where you want to go.
A standard question which has all manner of variations is: “Where do you want to be five years from today?” Only today, the answers are different. Unless you plan to inherit Dad’s company, your answer is apt to be a lot more general than it might have been a decade ago. Why? Because the economy and nearly every industry are changing so fast that specificity with respect to the distant future is extremely difficult. So, instead of responding to the question with, “I plan to be in a position of senior leadership in this company,” you might want to say: “I plan to become qualified in every phase of this industry.” The exact response depends upon the specifics of your job hunting campaign, but the principle is: be specific while allowing yourself the flexibility which suggests that you understand the complexities of the business you’re applying for.
8. Have clear personal standards.
This is a sleeper because, on the face of it, the question doesn’t seem to have much to do with the immediate interview. Today, however, many organizations are looking for people who DO have standards regarding their personal and professional lives, who can articulate them clearly and concisely, and who live by them. In this case, the briefer, the better. “I delegate my weaknesses.” “I don’t take on projects unless I can give them 100% dedication.” “I respond in specifics and avoid meaningless generalities.” “I am committed to life-long learning and growth.”
9. Interview the interviewer.
The applicant who will take anything offered is unlikely to win any but the most temporary of positions. A competent interviewer (there are some) will respect your efforts to assess the organization and the position in terms of whether or not it meets YOUR requirements. And you owe it to yourself to have defined before hand, what you ideally want and what you are willing to settle for, under certain conditions. For example, you might really want a salary of $75,000 to begin with, but you’d be willing to take less if the opportunities for growth are clearly in the picture.
10. Don’t allow yourself to be badgered by the salary issue.
Even today,it’s still not uncommon to hear the old refrain: “Our policy is not to pay a new employee more than X% higher than he/she is currently making.” Sorry, that doesn’t fly. The real issue, and the only one at stake here, is whether or not your prospective employer is willing to pay WHAT YOU ARE WORTH. And, your worth is a function of the job itself and your capability and willingness to perform it. In most organizations, there are clear parameters for a given job, a range of salary that is adjustable depending upon the market and the applicant’s experience. In most cases, unless you are very good, you will have to work within those limits. But, within the limits, what you are worth is a matter of mutual agreement based on your own knowledge of your worth and your ability to convince those interviewing you. So, to sum it up: Know the range of compensation for the job you’re seeking, make your own realistic determination of what you’re worth, and then be prepared to stand your ground.