1.26.2013

12 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE INTERVIEWING:

So, you want to land that job or promotion, but you have to interview for it first.  Here are some tips that I've discovered in my numerous interviews -- on both sides of the table -- that were successful and unsuccessful.

1) PREPARE - Often, employers provide a job description whenever they post a position announcement.  Read that job description and know it well.  It would do you good to have it sitting next to you when you write your cover letter.  Refer to the high points the potential employer is looking for in your letter.  Refer to it a couple times again when you answer interview questions.

For example, the job description might say you'll be required to use Microsoft Office products extensively.  Be prepared to explain how and where you've used those produces and how they will fit into the sought-after position.

In preparation, talk to people who have interviewed recently -- especially if you haven't interviewed in a while.  Tactics and styles may have changed, and you'll want to not only be on your game, but you'll want to be ahead of the curve.  Talk to those who give interviews, and to those who have interviewed for similar positions.  What do the interviewers like to see from their applicants?  What don't they like?  How should you behave? etc.

Armed with a list of possible questions, rehearse them.  This is not for the purpose of memorizing your answers and sounding like you're reading a textbook when you answer, but so you can hear yourself talk.  Talk to your dashboard during your commute.  Listen to yourself.  And then critique and edit your answers.

2) RELAX - The anxiety during preparation and in leading up to the interview is ALWAYS worse than the anxiety in the actual interview itself.  In most cases, once you meet the interviewers and people begin talking, all that nervous energy will evaporate as you begin responding.  Keep in mind, the interviewers know you are nervous, too, and they're pulling for you to do well.  Let's be honest, they've likely interviewed people ahead of you and they're looking for that one person to "knock it out of the park", so to speak, because they don't want to trudge through another horrible interview.  Relax.  Be yourself.  Breathe.

When I was recently waiting for an interview, an ambulance rolled into the parking lot and a secretary was taken to the hospital with chest pains.  When the interviewer came to greet me in the lobby, I cracked a simple, mood-loosening joke, "Wow, for a moment there I thought interviews were more violent than I remember them being."  The interviewer laughed, and she asked further questions about what happened.  It wasn't so much intended to get her to laugh, but to get me talking and expelling some of that anxiety prior to the start of the official interview. 

If you can't pull it off, please don't tell some corny joke.  That just looks like you're trying too hard.  If that's not your style, simply make a comment about how friendly the receptionist was, or a specific about the appearance of the facility.  It's kind of like complimenting a girl's hair to soften her up before asking her out on a date.

3) POSTURE - It is well noted by interviewers that the applicant who sits back in his/her chair in a relaxed, non-chalant manner must not be all that engaged or interested in the position.  I and others recommend sitting on the leading edge of the chair so your feet are on the floor and in a forward-leaning posture.  I like to rest my arms on the table with my hands lightly folded.  It conveys relaxation and confidence at the same time.  Keeping my hands on the table allows me to freely lift them up and set them as I use my hands when I talk.  This position also gives me the ability to lean further forward whenever I want to add additional emphasis or engage a particular interviewer more.

As an aside, do not bounce your leg or swivel back-and-forth in the chair.  It screams to the interviewers, "I'm nervous!  Can't you tell?!"

4) NAMES - Most interviews these days are conducted by more than one person.  If you have a chance ahead of time to learn the names of those who will be interviewing you, try to do so.  Try to learn their titles or positions within the agency or department.  If you can't find out their names ahead of time and only meet them upon entry to the interview, try the following tactic. 

The panel understands your nerves will likely prevent you from remembering every name of every person you just met.  If you're bad with names, that only exacerbates the problem!  At the very least, try to repeat the name as you shake hands during the introductions.  Better yet, get good with names!  Dale Carnegie once wrote in his book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People", "A person's name is to that person the most beautiful sound in his/her language."  Practice today getting good with names.  If all else fails, "sir" and "ma'am" are still very appropriate.

5) MOCK INTERVIEW - If you know someone who is influential in their business, offer to buy them lunch or dinner in exchange for a "mock interview".  I've done this a number of times, and it has proven effective.  Even if the questions your acquaintance asks aren't all the same questions you'll be asked in your interview, it will give you a good starting point for where you need to improve your communication skills.  Yes, mock interviews can be embarrassing or threatening --but they're not nearly as embarrassing as falling flat on your face during the real thing.

6) HIGH POINTS - Many interviews these days are behavior-based interviews, meaning "past performance is a strong indicator of future behavior."  This point hearkens back to your preparation stage.  Think very hard and very carefully about some of the high points in your career so far.  Think about what YOU'VE done and somehow fit as many of those high points into the interview answers as you possibly can.

For example, maybe a time or two in the past you appropriately confronted a peer about poor performance.   Maybe you earned an award for making your work site more efficient.  Maybe you went above and beyond what was expected of you.  How did you handle the confrontation? What did you do to make the work site more efficient?   How did you go above and beyond.  And finally, what was/were the result(s) of your actions? 

7) YOU YOU YOU - This leads to another point.  When you're asked a question, the interview panel is not interested in what your TEAM did to reach a goal.  They're not hiring the team.  They want to know what YOU did.  Don't be afraid to talk about YOU YOU YOU.  It's not bragging.  It's not exaggerating.  They simply want to know if YOU fit the role they're looking to fill.

On that note, be cautious with how freely you boast about yourself.  You may want to ask yourself, "If they were to check my story, would it hold up to scrutiny?  Or would it be proven a lie?"  At the risk of over-embellishing, you must carefully choose examples that truly show who you are.  They're not looking to hire the fake-you, but the real-you.

8) THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU - Undoubtedly, some of the most difficult kinds of questions are those that ask about a time when you've NOT met a goal, or when you've NOT performed up to standard, or when you're asked about your greatest WEAKNESS.  How does one answer questions like these without sounding like a complete turd?

Here's what I like: Answer the question truthfully, but turn the "negative" into a "positive" by taking the time to talk about what you've done to prevent that negative from repeating itself, or what you've done to improve upon your weakness.

9) POST INTERVIEW DISAPPOINTMENT - It is a natural tendency for us to finish an interview and second-guess ourselves and our performance.  That's not a bad thing.  Doing so in a constructive manner is good because it makes you better for the next interview.  Everyone gives a weak, poor, or just flat-out bad answer here or there.  Don't beat yourself up, but make a note of the question that was asked and work on a better answer for future interviews.  It is a good practice to write down as many of the questions you can possibly remember -- after the interview is complete, I must add.  Work on your answers later and practice them for the next time.

10) GOT QUESTIONS? - Every interview panel -- every panel -- opens the floor at the end of the interview for you to ask questions.  Have at least one or two questions in your arsenal to ask.  I don't care if you already know the answer!  Ask the question so it shows you're interested in the position.

Here's a tactic I like to use.  Remember when I said to have some "high points" of your past fresh in your mind so you can insert them in your answers?  Well, I like to use the open floor for one last opportunity to get in one more of those high points that may not have been addressed in the interview.  However, I don't just TELL them something, but I phrase it in a question. 

For example, in a recent interview in which I participated, I wasn't able to fit in my interest and fascination with the science behind death investigations.  The position I was seeking plays a role in these types of investigations.  So I said, "One of the factors that drew me to this position is my fascination with death investigations.  How often would I get to participate in crime scene searches if I got this position?"  See how that works?  Now, the interviews make one or two extra notes, and you can chalk up another point on the grading scale.

11) WAITING GAME - After the interview, I don't typically like to ask, "When will I find out if I get the position?"  There are two reasons for this.  First, I go into every interview KNOWING I'm the man for the job.  It's not arrogance, but confidence.  I may not actually get the job, but if I KNOW in my mind I'm the right person, then I will portray myself that way in the interview.  Second, I don't typically ask because the panel will likely give one of two answers, and they sound like this.  "We don't know how long it will be.  We have to look over all the interviews and score them, and that could take some time."  Or, it will sound like this, "It should be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks."  I've already assumed that's the amount of time it will take, anyway.  So I don't bother asking.

Now, some people will suggest that if you don't ask this question then it means you're not interested in the position.  I think there is some truth behind that, but I don't lay all my hopes in that one question.  That's why I take the chance to ask other good questions in place of this one.

12) IT'S OUT OF YOUR HANDS - Finally, remember that all you can do is control all that you can control.  Prepare, relax, be yourself.  You can only give your best, or something less.  After that, it's out of your hands.  Once the interview is complete, it's up to the powers that be to determine your fate. 

As a Christian, I know that it is ultimately not even in the panel's hands; it's in God's.  If it is God's will for you to receive the position or promotion, then falling flat on your face will not prevent the promotion.  Likewise, if it is not God's will for you to have it, then you could knock it out of the park and it won't change matters any.  You will not get it.

Final caution: the above phrases do NOT give you license to not prepare.

CONCLUSION - I hope these strategies prove effective for you in your next interview.  Take them seriously.  There's no guarantee they'll prove effective (see #12), but I guarantee you won't look as foolish as you would if you went into the interview unprepared.  If you use them, leave a comment and let me know how your interview went.  Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, so feel free to add to it.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the helpful tips, Mike. I have been interviewing for ministry positions since June. You offer some great advice. I especially liked your ideas on turning your interests into questions.

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    Replies
    1. Nick, thank you. I do indeed hope you land a great position. Interviewing for ministry positions in the church are much the same as interviewing for "ministry" positions in the world, except your skills and knowledge are grounded in the Bible.

      If it was me, I'd have a few big or hot-botton issues and be prepared to defend your position. Ie, the trinity, salvation, eschatology. You get the idea. Have you talked to other pastors for interview tips?

      You are in a unique position because your self-presentation (demeanor and speaking abilities) are being judged even when the question isn't related to those topics. Know your stuff, be confident, and tell the story well. Let's face it, preaching/teaching is public speaking 101 to its core. It just so happens to be Bible-centered!

      I hope these tips help, brother. Best wishes. Finally, be ever mindful of rule #12. :-)

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