Donít Let Todayís Job Interview Catch You Off Guard!

by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Typically interviews occur in phases, often starting with a phone interview, and progressing along to a first and, hopefully, a second interview. However, for many different reasons, not all companies will follow that traditional approach. By preparing yourself for more complex questions about the company and your work experience, as well as for the use of new interviewing approaches and technologies, you will stand out from the competition during all aspects of the hiring process. Follow the tips below in your preparation.

Research the company

When researching a company, pay particular attention to challenges that the company faces and link solutions with specific skills and value your experience will bring to the position. Your research should also focus on the company’s product or service range as well as that of competitors. Think about how you will approach the job if hired and prepare responses that encourage confidence in your ability to meet the demands of the position and the company’s needs.

Ask Insightful Questions

Use your extensive research about the company to formulate questions that go beyond your interest and basic knowledge about the company. Impress the hiring manager by inquiring about specific expectations for the first few months on the job. Ask about working relationships with other departments or even community initiatives, if that is a special emphasis for the company. You may also inquire about the company’s plans for the future. But remember to keep the focus on your value to the company, not what’s in it for you. It is still not the right time to ask about salary or benefits.

Expect a Behavioral Interview

Most companies use an approach to interviews that is designed to determine your future performance based on your responses to similar situations in past jobs. Although more common during later interviews, by being prepared to share such information early on in the interview process, you may distinguish yourself from the competition. These types of questions typically require you to describe a solution to hypothetical situations or to discuss your responses to challenges in previous positions. Some hiring managers also use these types of questions to explore your decision-making skills on the job or in terms of what values may drive your choices.

Examples of questions consistent with a behavioral interview approach include:

  • “Tell me about a failure on the job and how you handled it.”
  • “Describe how you might handle a project that is going over time and budgetary guidelines.”
  • “How did you decide to take a job with XYZ?”

Demonstrate Flexibility and Focus

Your responses to the behavioral interview questions will help you demonstrate the key characteristics that are valuable to most companies. Flexibility can be conveyed by your ability to think on your feet and respond quickly to unexpected changes, customer complaints, or even your ability to work well with co-workers on challenging tasks. Focus may be exhibited in your ability to keep a work group on the task at hand or in meeting a project deadline despite significant distractions.

Be Authentic in the Interview

Job seekers often attempt to emphasize positive attributes through their responses to typical interview questions. For example, if asked to describe weaknesses, many candidates attempt to spin their response by suggesting strengths are weaknesses. If you say, “My greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist and I spend too much time on the job,” your attempt to display a work ethic may backfire. A more authentic response might be, “Earlier in my career, I focused a lot on details and was able to identify errors (perhaps in software programs or accounting logs), however as project manager, I have had to learn to delegate and trust my staff in order to keep that attention to detail from interfering with my effectiveness as a manager.” Such a response has a greater ring of truth and sincerity.

Convey Enthusiasm for the Job

Although this tip may seem like a no-brainer, after a long interview process, you may feel tired and less focused. Maintaining your enthusiasm for the position throughout the interview process demonstrates your ability to concentrate as well as your value as a team player who can help projects move forward. As you become more comfortable with the interview team, don’t fall into the trap of rambling on about personal interests or negative stories about past employment.

Be Prepared to Discuss Job Gaps

You can’t change your work history, but you do need to be aware of how negatively job gaps may be perceived by hiring managers. Be proactive in responding to questions about what happened during any gaps. Recall professional activities in which you were involved during those gaps. Perhaps you were consulting or became involved with community groups. Leadership roles on community boards or organizing events with the Chamber of Commerce are great examples of using your time productively.

Respond Well to Any Question

Regardless of how well you prepare for an interview, you are likely to be surprised by a question or comment during the process. Your ability to maintain your focus by creating an authentic response on the spot will also impress the hiring manager and interview team. To consistently create a great response, include the following in any answer: a) a brief description of a real-life challenge you have faced in the past; b) the plan, tasks, and actions you used in responding; and c) a summary and any statistics that quantify the results. This simple framework will help you create an authentic response every time.

Get Ready for Skype and Webcam Interviews

Skype is often the preference for long-distance interviews, and some job listings even prepare candidates by suggesting that their initial contact with the search committee may be via Webcam. If you are unfamiliar with this technology, do some proactive research. The basic version of Skype is free to use but does require registration. You may have observed Skype interviews being used by mainstream media outlets without even being aware of the technology.

If Skype is the interview of choice, your experience is likely to be more similar to a face-to-face interview than the traditional phone interview. The key to a successful Skype interview is preparation. Similar to a phone interview, you may not have much advance notice, so have your interview attire ready to go. And remember, you can’t rely on having notes in front of you.

If possible, conduct a Skype or Webcam run-through with a trusted friend or family member. Identify a comfortable yet presentable location. Check for laptop positioning and lighting. Clear out all clutter behind you and make sure nobody is going to be walking around you during the interview. Contain all distractions, whether electronic, feline, or canine. The last thing you need is to have your dog start barking at the mailman or for the cat to begin crawling onto your shoulder! Despite its unfamiliarity, many candidates report positively on the Skype or Webcam interview because they appreciate being able to see the reactions of the committee members.

All the time and effort you put into preparing for the interview will help you advance through the hiring process. Be thoughtful in your responses and authentic in your interactions and you are likely to move forward. Remember that your good performance in the past, including your interview behavior, is seen by hiring managers as the potential for good performance on the job!