Interviewing for a Job

It’s part art and part science.  But you can definitely improve your interviewing skills if you want to.  I’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates throughout my career and used that experience to assemble a series of blog posts.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

See my related blog post series on Job Hunting and Resume Writing.

Interviewing Tip #7 – Follow Up

Our society seems to have drifted away from formal Thank You’s.  But this isn’t the time to ignore the tradition.  You should ask each interviewer for a business card, mainly for the purpose of sending a thank you note.  I personally find it hugely respectful and professional when I receive a written Thank You card but I believe it’s OK to send an email thank you.  In the email, you want to 1) thank them for taking valuable time from their schedule to meet with you  2) reiterate your interest in their company and the role they are hiring  3) remind them of something you discussed about yourself that uniquely qualifies you for the job/company.  In closing your email you can show your willingness to have a follow-up phone discussion or in-person visit, if needed.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #6 – Asking for Feedback

It’s not out of the question to ask how you did at the end of the interview.  But the way you ask is important.  You don’t want to say, “So, do you think I’ll get the job”.  Instead, you could ask, “Do you mind if I ask if you have any initial observations or comments about the interview we just had?”.  Another slightly more aggressive approach would be to ask, “Is there anything about the interview we just had that would cause you concern about my ability to perform this job well?”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #5 – Asking Questions

In my previous post I described who should be talking during the interview.  Remember that during the face-to-face interview you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.  So absolutely have a list of questions that you would like to get answered.  Your list of questions can be as long as it needs to be.  If you are interviewing with multiple company representatives, then split the list based on the most appropriate person to direct the question to.  And some of your questions possibly should be directed at multiple interviewers to compare their responses later.  Also, be very mindful of the fact that your questions also tell a lot about you.  So don’t blow them.  Don’t ask a shallow question whose answer is front and center on the website homepage.  This will just show that you didn’t dig very deep with your research.  Instead, ask a question that digs deeper into the strategy of the company or industry.  Or ask a question that demonstrates you’re looking to develop your career, not just find a job.  Here are some ideas:

  • Ask the hiring manager how they would describe their management style.  One way to ask the question is “How would your employees describe your management style?”  You can also go a step further by asking what their employees like best about working for them.
  • Ask how your interviewer would describe the culture of the company
  • Ask a question about the impact of a competitor’s recent announcement
  • If the company is private (not publicly traded), try to find out if revenue has been growing and if the company has yet reached profitability
  • When I’m interviewing candidates, I like to get questions about career paths or opportunities for more responsibility in the future because it shows ambition and shows the candidate is looking for a career-building opportunity rather than just a paycheck
  • Ask how success will be measured for the role
  • Ask what the biggest challenges your hiring manager’s team (or the department he/she is a part of) is currently facing and how the role your interviewing for can help the most towards those challenges
  • Ask what your hiring manager likes the most about the company and how much longer they can see themselves working for the company
  • Ask if the company has any basic beliefs or principals that it operates by and uses to make difficult decision.  As a follow up, you could ask for any recent examples that come to mind.
  • Ask if the interviewer has any concerns about you as a candidate for the position and mention that if they do you’d like a moment to address it.  As long as you’re diplomatic in the way you ask this question, you’ll be fine.

Finally, don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  Instead, ask what are called open-ended questions.  These questions might start off with “Can you describe ….”, “How does the company go about …”, or “What methods does the company use …”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #4 – Puff Ball Questions

There is absolutely no excuse for not being ready for the most commonly asked interview questions.  Knock these out of the ballpark by being prepared ahead of time.  I’ve included a list of questions commonly asked during interviews Here.  Don’t necessarily memorize your response word-for-word, but definitely know which points you want to make and practice this using role play with a friend or family member.

Performance-Based Interview Questions

There’s a developing trend towards including performance-based and culture-fit questions into the interview.  Below are some examples of performance-based questions to help you prepare (credit to the Veterans Affairs website):

  • Describe a situation in which you had to use your communication skills in presenting complex information. How did you determine whether your message was received?
  • Share with me an example of an important personal goal that you set, and explain how you accomplished it.
  • Lead me through a decision-making process on a major project you’ve completed.
  • Have you ever had many different tasks given to you at the same time? How did you manage them?
  • Give an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision and how the scenario played out.

The “Compensation Expectation” Question

There’s one common question I’d like to cover directly in this article because it seems to be stressful for most people.  “How much are you looking to make?” or “What is your salary requirement?”.  Many people try to wiggle out of answering the question with responses like these:

  • I’m just looking to make whatever the market rate is for this type of position
  • I’m open to considering offers in a range of salary
  • Salary isn’t the most important thing to me.  I’m evaluating opportunities based on a broad range of factors.
  • At my last job I made $xxK

There’s nothing terrible about the above responses, but what about something like this: “Salary is only a part of my overall selection criteria but I’m most strongly considering roles that pay in the range of $xxx”.  There are some advantages to this approach:

  1. You highlight the fact that it’s not just about the salary
  2. You hint that you’ve either gotten other offers or are expecting some
  3. You suggest an acceptable range, which increases the chances the company’s budget for the role will be within the range

After that bold sentence, you could continue by describing other factors that are part of your selection criteria.  Company culture, opportunities for growth, company benefits plan, commute duration and other things could all be a part of your criteria.

I hope this information is helpful to your job search.  See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Getting Stumped

Sometimes you’ll get a question that really forces you to think on-the-spot for a good answer.  First, don’t feel pressure to immediately blurt out an answer.  It’s totally OK to initially say something like “That’s a really good question.  Let me think about it for just a second.”  That along buys you some very valuable time.

You might get asked to describe a time when you performed a particular task or addressed a specific situation but, unfortunately, you’ve never encountered it.  Your best approach to this is probably to admit that you haven’t previously encountered that situation/task and then either 1) tell them about something that’s the most similar to the task/situation they asked about  2) tell them how you would go about addressing the situation.

You might get a question that isn’t looking for a precise answer but rather gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you think.  Imagine a question like “How many jelly beans do you think could fit in my empty trash can?”  I can think of two ways to answer the question:

  • “I imagine considerably more than 1,000 could fit but I’m fairly certain 10,000 would overflow.  So my estimate is something in the 5,000 range.”
  • “I imagine about 100 jelly beans could fit in one cup.  It looks like your trash can has a volume of about 3 gallons.  With 16 cups per gallon, it means roughly 4,800 jelly beans.”

The second answer shows more analytical thinking than the first, but you get the idea.  The interviewer cares less about your answer and more about how your brain processes analytical challenges.

In the rare event that you get a question that literally leaves you stumped with no response, first ask to come back to it later in the interview.  If, when that happens, you still are drawing a blank, just let them know you’re sorry but you don’t have a really good answer at the moment.  Then, while driving home think about a possible good response.  If you come up with something, include mention of it when you send your thank you email.

Interviewing Tip #3 – Who Should Be Talking?

It’s very common for the interviewer to have a standard set of questions they want to cover first.  If so, then let them proceed.  But, at the same time, you should find the most appropriate way to get your interviewer talking –especially if they are the hiring manager (or the hiring manager’s boss).  The more you can get them talking, the more you will learn about the company and the job.  You will get invaluable insights into whether this is actually the company you want to work for.  And if you are fortunate enough to get more than one job offer, you will want these insights to assist with your decision-making.  One good way to get the interviewer talking is to ask them a suitable related question immediately after answering one of their questions.  But be careful about this if you detect they are the type of interviewer that wants to get through their question list first.

Conversely, you’ll come across interviewers that just want to talk about themselves and their company.  That’s great for getting additional insights to add to your research but terrible for when the recruiter or hiring manager asks what they thought about you.  You’ll need to cleverly figure out ways to jump in with comments that relate to what they are talking about but related to you and your accomplishments.  The ideal scenario is when you find yourself in a balanced interview with dialog and questions in both directions.

Finally, be ready with a list of questions that will give you valuable information on the role, company, industry and competition.  It’s OK to have these typed/written and stored in your interview binder.  You don’t have to memorize them.  But while asking these questions, inject some commentary that demonstrates that you’ve done your research.  You’d be amazed at how many candidates don’t do research, or if they do they don’t incorporate it into their interview.  This will really help you stand out.  And feel free to take notes.  It shows you’re taking this seriously.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #2 – Attire

While I can’t say precisely what to wear for the specific company and job you are interviewing for, I can give a solid rule of thumb.  Assess the dress attire standard you would follow once in the job and take it up a notch for the interview.  In other words, if you would dress business casual for the job (let’s say Dockers and a button-up collar shirt for guys), then wear at least slacks, a dress shirt and sport coat for the interview – and don’t hesitate to add a tie.  If you would wear jeans and a pullover collar shirt for the job, then at least dress business casual for the interview.  I also recommend mostly ignoring the advice of any existing employees at the company.  They might tell you, “Don’t worry about dressing up for the interview because we’re pretty laid back here.”  Instead, just take it up at least one notch to come across as professional and serious.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #1 – Phone Screening

OK, so you made enough of a positive impression with your job application or unsolicited email (see related post) to get a response from the company.  This will usually start with a request for a phone interview.  It’s the company’s way of conducting a second round of filtering (following the resume filter) to make sure they only spend face-to-face time with the most viable candidates.

The main thing I’ll say about the phone screening interview is shame on you if you don’t have all of your most important research information in front of you during the interview (see related post and this one too).  In addition, you should have a cheat sheet of your personal accomplishments right in front of you.  Maybe this is just a highlighted version of your resume.  Finally, some of the recommendations in the following posts of this series are also excellent preparatory tasks for a phone screening interview.  But remember three key things.

  1. The only reason the company is doing the phone screening interview with you is to decide if they want to bring you in for a more comprehensive fact-to-face interview.  So don’t turn it into your interview of the company (that comes later).  You should be prepared with a couple of questions about the company in case you’re given the opportunity and to show that you’ve done your research.  But make sure they get what they need first.
  2. Take full advantage of the fact that there is a phone line in between you and the interviewer.  You can have every cheat sheet known to man at your fingertips.  Just be organized.
  3. Eliminate things that could distract or disrupt the interview.  Have a dog at home that likes to bark when people walk by your house?  Put him/her in the bedroom.  Have a land line phone at home?  Use it instead of your cell phone for better clarity.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.