Job Interview Tips From a Human Resources Director by Leighton McCormick

What The Interviewer Expects:

The following transcript is from our "Effective Interview Techniques" (CD-2) and offers insightful observations by a Director of Human Resources for a major international company. Her outlook from "the other side of the desk" helps job seekers plan and prepare for their interviews. Here's what she has to say:

"Often, the biggest challenge is the ability to sell yourself. You must demonstrate on personal and professional levels why you're the best person for the job.

"Those candidates who do not invest the necessary time to prepare for the interview are most likely to present themselves poorly. It really surfaces when you ask them what special skills they bring to the job, or why they're interested in the position.

"Candidates who are confident, prepared, and relaxed tend to be the most successful. Again, it's taking the time before the interview that really makes the difference. Make certain you know everything you can about the job, the organization, and your respective part in it.

"An interview really is a two-way conversation. It's a chance for the candidate to tell the potential employer why he or she is the best person for the job - and, to find out if the organization is a good fit for him or her. Regardless of whether it's your first interview or your 100th, approach it positively, enthusiastically, and confidently.

"For me, the key word is 'process.' It's easy to get overwhelmed by everything that goes into preparing for, and undergoing, an interview. I believe by breaking the process down into steps, it's easier to organize, and manage, and not let yourself become overwhelmed. Of course, the quality you exhibit as you proceed through the various phases often depends on the upfront work you do researching the organization.

"One of the most important things a candidate can do is research the company, institution, or organization. Take the time to find out what the primary service or product is, check out financial stability, and know the culture. This helps you determine if this is a place where you want to work.

"Secondly, know yourself. Remember, the product you're selling is you, and every good sales person knows the product inside and out.

"And, third, dress the part. First impressions are everything. A study by UCLA a few years ago revealed that 55 percent of communication is non-verbal. That means a significant part of your performance during the interview is not going to be based on how you respond to the questions.

"The culture of a company is based on the structure, values, behavior, and social norms that are supported by the organization. Every organization has its own internal culture, and you need to penetrate that. Researching the organization is necessary to ensure the prospective job is a good fit for you. Also, you need to know specifically who has the hiring authority in the department or area in which you're interested. This is the person who will receive your personalized and targeted communications. Additionally, you'll need this kind of information for your subsequent interview.

"Remember, the interviewer will expect you to have questions. The InterNet also offers a wealth of company information and industry statistics. You can locate most major organizations there, and you can check their web sites for other job openings of interest. When researching a company, organization, or institution, pay attention to what you learn about its culture.

"Questions you can ask to help determine the culture include:

Is it family friendly?
Is it social as well as professional?
What is the work/life balance?
What is the employee balance - especially regarding male/female, minorities, and marrieds and singles?

"Know what you're looking for before the interview - this is the critical part of the research. There are several ways. For example, reviewing an annual report will tell you how many officers of the company are males, females, and minorities. This will give you a clue about whether or not diversity is valued in the organization. Second, many organizations are recognized for their employee programs or civic sponsorships. For example, each year Fortune magazine lists the 'Top 100' companies for which to work. You can check to see if the organization with which you're interviewing is listed there.

"Another good question is, 'How are employees recognized?' This gives you a feel for the type of recognition programs, and how the organization really feels about its employees. You also can ask, 'How often are company meetings held?' - which offers insight into the importance of employee communications. You also might also ask, 'In what kind of partnerships or employee activities does your company participate?'

"It's obviously important to understand the organization's products and services. Know its competitors, what its reputation is, and if there have been any recent major organizational changes. This gives you an idea of stability. You want to be with a company that's going to be there for the long haul. Any more, that's really important - and another reason to know the financial status of the organization. If it's publicly traded, know the ticker symbol and stock price. And, as mentioned earlier, read the annual report. This will give you insights into the culture and the terminology used to describe individuals within the organization. Again, you'll need this type of information as you prepare for your interview.

"I think any time you can provide pertinent information about the organization, it indicates you've done your homework. That's extremely positive, and shows the interviewer you're interested. After all, if the interviewer gets the impression you're not interested in the organization, he or she probably is not going to be interested in you. Who knows... you may even reveal data about competitors of which the interviewer was unaware. That would be a big plus in your favor!

"Remember, earlier we talked about candidates who presented themselves poorly versus those who are successful. The difference between the two is preparation. Again, it also helps the candidate determine if the company is right for him or her. And, it'll help with the decision, once the organization has extended an offer.

"Above all, know yourself. Be ready to sell yourself. Know your transferable skills, and supervisory or management style. How you approach the job, and those who work above you, below you, and beside you. Be prepared with brief anecdotes about your work that illustrate the qualities the organization values, and emphasize your key accomplishments.

"In short, know the benefits you can bring to the job, and the interviewer can recognize.

For example, you may have been involved in a project that will help demonstrate your leadership abilities. Honestly assess your employment background, and develop explanations for any weak points. If you're applying for a manager's job - but your resume does not show management experience - be prepared to answer such questions. Prepare in advance a list of tough questions you might encounter, and make certain you have sound answers.

"Some of the most difficult ones to answer include:

What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
What do you like least or most about your current job?

"If you have a current review or appraisal, bring it along. Don't show it unless you're asked, but you certainly can refer to it for the positive statements it contains. Something else that will help is rehearsing your interview - going over those potential questions that might arise, and becoming familiar with sound answers. Have a friend or spouse conduct the interview with you, so you can answer questions out loud and become more comfortable with the content.

"On my side of the desk, I like to focus on the knowledge, skills, and abilities candidates could bring to the job. For this reason, my questions center on previous successes, failures, and accomplishments. This helps me determine if a candidate has accurately represented his or her experience on the resume or application. I also try to find out, on a personal level, what the applicant's interest is in the position, and what is motivating him or her to apply for it.

"I also tailor my questions to the position for which I'm recruiting. Typically, I review the candidate's resume for anything that is lacking in the experience portion. For example, as mentioned, if I'm hiring a manager and the resume does not reveal this kind of experience, then I won't conduct an interview.

"Before job-hunters go on that all-important first interview, they need to understand how to dress the part. Know what to wear, and look the part. It's nice to think that appearances don't matter, but they do. You must make a good first impression! Looking your best may not get you the job, but the alternative certainly will detract from your chances.

"There are some traditional things to consider. For men, when they're choosing a suit, stick with Navy blue or grey. For a shirt, white, ironed, cotton blend. Stay away from the silk shirts. As for the tie, it can be fashionable...but not bold.

"Sorry, bow ties are out! For socks, dark and over-the-calf. Avoid trendy haircuts. Facial hair is fine, as long as it's groomed. Try to avoid the cologne.

"For women, a suit with a contrasting blouse works best. Stick with one- to two-inch heels - no spike heels - and subdued, natural makeup. Again, try to avoid perfume, and stay with small earrings. Wear natural hose, and avoid the dark ones.

"Even though most organizations have casual or dress-down days, the interview uniform for today is still a nice suit. Again, this is where culture comes in. When researching an organization, you'll turn up information on how employees dress in the work place.

"Follow their examples. Make certain you find out what the standard is for the company before the interview. In fact, that should be on your 'Interview Checklist' to ensure you're showing up in the right outfit. If you're unsure, call the organization's HR department. A good rule of thumb is to wear something that's somewhat dressier than the employees wear to work.

"Never wear jeans and a tee-shirt, and unless you're interviewing with a famous designer, leave the logo stuff at home! A jacket is always a safe bet for men or women, with slacks or a skirt.

"Obviously, this is the most critical stage. Make certain your contacts with prospective employers are positive, friendly, professional, emanate quality, and are targeted to the right individuals. If you anger a secretary while arranging your interview - or alienate the receptionist when you show up at the appointed time - your interview may be doomed before it even gets under way.

"Interviewers are interested in how well you relate and work with others, beginning the minute you walk into the outer office. Make sure you arrive for your interview about 10 to 15 minutes early, and dress like the interviewer is likely to dress. If you're not certain, be conservative. Be yourself, but pay particular attention to grooming and your demeanor.

"Which is another reason to get there a few minutes early. This will give you time to duck into the rest room and check yourself out one more time.

"Granted, many organizations today dress business casual. However, you should dress in appropriate business attire unless directed to do otherwise by the interviewer. Again, arrive at least 10-15 minutes early. Gather your thoughts and compose yourself. This also will give you time to meet those important support people. Do some information-gathering - there usually are newsletters and informational brochures in the waiting area - and observe the work environment.

"This will provide additional information for you to use during the interview. Remember, late arrival for a job interview is never excusable. For this reason, it's also a good idea to make a 'practice run' the day before the interview to ensure you know the route and where to park.

"Be conversational, not nervous or fidgety. Smile, and look confident. Again, it's a good time to keep your eyes and ears open for things that will help during the interview. What are employees saying and doing? Maybe notice something on the secretary's desk or wall and strike up a pleasant conversation. This is an excellent time to begin winning people over to your side.

"Come prepared. Bring at least three copies of your professionally prepared resume, a note pad, and your list of questions. Don't forget your references, but don't provide them unless asked.

"Offer a firm handshake. This is your first encounter with the interviewer. If he or she holds out a hand and receives a limp, damp grasp in return, it's not a good first impression. So be firm, but not bone-crushing.

"Maintain eye contact. Concentrate on one of the interviewer's eyes - it's easier to focus than trying to handle both. Don't stare, that shows aggression. Again, relax, smile, listen attentively, and respond succinctly.

"Stay relaxed and be yourself. Project confidence, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude. You've done your research and you're prepared, so there's no reason you should not be confident! yourself. The person across the desk wants a glimpse of the 'real you.'

"Be sure to ask questions. One of the worst things you can do when asked by the interviewer, 'Do you have any questions for me?' is to say, 'No.' Remember, the interview is a two-way conversation, and this is your chance to find out more about the company, the job, and the culture - which will help determine if this is the right place for you to work. Asking questions demonstrates the importance you place on your work and career, and your interest in what the interviewer has to say.

"The research you've done will form the basis for your questions. Focus on the job, company, products, services, and people. This is not the time to ask about benefits and salary, unless the interviewer raises these issues. Questions you might consider include:

What qualities are you seeking for a person in this position?
What is a typical day on the job like?
What are the most difficult aspects of this position?
What projects would I be involved in now, or within the first year?
What is the next step?

"Stay away from questions that might give the interviewer the wrong impression. You don't want to raise any warning flags. For example, asking, 'Would I really have to work overtime?' Also, avoid questions about compensation, vacation, and time off. You don't want to sound like you're only interested in pay and play.

"Finally, a few other things to keep in mind.

Don't smoke, chew gum, tobacco, or anything else.
Make sure you sit comfortably and erect.
Don't dominate the interview - time does not equal quality!
Communicate effectively, and avoid using slang.
Be sure to thank the interviewer - and others who may have joined the interview - for his or her time.
Ask for business cards so you can send 'thank you' letters.
And, above all, smile!

"As the applicant, your job is to convince the interviewer you're the right one to handle the position. You need to make the most of your allotted time, which usually is only 30 to 45 minutes. Every question offers an opportunity for you to present your abilities and accomplishments. If you research the organization and the job - and you believe in your skills and work ethic - it should be easy for you to clearly demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the position.

"Once again, the interviewer will be sizing you up from the organization's point of view, and he or she must recognize what benefits you'll be bringing on-board. This is another reason for you to complete a detailed checklist for each interview situation.

"Finally, make certain of two things: If you're interested in the job, let that be known. Tell the interviewer you're interested, and ask how soon a decision will be made. And, most important, immediately send 'thank you' letters to all involved in the interview process - from the interviewer down to the secretary and receptionist!"

Following The Interview:

Now comes the time to separate those who receive job offers from those spinning their wheels going through the job-search motions. There are specific functions you need to perform, and not a lot of time in which to perform them.

You've handled your job-search campaign correctly and have other interviews scheduled (or to be scheduled); letters and resumes to develop and mail; other organizations to research, and key contacts to uncover. As you can see, when the job-hunting process gets under way - and it's handled properly and efficiently - it can eat up a month's work in what seems like two weeks! However, this is your future, and you should expect no less!

Here are after-interview functions to perform:

Draft "thank you" letters within a couple of days after your interview. Based on your notes, you probably can tailor these to the individuals involved, and their interests.
Develop a "lessons learned" debrief, and look for ways to further improve your approaches.
Look on every interview as an opportunity to improve your presentation skills.

We hope these Tips and Tactics articles help in your job search. Follow the advice provided and you should find a job within a month's time. Most of all, good luck... and good job hunting!

For more free job-hunting tips, visit our "storefront" at [ NET::ERR_CERT_COMMON_NAME_INVALID].

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