Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Learning to Read an Interviewer's Mind


All jobs solve problems. That's the secret to landing a new job. Identify the employer's problem and show the hiring manager how you'll solve it.

Most job seekers don't follow this approach. They concentrate on their own skills, experiences and past job duties. They never really connect with the employer's needs.

"So many of the resumes that I see offer just a traditional listing of past titles, employers and work duties," says Sharon Willen, a career counselor at Growth Connections Inc., a career counseling and training firm in Huntington, N.Y. "That's a job history. It really doesn't speak to the next employer's needs."

Her advice? "Grab their interest by showcasing something from your background that really connects with what they do. Get [an] employer to think, "I want this person doing that at my company." To follow this advice, you need to do some research to learn what the employer does.

Linda Commodore, director of career services at the Westbury, N.Y., campus of the Chubb Institute, a computer-training company known for its high graduate-placement rate, says, "For candidates entering a new job market, it's vitally important to understand the employer's needs."

For career changers, Ms. Commodore adds another twist. "First, upgrade your technical skills. Then go back to the companies and industries that you already know. Sell yourself as an insider who can also deliver the cutting-edge skills that this employer needs right now."

The Candidate as Consultant

Think of yourself as someone who goes into a company, and helps it meet its challenges. As a job seeker, consider yourself a business consultant. You work with employers to create the best ways to manage departments, prepare reports, design marketing campaigns or whatever it is that you do.

Find the employer's problem. Why are they hiring in this position? Is there software that needs debugging? Staff that needs managing? Once you know what the employer wants, it's easier to make them want you.

Consider the candidate who interviewed for a junior position involving scheduling and handling records and documents at a company that creates transportation links under New York's Grand Central Station. In describing the job, the hiring manager complained about having three hundred employees but no way to control them. "What we really need," he said, "is someone who can get all these people working together."

The candidate was quickly able to demonstrate exactly how his background in managing large defense contracts made him the perfect candidate to organize this department. Now he's the company's new logistics manager -- a different position than the one he originally interviewed for.

To identify what your next employer needs:

1. Read between the lines of the job posting. Isolate the skills, experiences and personality being sought. Then compose a problem statement for that job. For example, "This employer needs someone who can connect with mid-sized clients and cultivate new business for the product division of their multinational company."

2. Research the employer. Study its web site and other internet or library resources. Or talk to current or former employees. Is it conservative or freewheeling? Did it just get a new contract?

3. Be observant and keep your eyes and ears open when you interact with recruiters and interviewers.

Being attentive paid off for a national tradeshow coordinator who decided to switch careers after her last employer reorganized. In an interview with a pharmaceutical company, she listened closely when a recruiter described an opening in product sales. "You need someone who can create a rapport with each customer," she said when he finished. "Someone who can juggle multiple product lines and get results without supervision."

"I'm doing the same thing right now -- in my job search," she said. Then she highlighted the same strengths in her own background. She got the job. Her secret? She listened to what the employer really wanted and was able to fill those needs.

Solving employers' problems makes you an insider who speaks their language and understands their company. It's as if you're saying, "I know what goes on in your office every day. Here's how I can help you."

Apply this approach to other areas of your job search, including the jobs you target and your resume. Solving problems will turn your resume package into a business proposal because your skills will answer their needs. Your interview will become a consulting meeting as you sit with hiring managers and help them meet their challenges.

Career Clinic

Scan the job leads on this site. Select three opportunities you want to pursue. For each job you've selected, complete the following statement:

"The problems that this employer wants me to solve are ______."

Write it on a Post-it note, and stick it on your PC. This reminder will keep you focused while you're composing your cover letters and tailoring your resume.