Interview questions and structured interviewing
Username: Password:

Prepare for Interviews Using Tested Strategies

Janet I. Farley

There are few things in life on which we can truly depend. In addition to death and taxes, at least one job interview that doesn't go well comes to mind. Figuratively speaking, many job seekers end up wearing the T-shirt that says, "I came. I interviewed. I didn't get the job," one or more times in life. Fortunately, hope springs eternal, and most people keep trying. To increase your chances of being hired, follow these 10 steps before, during and after your next job interview.

Before an Interview

1. Research the organization. The more you know about a potential employer, the better. If you doubt this, consider one communications manager's experience interviewing for a position as the assistant director of a technical medical communications program at a prestigious medical college. Prior to the interview, the candidate failed to research the college, the position and its salary norms. The results were disastrous. Not only was he uninformed about the employer's program, but his salary requirements were too low. He immediately was disregarded as a serious candidate for the position.

"Employers want to know that you take enough interest in them to do your research prior to an interview," says Yana Parker, a Berkeley, Calif.-based resume writer and author of the "Damn Good Resume Guide" (1996, Ten Speed Press). Researching potential employers helps you make a good impression on an interviewer and helps you to better decide your fit with a company. Get the scoop through your networking contacts and by reading articles in trade journals, newspapers and business directories. Be able to answer the following questions:

How long has the company been in business?
What is its reputation?
Is the company financially sound and profitable?
What is the company's greatest accomplishment? Its biggest failure?
Where does your potential job fit in the larger organizational picture?
2. Review your resume. Your resume should be as close to perfect as possible. A resume creates an image of who you are, says Ms. Parker. It's to your advantage to have a resume that shows how your experience makes you a suitable potential employee for the company, she adds.

The interviewer will base some questions on your resume's content. You should review your document before the interview so you can address any item on it fully and confidently.

3. Practice answering potential interview questions. Most job-search books provide you with a list of potential interview questions. Review them. Here are a few basic ones to consider:

Tell me about yourself.
Tell me about a time you failed miserably in your career.
What is your greatest strength?
What are your salary expectations for this position?
"You don't want to find yourself caught off-guard when questions are asked during the interview," says Eddie Wheelock, a manager with Resource Consultants Inc., a Vienna, Va., outplacement consulting firm.

4. Prepare a list of questions for the employer. Remember that you're also interviewing the employer. Create a short list of questions based on your earlier research and any concerns you have. Here are some examples:

Describe a typical day on the job at this company.
Is there room for advancement?
Describe the ideal candidate for this job.
Where do you see this company in five years? Ten years?
The Day of the Interview

5. Dress and adjust your attitude for success. Your clothes and your attitude should reflect the level of the position for which you're interviewing. Give yourself a second "once-over" before you arrive at the interview. It's trite but true: First impressions count, and you won't have a second chance to make a first impression.

6. Manage your time effectively. If you aren't sure where the company is located, get directions in advance of your interview. Plan your trip so you arrive at the interview approximately 10 minutes early. Realize that your interview starts the minute you arrive, even if you must wait in the lobby for 20 minutes before the meeting.

During the Interview

7. Follow the lead of the interviewer. Think of the interview as a slow dance where the interviewer sets the tone and the pace. Remember, silence in an interview is OK. You don't have to fill awkward conversational gaps unless there's a logical reason to do so. If you suspect the interviewer is struggling with his or her role, try to keep the conversation going without dominating him or her. It may comfort you to know that it's sometimes difficult being on the other side of the desk.

8. Determine the next step. Don't leave the interview without inquiring about the next step. You'll only feel frustrated if you don't know what to expect in the future. Ask the employer when a hiring decision will be made. Will you be contacted or should you call back on a certain day? If you feel you would be a perfect fit for the job, say so before you leave the interview. If you want the job, ask for it. This isn't the time to let your shy inner-child dominate.

After the Interview

9. Analyze the interview. Now is the time to breathe a sigh of relief and think positive thoughts. You also should analyze your interview performance objectively. What's your gut feeling? Consider how interested the employer seemed in you and whether you made particular points which really stood out. Were your questions answered?

If you realize you made mistakes, don't dwell on them. Either contact the employer and try to resuscitate your candidacy, or simply consider it a valuable lesson and concentrate on your next interview.

10. Follow up.

Following up with a letter is essential to the success of any job-search endeavor. Surprisingly, many job seekers neglect this simple gesture, but you should "hit them while they're hot," says Mr. Wheelock. In addition to being a courtesy, sending a thank-you letter keeps your name fresh in the employer's mind. It's also a way to remind the employer how well your qualifications fit the position's requirements.

If you haven't heard from the employer in two weeks, make a telephone call to ask if you can provide other information to help the decision-making process. Remind the employer that you're still very interested in the opportunity.

If you don't get the job, don't take it personally or get discouraged. Some job opportunities don't work out even when they seem to be a perfect match for your skills. Your focus should be on the interviews in your future -- the ones you still can influence -- rather than on past meetings you no longer have control over.