Handle the big job interview without breaking a sweat with these tips from Allison Hemming, author of Work It!: How to Get Ahead, Save Your Ass, and Land a Job in Any Economy.
When the interviewer comes out to meet you, stand up, look them straight in the eye, then greet them with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Keep in mind that the interview setting could be anywhere, from a conference room or a person’s office to the cafeteria. (During the Internet boom, for instance, real estate was so rare that some people interviewed right at elevator banks.) When you enter the interview room, don’t just plop down in any chair — wait for the interviewer to offer you one. If you happen to be meeting in the interviewer’s office, quickly glance around for any clues, like books, diplomas, photos, or awards, that indicate you have something in common. Shared interests can serve as great conversation openers. Warning: never, ever play with the squeezy balls sitting on the interviewer’s desk, however tempting they may be.
Above all else, relax. You’ve already made it this far. That means that something about you has impressed the right people. The hiring manager is not out to get you. They rarely have hidden agendas, they just want to make a good hire. They need answers to their questions: Will this person fit? Can they do the job as they claim? Will I like working with them? Hiring managers want to hear about you, why you’re interested in working at their firm, and how your previous work experience would make you a good candidate. You know the drill.
- CARPE DIEM. After the usual small talk, seize the opportunity to summarize why you’re there. Let the interviewer know that you’re very interested in the job, that you can do the job and that you’re the best person for the job. It’s like watching a preview for a coming attraction at the movie theater. The trailer builds excitement for upcoming flicks. In your case, you’re getting the hiring manager intrigued and charged up, which can help to set a positive tone and direction for the rest of the interview.
- KNOW YOUR STUFF (COLD). The “So…tell me about yourself” question is simple to answer, and still people choke. Worse still is when a hiring manager asks, “Why don’t you take me through your resume,” and the candidate responds with: “Uh…what does it say down there?” You need to feel confident about discussing every item featured on your resume, or don’t bother showing up. This is the sole purpose of an interview.
- EVERYBODY HAS A BULLSHIT DETECTOR. A large part of an interviewer’s job is to separate people who really have relevant work experience from those who only claim they do. When you put work experience on your resume, you are outlining your previous comparable work. You don’t want to make a small role on a project seem larger than life on your resume, because it will come back to haunt you. Once a hiring manager senses that you’re embellishing, you’re dead. (And they will enjoy making you squirm.) You’ve got to be honest about your experience. Nobody wants a con artist working for them (would you?).
- ASSUME THE POSITION. You need to get the hiring manager to see you as the most suitable person for the job. Before you walk in the door you should have familiarized yourself with the position, the job requirements, and the expectations for the role. If you’ve done this, then every time you answer a question, you should be able to provide examples as to why you’re a good fit for the position. Don’t get cocky: if you tell the hiring manager that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you’ll be toast. Check your ego at the door; be humble, but not self-deprecating. The only thing worse than an egomaniac is someone who’s complacent, so act like you want to be there.
- LESS IS MORE. Attention spans are short and getting shorter by the day. Sometimes interviewees deliver more information than an interviewer could possibly digest in one sitting. Edit yourself. Don’t overwhelm the interviewer with minutiae — they don’t need to know every detail of every job you’ve ever held. Articulate your work experience succinctly before the interviewer loses interest. Watch the interviewer’s face and reactions for visual cues to wrap up your response, including: losing eye contact, incessant nodding, darting of eyes away from you and toward computer or papers, looking at their watch, or interrupting you.
- CAUTION: TWO-WAY STREET AHEAD. Focus on what the interviewer is saying and make sure that you’re responding to the questions they actually ask, not just the ones you want to answer. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the process of “selling” yourself, you might forget that an interview is also a time to figure out whether you think you’ll succeed in the organization. You are there not only to give information about yourself, but to gather more information about the company. Now is a perfect time to learn things about the firm you would never be able to dig up through third-party sources, like management style, team structure, and corporate culture.
- GET GOOD AT PROBING. It’s the interview, and not the job description, that will give you the details and insight you need to figure out what the daily grind would be like (and whether you’d actually enjoy doing the job). Ask probing questions that will allow you to zero in on what the company really needs. You’ll know you’ve struck a chord when a hiring manager starts harping on a subject (or a project that has gone untouched for months). If you’re perceptive, you’ll be able to tailor your message on the spot to what matters most to him or her. It also helps when you ask open-ended questions that will elicit more than a simple yes or no answer. If possible, try to get a handle on the departmental organizational chart. This way you can see who reports to whom and whether or not the group is flat or excessively hierarchical. This could give you a handle on how much room for growth there is in the group. Pay attention to any political underpinnings within the organization.
- LISTEN AND DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF. People enjoy being listened to more than they like being talked at. When it comes to an interview, delivering information is only half the battle. By listening to what’s important to the interviewer, you can adapt your answers. Pay attention to the industry buzzwords and listen to what parts of the job are important to the interviewer. Consider each nugget of information as a gift. These are clues you can use to determine what is essential for success in the position.
- SILENCE CAN ALSO BE QUITE A POWERFUL TOOL. You can gather critical information by simply keeping your mouth shut and letting the other person talk. The key to being a good listener is to participate in the conversation in subtle ways that do not interrupt. Use visual cues, like nodding, opening your eyes widely, smiling, and using your eyebrows, to demonstrate that you are listening. To keep the interviewer talking and to show them that you are indeed listening, say things like “this is very helpful,” “how interesting,” “I see,” “please go on,” “can you elaborate?”
- BE PERCEPTIVE. Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language. When you deliver a response, look to see how the person is reacting — just be sure to give them a second to absorb what you’ve told them (especially if they’re writing stuff down). Notice their visual cues: is the interviewer leaning in, using facial expressions that denote understanding? This indicates that they’re with you. Conversely, are they leaning back in their chair away from you, looking confused, crinkling their nose, crossing their arms? This could mean that you’re overloading them with information, leaving them thinking, “Will this guy ever shut up?”
- TAKE NOTES. Even if you have a fantastic memory, it’s a good idea to jot a few things down because it signals to the interviewer that you too are listening. Plus, as you’re wrapping up a point, you can glance down and make sure that you did indeed respond to their initial question. By staying engaged, you make yourself likeable, which is very important in getting hired.
- THE DOG AND PONY SHOW. During the interview process, you might unexpectedly get shuffled around to meet “the rest of the team.” Basically, when a hiring manager does this, they’re having their co-workers do the “sniff test.” If you’re meeting with people at your level, or even more junior than you, always remember that you’re still on an interview and don’t treat them as peers (you only get to do that after you’re hired). A word of wisdom: if you happen to run into the friend or business contact that got you in the door, do not get super-buddy-buddy with them in front of others. You don’t want to appear overly confident by association, as this may imply that you think you already have the job. Be friendly and acknowledge the connection without turning it into a class reunion.
Bring lots of extra resumes with you, and every time you meet a potential co-worker, or any new person for that matter, present them with your resume. It’s also a good idea to summarize where you are in the interviewing process and which people you’ve met so far. When you have to endure several interviews in a row at the same company, it’s easy to let your guard down. Companies make you run the gauntlet to see how you do under pressure and/or to try to get you comfortable with those doing the hiring. Always keep in mind that you’re still interviewing straight through until the bitter end. Ultimately, you need your potential co-workers to think of you as someone they want to have around fifty hours a week, and as a potential asset to the organization.