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Ten Steps to Better Interviews

Ten Steps to Better Interviews

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Published by: pusasa on Dec 04, 2009
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08/18/2010

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Ten Steps to Better Interviews
Many job hunters are poorly prepared to interview. They believe thatsince they’re smart people who can think on their feet, they can "wing it"in interviews and still make a great impression on hiring managers. Inmost cases, they’re wrong.Unless you’ve spent a lot of time job hunting (successfully) in recentyears, you’re probably not ready to convince company interviewers toextend you an offer. Once you’re willing to admit that you need help tobecome more effective in interviews, your education can begin -- withthe following 10 proven rules to interviewing success:
1. Know thyself.
I once believed that I was a naturally gifted job hunter because I hadgood communication skills. I even had proof: I earned job offers for almost every position I interviewed for, so I assumed I must be a goodinterviewee -- even though I wasn’t sure why people were offering me jobs.Sensing that I had a talent for finessing interviewers, I never preparedproperly. I knew to wear my best, most conservative suit, and becausemy mother raised me right, I was always polite and well-mannered. Butwith 20-20 hindsight, I now realize that my mistakes were more subtle.For instance, I was a really bad listener. I was so busy selling myself toprospective employers that I never tried to find out who they were andwhat they wanted me to do. As a result, I was hired for several jobs thatwere totally uninteresting and had no future. As a word-processingoperator, and later a hands-on supervisor, I was married to a piece of equipment that didn’t challenge me to grow or develop my potential.During the three years I worked in those jobs, I often wondered why I’dtaken them. The reason was simple. Like many candidates, I didn’t havea career objective, experience in the job market or enough self-knowledge to know what I wanted to do or how to find challenging,meaningful work.Before launching your next job search, you need to figure out whatyou’re selling and to whom you’re selling it. Start by determining your most marketable skills, which typically fall into three categories:
Technical qualifications, including expertise in a specific field: "Iknow stocks and bonds," "I’m an expert in employee benefits," "I’mformally trained in instructional design," "I’m a licensed CPA andcertified financial planner," etc.
 
General liberal-arts skills: "I’m a good problem solver," "I havesolid analytical abilities," "I’m a good writer," "I communicate well,"etc.
Key character traits, such as dependability, honesty and loyalty.While most candidates recognize their technical skills (or lack thereof),they often downplay softer skills because they think saying things like,"I’m a really smart person" or "Everybody likes me," is too self-serving.Tooting your own horn is important in interviews. But remember that noone likes a braggart, so you have to demonstrate your strengths rather than talk about them. For example, don’t say "I’m a good listener" or "Ihave good communication skills," since interviewers will be able to seethose talents for themselves. In fact, if you say you’re a good listener,then frequently interrupt the interviewer, you’ll lose credibility.Concentrate on proving who you are by acting appropriately.When employers ask where you want to be in five years, it’s crucial tohave a good idea. If your goal is to become vice president of humanresources by 2002, you probably shouldn’t seek a position as a benefitsanalyst. You’ll have too far to go and not enough time to make it, so your goals will seem poorly formulated.
2. Research prospective employers.
Few candidates learn all they should about a company before arriving for an interview. To avoid basic mistakes, focus your preparation on threeareas. First, pay attention to logistics. You need to know where you’regoing and how long it will take to get there. If you’ve never been to thebuilding, leave time to get lost. If you’ve never been to the city, clarify allthe details of your trip beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll end up, as one of my clients did, with an airline ticket to Dulles when he was supposed tobe in Dallas.Next, conduct basic company research. Although annual reports aren’tthe most thrilling reading, they provide key information, such as corebusinesses, profit-and-loss data, future plans and mission statements.Ideally, you should be able to identify in interviews how your personalgoals, plans and mission can be integrated into those of theorganization. Once you have this kind of information, you’re in a better position to tailor your answers to fit what you know about the company.This will make for stimulating meetings.Finally, find out all you can about each person you’ll interview with bytalking with networking contacts and researching industry journals andtrade magazines. By doing so, you’ll create rapport and boost your chances of earning a second interview.
 
Michael Allweiss, a partner in a New Orleans law firm, says a lack of research killed the chances of two candidates he met when filling a newassociate’s position recently. His firm has the state’s largest domesticpractice, yet Mr. Allweiss is a litigator who specializes in employmentrather than domestic law. The first candidate had his heart (and career goals) set on practicing admiralty law. Unfortunately, the firm doesn’thandle admiralty cases. Had the candidate done some basic research,he wouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time and energy. The secondcandidate was a closer fit since he was interested in practicing domesticlaw. But he was talking to the wrong person."All these candidates had to do was look us up in the Martindale-HubbellDirectory to find out what each member of the firm specializes in," saysMr. Allweiss. "It isn’t that hard." Candidates who arrive at interviews socompletely unprepared are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Insteadof showcasing their competence and thoroughness, they display a seat-of-the-pants mentality which doesn’t do much to win an employer’s favor.To organize your research strategy, review the book "Researching Your Way to A Good Job" (1993, John Wiley & Sons) by business librarianKarmen Crowther. She explains exactly what you need to know toprepare for interviews.
3. Prepare for and rehearse standard questions.
You should be able to manage and control those aspects of interviewsthat are truly within your control. That means never being surprised by astandard question. Since hiring managers typically ask similar (if notidentical) questions, your preparation should involve knowing thesequeries, scripting a response and tailoring it to each interviewer.To give you a feel for the process, consider the most standard (and oftenanxiety-provoking) interview query, "Tell me about yourself." It oftenserves as an icebreaker, an opportunity for interviewers to observe youin action. They may be interested in how you organize your response,what you choose to emphasize and how you present that information.Do you stare at your feet or out the window instead of making eyecontact? Do you stumble through your words uncomfortably instead of presenting yourself with confidence? Do you talk too much and rambleon endlessly about your childhood, troubled adolescence, shakymarriage or great kids? Or do you stay focused on what’s relevant andinteresting to the interviewer?Most career counselors agree that it’s important to limit your presentation to three minutes in which you briefly sketch out your career qualifications ("I have 20 years’ experience in retailing with an emphasisin purchasing and management"), your strengths ("My best skills arequantitative and interpersonal"), and a demonstration of those strengths

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