Over the past 38 years, I’ve probably done 2500 interviews for employers and clients. Let me share some insight into the things I look for during the interview process; these are not in any ranked order, but simply as they occur to me.
1) Appropriateness of attire and timeliness of the interview. This doesn’t mean you have to be wearing an expensive suit or that you have to show up ten minutes early vs the scheduled interview time. It means that you are well “put together” and representative of how you will appear— when and if— you are offered the job. It means that you come to the interview prepared to present yourself well, you know something about the employer other than they are interviewing, and that your attention is fully on the process at hand–the interview. Don’t bring your kids or your dog, and turn off your cellular telephone and/or Blackberry before you sit down to discuss the matters at hand. Don’t pull out pictures of your wife or kids. Don’t go into long, drawn out explanations of what has brought you to this point in your life. Don’t go into personal dialogue about your house, your car, your dreams and ambitions, etc. All of this has a place, but it’s probably not in the interview.
2) No one expects you to know everything about the job before you’ve worked in it. As a matter of fact, you probably won’t know every answer to every question asked. So what? Trust me–the interviewer doesn’t know every answer to every question asked. If you do know every answer, you’re probably not interviewing for a position with enough authority. Also, if it’s obvious that the interview isn’t for a job you can successfully fill, admit it, relax, and talk with the interviewer about what jobs he/she might know of that would be more appropriate for your abilities. Job matches are like relationships between people–they don’t always occur, even under the best of circumstances. Remember—this interviewer is focusing on the job at hand, and is measuring your personality, your knowledge, and your abilities to fit into a specific job or range of jobs. Don’t try to force a fit by giving him/her answers that you think they want.
3) Answer the questions that are asked of you. If I ask a candidate about his or her experiences in, or views on, a change management situation, I don’t want to know about how they view strategic representation in a union organizing situation. The questions which are asked are asked for a reason. The time of the interviewer is budgeted, just as your time is budgeted. At least, if it isn’t–it should be.
4) Anticipate that a question—or possibly several questions—may be asked which have been developed to see how well you can “think your way through an issue.” If the interviewer is good, he or she will probably ask very few questions which can be answered either yes or no. The majority of questions will be asked to help determine if you can actually problem solve and focus on a task at hand. Can you? If you can’t, work with another person before the interview at answering questions they ask you. This single exercise may assist you—more than anything else–at being an interview “star.”
Remember–the interview process is only a starting point for a job. While it’s true that you should plan on doing well in an interview, it’s also true that even candidates who “ace” interviews may end up not getting hired, for a variety of reasons. If you walk out of an interview with a good feeling, there’s at least a 50-50 chance you may be asked back for a follow up.
What if you get a follow up request for a second interview? Good for you! Candidates aren’t called back unless they have a very good chance at being placed. Plan on the questions you will be asked zeroing in on your abilities and capabilities to fill a specific job function. Second interviews are time killers; half the time, the client has decided upon a choice or minimal number of choices, based upon that first interview. Ask knowledgeable questions, speak authoritatively. Don’t stammer or stutter—use good eye contact with the interviewer. Whatever the outcome, thank the interviewer for his or her time at the end of the interview, and get a commitment as to timeframe for a final decision.
Good luck with your interviews! I hope this is helpful to you.