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Interview Strategy

Interview Strategy & Techniques

For your first few interviews, or at least until you are feeling very comfortable, focus your efforts on remaining calm and collected. Listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying and respond promptly and thoroughly to his/her questions. Do not try too hard. If you have been practicing your responses, you should be able to offer appropriate answers without too much difficulty. Once you begin to feel more confident about interviewing you may wish to think strategically about each interview. One effective tactic is to adjust your speed of speech to match that of the interviewer. People tend to talk at the speed at which they like to be spoken to. If you can adjust your speech rate to that of the interviewer without sounding unnatural, he/she will probably feel more comfortable (after all, interviewing others isn't much fun, either) and have a more favorable impression of you.

Another strategy is to adapt your answers to match the type of company for which you are interviewing. For example, if you are interviewing for a job at a large product marketing company that emphasises group decision-making and spends much of its energy focused on battles for market share with its competitors, you might want to talk about how much you enjoy team sports - especially being part of a team and competing to win. When filling professional career positions, few companies will make a job offer after only one interview. Usually, the purpose of the first interview is to narrow down the field of applicants to a small number of very promising candidates. During the first meeting, then, the ideal strategy is to stand out from a large field of competitors in a positive way. The best way to do this is to subtly emphasise one of your key, distinctive strengths as much as possible throughout the interview. During later interviews, the competition for the position will drop off and employers will tend to look not for strengths, but for weaknesses. At this point you should focus on presenting yourself as a well-balanced choice for the position. You will want to listen carefully to the interviewer's questions so you can determine her underlying concerns and try to dispel them.

The Secret to Interview Success
One of the key messages that you will want to convey to the interviewer is that you are seriously interested in a career in that particular field at that particular company. If you have been keeping up with industry trends by reading trade publications and talking with industry insiders, you have already won half the battle. But, if in addition to this, you impress the interviewer with your knowledge of that company, you will have a great advantage over the competition. This is the secret to interview success. To find the information you need, dig into every resource you can find. You can locate some information in business directories available at libraries. For larger companies, call the investor relations department and request an annual report and search at the library for recent articles written about the company. Go through the back issues of the industry's trade magazines and look for recent relevant articles. Also, call the firm itself and request more information. Most companies have a brochure or catalogue of their products or services. If the firm has a human resources department, ask if they have a recruitment package or any other information that they can send to job seekers.

Ten Common Interview Questions

1. Why do you want to work here?
To answer this question, you must have researched the company and built a dossier. Reply with the company's attributes as you see them. Cap your answer with reference to your belief that the company can provide you with a stable and happy work environment - the company has that reputation, and that such an atmosphere would encourage your best work. "I'm not looking for just another paycheck. I enjoy my work and am proud of my profession. Your company produces a superior product/provides a superior service. I share the values that make this possible, which should enable me to fit in and complement the team."

2. What did you like/dislike about your last job?
The interviewer is looking for incompatibilities. If a trial lawyer says he or she dislikes arguing a point with colleagues, such a statement will only weaken - if not immediately - destroy his or her candidacy. Most interviews start with a preamble by the interviewer about the company. Pay attention: That information will help you answer the question. In fact, any statement the interviewer makes about the job or corporation can be used to your advantage. So, in answer, you liked everything about your last job. You might even say your company taught you the importance of certain keys from the business, achievement, or professional profile. Criticising a prior employer is a warning flag that you could be a problem employee. No one intentionally hires trouble, and that's what's behind the question. Keep your answer short and positive. You are allowed only one negative about past employers, and only then if your interviewer has a "hot button" about his or her department or company; if so, you will have written it down on your notepad. For example, the only thing your past employer could not offer might be something like "the ability to contribute more in different areas in the smaller environment you have here." You might continue with, "I really liked everything about the job. The reason I want to leave is to find a position where I can make a greater contribution. You see, I work for a large company that encourages specialisation of skills. The smaller environment you have here will, as I said, allow me to contribute far more in different areas." Tell them what they want to hear - replay the hot button. Of course, if you interview with a large company, turn it around. "I work for a small company and don't get the time to specialise in one or two major areas." Then replay the hot button.

3. What would you like to be doing five years from now?
The safest answer contains a desire to be regarded as a true professional and team player. As far as promotion, that depends on finding a manager with whom you can grow. Of course, you will ask what opportunities exist within the company before being any more specific: "From my research and what you have told me about the growth here, it seems operations is where the heavy emphasis is going to be. It seems that's where you need the effort and where I could contribute toward the company's goals." Or, "I have always felt that first-hand knowledge and experience open up opportunities that one might never have considered, so while at this point in time I plan to be a part of [e.g.] operations, it is reasonable to expect that other exciting opportunities will crop up in the meantime."

4. What are your biggest accomplishments?
Keep your answers job related. If you exaggerate contributions to major projects, you will be accused of suffering from "coffee-machine syndrome," the affliction of a junior clerk who claimed success for an Apollo space mission based on his relationships with certain scientists, established at the coffee machine. You might begin your reply with: "Although I feel my biggest achievements are still ahead of me, I am proud of my involvement with... I made my contribution as part of that team and learned a lot in the process. We did it with hard work, concentration, and an eye for the bottom line.

5. Can you work under pressure?
You might be tempted to give a simple "yes" or "no" answer, but don't. It reveals nothing, and you lose the opportunity to sell your skills and value profiles. Actually, this common question often comes from an unskilled interviewer, because it is closed-ended. As such, the question does not give you the chance to elaborate. Whenever you are asked a closed-ended question, mentally add: "Please give me a brief yet comprehensive answer." Do that, and you will give the information requested and seize an opportunity to sell yourself. For example, you could say: "Yes, I usually find it stimulating. However, I believe in planning and proper management of my time to reduce panic deadlines within my area of responsibility.

6. Why should I hire you?
Your answer will be short and to the point. It will highlight areas from your background that relate to current needs and problems. Recap the interviewer's description of the job, meeting it point by point with your skills. Finish your answer with: "I have the qualifications you need [itemise them], I'm a team player, I take direction, and I have the desire to make a thorough success."

7. How do you take direction?
The interviewer wants to know whether you are open minded and can be a team player. Can you follow directions or are you a difficult, high-maintenance employee? Hopefully, you are a low-maintenance professional who is motivated to ask clarifying questions about a project before beginning, and who then gets on with the job at hand, coming back to initiate requests for direction as circumstances dictate. This particular question can also be defined as "How do you take direction?" and "How do you accept criticism?" Your answer should cover both points: "I take direction well and recognise that it can come in two varieties, depending on the circumstances. There is carefully explained direction, when my boss has time to lay things out for me in detail; then there are those times when, as a result of deadlines and other pressures, the direction might be brief and to the point. While I have seen some people get upset with that, personally I've always understood that there are probably other considerations I am not aware of. As such, I take the direction and get on with the job without taking offence, so my boss can get on with his/her job."

8. Tell me about yourself?
his is not an invitation to ramble on. If the context isn't clear, you need to know more about the question before giving an answer. In such a situation, you could ask, "Is there a particular aspect of my background that would be most relevant to you?" This will enable the interviewer to help you find the appropriate focus and avoid discussing irrelevancies. Whichever direction your answer ultimately takes, be sure that it has some relevance to the world of your professional endeavours. The tale you tell should demonstrate, or refer to, one or more of your key behavioural profiles in action - perhaps honesty, integrity, being a team player, or determination. If you choose "team player" (maybe you're the star player at first base on a community team), you can tell a story about yourself outside of work that also speaks volumes about you at work. In part, your answer should make the connection between the two, such as, "I put my heart into everything I do, whether it be sports or work. I find that getting along with team-mates - or professional peers - makes life more enjoyable and productive." Or you might describe yourself as someone who is able to communicate with a variety of people, and give an example from your personal life that indicates an ability to communicate that would also apply at work. This isn't a question that you can answer effectively off the cuff. Take some time in advance to think about yourself, and those aspects of your personality and/or background that you'd like to promote or feature for your interviewer.

9. What is the most difficult situation you have faced?
The question looks for information on two fronts: How do you define difficult? and, what was your handling of the situation? You must have a story ready for this one in which the situation both was tough and allowed you to show yourself in a good light. Avoid talking about problems that have to do with co-workers. You can talk about the difficult decision to fire someone, but emphasise that once you had examined the problem and reached a conclusion you acted quickly and professionally, with the best interests of the company at heart. "What are some of the things that bother you?" "What are your pet hates?" "Tell me about the last time you felt anger on the job." These questions are so similar that they can be treated as one. It is tremendously important that you show you can remain calm. Most of us have seen a colleague lose his or her cool on occasion - not a pretty sight and one that every sensible employer wants to avoid. This question comes up more and more often the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, and the more frequent your contact with clients and the general public. To answer it, find something that angers conscientious workers. "I enjoy my work and believe in giving value to my employer. Dealing with clock-watchers and the ones who regularly get sick on Mondays and Fridays really bothers me, but it's not something that gets me angry or anything like that." An answer of this nature will help you much more than the kind given by a California engineer, who went on for some minutes about how he hated the small-mindedness of people who don't like pet rabbits in the office.

10. Do you prefer working with others or alone?
This question is usually used to determine whether you are a team player. Before answering, however, be sure you know whether the job requires you to work alone. Then answer appropriately. Perhaps: "I'm quite happy working alone when necessary. I don't need much constant reassurance. But I prefer to work in a group - so much more gets achieved when people pull together."

Ten Most Common Mistakes
An interview is your opportunity to strut your stuff and also to learn about the company and their people. The most important ingredients to a successful interview are proper preparation and good listening skills.

Here are 10 things to avoid while preparing for your interview.

1. Lack of Preparation
Once the interview is scheduled, do your best to get ready for it. Find out as much as you can about the interviewer(s): bone up on the company, their business, and the position for which you're interviewing. Prepare for the questions they're likely to ask you, as well as the questions you would like to ask them. Formulate an objective, e.g., getting a job offer and learning enough about the company and their people to enable you to decide whether you want to work there.

2. Arriving Late
On the day of the interview, leave enough margin of error to avoid any possibility of being late. No one will remember your excuse for being late, only that you were late! If you are unavoidably late, offer a sincere apology just once, and then let it drop.

3. Improper Appearance
Every large company has its culture. This is likely to include a dress and grooming code and standards. The appropriate attire and grooming (e.g., length of hair, and use of cosmetics and jewellery) is generally what you see around you. If you're in doubt as to what to wear on your interview, pay an anonymous visit to their facility during lunchtime and take a look. If you expect the interview to last several hours, plan to wear clothing that will look neat all day. Bring a comb and whatever other "equipment" you may need to maintain a neat and tidy appearance. If it's raining, protect your outfit with reliable rain gear. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to appear dishevelled.

4. Lack of Confidence
Are you confident of your ability to meet responsibilities entrusted to you? Would you hire someone like you? If not, then you need to learn to appear as competent and confident as you would like to be (and want others to believe you are). Of course, feeling confident doesn't automatically make you competent, but it does create an atmosphere that is conducive to success.

5. Poor Attitude
he best way to approach an interview is with enthusiasm and an open mind. Treat everyone you meet with courtesy. If you decide during the interview that you don't want the job, or that you may not be sufficiently experienced or qualified to receive the offer, chalk it up to experience. Continue to present yourself in an upbeat and professional manner. If they're giving you the courtesy of their time and consideration, the least you can do is to respond in kind. Practice manifesting a positive attitude - it's a good habit to develop and maintain.

6. The Wrong Pitch
There are different kinds of interviewers, with different purposes. The personnel/human resources professional typically is there to screen people out to keep from wasting the decision-maker's time. You don't need to "impress" them, and you certainly can't snow them. They just want to ensure that you have truly and accurately represented yourself in your job application and resume. When you're interviewed by a screener, answer their questions as clearly and accurately as possible, but do not volunteer any additional information. They don't need to like you, only to decide that you're worth passing along to the decision-maker. Chances are you'll never see them again even if you get the job. The decision-maker, on the other hand, wants to feel comfortable with you and certain that you can do the job. This is where you may opt to turn on the charm, discuss more personal interests, and talk shop. They probably don't have a lot of experience conducting interviews, and you may be able to get them to do most of the talking.

7. Inconsistency
Professional interviewers are quick to notice inconsistencies, hesitations, and uncertainties. They may challenge something you say just to see how you respond. If you back off, change, justify, qualify, over-explain, or retract what you said earlier, they may suspect that you've been exaggerating or lying to them, and they're likely to probe deeper. When someone responds to your statement with a sceptical look, a pause, or a comment, like "Really?" you've got to hold the fort. Just smile politely, nod, and wait for them to continue. If you become uncomfortable, you can always ask, "Have I answered the question to your satisfaction?" or "Was there anything else you wanted me to talk about?".

8. Failing to Listen
The successful interviewee reads the interviewer's tone and gestures and responds accordingly. This means paying attention, and knowing when to continue, change direction, or stop talking. Avoid potentially controversial and overly personal issues. When you see their attention lagging, change the topic or, better yet, ask a question. Don't get carried away with the sound of your own voice. Pay attention to the interviewer's questions and line of conversation. Bear in mind that what they want to hear is more important than what you may want to say

9. Losing Your Cool
If you are being interviewed for a high-level or high-pressure position, you may be subjected to a pressure interview. This can take the form of making you wait, having the interview interrupted (once or several times), inappropriate conversation or questions, and even rudeness or hostility. Most likely, you will never be subjected to such tactics, although some unpleasant situations (especially being kept waiting) can arise without intent. The trick is to know yourself, your tolerance, and what you're willing to put up with. If you react, do so with control and resolve, so that you won't regret your behaviour afterward. It's a matter of personal temperament and values...and perhaps how badly you want the job.

10. Blowing the Negotiation
If you get the offer, at some point you will have to negotiate your compensation package and any other benefits. Make sure that the terms of your employment, including responsibilities, reviews, and related conditions are defined and that you have a clear idea of what is expected of you. Don't commit yourself to a salary or conditions that will make you unhappy.