Career Expert Blogs from CareerCast.com
Q: It seems everyone I talk with is either hunting for a new job or afraid they will be tomorrow. I'm currently looking, and while I'm confident that my skills and background will stand out in a crowd, I'm not equally secure about my approach to interviewing. How do I set myself apart from the competition without going overboard? –Caitlin, Chattanooga, Tennessee
A: If you're a fan of "American Idol," you know that subtlety can be as compelling as great pipes. Interviewing is much the same. Both require showcasing your skills via preparation and a connection with your audience. Here are some interview tips that will propel you to the top of the candidate pool:
- Do your homework before trying to schedule interviews
- The first 30 seconds of an interview are the most important
- Listen carefully
- Mirror your conversational companion
- Ask good questions
- Don't focus on finding trick questions or hidden agendas
- Help your interviewer make an informed decision
- Reassure your potential manager that you're fit for the position
- Always find out when you can expect to hear from the interviewer
- Send a thank you email reiterating your interest and what you have to offer
- Should the company decide to hire someone else, try to find out why
Develop a clear understanding of your ideal job description, including your functional and technical skills and the environment that will best support them. Research the company to find out it products/services, mission, philosophy and challenges. Carefully review the job's description online if it's posted. Then consider how you can make a positive impact based on the company's needs.
Be prepared to discuss your potential contribution with the interviewer and give him examples of how you have performed in situations similar to the ones the company is facing. Think about the questions he may ask you and how you will answer them. Put together a list of your own questions, including some that probe for business philosophy and management style. The more you know about yourself and the position, the easier it will be to convey who you are and what you can do for the organization.
To make a positive first impression, be sure to arrive a little early, dress the part, offer a hearty (but not crushing) handshake, and exude an air of quiet confidence. Have an ice breaker comment in mind in case your interviewer doesn't, such as: "How long have you worked here?" Or, "That's a great photo of your family – how old are your kids?"
Active listening assures you'll answer the question that was asked, rather than the one you expected. Interviewers are much more likely to perceive the real you if you attend to the moment and respond directly to them. Otherwise they may label you as evasive and willing to skew your replies to suit your own purposes. Careful listening also helps you make an informed decision about whether the job is right for you.
Watch her body language. Listen for her jargon and phrases, and notice if she is an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner (I see vs. I hear vs. I feel sprinkled throughout the conversation). Consider the speed and tonality of her speech, then mirror them as much as you can. Your message will be more effective if it is presented in a style that comes naturally to her.
Intelligent questions show you've done your homework and understand the intricacies of the position. In many cases they tell more about who you are and what you know than many of your answers. Set up hypothetical situations and ask the manager how "we" would handle them. Inquire about industry trends using a Wall Street Journal, Fortune or trade journal article as a reference point. Don't avoid thought-provoking business issues. Good managers love tough questions, because they offer an opportunity to display their expertise or discuss a well-considered opinion.
While there may be some game players out there posing as real people, they are in the minority. Obsessing over "what she really means" can make you second guess your instincts, put on a phony facade and lose sight of the main reason for having the interview. It's better to take the interviewer at her word and proceed accordingly. Should you suspect someone is playing with your psyche, immediately cross her off your list of potential employers. People who have hidden agendas in interviews will also have them on the job. They make exhausting managers and colleagues.
Ask if your skills and experience are a good fit for the position. Find out if the past experiences you offer as evidence of your expertise have relevance for your interviewer. What may be an obvious bridge to you may be a confusing dead-end to someone else.
Show how your transferable skills can make up for a lack of technical expertise. If relevant, point out how moving from one industry to another gives you a valuable fresh perspective. If you're willing to take a lesser role, be prepared to make a case for your decision. Unfortunately, these concerns often don't surface unless you probe for them. That's why the periodic reality checks mentioned above are so important.
Many job seekers neglect to get this information, and then sit dejectedly by their phone or computer assuming someone else got the job. If you haven't heard from the company by the target date, give your contact a call. Following up shows initiative and interest, two traits employers admire. If you get the opportunity to talk to the decision maker again, express your continued interest in the position. You making the first move may even serve to move the process forward.
If, for some reason, your interviewer isn't totally clear on why he should hire you, your thank you note provides one more chance to spell it out for him.
You may hear that their choice was based on something beyond your control, which helps to temper the rejection a little. On the other hand, if they mention techniques you need to polish or issues you neglected to clarify, you'll be able to rectify the problem before the next important interview.
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