by: Ian K. McEwen
As a result of your polished resumé and an excellent cover letter, you have met the initial experience and skills requirements of a prospective employer. The interview is now your opportunity to verify that your qualifications and experiences meet the employer’s requirements. The employer will be assessing two points – your competence and your compatibility. The job interview is a two-way street. From both the candidate’s and the employer’s perspective, the job and the organization must satisfy both parties in terms of needs, values, interests, and career goals.
So how do you handle the interview? In the past, we have talked about arriving early in appropriate dress, and answering the questions in a truthful, enthusiastic, and spontaneous manner. There are some additional key points, however, in understanding and preparing for the interview.
Research the company – find out as much as you can about the organization. You can obtain important information from annual reports, trade journals, and the company’s Internet site. Use your contact network and speak with people who either work for or work with the company. Gather information on their products, services, business strategy, market audience and penetration, and their industry challenges.
Know the job – gather as much information as possible. Start with a job description. Contact someone in the company in a similar position and ask questions about the job. What are their challenges and opportunities, and what are the characteristics needed for success. Vague duties and responsibilities should be a red flag. If the employer cannot provide a job description, how is the rest of the company managed? How is performance measured? It is difficult to present your useful capabilities if you don’t understand the employer’s needs and issues.
More that one interview is needed to get a job offer, so don’t try and make the sale in the first interview. The purpose of the first interview is to get a second one, and to make the interviewer’s job easy. The first meeting is somewhat of a screening process. You are delivering the person that you have described on paper. You must look, talk, and act like the person you claim to be on your resumé.
First impressions – are very important. You want to establish immediate rapport. Start by making good eye contact, followed by a firm handshake. Speak clearly and use good posture. You want to display your confidence with positive body language – stand straight, listen closely, and respond when required.
Start with a pleasant greeting. Break the ice by commenting on the employer’s facilities, or the pleasant manner that you were received by reception, or the display in the lobby. Avoid controversial topics – especially Toronto sports teams!
Many interviews are unstructured. The interviewer starts by saying, “So, tell me about yourself.” This is your condensed career profile. It includes your current or most recent company and title, the industry vertical in which you have worked, and the cumulative years of experience. You want the interviewer to know your areas of experience, your seniority and work history in terms of accomplishments, results, and successes.
There will be a certain amount of anticipation going into an interview with respect to the key skills, knowledge, and personality that the interviewer is trying to match with the job. Answers to interview questions should be job related. Questions should not make you feel uncomfortable; however, some of a sensitive nature are asked to assess your problem-solving abilities. Interviewers want to find information to assess whether there is a match. You want to convey specific examples that strongly illustrate your effectiveness that relates to the job being discussed. You will be judged by what you have accomplished, not for what you were responsible. And, be prepared to discuss the reasons for leaving each position.
Prepare a short list of appropriate questions to ask the interviewer. These might be questions derived from recent trade announcements or industry impressions. They might include expansion plans and if so, how these plans might affect the role being discussed. You also may want to know how this role is positioned within the organization. Avoid questions about compensation, vacations, and benefits.
As the interview comes to an end, try and find the opportunity to summarize your key strengths and qualifications, and ask what the next steps are in the process, and in what time frame.
Immediately after the interview, take the time to write down your thoughts and impressions about the interview. Ask yourself which questions were the most difficult to answer. In retrospect, what questions could you have answered better? These notes will help you write a tactful thank-you letter telling the interviewer of your interest in the job, and the specific areas where you can make a significant contribution to the company.