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SECURE THE JOB YOU WANT & EXCEL
chapter 6
preparing for the job interview
 

The best way to separate yourself from the competition and boost your confidence for an interview is to become “over-prepared” in terms of your knowledge of the company and industry, and your understanding of why you are qualified for the job.

To prepare for a successful job interview, take these steps:
  • Learn as much as you can about the company or organization, its competitors and the industry. Talk to as many current and former employees as you can find to secure insights into what is really important at this prospective employer. Review its Web site and look up any publicly available information, such as news articles, press releases and its most recent annual report and quarterly shareholder statements. Wherever possible, always visit the prospective employer’s locations, facilities or stores, and inspect its products or try out its personal services beforehand.
  • In the case of public companies, go to the investor relations section of their Web sites and follow the links usually found there to read the latest research reports prepared by investment brokerage firms. These will usually contain more objective comments, including potential problems and challenges facing the company. Other excellent sources of information on companies can be found at the Web sites of www.hoovers.com and Dun & Bradstreet (www.dnb.com) and at the libraries of university business schools.
  • The prior Chapter talked about the need to identify beforehand the name of the hiring manager who will be conducting the interview. Use Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to find out as much information as you can about this individual’s personal, academic and business background, including any special interests and hobbies. You may be able to use such information during the interview to establish a mutual personal connection with the interviewer.
  • Develop your answers in writing beforehand to the most likely questions you will be asked. Most of these will probably be about your interests, strengths and qualifications, including computer literacy. The best interviewers use questions to gauge the degree to which you are smart and creative, how well you solve problems and work under pressure, and whether you are likely to be passionate about your work. Interviewers also try to determine how well you will work with others as part of a team and the extent to which you are a good communicator.
  • Recognize that interviewers will usually pay a lot of attention to what you have done in the past as a basis of predicting how you will perform in the future. The more specific you can be in talking about prior accomplishments, including using numbers to quantify any improvements you attained, the better.
  • Be prepared to give your “verbal résumé” in two or three minutes in response to the question: “Tell me about yourself” or “Give me your life story”. In replying, concentrate on your passions, personal assets and prior experiences that may be relevant to the job. Also, be prepared for the question, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Give a succinct answer that emphasizes your strengths. In the case of your weaknesses, you obviously have to be careful about your answer. Try to give a negative that is also a positive, such as sometimes you tend to be overly organized. Alternatively, cite some type of “weakness” that you are currently working to overcome. Rehearse the answers to these questions. If you do have any “serious weaknesses” applicable to the job, you should discuss them as they will likely surface with your reference checks.
  • Anticipate other common questions such as “Why are you applying for this particular job?”, “Why do you want to work here?”, “What makes it a good day for you at work?”, “Where do you want to be in five years?” (to probe how career-oriented you are), “Can you describe a situation where you have been in a leadership position or had to solve a tough problem?” (to sense whether you have any leadership skills and are a problem solver), “Give me an example of what you’ve done that you are really proud of,” and “Tell me about your last job.” In answering the last question, never speak badly of any prior employer or about any individual you have previously worked for or with. By asking these questions, interviewers are trying to determine how well you will fit in at their organization and the extent to which you are customer-oriented and likely a supportive team-player.
  • Depending on your educational background, you may be challenged about the relevance of your college degree or field of studies to the particular job you are applying for. This often happens with applicants who have a liberal arts degree with majors such as English or History. One possible answer is that your studies have strengthened your communication skills and helped you to think more clearly in understanding what is going on in the world and in putting things in proper perspective.
  • To gauge your level of maturity, you may be asked, “What do you think is the meaning of life?” When you are asked a straightforward question, do not stall for time by asking a qualifying question back. Pause for a few moments and give it your best shot with a brief, succinct answer. It is to your advantage, however, to have thought about the answer to this question beforehand.
  • One of the best ways to answer a question is to tell a brief, unusual story about yourself that gives the interviewer a positive illustration of your character or how you deal with challenges. For example, “In my last job, we were faced with a serious customer service problem. To correct this situation, I got my TEAM together and we decided to …” Any such story you tell needs to be relevant to the job or organization and end with a brief punchy statement of what you learned from the experience.
  • Organizations are increasingly using a technique known as “behavior descriptive interviewing”, which involves asking applicants a structured set of standard questions to probe how they responded in the past to specific situations selected for their relevance to the requirements of the job. This technique is also used to pre-screen candidates online. Such questions could include, “Tell us about the biggest challenge or problem you have ever faced and how you handled it” or “Give me an example of when you disagreed with your supervisor and tell me how you dealt with that situation.”
  • Employers want to hire candidates who can think creatively when they are under pressure. As a result, interviewers are starting to ask “puzzle questions”. Microsoft is famous for doing this with questions such as “Why are manhole covers round?” (Possible answers are: “So they’re easier to move when they roll” or “Why do you assume that they’re all round?”). A common question at Amazon apparently is: “How would you cure world hunger?” Another example of a puzzle question is “How do you design a car for a deaf person?” Try to think out-of-the-box in attempting to answer such questions. Resist giving an obvious answer as it is likely to be “wrong”. You may even be asked, “Who are your heroes?”, “What color best reflects your personality?” or “What animal are you?”.
  • Be prepared to talk about your interests outside of work. What is the last book you read? It’s usually better to mention a stimulating non-fiction book rather than a novel. What sports, hobbies and cultural activities do you engage in? The more diverse your interests, the better.
  • Think through the most important questions for you to ask the interviewer. Usually, the interviewer will start with “the big picture” and work down to the details of the job through a process of the interviewer and yourself exchanging questions and information. Some possible big picture questions for you to ask are: “What is the organization’s key competitive edge?”, “What are the organization’s other most significant strengths?”, “What is the impact of the Internet and globalization on the organization (if this is relevant)?”, and “Are there any major threats facing the organization from the standpoint of competition or government regulations?”
Here are some other matters you need to address prior to any job interview:
  • Make sure you know exactly where the interview meeting is being held and take a practice run at the same time of day to determine how long it is going to take you to get there.
  • Write down the correct spelling of the name of the person who is going to be interviewing you. Take three copies of your résumé and any other supporting materials relevant to your prior work and interests with you to the interview.
  • Try to determine beforehand the organization’s everyday dress code and dress in accordance with it and the level of the job. Err on the side of formality if you have any uncertainty about what to wear. You can always take your tie and jacket off if you sense you are overdressed for the interview.
  • Avoid any form of sloppiness or wearing anything seductive and flashy, including large jewelry. Shined shoes, a well-ironed shirt, pressed pants and pulled-up socks will help men make the right impression. If you are a woman, do not wear open-toed shoes, go easy on the makeup and refrain from wearing perfume or anything else with a strong scent. The latter also applies to men. In addition, do not chew gum or smoke, even if you are told it is permissible to do so.
You will notice that I use all capital letters whenever I write the word TEAM. This is to emphasize its importance in how you approach getting anything accomplished in the workplace. Most goals and projects are achieved by people working together as a TEAM. Interviewers know this and are looking for signs that you understand the need for teamwork as opposed to you stressing “Here is what I have done on my own.”
 

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