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chapter 7
having a successful interview

There are many things you can do in the actual interview to improve your chances of a successful outcome.
The Start
Here are some key points regarding the beginning of any interview:
  • Arrive with at least five minutes to spare. Ask to use the nearest bathroom. Check your appearance in the mirror there. Turn off your cellphone and any other PDA’s. Be courteous and friendly to the receptionist and anyone else you meet before, during and after your interview.
  • Countless studies have shown that the impression you make in the first 30 seconds, especially with your handshake, has a huge impact in making the interviewer favorably disposed towards you for the entire interview. Introduce yourself to the interviewer by saying: “Hello, my name is ___ ___,” using your first and last name. Smile, look the interviewer in the eye, and give him or her a firm handshake. Walk with your shoulders back and your head up in a confident manner to the interview room.
  • Often, you will be asked if you would like a coffee, tea or something else to drink. Ask the interviewer, “Are you going to have anything?” If the answer is yes, then ask for what you would like. If the answer is no, then also decline to have anything.
  • If you come to the interview wearing a suit or sports jacket and your interviewer either is not wearing a jacket (or suit top) or takes his or hers off at the start of the interview, ask, “Do you mind if I take off my jacket?” Then, remove your jacket and hang it over the back of your chair before you sit down. This gesture helps to demonstrate that you are in the same mode as your interviewer and that you will “fit in”.
  • Unless you have met the person before, address the interviewer by his or her last name (“Mr./Mrs./Ms. Jones”) until you are requested to use the interviewer’s first name.
  • Look the interviewer in the eye from the start of the introduction when you first walk into the room through to the end of the interview for at least 80% of the time you are together. If more than one person is interviewing you at the same time, maintain eye contact with whomever is speaking or asking a question and with that person when you are responding to the question.
  • Sit up straight, keep your hands and arms relatively still except when you are talking, and refrain from fidgeting or crossing your arms. Do not worry if you are nervous at the beginning of the interview. Everyone is. Just try to relax and be yourself.
  • Never take out or use your cellphone or PDA during an interview, including to answer a call or text anyone.
  • One of the purposes of an interview is to enable the interviewer to get a sense of what you are like as a person. Show your enthusiasm and passion for the job and the work you do. Put some emotion in your answers and demonstrate that you have a sense of humor. Do not come across as being arrogant, boring or desperate. And, do not apologize for your lack of experience.
  • When you are being interviewed in someone’s office, look for common links in the interviewer’s personal effects, such as the photos on the walls. If it appears that you both share a common interest, briefly comment on that either at the start or the end of the interview.
  • The well-known TV interviewer Barbara Walters was correct when she said: “You’re not making a social call when you apply for a job, so don’t be cozy. Comments about the office furnishings or what the interviewer is wearing are inappropriate. In the same vein, don’t be too confiding. The question, ‘Are you married?’ requires only a yes or no, not a recital of your divorce action.” While the latter question may be illegal in an interview, it still might be raised.
In many cases, the attitude you display in a job interview is more important than your past experience. Employers are often prepared to teach you new skills if they perceive that you have an enthusiastic, positive, inquiring attitude. Interviewers also want to gain a sense of how well you are going to get along with the other employees.
Interview Questions and Answers
Follow these recommendations in answering and asking questions:
  • Keep your answers to questions succinct and to the point. Avoid giving rambling answers and ones that go on for more than one or two minutes. If you lie or grossly exaggerate something, there is a good chance the interviewer will sense this. In your answers, try to refrain from giving the interviewer more information than he or she needs to know.
  • When you are asked difficult questions, pause and think about your answer first before responding. Thinking before you answer is much better than giving a glib, superficial, quick response. Remember the adage, there are no embarrassing questions, just embarrassing answers. Sometimes it is better to say that you do not know the answer than to make a wrong guess.
  • In the event you are asked a personal question that is inappropriate or illegal, there is no point in taking offense or objecting to the question. You could respond by saying, “I’m surprised you asked that but yes I …” The nature of the questions you are asked gives clues as to the character of the organization.
  • Sometimes, female applicants will be asked, “Are you planning on having a family?” Answer, “Who knows what will happen in the future but my career is very important to me.”
  • If a question is unclear, do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Say, “I’m not sure I understand your question. Could you please repeat it? Are you asking about …?”
  • Some interviewers take the approach of asking confrontational questions in an antagonistic manner, such as: “Why in the world do you think you are qualified to take this job?” When this happens, smile sweetly, count to three while you are thinking, and respond in a calm, rational manner to show how well you conduct yourself under pressure. Never lose your temper or let anyone get you flustered. Also, do not get into an argument with the interviewer.
  • Use your questions selectively to indicate that you have done your homework without appearing to be a know-it-all. Ask follow-up questions and probe deeper with the interviewer to gain the information you require if you are given an opportunity to do so but avoid being confrontational or appearing overly aggressive in asking too many questions.
  • In asking questions, refer to your source of information to indicate that you have made an effort to become informed about the organization. “I saw in Morgan Stanley’s report on your company that it is facing a major challenge in such and such an area. Do you think this is a valid point? Can you tell me what are the company’s plans in this regard?”
  • When it comes to the details of the job itself, you need to gain a clear understanding of the specific responsibilities and duties of the job as well as the environment where you would be working. Ask who held the job previously, how well did he or she do at it, how long was the person in that position, and where is that individual now. In addition, inquire about what future advancement opportunities will likely be available if you deliver excellent performance in this position.
  • Ask the interviewer, “Could you tell me what are the most important attributes you are looking for in a successful candidate for this job?” Also, demonstrate an interest in the interviewer’s personal views by asking such questions as “May I ask what caused you to join the company?” and “What do you yourself like most about working here?”
Dealing With Compensation Issues
Take this approach concerning compensation issues:
  • Save your questions about compensation, benefits and holidays until the end of the second interview or preferably let the interviewer be the first to raise these subjects. Never attempt to negotiate any of these matters until you have actually been offered the position, recognizing that there will be limited opportunity to do so for entry-level jobs. When it is clear that the organization wants to hire you, you may be able to negotiate for an early salary review (say in three months time), a flexible work schedule or reimbursement of relocation costs.
  • If you are asked “What is your current salary?” or “What are your salary expectations?”, respond by saying, “For me, salary is not the most important factor compared with the type of work I’ll be doing, who I’ll be working for, and the organization I’ll be working at. I would like to know, however, what does the job pay?”
  • The problem in disclosing your current salary and expectations is that this information may cause the hiring manager to reduce the salary offered to you below what he or she was originally intending to offer you for the job. If you are pressed, however, give an honest answer about your current compensation.
  • When the salary you are offered seems too low, ask about “the total compensation package” for the job including the opportunity to earn a bonus or participate in any incentive compensation or profit sharing plans. If the total compensation offered is still too low, ask about the salary range for the job given good performance on your part and about the salary range for the position immediately above the one you are discussing. In this situation, you need to try to gain an understanding of the organization’s basic compensation philosophy.
The End of the Interview
Address these matters at the end of the interview:
  • If you sense that the interviewer is being evasive or vague in answering questions about the company or your specific job duties and your attempts to gain greater clarification have failed, make your last question: “Is there anything about this position or the organization that we have not discussed that you think I should know about?” Often, in such circumstances it is a good idea to request a written copy of the position’s “job description”.
  • Unless it has already been covered by the interviewer, one of your other last questions should be: “Could you please tell me the process you are going through to fill this position, what is the next step and when might I hear back from you?” In many cases, you may need to have two or three other interviews at the organization before you receive a specific job offer.
  • At the end, give the interviewer a firm handshake with a smile and say, “It was a pleasure to meet you.” As you are leaving, ask for the interviewer’s business card so you have his or her contact information. If it is not on the card, ask if you may have the interviewer’s e-mail address. When more than one person was involved in interviewing you, obtain their business cards and, if you can tactfully do so, their e-mail addresses as well.
When you are invited back for a second interview and you sense that it went well, it is often a good idea to ask when you will have an opportunity to have a tour of the office, plant or facilities and to be shown where you would be working if you were to be successful in obtaining the job. Taking such a tour will give you an opportunity to ask more questions and to size up the morale and mood of the people working there.
If the premises appear to be well-organized and maintained and the employees are friendly and going about their work in an efficient manner, then there is a reasonably good chance that the organization is successful. When the reverse is the case with premises that exhibit sloppy, poor housekeeping and employees who seem to be harried with no one smiling or looking you in the eye, be cautious about accepting a job there. These are usually sure signs of poor management and a struggling organization.
Phone Interviews
Some interviewers will use an initial phone interview to screen candidates. Try to be as well-prepared for a phone interview as you would be for an in-person interview. Put a smile in your voice and stand up when you are talking on the phone as this causes most people to speak much more clearly and louder than when they are sitting down. Have your résumé in front of you with a list of the principal points on why you are qualified for the job and a good fit for the organization.
Conduct your phone interview from a quiet room. If you answer the call on your cellphone and can do so, excuse yourself to switch to a land line for a better signal. Then, shut off your cellphone and computer. Do not chew gum, eat anything or smoke while you are talking on the phone to an interviewer. If the time you receive the call is not at all conducive to you engaging in a phone interview for whatever reason, request that the call be rescheduled, ideally within the next hour.
Concentrate on listening carefully to the interviewer’s questions. Insert some of your own questions and personality in the interview as if you are having a conversation. Do not put the interviewer on hold for any reason. Ignore call-waiting. Avoid interrupting the interviewer. At the end, thank the interviewer for taking the time to call you, restate your interest in the job, ask when it would be possible for you to come in for an in-person interview, and obtain the interviewer’s name (with the correct spelling), title, direct phone number and e-mail address.
After the phone interview, send an e-mail to express your thanks to the interviewer for taking the time to call you. Include in the e-mail any other points that you did not have an opportunity to mention regarding your suitability for the job. If you think the phone interview went reasonably well and you have not heard back in a week, call the interviewer on his or her direct phone line to ask, “Would it be possible for me to come in for a personal interview?” Again, it may be necessary to call after-hours between 5:15 and 6:00 PM to avoid having that person’s “gatekeeper” prevent you from getting through.


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