A lot of the interviewing advice that’s out there is like the advice about resumes: everyone has different opinions about the correct approach. You need to try to adapt your interviewing techniques to the person your interviewing with. You’ve got to consider the context of the company and job your interviewing for.
You Should Ask Most of the Questions
Here’s my first suggestion when it comes to interviews: Write down a list of at least a dozen questions to ask the person who’s interviewing you. If the interviewer is a recruiter or human resources rep, then prepare questions about the company, the culture, and the work environment in general. For interviews with the actual hiring manager, ask about the work or projects that need to be done.
Ask about what the challenges will be. Ask about the teams you’ll be working with. Ask what’s necessary to succeed in this position. A few people who have hired me said a major factor in their decision was that I asked several, really good questions.
Being prepared with several good questions makes the next interviewing tip really easy to do. It’s to keep the interviewer talking. But this is your interview, right? Aren’t you supposed to do most of the answering? This has not been my experience. If you devote a significant amount of time to asking questions and listening carefully to the interviewer’s answers, you can select items from your skill set and work history that speak to what the interviewer’s concerns are. You can tailor your own answers towards the information the interviewer shared with you. This approach has really paid off for myself and other people I know!
Use Stories & Experiences to Communicate Your Accomplishments (P.A.R.)
Here’s another interviewing tip: You will make a lot stronger impression on potential employers by using stories that illustrate your skills and accomplishments. Don’t make things up, but think through how you would described some things you have done well in previous jobs or on past projects. Turn those details into a quick, simple narrative. I attended an employment workshop a long time ago and learned an effective pattern for responding to questions in job interviews. I don’t recall where they got this information, so if you know of a book or resource where this originates from, please let me know and I’ll include the reference here.
Anyway, it is the P.A.R method. It stands for Problem, Action, and Result. The stories you relate to interviews can follow that pattern and demonstrate your capabilities very efficiently. Describe a problem that existed in a previous job. When I mean problem, I mean something like a huge project with a tight deadline, or an important project where no budget was available, or when a piece of machinery broke down. Then describe what you actually did (action) to solve that problem. Walk a fine line between being humble and bragging. Acknowledge what other team members may have helped you do to solve the problem.
Finally, describe the results your actions had towards resolving that problem. Identify how much money you may have saved the company, or the fact that an important program or initiative was able to launch on time. If you were able to save some important customer relationships for your previous employer, then point that out too!
Most importantly, try to keep each PAR to under 3 minutes. Following this PAR approach: describing a problem, your actions, and the result your actions had on the business is a simple pattern for answering interview questions that can leave a great impression on interviewers.
Never, Ever Complain About Past Jobs, Managers, Companies, etc.
Using PARs leads to my next interviewing tip. Again, these tips are from my own direct observations and experience. You should never ever complain about anyone or anything during a job interview. It’s difficult if interviewers ask why you left, or are considering leaving your current job and especially if you got let go from a previous position. When an interviewer asked me why I was considering leaving my current job–why I wasn’t happy there–I said something like, “I do enjoy my current job and the people I work with. I want to learn more about different industries and believe that by working at a new company, I will get more exposure to best practices.”
Now, it would have been easy to share some of the things that I didn’t like about the job I was currently working in, but I avoided that. Don’t ever take that bait in a job interviewer. They can tell a lot about your attitude by the way you describe your previous jobs and employers.
Take Notes During Your Interviews
One last interviewing tip that I’m going to offer. Bring a pen and paper to the interviews, and take notes about what the people say. Having the sheet of your prepared questions for them is a good place to write down their responses.
Don’t just act like you’re taking notes, actually write the interesting or important information about the company and position down. This practice communicates your professionalism and commitment to the position. Trust me, it will leave a good impression on your interviewers.
Much of what I have written for you here is not simply my own opinion; these tips come from overhearing hundreds of phone and in-person interviews by a team of corporate recruiters a the corporate headquarters of a multi-billion dollar, national retailer…
Corporate Recruiters’ Job Hunting & Interviewing Advice
I worked at a large company’s headquarters in the HR department and sat right next to corporate recruiters for a few years. What I learned about how jobs are actually awarded conflicts with what many job coaches advise people to do. Of course, this is how it happens at one big company, but I also gleaned some myth-debunking information from working for an even larger company before that.
One of my previous employers received over 3,000 online applications for employment each day! One mid-level I.T. position netted about 500 applications per week. That was a few years before recession, layoffs and high unemployment hit the U.S. economy. The number of applications has probably doubled by now. Some job hunting coaches like to say hiring managers and recruiters only spend about 30 seconds scanning your resume. No they don’t. They never even look at it.
The flood of online applications has made corporate recruiting databases unmanageable. Employment history and job skills misrepresentation is widespread. Recruiters don’t easily trust what many desperate, unemployed people put on paper.
Even if many job applications are truthful, staffing pros have no way to personally review even a fraction of those applications. An executive recruiting manager told me their recruiting efforts are focusing on passive recruiting–going after currently employed people who may not have even considered leaving their jobs. This approach must be the reason recruiters are often nicknamed “headhunters.”
The Importance of Your LinkedIn Profile Cannot be Overstated!
One tool that those recruiters do use is LinkedIn. Companies and independent recruiters can pay for back-end access to people’s professional profiles and search for qualified candidates. If you’re looking for a job, or a better job, it’s worth putting some real effort into your LinkedIn profile including job descriptions, getting recommendations from other clients or coworkers, and automating it to pull (professional) content from your blog or social media sites.
Over a few years, I have improved my LinkedIn profile to the point that I get 4-6 legitimate inquires a month from recruiters about my availability and interest in a position they have open. Now, understand that these emails have come from recruiters even when I have not applied or even searched for another job.
Some recruiters know very little about the nature of the jobs they are hiring for. What they have in front of them when they do an initial phone interview is a bullet-point description of the job opening. They only look at whether or not your application has the matching terms, phrases and necessary experience in the field.
Go for “Sharp”
Your goal in that first interview is to get them to like you. Yes, you need to speak to those job requirements, but they can’t really gauge true qualification for the job. They leave that to the hiring manager. The operative word for whether you have a good chance is when the recruiter refers to you repeatedly as being “sharp”.
I gathered this from overhearing dozens of conversations between recruiters. “Yes, I liked that lady. She seemed pretty sharp.” Or, “He was a real sharp guy. I think we should bring him in.” So go for sharp. I believe sharp has a lot to do with your communication skills initially, then smiling, being confident and well-dressed when you actually show up in person.
What other things have you learned about effective job interviewing? Or, what have learned that does not work? Please share your thoughts with me via twitter @Steve_Churchill.