At times it may seem as if being hired for a job lies in the fickle hands of fate. The truth is, you have much more control over the outcome than you may think. The first face-to-face meeting with a potential employer is your best shot at proving yourself. Your responses, as well as your behavior, can make or break your chances of getting an offer. Below are five tried-and-true strategies that will help tip the odds in your favor.
1. Do Your Homework
Learn as much about the company as you can. Find out what they do, how they do it, what their corporate structure is, where they are located, etc. Try to discover the name of the manager or supervisor that you would report to. Research who your clients might be and what types of projects you might typically work on. You can get background information on a company, particularly if it's large, by contacting its public relations department. Press releases, company newsletters, recruitment brochures, annual reports, etc. are a few resources you might look at.
The internet is also a great source of information. Log on to the company website, and read up on what they do. Do a search by company name to find any public relations information or recent articles about the company. You can also search by manager's name to find out his or her areas of expertise, interests, educational background, etc. Sometimes what gives you the edge over someone else competing for the same job is some small thing you share in common with the interviewer. Look to find areas of commonality.
The interviewer will almost inevitably ask, "What do you know about our company?" If you stare blankly back at him, it will probably be a short interview. By demonstrating that you do know plenty about the company, you've shown a prospective employer that you've done your homework and are treating the job and the interview seriously.
2. Understand What the Interviewer is Looking For
Don't be afraid to ask about the qualifications and responsibilities for the position. A good interviewer or manager has already written out the major functional job objectives, along with the tasks required to successfully complete those objectives. These requirements might already have been shared with you during the telephone screening or appointment-setting stage of the interview process.
Use this information to put yourself on the same page as the interviewer by choosing words that highlight your past accomplishments as they relate to the position objectives. Rarely do the major functional objectives line up exactly with your skills, experiences and accomplishments. Find the portions that do match, and continually highlight them during your conversation with the interviewer.
In "What Color is Your Parachute?" author Richard Nelson Bolles identifies five fundamental questions that both employers and candidates would like to get the answers to:
- What does this job involve?
- What are the skills a top employee in this job would have to have?
- Are these the kinds of people I would like to work with or not?
- If we like each other and both want to work together, can I persuade them there is something unique about me different from 19 other people who can do the same tasks?
- Can I persuade them to hire me at the salary I need or want?
Almost all interview questions relate to these five "biggies." If you go into a job interview with a goal of addressing these questions, you'll put yourself at a strategic advantage--both to give and get what you need.
3. Recognize, But Recast Your Weaknesses
Nobody's perfect. An interviewer doesn't expect perfection. But one of the fastest ways to kill your chances of a job offer is to be thrown off by a question that exposes your weaknesses rather than explains them. It is important to have ready, believable, tip-of-the-tongue answers to the drawbacks or sketchy areas on your resume.
Practice the answers on friends and family prior to going to the interview, or simply get used to speaking them out loud. When the weaknesses do reveal themselves, make eye contact, acknowledge them, and be ready to transform them into "non-issues" in light of your overall background and performance.
Also, bear in mind that many interviewers' questions come from a place of anxiety or fear. Learn to read between the lines. If you can understand the underlying motive behind the question, you can better answer it. For example: When a prospective employer asks, "Why do you want to leave your current position?" he or she may actually be concerned that you are simply job-hopping and won't have much staying power.
4. Focus on the Questions and Answer on Point
Many qualified candidates lose their focus and start rambling during the course of an interview. Nervous and uncertain, they begin to react impulsively or let their mind wander into irrelevant topics. The interviewer will perceive this as an inability to listen, think clearly and follow directions.
Try not to speak any longer than two minutes per question. A strong, succinct 20-second response is ideal. To keep on track, imagine that each interview question and answer is a distinct story. It has a beginning (the question), a middle (a restating of the question back to the questioner to get a clear understanding of what information is being sought) and an end (your response to the question, which should be framed to match the information being sought).
If you truly have difficulties staying focused, make notes during the interview and refer to the central question when formulating your answer. Also, always ask for clarification if you do not understand exactly what is being asked.
5. Accentuate the Positive
You may be leaving a situation that is anything but pleasant or ideal. You may despise your current job, your boss or your co-workers. Keep these thoughts to yourself. Disparaging comments about your current job or past work experiences will be a red flag to employers, suggesting a future attitude problem or a lack of loyalty.
Even the most disheartening experiences can be recast in a positive light. A lot of hiring managers will refer to negative situations and tasks just to see how you will react. Always emphasize the positive aspects of these learning experiences. A cheerful, upbeat outlook will make you more likable and persuade an interviewer that you are resilient, flexible and eager to grow.