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Interviewing Basics
By Pat Kendall, NCRW

Your interview is scheduled for 9 AM Friday morning... You haven't interviewed for a job in five years and you're feeling a bit apprehensive. How can you prepare for the interview? What should you do first?

Before we address these issues, I want to remind you – whether you're an accounting clerk or a CFO – that you need to consider the interview a "mutual investigation" process. In other words, the interviewer will ask questions to determine your suitability for the job, while at the same time, you will be determining whether the company is a good match for you. That being said, let's look at some practical ways to get ready.

The “R” Word

The first part of interview preparation is research. The idea is to learn as much as possible about the organization, its philosophies, goals, and missionplans. In almost every interview situation, the question is asked: "What can you do for this company?" How can you answer this question if you don't know anything about the firm or your own suitability for the position?

Once you learn about the organization, you can get a much better "feel" for how you might fit in. Then, during the interview, you can use this information to your advantage. Are they a fast growing company? Explain how your experience working with fast-track firms would benefit them. Are they quality-oriented? Make them aware of your personal commitment to quality. Do they sponsor certain charitable organizations? Tell them about your volunteer experience.

Your goal is to show them that you are like-minded – i.e., show them that you will make a good addition to their team.

Another benefit of research is this: By showing them that you've taken the time to research their company, you demonstrate by example that you are the type of person who gives 110%. Most candidates don't know anything about the companies they interview with. They don't know their products, their philosophy, their position in the marketplace, or anything else about them.

Show them that you are different... show them that you are better than other candidates who don't have the time or good sense to conduct some basic research. Preparing yourself for interviews by researching prospective employers also gives you a certain control of the situation – and if you have some control, you're less likely to feel nervous or edgy.

Know Thyself

Another key component of interviewing is knowing your strong points. If an employer asked "Why should I hire you?" would you know how to respond? Are you aware of your marketable skills? Do you which of your skills this company might be most interested in? Can you provide a one-minute sales pitch on yourself?

Here's how to do it: Start with a blank sheet of paper and make a list of your qualifications (and keyword) for the job you're interviewing for. Typical items on this list include:

    • Years of experience
    • Education, special training, course work
    • Technical skills (from experience or training)
    • Inside knowledge of a product, market, or customer base
    • A track record of success
    • Aptitude; ability to learn the job quickly

In addition, this list can also include transferable skills like communication, leadership, organization, accuracy, detail-orientation or work ethic. If you have a job ad or a posting from the Net, review the keywords listed in the job description, and make sure to include them on your list.

Refine this list further and then use this information to write a brief "sales pitch" that describes your qualifications for the job. Organize and prioritize your information, repeat your sales pitch out loud, then practice it several times until you can say it naturally and smoothly. To interview well, you must believe in yourself and be able to verbalize your best qualifications with conviction.

Be Proactive

Now let's look at the merits of being proactive. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, how will you respond? Here's another situation where your research comes in handy. When asked if you have questions, you can respond: "Well, I know from my research, that ABC Company is planning to expand into the international market. How might that affect my job?" If you are replacing an existing employee, you might want to ask what your predecessor's biggest challenges were. You could also ask about opportunities for advancement, availability of corporate training programs, plans for expansion, etc. Develop some relevant and intelligent questions, write them down, and be prepared to ask them at the appropriate time.

Interviewing Basics

Practice Verbalizing Keyword Skills and Relevant Accomplishments. Review the job posting or job description and be prepared to discuss the specific skills needed for the job. In addition, think about your most relevant accomplishments and be ready to explain how your accomplishments and keyword skills have equipped you for this job. Focus on examples that show your ability to:

  • Increase profits
  • Reduce costs
  • Improve efficiency
  • Solve specific (job-related or technical) problems
Review Your Resume's Key Points. Your resume is the potential employer's outline of your career – and in most cases, the basis of questions asked during the interview. Make sure you are prepared to provide details and expand on any item listed in your resume.
Dress for Success. Look the part of the position you're interviewing for (appropriate attire, meticulous grooming, etc.). Take the time to properly organize any paperwork you bring along (i.e., extra resume copies, letters of recommendation, references, performance evaluations, questions).
Do Whatever it Takes to Arrive on Time. Check out the address and parking facilities BEFORE the interview date.
Go Out of Your Way to be Polite – not only to the interviewer, but also to the receptionist or secretary who greets you.
Use a Firm Handshake, direct eye contact, and a friendly smile; demonstrate a sincere interest and enthusiasm for the job.
Always Display Loyalty to Your Former Employers – no matter what they did (or did to you) never say anything negative about them.
Maintain a Positive Attitude and believe in yourself!
Always Follow-up by sending the interviewer a brief thank-you letter or note.

Strategically Schedule Your Interview Appointment. If possible, try to schedule your appointment so that you're not the first person being interviewed. Research conducted by Robert Half & Associates indicates that the first person interviewed gets the job only 17% of the time, while the last person interviewed gets the job 55% of the time. According to this study, you'll improve your success if you avoid scheduling interviews late in the afternoon or on Monday.

If you take the time to prepare for your interview by practicing your personal "sales pitch" or verbalizing your answers to common interview questions, you'll not only feel more at ease during the interview (knowledge = power), but you're more likely to win over your interviewer and get the job offer.


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Pat Kendall, NCRW
©2012, Pat Kendall, All Rights Reserved