26 Tips For A Successful Job Interview

By Ernest F. Oriente

Job interviews in many organizations are getting more and more sophisticated these days. Single interviewers, interview panels, multiple interviews, the demonstration of a skill/ability, a hostile interview, case studies, psychological tests, role plays, and challenges to one's quick intelligence and street smarts are often part of the package. While it's impossible to anticipate everything you may encounter, these tips will help you successfully negotiate the interview process.

  1. Prepare And Over-Prepare
    Why over-prepare? It goes like this: Plan your strategy by preparing you answers for the possible interview questions you may be asked - and then practice, practice, practice. Role-play and repeat your best responses until they are completely natural, until they simply roll off your tongue with the spontaneity that comes with successive repetition.

  2. Be Particularly Clear On What You Know And What You Want To Achieve
    Most interviews are resume-based, so have the facts of your stated objective, relevant experience, education, etc. thoroughly memorized and mentally supported. As to your job objective, be clear on what you want, as well as what you don't want. There is little room in the job market for the applicant who is willing to take anything, as he or she will usually get nothing.

  3. Make Sure Your Responses Match Your Claims
    If, for example, you have taken extra course work to qualify for a particular position, have a license, have accomplished specific performance achievements or have earned a special certification, tie it into your narrative or use your presentation binder, e.g., "When I took my course work for my CPA, I learned that..."

  4. Be Clear On Your Strengths
    You are almost certain to be asked questions pertaining to your strengths and weaknesses. Know your strengths and emphasize those that relate specifically to the position for which you are being considered. For example, if you are applying for asales position, you might describe one of your strengths (if it's true) as follows: "I've made a study of personality types and I've learned to quickly classify prospects in terms of the kinds of approaches that might best sell them." Be prepared, in this case, to back up your claim if the interviewer suddenly asks: "How would you classify me?"

  5. Describe Your Weaknesses As Strengths
    This is tricky, so let's think about why the question is asked. The interviewer probably wants to learn several things about you with this question, such as: whether or not you are arrogant ("I really don't think I have any weaknesses"), whether you know yourself ("Well, I've never really thought about that") and finally, what you are doing to improve your weaknesses. Here are two ways to answer this question so you leave a positive impression in the mind of the interviewer:
    • Explain that, in overcoming a weakness, you have learned something. If, for example, there's a period in your career path that just doesn't fit (say that you took a job selling cars between jobs as an accountant ... it happens!), you might tell the interviewer: "One weakness, which took me some time to overcome, was that I really wasn't sure I wanted to be an accountant. For example, in 1988-90, I worked as a car salesman. I did this because I couldn't decide if I wanted to make accounting my career. That experience taught me that I really didn't want to sell products, and that I was much more challenged by the opportunity to solve client problems."
    • Pick a weakness that is really a strength. If, for example, you're interviewing for a job in an organization you know is hard-charging and unforgiving of average performance, you might say, "One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be impatient with people who aren't willing to pull their full weight and give 110 percent." In this case, your "weakness" may help you get the job.

  6. Be Clear On Where You Want To Go
    A standard question, which has many variations, is: "Where do you want to be five years from today?" Only today, the answers are different. Unless you plan to inherit Dad's/Mom's company, your answer is apt to be a lot more general than it might have been a decade ago. Why? Because the economy and nearly every industry is changing so fast that specificity with respect to the distant future is extremely difficult. So, instead of responding to the question with, "I plan to be in a position of senior leadership in this company," you might want to say, "I plan to become qualified in every phase of this industry." Your exact response will depend upon the specifics of your job search, but the principle is: be specific while allowing yourself the flexibility, which suggests that you understand the complexities of the business you are applying for.

  7. If You've Been Fired, Be Forthright About It
    Many people have been laid off or fired through no fault of their own, and this no longer a stigma to have been fired - unless it was for justifiable cause. Answer directly, but without a "charge" in your voice. Expressing your bitterness over being let go tells the interviewer (rightly or wrongly) that you cannot accept the realities of modern free enterprise - that downsizing is acceptable and often necessary.

  8. Have Clear Personal Standards
    This is a sleeper because this question doesn't seem to have much to do with the immediate interview. However, many organizations are looking for people who DO have standards regarding their personal/professional lives, who can articulate them clearly and concisely, and who live by them. In this case, the briefer, the better. "I delegate my weaknesses." "I don't take on projects unless I can give them 100 percent commitment." "I am committed to life-long learning and growth."

  9. Interview The Interviewer
    A competent interviewer will respect your efforts to assess the organization and the position in terms of whether or not it meets your requirements. And you owe it to yourself to have defined beforehand, what you ideally want and what you are willing to settle for, under certain conditions. For example, you might really want a salary of $75,000to begin with, but you would be willing to take less if the opportunities for growth are clearly in the picture.

  10. Don't Allow Yourself To Be Badgered By The Salary Issue
    Even today, it is still not uncommon to hear the old refrain: "Our policy is not to pay a new employee more than X percent higher than he/she is currently making." Sorry, that doesn't fly. The real issue, and the only one at stake, is whether or not your prospective employer is willing to pay what you are worth. And, your worth is a function of the job itself, your capability and your willingness to perform it. In most organizations, there are clear parameters for a given job, a range of salary that is adjustable depending upon the market and the applicant's experience. In most cases, unless you are very good, you will have to work within those limits. But, within the limits, what you are worth is a matter of mutual agreement based on the knowledge of your worth and your ability to convince the person interviewing you. So, to sum it up: Know the range of compensation for the job you are seeking, make your own realistic determination of what you are worth, and then be prepared to stand your ground.

    Some Extra Tips

  11. Stand up quickly when greeted by the person you are going to interview with. Stay standing until invited to sit down.

  12. Firmly shake the hand of the person you are going to interview with, and quickly, stand directly in front of the interviewer It shows confidence.

  13. Be nice to the receptionist. The person interviewing you will usually ask for their opinion of you.

  14. Men - Keep your feet flat on the floor during the interview, knees at waist level, hands on your thighs and place your elbows on the chair arms. Wear a conservative-colored suit (navy blue, gray, charcoal, black, dark green) with a white shirt, black/dark shoes and socks that match your suit color.

  15. Women - Cross your ankles or legs but keep the bottom leg straight down and do not swing the top leg, while placing your elbows on the chair arms. Wear a conservative-colored dress or suit (black, burgundy, dark blue, dark green). Wear hosiery that is neutral in color; nude/tan are preferable while avoiding hosiery with extravagant patterns/bright colors. Wear shoes that match or are darker in color than the suit/dress you are wearing. A medium-heeled pump is safest while avoiding open toe and sling back shoes. Make sure your make-up is suitable for the position you are applying for and it's a safe bet to keep your make-up natural-looking.

  16. Use your hands. Speaking with your hands gives you more energy and confidence - and remember to smile.

  17. Eye contact is essential; it makes you more believable.

  18. Never say anything negative about yourself or your current/previous managers; if asked to describe something negative, look back on your career, and do a U-turn to something more positive now.

  19. Carry a soft leather envelope, no purses, no large briefcases.

  20. Do not overdo your perfume/cologne because you do not want to put off the interviewer with too strong a scent.

  21. Pay attention to the details, polished shoes, hair, accessories, trimmed nail, etc.

  22. If traveling by plane, arrive the night before, press your outfit and get a good night's rest.

  23. Do not wear anything that connects you with a religious or political group.

  24. Tax-deductible job search expenses include: cost of travel, lodging, transportation, 50 percent of your meal cost, telephone calls, printing/mailing of resumes, employment-agency fees and career counseling/coaching fees.

  25. Learn as much as you can about the person and the company you are interviewing with.

  26. Write/fax/e-mail a "Thank You" note, the same day as your interview.

[To contact Ernest, go to Coaching Success]


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