Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Find a Job: Interviewing

(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)

Although it may not seem like it some days, sooner or later you’re going to get an interview.
No, really. It’s true.
Before I talk about interview types and interview questions, I can probably give you two pieces of advice, and as long as you follow them you’ll be okay.
1. Be yourself.
I know that’s supposed to be obvious, and cliché, and a number of other things, but I talked to a surprising number of people who wanted to show off their very, very, very best self, even if it wasn’t really them at all.
Look. You are who you are. If you don’t love to work overtime, don’t act like you want to work overtime. Because then you’ll get a job, and they’ll ask you to work overtime, and you won’t want to do it, and then you’ll be looking for a new job again.
Things like this feed into my second bit of advice:
2. Be honest. With yourself, and with the person you’re interviewing with.
Don’t say you love working with people if you’re a lone wolf. Don’t say your biggest flaw is that you work too hard. Don’t say you know how to operate a forklift if you don’t know how to operate a forklift.
I understand that you’re desperate for work. I understand that you have bills to pay. I understand that you’re going crazy sitting around in your house alone all day long with the heat mostly turned off, to keep costs down.
Trust me. I spent two winters finding ways to keep moving around the house in order to keep warm, so I wouldn’t have to touch the thermostat. I get it.
But when it comes down to it, you’re either the right person for the job, or the wrong person for the job. And the person who gets to decide that isn’t you.
And ultimately, wouldn’t you rather know that once you get a job, you’ll get to be the actual person you are? Instead of spending eight or nine or ten hours a day being someone else?
Please. Be yourself. And tell the truth about your abilities. It will be better for everyone in the long run.
Phone Interviews
Not long ago, a friend of mine freaked out a little bit over the fact that he was going to have his first phone interview.
He wanted advice – what are they like? What should he do?
I gave him the same advice I listed above: Tell the truth, and be yourself.
A few other things I’d recommend:
Have your calendar available. A lot of the time, if the phone interview goes well they’ll try to schedule an in-person interview. If you have to scramble for a calendar, you’ll seem a little disorganized. Not a major problem, but better to appear in control.
Have a copy of your cover letter and resume with you. Chances are good you’ll get questions about it, and again, you don’t want to have to scramble.
Have fun, and be personable. This is the one piece of advice no one ever gave me, and I really wish they had. Granted, if you’re a stoic type person, and you don’t much care for chit-chat, then go ahead and be that person. But on every one of my phone interviews, I let my personality be my personality. And my personality trends towards fun. I always told the person on the other end of the line that I was super-excited to talk to them. Because I was. After all, they wanted to talk to me about a job I was interested in.
When they asked me how I was doing, I would ask how they were doing. I once got into a conversation about sci-fi novels I’d been reading with one of the folks who called me for an interview. With another, I found out that her job was to pre-screen people for interviews, and I got to talk to her about what she did for five minutes.
It was fun. I had a good time. And in every case, my 20-minute phone interview turned into a 40-minute phone interview. Interestingly, the one time I didn’t get an actual interview out of a phone interview was when the person on the other end of the line and I didn’t establish any kind of rapport. She asked questions, I answered them, and all my attempts to develop the interview into an actual conversation didn’t go anywhere.
Now, that could have been for any number of reasons. Maybe the person on the other end of the line didn’t like my personality. Maybe I didn’t have the requisite qualifications. Or maybe someone else was more qualified. I don’t know, and really, I’ll never know.
And that’s okay. If I wasn’t right for the job, I wasn’t right for the job.
Moving on. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable when you take the phone interview. If you want to wear a suit and tie, because you think it will make you feel like a person with a job, then do that. Wear a tuxedo. Take the interview in your robe. Whatever it takes to make you feel ready.
Finally : Smile. Don’t force it, but smile. Remember that this interview is what you were hoping for when you sent a resume. Get pumped about that, and let your enthusiasm flow through the phone lines.
That’s the kind of person people want to work with.
In Person Interviews
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next step, where you get to sit in a room with an actual human being and talk about how qualified you are.
If you get an interview, find a way to celebrate. Even if you go to the store and buy yourself a cupcake to mark the moment, the point is, celebrate BEFORE the interview. Getting one is an accomplishment. Enjoy that moment.
Now, what do you need to do at an interview?
First: Wear a suit. If you don’t have a suit, borrow one, or buy one. The point is, when you meet your future employer, you want to be wearing a suit.
Second, turn off your phone. You don’t want it to buzz, or worse, ring in the middle of your interview. You’re trying to demonstrate that you’re smart, competent, and prepared, not that you’re easily distracted.
Third, make sure you’re as neat as you can be. I actually read in a couple of places that beards can be a problem for people when you’re interviewing with them. I considered shaving mine off, but in the end I settled for making sure I trimmed it on a very regular basis.
I always brushed my teeth and usually washed my face before an interview. Did that make any kind of impression? I have no idea. But better to err on the side of looking too put together than not put together at all.
Always make sure to bring extra copies of your resume, and if you have a portfolio or a presentation, be sure to have those as well. As I said in an earlier chapter, I put all my important papers into a newly-purchased bag and kept them with me at all times. You should consider doing something similar.
Be early, but not too early. Again, this is advice I wish I had heard more often. When I went in for an interview at one business, I was there about five minutes early. The woman at the front desk told me that several people had gotten there 30-45 minutes before their scheduled appointment.
That seems like it might be a good thing, but really, it looks a little desperate. And if you go in and tell the person at the front desk you’re there for your appointment, it’s possible you’ll interrupt your interviewer, who now has to figure out how to handle the fact that you’re so early. The last thing you want to do is cause problems for your potential boss before you even start the interview process.
Bring a book with you. If you get to the business early, sit in the parking lot for a few minutes and read. Or go over interview questions for practice. Or check to make sure you’re lint free.
But don’t be any more than ten minutes early.
Make sure you’ve done some research on the company before you walk in the doors, and to have a few questions to ask. Knowing something about the company indicates that you’re interested in having THIS job, and not just A job.
Answer all the questions as best you can, and if you need a second to think, say so. If you need a moment, say, “That’s an excellent question. Give me a moment to address it thoroughly.” That’s better than charging blindly ahead with the first thing that pops into your brain.
Give complete answers, as opposed to just saying yes or no.
And bring a paper and pen with you, so you can take notes.
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself. I know I said this about the phone interview, but remember, your qualifications are already laid out on paper. They know what kind of experience you have. What they’re trying to do is figure out if you’re a good fit for the company. So remember to enjoy yourself, and to be yourself. That will help you and the person interviewing you.
Group Interviews
Groups interviews can take one of two forms.
You can either interview with more than one person – meaning there is one of you, and two or more of them.
Or you can interview with other candidates – meaning there are two or more of you, and one or more of them.
Both situations can be awkward, but neither should be difficult to manage.
If you’re interviewing with more than one person at a time, be sure to make eye contact with all the people, focusing mostly on the person who asked the question you’re addressing.
If it helps, take your paper and pen and write down the names of the people you’re talking to, and draw arrows pointing at the people, so you can keep their names straight.
Beyond that, the regular rules apply.
If you’re interviewing with other candidates? There’s really only one rule: Be polite. Your job is not to make everyone else look bad. It’s to make yourself look good. So do it. Be classy.
Interview Questions
The big buzz during my lack-of-job time was “Behavioral Interview Questions.” Stick around a networking group long enough, and you’ll hear someone ask about them.
An example of this kind of interview question: “Tell me about a time you did something wrong. How did you deal with it?”
At my networking groups, we used to sit around and practice these questions. And that’s valuable. It’s a good idea to think about what kind of interview questions you might get.
But allow me to add: I never once got a question like this.
Never once.
Granted, I didn’t get hundreds of interviews. Maybe I just got lucky.
But let’s back up a hair, and talk about how to handle interview questions in general.
The thing is, you can really be asked just about any question in an interview. There are questions that people are not SUPPOSED to ask (religious affiliation and age spring to mind) but that won’t prevent some people from doing so.
If a question makes you uncomfortable, well, you might want to think about why a person is asking it. And if they’re going to ask things you know they shouldn’t during an interview, what are they going to be like to work for?
As for other interview questions? Here’s the long and short of it: Since anyone can ask an infinite number of questions, giving you a list isn’t going to help you.
I can give you 100 questions to practice, and the person giving you the interview might ask all of them. Or none of them.
So like I said, be yourself and always be honest.
If it helps you to practice interviewing, then go ahead and Google “popular interview questions,” or “behavioral interview questions” and you’ll find hundreds, and possibly thousands. Read them. Write down your answers and practice answering them, if it helps.
Better yet, go to a networking group, or talk to your local Department of Workforce Development, and ask if you can set up some mock interview time. Because as often as you might practice questions in your head, it’s better to practice them with an actual person, out loud.
People worry about interviews, and they worry about interviews more when they’ve sent out 100 résumés and only had one interview.
But as I keep saying, there’s no reason to be nervous. You are either the right candidate, or you aren’t, and unless you do something downright offensive, if you really are the right person for the job, you’ll get it.
So be prepared. Study up on the company. Wear the suit. Tell the truth.
And you’ll be fine.

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