Chapter 14. The Interview
Officially, the interview is not part of your toolkit. It is a product of the effective use of your toolkit. However, the skills that you use during an interview are definitely tools. In fact, your ability to interview effectively is critical.
You might have the perfect résumé, an excellent cover letter, and skills that are well honed by experience and ongoing education, but if you cannot interview effectively, you will be limited in your career potential.
The interview is your moment to shine. It is also the moment when the employer determines whether you are someone to take a chance on. You must understand that this is the employer's perspective. Unless you are interviewing within your current company, where you are well-known, the employer is always taking a chance in hiring you.
Your responsibility is to convey a message that says, "Relax, I'm a sure thing. Be comfortable."
Comfort. It's your job to make your prospective employer feel comfortable that you can perform the work needed and that you will mesh well with the environment or culture of the company.
Some key points to remember about the interview are as follows:
- If you are nervous, let the employer know— This technique can work wonders to alleviate the pressure within an interview. If you are feeling nervous, tell the interviewer. First, it helps the interviewer understand that you are putting some weight behind this interview—that you feel it's important. Second, it helps you relax.When you admit to nervousness, it often greatly reduces your apprehension. In effect, announcing your nervousness removes pressure and makes you less nervous. Also, the interviewer often gives you permission not to be nervous.
Ask questions about the job and the company— Although officially you are the one being questioned and interviewed, feel free to interject some questions of your own. This has two effects.
First, it gives you valuable information about the climate and culture of the company. This is critical. You want to know as much as possible, without digging, about the work environment. You want to know whether the environment is dynamic, exciting, and fun or whether it is a sweatshop. You certainly want to know, if possible, what other opportunities exist—either for training or advancement.
Asking about the environment also conveys the message that you are interested in the company. It lets the employer know that you have a vested interest in your career and are interested in knowing more than where your desk will be, how much you'll be paid, and what the vacation policy is. Companies are interested in employees that are interested in them.
- Be loose, but not too loose— The best interviews are somewhat conversational. Being conversational conveys the message that you are confident and effective at communicating. You need to be relaxed enough to have some control of the conversation. A conversational style requires you to open up and let a little of your nonprofessional life into the room.You can convey personal interest if you can tie these interests into the interview somehow. However, take care not to take the interview too far off task. You do not want your interviewer(s) to leave thinking, "Nice person—I could see going to lunch with him but not hiring him. He's too distracted." Conversational, yet professional is the rule.
Be yourself— I cannot emphasize this point enough. An interview is where a mutual understanding of both parties must be ascertained in a short period of time. Don't act in a way that is inconsistent with how you would act on the job. Misrepresenting yourself and your personality can be extremely damaging later.
The interviewer will remember how you presented yourself and wonder what happened. He might even feel he was "sold" a bill of goods. If your personality and style do not mesh well with your potential employer, it is better to find that out in the interview, not two months down the road. Both you and the employer will be disappointed.
However, if your personality is abrasive and difficult, you would do well to work on it. This is not a positive personality trait. Don't protect bad behavior with a "This is just the way I am" attitude. That is, of course, unless you don't mind being limited in your professional growth.
Read the interview style— This is critical. The ability to read an individual's style is critical not only to the interview but throughout your professional career. You need to effectively mold your style to fit the style of the interviewer. However, do this only to a point.
Go back and reread the previous "Be yourself" bullet.
Some interview styles you might encounter include the following:
- The bottom-liner— This person is a "just the facts" type of personality. He wants neither fluff nor personality. He is highly production-oriented. When interviewing with someone like this, brief explanations that get right to the point will serve you well.
- The conversationalist— This person wants to know about you, your job, and the people you worked with. It is likely that this person runs a highly communicative type of department. This interviewer is concerned with effective human interaction.
- The silent type— This person might provide little feedback or input into the interview. You might answer a question and be met with an uncomfortable silence. You might even have to ask the question, "Did I answer your question adequately, or do you need additional information?" Sometimes this might indicate a lack of preparation on the interviewer's part.
- The friend— This person might be highly communicative but will steer the interview away from the job and tasks at hand, favoring instead personal anecdotes and insight into your life away from work. At times, such diversion might indicate an interview that is going well and personal rapport. Make sure that you direct conversation back toward the job and the requirements, though.
The committee— This isn't really an interview style. Sometimes you will be interviewed by a committee of some type. Having to answer questions, read the style, and reply accordingly to three or more individuals can be nerve-wracking. You might feel like you are facing a tribunal or that you're under a lot of scrutiny—and you might be right.
The key to surviving the committee interview is to relax. Take time to address the person who has asked the question, but work on making eye contact with all of them.
When I went through my first interview with Blue Cross, I faced this type of interview. I actually expressed that I felt I was facing a court-martial hearing. All three interviewers laughed, and the interview progressed well from that point.
Of course, that is my personal style. You have to use what works for you to diffuse anxiety and nervousness.
Regardless of the type of interviewer you face, the key skills taught in this chapter can help you make the best of it. Adapt your style slightly depending on the interviewer, but make sure, regardless of interview style, that you are yourself. Also, direct conversation back to the job at hand, the needs of the company, and your questions about the organization.