In all the books and articles on interviewing, the same themes recur, and it seems that you’re still not getting the jobs. What can you be doing wrong?
Over the past 15 years I’ve hired hundreds of people. The event that brought me to assemble the 10 points below is interviewing 30 people a day for 5 days in a row to staff a large project. It was during these interviews that it became clear that talking could really make or break a candidate. If you follow this advice it will greatly increase your chances of landing the job.
The elements of interviewing like about how to dress, grooming and arriving on time. Making eye contact, wait for the interviewer to sit first, and more are dispensed with in the first 2 minutes. It’s once you speak that the hiring decisions are made. What we need to address is what to say, when to say it; and when not to say it.
Speak when spoken to. It is the interviewer’s show, not yours. It’s one thing to appear in control, another to take over. The interviewer on any job worth having will be prepared, and know what he wants to ask. Let him speak. If you are rude and insist on leading the conversation, you’ll come across as difficult to communicate with and difficult to work with. It is one thing to appear in control, and quite another to try to dominate the conversation.
Value the interviewer’s listening time. Interviewing is a waste of his time- he wishes you were hired by divine intervention and you would walk in the door with the exact skills and experience he is hoping for. You’ll have all the fine qualities of being a hard worker and a team player. But he know that is not going to happen, and he must sit here and waste this time meeting with you and all those before and after you, when he’d prefer to be getting his work done.
Follow the 4-sentence rule. Any question should be answered in 4 sentences or less. Look at any list of questions in an interview book. You can answer most in 1 or 2 sentences. Some may take a bit more, but you should be able to answer in the space of a paragraph. Practice answering your questions out loud and measuring how long it takes. Evaluate what you have to say and pare it down.
Stay on topic. Listen to what is asked, and answer it. When you answer a question, don’t drift into other subjects. He’s asking you what he needs to know to make his decision. If you spend too much time covering info that is not relevant to him, he may not get to finish his questions, and you may talk yourself out of the job. Perhaps he won’t get to ask you about the one thing that will sell him on you, so keep focused on what you are being asked.
Minimize the friendly chitchat. Books on interviewing tell you to bond with the interviewer. All too frequently, candidates take this to the extreme. The interviewer is not looking for a friend or a golf buddy. He wants to hire someone to do a job that he needs to have done. A brief relationship builder is fine, but don’t get too personal or chummy. You’ll end up having a long pleasant interview, but not getting the job. And it can backfire. A candidate told me that an interviewer had a picture of an older woman with her eyes shut, elaborately dressed in native garb from another country, on his desk. He remarked at how lovely she was, only to his to be told that it was the interviewer’s mother, in her coffin. After that comment, the interview was finished, and so was the candidate.
Select your examples carefully. During your interview prep time, think through the examples you are going to use. Pick highlight moments of your work and consider them very carefully. This is not the time for drama. This is the time to illustrate that you are in control of situations, and that you know how to do your job, not the most outrageous thing that ever happened. Before I had done a lot of interviewing, when I was a candidate, I used to tell a story where I stood my ground for my company, which ended up with me in handcuffs. At the time I thought this illustrated that I would “go the extra mile” for the company. Now I realize it made me look like a potential liability. Save stories like this for social settings where they are funny, and appropriate. When you interviewer ask you to “Tell me about the biggest mistake you ever made,” be sure it illustrates an example of you doing the right thing in a professional manner. It should not be about grandstanding; that is just not what they are looking for. Remember it’s an interview, not a cocktail party
Stop talking. That’s right, stop talking. You are nervous, and you want to tell the interviewer everything you can think of to convince him that he should hire you. This is the last thing the interviewer wants. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear the story of your life; he wants the cliff notes. What he wants to hear is what you know and what you can do that will make his life easier. The minute you start to prattle on, he’s turning you off, thinking of how to get you back on topic, how to break in and cut off your ramble, or worse, he’s thinking of the other things he needs to do while he just waits for you to stop talking.
Ask what happens next. This can be difficult, but you must never leave an interview without asking what the next step is, because by the time you leave the building you will be kicking yourself. You need to know for your own peace of mind whether they’ll call you tomorrow or in a month, whether there are 3 more interviews and a urine test or you are the last candidate and they are making a decision today. Just ask the interviewer what the next step is; a straightforward, simple question. Don’t ask if you will get the job, because 99.9% of the time they will not give you an answer, and it will be awkward. It’s ok to ask for the job though, as you’ll read below. They’ll tell you if there are other interviews, and if you are totally out of the running, you might as well know now.
Express your interest in the company and the position. Failure to do this can cost you the interview, because they may just assume that you are not interested. Tell the interviewer- in two or 3 sentences- how impressed you are by the company and how interested you are in the job. Tell him how good a fit your experience is, or how much you will be able to add right from the start. Focus on how you will bring value to him and to his company. This should be done when he concludes the interview with a comment such as “Thank you for coming in.”
The Big Don’t. Don’t wish him well with the company, the hiring process, the position, and the project. In your mind this may seem friendly and polite, but the interviewer hears you closing the door, disinterested. Instead tell him you look forward to the opportunity working with him and his company.
If you’ve ever been on an interviewer chances are you have just read a mistake or two that you have made in the past. You may even find a big “Ohhhh” in here. Just be mindful of these common sense points, on your next interview, and you will greatly improve your chances of landing the job.