Craft the Stories
Reflect on accomplishments of your past that demonstrate the qualities you have selected. The examples should draw from several of your past jobs, and may also include other areas of your life such as volunteer experiences. Think of projects where your role was integral to the positive result, as increased probing by a good interviewer may prove that perhaps you were just on a committee and were not directly responsible for the success that you are taking full ownership for. Do not limit yourself to only positive experiences, however. Interviewers love to ask negative questions that invite you to tell them your worst qualities. Include in your bag of tricks a couple of examples about times when things might have ended negatively, but be sure to include a positive spin about how you overcame the negative experience.
Prepare For and Rehearse Standard Questions
Don’t be surprised or taken off guard by a standard question. Since hiring managers typically ask similar (if not identical) questions, your preparation involves knowing these queries, scripting a response, and tailoring it to each interviewer. Using the PAR method (Problem, Action, Result), create vignettes from your experiences that demonstrate these attributes that you have selected. The PAR method is an effective and succinct way to tell an interviewer about you. A good story starts with the presentation of the background information, moves on to the actions that you took, then ends with the positive conclusion and the impact that your actions had. Each story should be no longer than 2 minutes; this is where practice is key.
To give you a feel for the process, consider the most standard (and often anxiety-provoking) interview query, “Tell me about yourself.” It often serves as an icebreaker, an opportunity for interviewers to observe you in action. They may be interested in how you organize your response, what you choose to emphasize and how you present that information. We recommend that you quickly sketch out your career qualifications (“I have 20 years’ experience in marketing with an emphasis in product management and branding for start-up technology companies”) and your strengths (“My best skills are strategic product planning and communications”).
If you are properly prepared for your interview, you will know who your interviewers are and the positions they hold. Expect that the quality a VP looks for is different from someone who will be your peer. You, therefore, should be able to select stories that will be appropriate for each person. If you want to convey to the VP that you are a strategic thinker, then be sure to tell a story that leveraged your strategic abilities during the interview with the VP. If you are a good team player, then this is a story you may want to tell the person who could be your peer.
Make the Interview Interactive
Remember an interview is not an interrogation. It is a dynamic interaction between employers and job hunters to determine whether they can work together. The employer attempts to find people who have the skills and personality to fit the company’s culture and make a contribution. To accomplish this goal, they use several interview techniques (mentioned earlier) to assess whether you are qualified for the job and fit the culture. They are also determining if you are a capable person with strengths and skills to sell. Your goal is to find out what the employer really needs and tailor your responses accordingly.
Instead of waiting for all of your questions at the end, integrate them into the interview process. We encourage our clients to answer specific questions asked by the interviewer and follow it up with a question of their own. This keeps the conversation flowing two ways. For example, if the interviewer asks you about your management style, explain how you lead others, and then ask what type of leader the company needs at this point in time.
Project a Confident Image
It takes a lot of work to make a solid first impression. It requires poise, solid communications skills, the ability to build rapport, and the knack for staying calm under pressure. Some people are capable of creating a great image with the employer via the resume, but fail to do a good job in an actual interview. It does not matter if you are conversing via email, holding a telephone conference or meeting face-to-face, you must remember that you are always “on.”
Do not Shy Away from the Truth
You are not expected to be perfect in an interview. Actually, if you come across too perfect, employers might be become skeptical about the real you. In reviewing your work history, it is okay to identify weak areas that employers are most likely to ask you about. Your goal is to discuss your background honestly, but in the most positive way. Remember that you do not have to reveal every little detail about yourself in an interview. Only talk about what is relevant to the questions being asked. Three common areas that might make you want to shy away from the truth include:
- Lack of a college degree
- Termination from a job
- Lack of positive references
If you do not have a college degree, get it out in the open if asked. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you do not have a degree, talk about the skills and experiences that you bring to the new career. Discuss these experiences in the context of what the employer gains from hiring you.
Termination from a previous employer is a red flag. Again, do not make a big deal about the termination. Be factual and specific about the cause and elaborate on any personal problems if they impacted the decision. In some instances, you might not want to provide all of the specifics. For example, I had a client that turned their boss in for stealing from the company. This caused the management to investigate the boss and they realized that many people were involved in a stealing ring. The management team decided to terminate several people including my client. The person was terminated because the management team felt it would be too difficult for that person to perform in the environment, since everyone knew they were the mole. My client was angry with the company and filed a lawsuit.
When the person started interviewing and told the new employers about the reason why they had been terminated, they couldn’t get a job. The individual had to finally stop communicating the actual reason because they were scaring people. Instead, the client indicated that they left for cultural reasons. The person communicated that their personal values and morals did not align with the companies values and it made them miserable. Many employers wanted more explanation, but this client did not give it. This person figured that if they really wanted more information they could find it on their own.
References are another rocky area for people with troubled work histories. If you anticipate problems with references, you need to create a strategy. You will need to find someone who can offer feedback on your past performance if your former manager or co-workers will not give you a good reference. Nowadays, most employers not only check with your listed references, but they do back door checks as well. A back door reference occurs when the employers asks your reference for people to speak to who can talk about your professional background.
Know Your Value
At some point during the interview, the employer will want to talk money. It is not advisable to discuss money during the formal interview process. The best time to discuss compensation is after they have expressed interest in hiring you. If an employer wants salary information early on, try to defer it. Asking to hold off on the money discussion until you have an opportunity to learn about the job sometimes helps. If the interviewer persists, you are better off providing them the right information rather than risking potential conflict. In that case, cite your salary history over the past few jobs you have held. It is advisable to do this just incase you were in a situation where you were downsized and had to accept a position for lesser money due to the economy.