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Hit a Home Run in Every Interview (Part 2)
From Career Tips, 2004 Volume 3, March 2004
In Part 1, I discussed the keys to preparing for the interview. Now on to the interview itself.
The opening salvo should always be your 2 minute pitch, your strong answer to the standard initial request “Tell me about yourself.” You should have rehearsed a good answer to that until it practically rolls off your tongue in any interview situation: a quick summary of the skills, quality and experience you bring to the table, and the highlights of your job history. It should never be more than 2 minutes long, just enough to get across the highlights without boring your interviewer. The idea is to give a good picture of what you bring to the table, to help frame the interview that follows. And if your interviewer doesn’t happen to ask right away, ask it yourself. Say something like, “Would it be helpful for me to tell you a little bit about my background?”
Many candidates make the mistake of treating the interview like a Q&A session. The interviewer asks a question, they answer it, and repeat. This goes on until some point near the end of the allotted time, when the interviewer asks if the candidate has any questions. The candidate then mentally pulls out his or her carefully prepared list of insightful questions, and now the Q&A reverses directions. This is a very uninspired interview process that rarely impresses the hiring manager.
What you want to do is to turn the interview into a conversation. While you don’t want to monopolize that conversation, you do want to ask questions every so often to convert the interview into a comfortable give and take. This will develop rapport with the interviewer, and will give you a much more complete picture of the company, position, relationships and priorities. A powerful way to do this is by occasionally giving a short answer, followed by a question to solicit guidance about what is most important to the interviewer. For example, the interviewer asks you
“What is your greatest strength?”
“I consider myself particularly adept at project management, building an effective team, and mentoring my employees to enable them to perform at their best. Which would you like me to talk about first?”
The response helps you understand better which is the most important hot button for the hiring manager. You can even do this right after your 2 minute pitch, ending it with a question like, “Is there a particular area you would like me to go into in more depth?”
A common mistake is to simply assume you will hear from the company soon. Before you leave, you should make sure to find out what the next steps are. This will give you a lot more insight into your prospects and when it would be appropriate to follow up, and will communicate that you are a serious candidate with the confidence to assume there will be a next step.
As soon as you get home, or even while you are still sitting in the company parking lot, write down everything you remember from the interview. Include what you think went well, and what didn’t; what questions you were asked and what accomplishment stories you told; what you found out about the organization, your potential boss, the company culture, etc. This is also a good time to begin preparing the list of Pros and Cons that will help guide you in evaluating any potential offer, and in preparing for the next round of interviews with that employer.
Finally, don’t forget the all-important thank you letter. Even if you meet 6 different people during the interview process, make sure to write individual notes to each of them, ideally within 24 hours after your visit. This is a simple professional courtesy, and since many candidates don’t bother, it again differentiates you from the competition. The thank you is also an excellent chance to reiterate what specifically you bring to the table, or to bring up a talent you forgot to mention or highlight in the interview that it now occurs to you might be important to that employer.
If you follow all of these steps, you will have a successful interview every time, and get more than your share of the job offers!