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“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.” – Bernard Baruch
If you haven’t looked for a job in awhile, you may be surprised at what you experience once you get a foot in the door. Getting that initial access is the toughest task most applicants face; these days at many companies’ computers do an initial scan on incoming resumes. How to get your piece of paper past that scanner is another issue entirely, one that deserves some time and attention. But for the moment, we’re going to assume that your resume passed inspection and you’re in the door for an interview. A couple of these suggestions are old news but worthy of reinforcement. The others are oriented to HR practices in use today that weren’t so common twenty years ago.
- Practice: You don’t know exactly what questions you’ll get but there are some that you can expect in some form; for those questions it’s worth preparing an answer and actually practicing it. Repeating your answer into the mirror and perhaps even timing it. “Why do you want to work for this company?” That question is inevitable and it’s one that you’re likely to trip over if you’re not prepared. There’s no right answer but a disorganized, halting response is the wrong answer. Practicing also helps with the interview jitters; once you roll out a couple of prepared responses you’ll be much more at ease.
- Brevity: Few people understand the power of brevity. A concise answer has much more power than an overly detailed response. How often do you see a politician interviewed on TV with his response cut short by a newsroom editor? Even though an interview is for the purpose of conveying information about yourself, it’s important that the person(s) across the table hear what you have to say. An answer that isn’t structured and focused and that goes on too long won’t be heard.
- Research: It’s obvious that you need to be familiar with the company that is interviewing you – to a point. In doing your research on your prospective employer look for “macro facts” and don’t worry about the minutiae. You want nuggets that can reinforce your desire to work there: how a company differs from competitors, the growth curve over last five years, or perhaps some laudatory point about a successful product. You won’t be able to throw more than two or three one-paragraph observations out about this company, so make them large in scope.
- HR by Committee: It has become common practice for corporations to interview a candidate more than once and to do so with many participants. Often the initial interview will be with two or three HR professionals and the next one will be with a group of individuals with whom you would be working. Interviewing with a committee is an entirely different dynamic than a one-to-one discussion. Somebody at the table is going to be unhappy about being dragged into the process; you should try to find some commonality with that person. Once you’ve sorted out the professional roles for each member of the committee it doesn’t hurt to direct a knowledgeable question at one individual in order to get a dialogue going.
- Prepare for the Unprepared: Even in large corporations, once you get by the first layer of HR discussions you may well encounter an interviewer who doesn’t know how to conduct an interview. There’s an art to employment interviews and often people drawn into the process aren’t familiar with it. The last thing you want in that room is silence, so be prepared to drive the interview yourself if necessary. The way to do that is to ask the questions yourself; give the interviewer a chance to talk about something he or she is familiar with. Once you have established a level of comfort for that person you can begin to work in highlights of your education or experience that you want them to remember.
Bob Hartzell writes for a number of websites on education, employment, and graduate degree programs, usually with a focus on the tectonic shifts occurring in the economy and today’s job market.
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Good luck in your search.