Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Interview Tips: The First Date

This posting includes excerpts from my book, HOW TO GET, KEEP AND BE WELL PAID IN A JOB (click here to go to the book’s web site) and some original, new, fresh content; like this intro sentence.

The initial chapter in my book is “The First Date” and is about the interview process.

“When you finally get a date with the woman or man who you have had your eye on for awhile, you know two things about your initial date. First, you are going to be on your best behavior. Second, you are going to be, at least, a little nervous.

Your date is going to listen to what you say (and what you do not say), observe your behavior, and make a decision on whether or not he/she will be going on a second date with you. The job interview process is no different. Your potential employer is going to do the same things, only money is waiting for you, not a second date.”

While I will not post the full content, I will briefly list three of the tips from this chapter of my book.

1. Know all you can about the Company before going on the interview

“Think first date. If all you know about the person you have been waiting to date is that he/she looks fine, your first date has a better chance of being a disaster than if you know that person’s interests. While there is a mutual attraction, you may have nothing in common and may have a lot of awkward silence. In the same vein, if all you know about the job for which you are interviewing is the pay scale, the same thing can occur. You may not be able to successfully inform the interviewer how your skills, knowledge, and background fit into that particular job and company. Therefore, before going on your interview know everything you can about your potential employer.”

One way to find out about the company you are interviewing with is to go online and find the company’s website. Look at the site to become familiar with the products and services the company sells. Also look for a page that informs visitors about the company and, possibly, a page listing recent company press releases.

2. Rehearse your answers to interview questions

“Before asking the person you want to date out, many of us practice what we are going to say before picking up the phone or talking to that individual in person. Some are even “George Costanza-esque” and have a pre-determined list of topics to talk about prior to picking up the phone. Likewise, when people have to perform in public, they practice before the big event. Whether it’s a play, a political speech, testimony in a trial, a business presentation, etc.; the presenter practices before the big event to ensure success. A job interview is no different.”

I will go a step further here than I do in my initial chapter. While practicing questions and answers is helpful, it is most useful on the setup or initial question (in Zig Zigler’s sales process these are called “open door” questions). To hit a home run on the follow up questions (or Zig Zigler’s “closed door” questions), you need to understand the job functions for the position you are interviewing for, and you need to understand what behaviors and skills employers’ value. That is why I recommend that job prospectors read my whole book (or any book on work readiness skills and behaviors) before going on an interview, not just my initial chapter on interviewing. This provides the background to do well on both the initial questions and follow-up questions.

Let’s say (or in this case, let’s write) that you are interviewing for a job as a Help Desk Phone Rep and are asked, “What are your strengths?” You have practiced an answer to this specific question, have a great answer and deliver it like a pro. Then you are asked, the all annoying, sometimes unpredictable “closed door” follow-up question, “Wow, you certainly have a lot of strengths (sarcasm implied to throw you off guard), give me an example where your strengths came into play in your last job.” Here is where knowing what is important to employers and what is important to the specific job for which you are interviewing comes into play. Showing up to work on time, all the time is very important to employers, and vital to Help Desks (and Customer Service Centers) so that Help Desks can meet their service standards (customer service will be a topic in a later blog). A practiced answer to this question would be, “An example of my reliability was that I was never late for work.” An informed answer would be, “An example of my reliability was that I was never late for work. While I know this is important in any job, I understand its special importance in regard to a Help Desk. Our job is to provide superior service to our customers and that means having the stations manned to minimize callers’ time on hold. If someone is late, that leads to longer wait times for our customers and that is unacceptable.” This answer can only come by understanding the workplace. Based on these two answers, which person would you hire? The first could be viewed as “just words”, while the second person “gets it.”

3. Bring all questions back to the job, even ones that appear to have nothing to do with the job.

Beware of “the interviewer who tries to bond with you by uncovering interests he/she has in common with you, and moving the interview away from the traditional question and answer towards a more conversational approach. By making the interview more informal, the interviewer is hoping that you, the interviewee, will provide a more in-depth and personal window into who you are. Be very careful. There is a good chance that the interviewer really isn’t into slasher movies, heavy metal music, and shoot-em-up video games. The interviewer just indicates that he/she has that in common with you so you will reveal more about yourself than you would otherwise. When you come back from an interview thinking that you and the interviewer really clicked (in areas other than the job), more often than not you opened up too much and you will not be getting the job. The interviewer is looking for an employee, not a best friend.”

For example, if I’m asked, “What is your favorite book?” I would not say one of the many Stephen King books I love because it has nothing to do with the job and the interviewer could be concerned that I read horror novels. Instead I would say, Dune by Frank Herbert because among other things, Dune is a novel about economics and I found that subplot in the book very interesting.

That’s all for now, catch you in my next post.

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