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Mastering the Interview

Provided by:     CollegeGrad.Com

"To be a great champion, you must believe that you are the best.
If you're not, pretend you are."
- Muhammad Ali -

You are a special person. You know it. Your Mom knows it. Your Dad knows it. Your siblings know it (but probably won't admit it to anyone else). Your Mom really knows it. Your friends and relatives know it. But unless you convince the interviewer of your special talents and abilities, you will fade into that great dark abyss of Interviews Lost.

Study this Section. Get comfortable with the techniques and tactics before your first interview. Remember, every interview counts. Every time you interview successfully, you move one more golden step toward the job offer and career of your dreams.

The Truth about Interviewing

The Personal Connection Technique

The Three Step Interview Process
The Personality Matching Technique
The Handshake Matching Technique

The Eight Types of Interview Questions
The Competency Answering Technique
The Behavioral Answering Technique
The Compelling Story Technique

The Quotable Quotes Technique
The Hero Technique
The Pregnant Pause Technique
The Successful Vagabond Technique

How to Never Be Nervous Again
The Rowboat Technique
Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers

Fifty Standard Interview Questions

Top Ten Critical Success Factors

One Interview Question That Nearly Every College Student Fails

What to Do If You Are Asked an Illegal Question

Don't Commit One of the Worst Interview Sins

The Parroting Technique

The Safety Valve Technique

The Reframing Technique

The Experience of a Lifetime Technique

The Articulation Factor

The Dirty Dog Theory

The Abraham Lincoln Technique

The Pride of Ownership Technique

The Competitive Posture Technique

The One Question to Ask Every Interviewer

Questions to Ask the Interviewer

The Money Response Technique

The Lockdown Technique 


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The Truth About Interviewing

"But it seemed to go so well! We talked about everything...campus life ...the weather...the football season. I just don't understand why I got a rejection letter... "

Beware the interview that gets too chummy. It may be that the interviewer has already rejected you and out of politeness passes the remaining time talking about everything but you.

The truth about interviewing is that most initial interviews only last about five minutes. Oh, sure, the actual interview always takes longer than that. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Sometimes even an hour. But the interview is usually over in five minutes or less. If you have not convinced the interviewer by the five minute point that you are the right person for the job (or at least a contender who should be taken to the next level), it can be next to impossible to recover. Recoveries do happen. But they are very rare.

In that first five minutes of the interview, I will have noted many critical aspects. Your appearance. Your grooming. Your handshake. Your personal presence. Your eye contact. Your articulation. And, most importantly, your personality. Notice that I did not mention anything about your coursework, your GPA, or your work experience. That is what got you to the interview in the first place. But it is the "soft factors" that will take you to the next level.

Having taken the right courses, having good grades (critical!), and having related work experience are all important selection criteria. But they do not matter one iota if you are not a strong personal fit for our company.

The truth is that most interviewers are seeking individuals who are able to personally present themselves well in a face-to-face interview. They are seeking to recommend those who will be a good reflection upon themselves and their selectivity. So most interviewers naturally gravitate to specific "critical success factors" that have worked for them consistently.                     Back to the List



The Personal Connection Technique

No matter how good you look on paper, no matter how well you present yourself, no matter how well you answer their questions, you will not get the job unless you make a personal connection with the interviewer. I need to know from the very start that you are someone I can trust to represent me and my company. How do you establish that trust? Simple. At the very beginning of the interview, when the introductions are being made, concentrate on looking directly and solidly into the interviewer's eyes, giving them your sweetest and most endearing smile. I tend to think of it as a "shy smile," or, if we can venture into the bounds of cuteness, a "cute smile." The bottom line is to make it a warm and friendly smile. Then think about the fact that you are truly pleased to be there in the presence of this person. Establish that personal connection both physically and mentally with the interviewer.

How do you know when the connection is made? When they return your smile in a comfortable, relaxed manner, you are connected and ready to communicate on a personal level. Remember, I only hire people I am comfortable with. If the connection is not made, I won't hire. So take the time to establish that personal connection.

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The Three Step Interview Process

In its simplest form, the interview consists of three distinct steps:

1.      Establish rapport

  1. Gather information

  2. Close

It is vitally important to understand these basic steps in order to be successful in your interviewing. Each step carries with it a different focus and emphasis. Each step has its own protocol and requirements. And successful completion of each step is critical for you to go on to the next step in the process, whether that be another interview or the actual job offer.

It is important to note that there is a dual responsibility for successful completion of each of these steps. The employer has a responsibility to follow through in each step, yet you have a greater responsibility. If the employer fails in his responsibility, the company will potentially fail to hire a qualified candidate. But if you consistently fail in your responsibility, you will fail to be hired. So you need to take personal responsibility for your side of the interview process.

The establishing rapport step is where the vital first impressions are formed. Some employers will claim to be able to make a decision about a candidate in thirty seconds or less. The truth is that you will set the tone for the interview through your physical appearance and initial responses. If you start off poorly, you can recover, but only after a herculean effort. Your personal appearance will speak volumes before you ever utter a word.

Many interviewers are analyzing you in reference to the company culture. Does this person fit in? Would this person represent our company well? Would others feel I made a good selection in recommending? And the small talk is actually big talk, since it will greatly affect how you are perceived in the eyes of the interviewer. It's not necessarily the words you say, but how you say them.

Your verbal articulation and vocabulary will be noted, especially any variance, positive or negative, from the standard. If you have done your interview homework and have fully researched the company, the words will flow smoothly. If not, it will show. This is where your positive attitude and confidence will establish the tone for the interview. And this is the step during which you have the opportunity to make your personal connection with the interviewer.

In the gathering information step, the employer will be asking questions and matching your answers against their critical success factors. Some of the questions will be closed-ended, such as "What was your GPA?" Others will be open-ended behavioral questions, such as "Can you give me an example of a time when you had to make an unpopular decision?" While preparation is important, your honesty and sincerity in answering should be evident. Most interviewers are keenly aware of when they are being snowed. The questions in this step will usually be probing questions which drill deep into your background, attempting to get past the interview veneer. Although you may have pre-sold the interviewer in the establishing rapport stage, you will need to solidify the employer's view in this stage. The outward questions are designed to answer the inner doubts. You will be judged on attitude (Are they always this pleasant or is there someone evil lurking beneath the surface?), work ethic (Will they really work hard or are they just looking for a cushy job?), intelligence (Does this person really understand the industry concepts or is he reaching?), and honesty (Is the person really this good or are they just acting?).

You will be subject to the individual whims of each individual interviewer. Often not by design, but due to lack of training. The only individuals who have truly been trained to interview (Human Resources) usually do not have the hiring decision. So the hiring manager interview is usually less structured and more subjective. And in the end, an imperfect decision will be formed from an imperfect interview process. If you have not sold the interviewer by the end of this step, you will have great difficulty in resurrecting.

In the close step, the interviewer will set the hook for the next step. If you have succeeded to this point, the conversation will center around the interviewer selling you on the company and the next steps in the hiring process. If you have failed to this point, the conversation will center on the football team, the weather, or any other neutral subject which provides for a clean disengage. If your interview was successful, there will usually be an indication of future steps. You may be given further company information which is reserved for only the select few.

No matter what your view of the interview to this point, it is important to personally close the interview by establishing continuity of the process. Understand what the next step will be. "We will be reviewing all of the candidates and getting back to you," is not necessarily a close-out, although it is the standard response when there is no interest. Make certain you understand the next steps and be prepared to follow up on your side. Always pursue each interview as if it were your last. You can always back away from it later if you truly have no interest, but you cannot back away from a company that you failed to impress.

Understanding the basic steps of the interview is only the starting point. You need to be fully prepared for different personality styles, different interview styles, and different questions. You need to master your ability to present the very best you.     Back to the List





The Personality Matching Technique

This technique is the secret to successful interviewing. If you read nothing else, read this technique. There is a simple key to success in interviewing that very few people utilize. It is the process of mirroring the personality of the person to whom you are speaking, a process that I refer to as "Personality Matching." It is based upon the proven fact that we like people who are like us. It is the halo effect in action--anyone who is like me must be a good person. Result? Instant rapport.

Any good salesperson is aware of this simple technique. Want evidence? The next time you get a call from a telemarketer, do not hang up. Instead, stick with them a few minutes just to hear their pitch. You will probably know pretty quickly if you are dealing with a "greenie" who is reading from a script or a seasoned professional. If it's a greenie, give them a polite "no thank you" and hang up. But stick with the pro through the entire call. Why? Because now we are going to have some fun.

In the beginning of the call, talk to them in a very quick and upbeat voice, possibly somewhat higher in pitch. If they are good, they will follow right along with you, matching your tempo and pitch. If not, they are still a greenie, operating in their own little world--end the call. But if they follow along, here comes the fun. Gradually slow down your rate of speaking and lower your voice in both volume and pitch. Guess what? The true pro will follow you all the way down. Surprised? Don't be. Just as a telemarketing pro is trained to do this (and at this point may not even be conscious of what they are doing), any good marketing person does the exact same thing. Whatever the industry, the most successful salespeople are the ones who meet you (the customer) at your level.

In the same way, the best interviewees are the ones who have the ability to meet the interviewers at their level. "Wait a minute, shouldn't that be the job of the interviewer?" No! The only interviewers who have actually been trained at interviewing (Personnel/Human Resources) are usually not the ones who make the final hiring decision. Even some of the best interviewers are totally unaware of this technique or are unwilling to apply it.

So how does one do this "personality matching thing?" First match the voice and then the physical characteristics of the interviewer. In matching the voice, the most important aspect is to match the rate of speaking (tempo), then match the pitch. In matching the physical characteristics, it is most important to match (or at least reflect) the facial expressions, then the posture (sitting back or forward, etc.). Although you should not be trying to "mimic" (like a mime in action), you should attempt to closely match him or her.

To be effective with this technique, you need to first understand your own personality range. For some of us, it is quite wide and variant. For others, it may be more narrow. As an example, I consider myself to have a very wide personality range--I am very comfortable in matching both the very flamboyant and the very subdued. Each type is at an extreme end of my personality range. Most people, however, operate in a somewhat narrower personality range. The key is to be able to identify your personal bounds of comfort.

So what do we do if the person we meet with is talking a mile a minute? Should we try to artificially match that person, if it is outside of our personality range? Quite simply, no. To attempt to act like someone we are not would be "faking it." It's better known as being two-faced and in the business world it can be a real killer. Some people end up getting sucked into this trap in order to get the job, then go through a continual living hell as they are forced to fake it for the duration of the job. Don't do it. But you should be aware of what your personality range is and be willing to move fluidly within that range to accommodate the personality of the individual with whom you are meeting.

Personality matching does not mean perfect matching (it never is). It does mean that we should do our best to come as close as possible to matching the other person's personality within the bounds of our own personality range. Keep in mind that there is no "perfect personality" (or perfect anything on this earth, for that matter) since what is perfect to one will always be lacking in some way to another. Perfection is relative to the recipient. Remember that.

As a side note, think about someone you truly dislike. In most cases, it's because the person is outside your personality range, usually in the upper extreme (too loud, too pushy, too cocky, too egotistical, too stuffy, etc.)--they are "too much" of something that you do not embrace in your own personality. If you have a "too much" area in your own personality, you are best advised to bring it under strict control, not only in interviewing, but in your life in general.

If you put into practice this one technique, you will likely increase your chances of success dramatically, and not just in interviewing. Personality matching is a technique that you can use in virtually all areas of human communication.     Back to the List





The Handshake Matching Technique

The Handshake Matching Technique

Apply the same principle of the Personality Matching Technique to handshakes. Don't get confused by the "too hard" or "too soft" handshake psychology baloney. There is no absolute when it comes to handshakes because the effectiveness of the handshake is defined by the recipient. So is the handshake unimportant? No. But it would be wrong to attempt to come up with "the perfect handshake." There is no such thing, since each person receiving your handshake has their own definition of perfection. It's relative to the person who has your fingers in their grasp. Therefore, a truly effective handshake is going to be a "mirror" of the handshake being offered. Match the person's handshake the same as you would their voice or posture.

While personality matching is dynamic and takes place over an extended period of time, the handshake lasts just one to two seconds. So how do you adjust? Use a medium grip handshake, placing your hand so that the soft skin between your thumb and forefinger comes in contact with the same location on the recipient's hand. Then be prepared to squeeze down on the gorilla or lighten up on the softie, as necessary. Don't get into a wrestling contest. Again, just as with personality matching, you don't have to match the extremes. Just move to that end of your "handshake range." Practice a few times with a friend. Or better yet, practice with a loved one.  

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The Eight Types of Interview Questions

Interviewing is not a science. Nor is it an art form. It is simply an imperfect form of human communication designed to increase the predictive validity of potential employer-employee relationships. And it is very imperfect.

There are basically eight types of questions you may face during the course of an interview:

1.      Credential verification questions
This type of question includes "What was your GPA?" and "How long were you at . . . " Its purpose is to place objective measurements on features of your background.

  1. Experience verification questions
    This type of question includes "What did you learn in that class?" and "What were your responsibilities in that position?" Its purpose is to verify experiential features of your background.

  2. Opinion questions
    This type of question includes "What would you do in this situation?" and "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Its purpose is to subjectively analyze how you would respond to a scenario. The reality is that "Tape #143" in your brain kicks in and plays when you recognize the question and play back the pre-programmed answer.

  3. Dumb questions
    This type of question includes "What kind of animal would you like to be?" or "What do you think flubber is made from?" Its purpose is to get past your pre-programmed answers to find out if you are capable of an original thought. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, since it is used primarily as a test of your ability to think on your feet.

  4. Math questions
    This type of question includes "What is 1000 divided by 73?" to "How many ping pong balls could fit in a Volkswagen?" Its purpose is to evaluate not only your mental math calculation skills, but also your creative ability in formulating the mathematical formula for providing an answer (or estimate, as can often be the case).

  5. Case questions
    This type of question includes problem-solving questions ranging from: "How many gas stations are there in the U.S.?" to "What is your estimate of the U.S. online retail market for books?" Its purpose is to evaluate your problem-solving abilities and how you would analyze and work through potential case situations.

  6. Behavioral questions
    This type of question includes "Can you give me a specific example of how you did that?" or "What were the steps you followed to accomplish that task?" Its purpose is to anticipate predictable future behaviors based upon past responses.

  7. Competency questions
    This type of question includes "Can you give me a specific example of your leadership skills?" or "Explain a way in which you sought a creative solution to a problem." Its purpose is to align your past behaviors with specific competencies which are required for the position.

It is interesting to note that the first four types of interview questions listed have a predictive validity for on the job success of just 10 percent. And 10 percent predictive validity is the same level that is generated from a simple resume review. Math questions increase the predictive validity to 15 percent (since it tests intelligence, commonly a key competency for most positions) and case questions raise the predictive validity to 25 percent (and slightly higher for consulting positions). Behavioral and competency interviewing, on the other hand, yield a predictive validity of 55 percent. Still far from perfect, yet much more reliable for most interviewers. Interestingly, the first four question types are still the favored approach by most untrained interviewers, simply due to lack of experience. Behavioral and competency interviewing is gaining greater acceptance by trained interviewers because past performance is the most reliable indicator of future results, especially when it is tied to the specific competencies for the position. Companies such as Accenture have modified this approach with specific critical behavioral interviewing to target those behaviors which provide the highest correlation with the required competencies for highly predictive positive results.         Back to the List





The Competency Answering Technique

Competency interviewing can often be the most difficult type of interviewing, both for the interviewer and the interviewee. For the interviewer, it requires understanding the competencies required for success in the position, which often can include a detailed analysis of the position as well as current employees who have succeeded in the position (and their common competencies). Yet when performed accurately, it can produce highly successful results.

An example of a competency is intelligence. The specific competency for a position may require someone with a minimum intelligence level. Competency-based questions which can probe this competency could include:

  • "What were your SAT (or ACT) scores?" (since the SAT and ACT provide a general guideline to IQ and general intelligence.

  • "Describe how you learn new things." (which will give the interviewer an opportunity to drill down on any specifics to better understand your learning style and approach)

  • "What is your IQ?" (yes, they might actually ask that question and yes, in general, they can)

These are just a few sample questions on one specific competency (intelligence). Other competencies which may be measured may include creativity, analytical reasoning, strategic skills, tactical skills, risk taking, integrity, drive, organizational skills, teamwork, willingness to change, enthusiasm, ambition and life balance, just to name a few. A fully developed competency model may have as many as 30-50 different competencies that are being evaluated. And yes, it can produce a more grueling interview process.

For the interviewee, it may not be readily apparent that the interviewer is evaluating you on a competency-based model. And even if you are aware of a competency question, you likely will not know what the requirements are for the competency for the position. Just because there is a competency being measured for a position does not mean that it must be at a high level for success. Successful competency interviewing focuses on those key competencies which are critical to success in the position.

So how do you answer competency questions? First, by probing the key competencies. The opportunity you have to ask a question in a competency interview (or almost any in-depth interview, for that matter), it should be this one:

  • "What do you consider to be the top three key competencies for this position?"

Or, stated in another format:

  • "What do you consider to be the top three critical success factors for this position?"

Note that with both questions, you are hitting on hot button phrases ("key competencies" and "critical success factors"). In fact, if you ever hear the phrase "CSF" being used in a business setting, they are likely not talking about a "Captivatingly Stunning Female" but rather about "Critical Success Factors." Or "CSF's" for short.

Either question will drill to what the interviewer considers to be the key competencies for the position. It will then be your responsibility to answer how you fit each one of these competencies. There are three approaches you can use to answer:

  1. Answer the three competencies in summary format as your response to their reply.

  2. Answer each of the competencies in your following interview question responses.

  3. Post interview in your thank you letter.

You must be ready to align these competencies with your background in order to win the position. Don't worry though, since almost none of your competition will be going this extra step. Just by making a sincere and focused effort, you will set yourself far apart from the field.

P.S. Don't be surprised when you get a different answer to this question from each interviewer. Seldom is an employer so well organized and process driven that all of the interviewers are in complete synch on the top three competencies needed for each position. But use that diversity of opinion as an opportunity to emphasize those aspects of your background that are the most important for each individual interviewer.     Back to the List



The Behavioral Answering Technique

From your side of the desk, the behavioral interviewing approach can appear somewhat difficult at first. The interviewer will be consistently drilling down to specific examples in your past. When you have difficulty coming up with a specific example, a well-trained behavioral interviewer will not let you off the hook, but will provide you with a prompt to continue thinking until you can provide an example. The dreaded silence which follows can be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Unless you are prepared in advance.

As you consider the variety of questions which can and will be posed over the course of a series of interviews, keep in mind that you will not always have the right answer to every question. But if you are well prepared, you will have a variety of examples to draw from which will give you the background to formulate your answers.

The Behavioral Answering Technique involves answering questions with specific examples, whether or not you have been asked to provide them. This technique works in lockstep with an interviewer who is following a behavioral interviewing approach, yet it works even better with those who are not. Because you will always be providing examples and stories which make you a real person. With real experiences. Real experience that can benefit a future employer.

So as you go through the exercise of interview preparation, carefully consider all questions in an "example" format. Keep in mind the "Can you give me an example . . . " follow-up that is the cornerstone of the behavioral interviewing approach. Be prepared to use examples from your work, classes, and extracurricular activities. And be ready to offer up not just any example, but your very best example. Back to the List  




The Compelling Story Technique

Once you have grown accustomed to the Behavioral Answering Technique, you can expand your answers by turning your examples into compelling stories. Instead of merely providing an example that suits the question, weave the example into a compelling story with personality, flair and interest. Captivate your audience by providing the details and nuances that bring your story to life.

Consider yourself the author of a piece of fiction. As you put your plot into words, you must give life and meaning to the characters and surroundings. Provide the same in telling your compelling stories. Build the framework and background for the story. Add the elements of interest and intrigue. Give the plot twists. And show how our hero (you) saved the day in the end.

We all have compelling stories in our past. We tell them to our friends, our family, our loved ones. We laugh. We cry. And our hearts yearn for more. Yet we sometimes lose these stories over time, or bury them in our long-term memory bank, only to dredge them up at reunion time.

The key to retaining these compelling stories for your interviewing is to write them down. Go over the questions and bring to mind the stories you can weave to provide your example in living color. And as another compelling story occurs to you or as you find yourself in the telling of another interesting tale, ask yourself if the story will provide potential substance in your interviewing. If so, write it down.

After a period of time, you will have a collection of compelling stories to guide you through your interviews. As you become proficient in angling these stories to fit your needs, you will find yourself steering to these stories to illustrate your points.

One example of a compelling story was told to me by a recent grad, who answered my question about her organization skills by telling me how she planned and organized the alumni dinner during homecoming weekend, including full details of the management of twenty different student volunteers and coordination with six different campus departments. The event was a resounding success, but there were several challenges which she needed to overcome. And each of these challenges provided a compelling story of its own, as she was able to show her ability to plan, organize, and develop a team toward eventual success. In the end, she received a personal letter of recommendation from the President of the university, which she presented to me as validation of her extraordinary efforts.

Another compelling story was given to me by a current student in reference to a question about his lower than expected grade point average. He related to me the amount of work which he had put in to finance his college education, averaging thirty hours per week and occasionally putting in as much as fifty hours per week. He was eventually promoted to department manager, even though the employer knew he would be leaving after completing his degree. He recounted the story of the meeting with the employer in which he tried to back away from the management responsibilities, asking that one of the other department employees be promoted. The employer called in the four other workers in the department, who each personally asked that he take on the job as their manager. This student successfully shifted the focus from his lower than expected grades to his outstanding performance on the job by the use of a compelling story.

How do you know if your story is connecting with the interviewer? By eye contact. This is where the interviewer will show their interest. If you are not connecting with your story, decrease the amount of detail and drive home your point quickly. Depending on the personality type of the interviewer, you may need to adjust the length of the story, yet compelling stories work with all personality types. With the extreme driver or analytical personality types, you will need to keep the details to a minimum, while quickly making your point. Usually two or three shorter stories are better than one long story. At the other extreme, for feeling personality types, you will perform better with a longer story and more details. How do you detect the difference in personality types? By continuously striving to stay personally connected with the interviewer. If this connection appears to be lost or fading during the telling of a compelling story, shorten the story and come to your point quickly. On the other hand, if you have a captive audience who is hanging on your every word, provide all the necessary details.

The key to using compelling stories is that stories are remembered. Stories are what make you human. Stories are what put a face on you in the mind of the interviewer. And stories are what they will come back to when you are being sold to others internally. When that time comes, you have given your interviewer ammo for helping others to see why you should go on to the next step in the hiring process. Or be offered the job.    Back to the List




The Pregnant Pause Technique

If you are succeeding in presenting a series of compelling stories during the interview, you will likely develop a rapport which places the communication on a more interactive level.

However, as you are presenting information during the interview, you may need to test the waters with the length of your answers. This can be done easily with the Pregnant Pause. As you are telling a story or example, pause at the conclusion of the story. This will be the cue to the interviewer to take back control with another question or redirection of the original question. But if the interviewer continues eye contact during the pause, use this as a cue to go on and provide another example.

Most interviews do not have established ground rules, agendas, or programs. They can and do change and adapt based on the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee. So how long should your interview answers typically be? It is always a good idea to keep your answers within a two minute maximum. But you will have no idea at the outset if the interviewer has two questions or twenty. By proper use of the pause, you give the interviewer the opportunity to stick with their overall plan and schedule. And, if appropriate, you can continue to give further details or an entirely new example.

A side note to the pause is the converse reaction--an interviewer should not have to interrupt your answer. If you are interrupted, give control back to the interviewer. Take it as a tip that you will need to shorten and tighten up your following answers.

One additional side note: never interrupt or finish a sentence for an interviewer. Even if they talk extraordinarily slow, be patient. Remember, they are the one who holds the ticket for admission.     Back to the List






The Quotable Quotes Technique

If you want to add credibility to what you say about yourself, tell the interviewer what other people have said about you. The best quotes are not words they others have said about you to you, but about you to others. The best way to provide this information is to quote the other person, referring to yourself in the third person:

"My boss always said that if something needs to get done, give it to Jane and you know it will not only be done right away, it will also be done right."

"My professor once told my academic advisor, 'Tim is the one person I can continuously count on to give a 110% effort in every class.'"

"My coach called me 'The Dave' and coined the phrase, ‘Give it to The Dave’ when he had a game that needed saving. Even now, after I’m no longer on the team, he still uses ‘Give it to The Dave’ as his way of saying that it’s time to put in the closer to win the game."

When you can quote what others have said about you, you have elevated the view of who you are to the shoulders of others. From that vantage point, your value increases substantially. Take note of what others say about you. And be ready to quote the quotables.      Back to the List




The Hero Technique

Has there ever been a time in your life when you saved the day? “Hero” stories almost always make compelling interview stories. Was there a time when you put in the above-and-beyond effort? Or maybe a time when you did something that dramatically changed the course of events (for the positive, of course). Or perhaps even a time when you were a true hero, by saving someone’s life or an act or great bravery? If so, work the story into your collection of compelling stories.

The difficulty with true hero stories can be in finding a successful bridge to the story. But with careful thought, you will find ample opportunities.

A recent interviewee told of the time when he literally saved someone from drowning in a lake, while cutting his feet on sharp objects trying to get to the drowning victim. This story came after a question about reaching goals in his life. Not sure how he got there? His bridge (after telling about his career goal of working for our company) was to say that he was very strong at keeping focused on the goal and not letting side issues deter him from achieving the objective. And he then went on to tell the story of how he saved the drowning victim, in spite of injuring himself in the process. He only realized he had cut his feet after he had carried the girl out of the lake. Thus, his focus is confirmed and the story is now ingrained in me, probably for posterity.

Another interviewee told of the time that she was given a surprise party by a customer of the company she worked for. They were all so appreciative of the hard work that she put in that they gave her a going away party when she went back to school. This story was given in response to a question about how responsive she was of the needs of others.

Another interviewee told of the time that he hit the game-winning RBI in the final game of a softball tournament. He told the story in response to a question about teamwork and did it in a way to show that all the members of the team had contributed to the final outcome, even though he was the one that was carried off the field by his teammates. He used it was an example to show how he valued the bonding of the team and how each member was able to perform at a much higher level than would have been possible individually.

And finally, another interviewee told the story of sinking the eight-foot putt for victory on the first hole of sudden-death playoff in a golf tournament. He was asked a question about his ability to handle pressure and he used the story to show that he actually thrived on pressure and performed at his peak while under pressure.

Hero stories play well in the minds of interviewers. We all love to hear a good story and hero stories are often some of the best. Think about the times in your life when you were the hero. And begin to weave your hero story (or stories) into your interviewing answer repertoire. Back to the List





The Successful Vagabond Technique

There is a very simple key to successful interviewing which I learned from a couple who successfully traveled around the world on a sailboat. While not requiring a great deal of money for their journey (most of their needs were supplied by the wind and the sea), they did occasionally have need for provisions. So when they made a stopover in the port of a distant land, they would often seek short-term work, usually just enough to replenish their supplies. To compound the difficulty of this task, they were always foreigners in a foreign land, seeking limited-term work, and asking at or above the local prevailing wage. Yet they were always successful.

Their secret? Confidence. Simple confidence. Confidence in who they were. Confidence in what they could do. "I can do this job and do it well." They did not go begging for work. They would walk into a company with confidence that they would be able to make an immediate contribution. Confidence that they would be profitable employees. And their confidence came through loud and clear. They found work in every port, near and far.

Every company, whether in the U.S. or abroad, seeks confidence when considering hiring new employees. If you lack it, you will be refused. If you show confidence, it will cover for a multitude of shortcomings in other areas. Lack work experience? Confidence will overcome. Confidence is the great counterbalancing factor for entry level college grads.

When I am interviewing college students for entry level opportunities at my company, one of the first things I look for is confidence. The confidence factor is one of the most quickly recognized skills in the brief on-campus interview and one of the most highly reliable predictors of future performance.

So how do you gain this confidence? Through preparation. Knowing who you are and what you can do. And practicing. Over and over. Until you are not only confident in yourself, but also able to project that confidence to others. I must also be confident in your ability to do the work. Then, and only then, will I be willing to invest in you.     Back to the List




How To Never Be Nervous Again

If even the thought of interviewing makes you nervous, it's important to get that emotion under control. The interview is your opportunity to be at your best. If you allow nervousness to control your presentation (or lack thereof), your image may be forever shrouded in the cloud of nervousness that blocked the interviewer's total view of who you are.

Why do we get nervous? Because of the unknown. We are seeking approval, but we are unsure of ourselves and how we will be perceived. We are afraid we won't get approval, which makes us nervous. And to compound the problem, our increasing nervousness makes it even more difficult to gain that approval, thereby compounding the basis for our fears. Uncontrolled, nervousness can destroy our ability to effectively interview.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The next page has a simple technique that you can apply to overcome your nervousness in any interviewing situation. It is a technique that I personally use in overcoming my own nervousness, and it will work equally well for you.     Back to the List







The Rowboat Technique

In my public speaking, I am often confronted by crowds of hundreds and sometimes even thousands. Do I get nervous? You bet. Every time. Is anyone aware of my nervousness? Not unless they see me in the few minutes before I go on stage, before I have successfully applied the Rowboat Technique. This simple technique allows me to overcome my fears and successfully speak before thousands of people I have never met before. And it will help you in meeting with and speaking to people you have never met before in the interviewing situation.

The Rowboat Technique is a simple contraction of the abdomen in combination with rhythmic breathing that will allow you to fully overcome your nervousness in any situation. To understand how to use this technique, sit forward in a chair, arms outstretched, as if you are grabbing oars in a rowboat. Take a deep breath, then slowly pull back your arms and contract the abdominal muscle just below the rib cage. As you continue to let out air, roll the contraction of the muscle downward, just above your pelvic region, centering on your navel. Keep you muscles tight until all of the air has been expelled. Count to three (don't breathe in yet!), then inhale deeply. Repeat this simple process two or three times and you will find that your body is completely relaxed.

To better understand the Rowboat Technique, stop by the gym and sit down at one of the rowing machines. You will gain a firsthand feel for the relaxation brought on by the series of muscle contractions and deep breathing that comes naturally during this type of workout.

So how can this apply with interviewing? Obviously, you don't want to go through all the visual animations in front of the interviewer, but you can still effectively apply this technique. Simply take in a deep breath through your nose, then contract your abdominal muscles in the "top to bottom roll" discussed above as you slowly exhale through slightly parted lips. Hold it at the bottom, take in a deep breath, and you are ready to go. If you are still nervous, simply repeat the technique one or two more times. Even if you are not nervous at the time, it is always a good idea to use this technique as you are waiting to meet with your interviewer. During the interview, you can use it while the interviewer is speaking to keep any potential nervousness in check.

What if you are overcome by nervousness while answering a question? Simply pause, take a deep breath, exhale and contract, then continue. Your nervousness will be noticeable to the interviewer (due to the pause in your answer), but the five-second drill will also show that you are seeking to control your nervousness. If you are able to successfully overcome, I will never hold that pause against you. I will admire your self-control and the positive, proactive action you took to put the interview back on a successful track.

This technique is virtually unnoticeable to anyone nearby. I make it a habit to apply this technique several times before going on stage, whether I am feeling nervous or not. You could be seated next to me and be completely unaware of what I am doing. Yet I will effectively put away all my nervousness and prepare myself for a dynamic presentation. You can do the same in preparation for your interview.

Why does it work? Very simply, the muscle contractions prevent the introduction of chemical imbalances into your system that can cause nervousness. The deep breathing helps to dissipate any chemicals that have already been released. It forces the body to prepare physically for the upcoming task. The body begins to focus on producing positive endorphins that will be needed for the anticipated "rowing" ahead. And this exercise will give your mind the opportunity to focus positively on the actual task of interviewing.

You can use this technique in a variety of circumstances in which you need to focus your mind and body: overcoming anxiety, anger, fright, tension, nausea--even a simple case of stomach butterflies. You can overcome interviewing nervousness, and much more, just by using this simple technique. If you haven't already done so, give it a try right now!     Back to the List






Ten Tough Interview Questions And Ten Great Answers

Mental fear of the unknown is often what produces the physical symptoms of nervousness. In addition to preparing yourself physically, you also need to prepare yourself mentally. The best way to prepare mentally is to know what may be coming. Fear of the unknown can only exist when there is an unknown. Take the time to understand some of the "standards" when it comes to interviewing questions.

The following are some of the most difficult questions you will face in the course of your job interviews. Some questions may seem rather simple on the surface--such as "Tell me about yourself"--but these questions can have a variety of answers. The more open-ended the question, the wider the variation in the answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.

Others are "classic" interview questions, such as, "What is your greatest weakness?" Questions which most people answer inappropriately. In this case, the standard textbook answer for the "greatest weakness" question is to give a veiled positive--"I work too much. I just work and work and work"--which ends up sending the wrong message. Either you are lying or, worse yet, you are telling the truth, in which case you define working too much as a weakness and really don't want to work much at all. Think about it.

The following answers are provided to give you a new perspective on how to answer tough interview questions. They are not there for you to lift from the page and insert into your next interview. They are there for you to use as the basic structure for formulating your own answers. While the specifics of each reply may not apply to you, try to follow the basic structure of the answer from the perspective of the interviewer. Answer the questions behaviorally, with specific examples that show clear evidence backs up what you are saying about yourself. Always provide information that shows you want to become the very best _____ for the company and that you have specifically prepared yourself to become exactly that. They want to be sold. They are waiting to be sold. Don't disappoint them!

1.      Tell me about yourself.
My background to date has been centered around preparing myself to become the very best _____ I can become. Let me tell you specifically how I've prepared myself . . .

  1. Why should I hire you?
    Because I sincerely believe that I'm the best person for the job. I realize that there are many other college students who have the ability to do this job. I also have that ability. But I also bring an additional quality that makes me the very best person for the job--my attitude for excellence. Not just giving lip service to excellence, but putting every part of myself into achieving it. In _____ and _____ I have consistently reached for becoming the very best I can become by doing the following . . .

  2. What is your long-range objective? Where do you want to be 10 or 15 years from now?
    Although it's certainly difficult to predict things far into the future, I know what direction I want to develop toward. Within five years, I would like to become the very best _____ your company has. In fact, my personal career mission statement is to become a world-class _____ in the _____ industry. I will work toward becoming the expert that others rely upon. And in doing so, I feel I will be fully prepared to take on any greater responsibilities that might be presented in the long term.

  3. How has your education prepared you for your career?
    As you will note on my resume, I've taken not only the required core classes in the _____ field, I've also gone above and beyond. I've taken every class the college has to offer in the field and also completed an independent study project specifically in this area. But it's not just taking the classes to gain academic knowledge--I've taken each class, both inside and outside of my major, with this profession in mind. So when we're studying _____ in _____, I've viewed it from the perspective of _____. In addition, I've always tried to keep a practical view of how the information would apply to my job. Not just theory, but how it would actually apply. My capstone course project in my final semester involved developing a real-world model of _____, which is very similar to what might be used within your company. Let me tell you more about it . . .

  4. Are you a team player?
    Very much so. In fact, I've had opportunities in both athletics and academics to develop my skills as a team player. I was involved in _____ at the intramural level, including leading my team in assists during the past year--I always try to help others achieve their best. In academics, I've worked on several team projects, serving as both a member and team leader. I've seen the value of working together as a team to achieve a greater goal than any one of us could have achieved individually. As an example . . .

  5. Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How was it resolved?
    Yes, I have had conflicts in the past. Never major ones, but certainly there have been situations where there was a disagreement that needed to be resolved. I've found that when conflict occurs, it's because of a failure to see both sides of the situation. Therefore, I ask the other person to give me their perspective and at the same time ask that they allow me to fully explain my perspective. At that point, I would work with the person to find out if a compromise could be reached. If not, I would submit to their decision because they are my superior. In the end, you have to be willing to submit yourself to the directives of your superior, whether you're in full agreement or not. An example of this was when . . .

  6. What is your greatest weakness?
    I would say my greatest weakness has been my lack of proper planning in the past. I would overcommit myself with too many variant tasks, then not be able to fully accomplish each as I would like. However, since I've come to recognize that weakness, I've taken steps to correct it. For example, I now carry a planning calendar in my pocket so that I can plan all of my appointments and "to do" items. Here, let me show you how I have this week planned out . . .

  7. If I were to ask your professors to describe you, what would they say?
    I believe they would say I'm a very energetic person, that I put my mind to the task at hand and see to it that it's accomplished. They would say that if they ever had something that needed to be done, I was the person who they could always depend on to see that it was accomplished. They would say that I always took a keen interest in the subjects I was studying and always sought ways to apply the knowledge in real world settings. Am I just guessing that they would say these things? No, in fact, I'm quite certain they would say those things because I have with me several letters of recommendation from my professors, and those are their very words. Let me show you . . .

  8. What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?
    The key quality should be leadership--the ability to be the visionary for the people who are working under them. The person who can set the course and direction for subordinates. A manager should also be a positive role model for others to follow. The highest calling of a true leader is inspiring others to reach the highest of their abilities. I'd like to tell you about a person who I consider to be a true leader . . .

  9. If you had to live your life over again, what would you change?
    That's a good question. I realize that it can be very easy to continually look back and wish that things had been different in the past. But I also realize that things in the past cannot be changed, that only things in the future can be changed. That's why I continually strive to improve myself each and every day and that's why I'm working hard to continually increase my knowledge in the _____ field. That's also the reason why I want to become the very best _____ your company has ever had. To make positive change. And all of that is still in the future. So in answer to your question, there isn't anything in my past that I would change. I look only to the future to make changes in my life.

In reviewing the above responses, please remember that these are sample answers. Please do not rehearse them verbatim or adopt them as your own. They are meant to stir your creative juices and get you thinking about how to properly answer the broader range of questions that you will face.    Back to the List






Fifty Standard Interview Questions

It is not enough to have solid answers only for the above questions. You need to be prepared for the full spectrum of questions that may be presented. For further practice, make sure you go through the required mock interview (see the "Competitive Interview Prep" Section) and for further review, look at some of the following questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.

  2. What do you want to do with your life?

  3. Do you have any actual work experience?

  4. How would you describe your ideal job?

  5. Why did you choose this career?

  6. When did you decide on this career?

  7. What goals do you have in your career?

  8. How do you plan to achieve these goals?

  9. How do you evaluate success?

  10. Describe a situation in which you were successful.

  11. What do you think it takes to be successful in this career?

  12. What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction in your life?

  13. If you had to live your life over again, what would you change?

  14. Would your rather work with information or with people?

  15. Are you a team player?

  16. What motivates you?

  17. Why should I hire you?

  18. Are you a goal-oriented person?

  19. Tell me about some of your recent goals and what you did to achieve them.

  20. What are your short-term goals?

  21. What is your long-range objective?

  22. What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

  23. Where do you want to be ten years from now?

  24. Do you handle conflict well?

  25. Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How did you resolve it?

  26. What major problem have you had to deal with recently?

  27. Do you handle pressure well?

  28. What is your greatest strength?

  29. What is your greatest weakness?

  30. If I were to ask one of your professors to describe you, what would he or she say?

  31. Why did you choose to attend your college?

  32. What changes would you make at your college?

  33. How has your education prepared you for your career?

  34. What were your favorite classes? Why?

  35. Do you enjoy doing independent research?

  36. Who were your favorite professors? Why?

  37. Why is your GPA not higher?

  38. Do you have any plans for further education?

  39. How much training do you think you'll need to become a productive employee?

  40. What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?

  41. Why do you want to work in the _____ industry?

  42. What do you know about our company?

  43. Why are you interested in our company?

  44. Do you have any location preferences?

  45. How familiar are you with the community that we're located in?

  46. Will you relocate? In the future?

  47. Are you willing to travel? How much?

  48. Is money important to you?

  49. How much money do you need to make to be happy?

  50. What kind of salary are you looking for?

Don't just read these questions--practice and rehearse the answers. Don't let the company interview be the first time you have actually formulated an answer in spoken words. It is not enough to think about them in your head--practice! Sit down with a friend, a significant other, or your roommate (an especially effective critic, given the amount of preparation to date) and go through all of the questions. Make the most of every single interview opportunity by being fully prepared!    Back to the List





Top Ten Critical Success Factors

With all the different questions being referenced, you may wonder what exactly the employer is looking for. And I will tell you. Following is the list of the top ten critical success factors that nearly every employer is seeking:

1 1.  Positive attitude toward work

2 2.  Proficiency in field of study

3 3.  Communication skills (oral and written)

4 4.  Interpersonal skills

5 5.  Confidence

6 6.  Critical thinking and problem solving skills

7 7.  Flexibility

   8.  Self-motivation

   9.  Leadership

110.  Teamwork

Show your competence in as many of the above critical success factors as possible and you will rise above the competition.    Back to the List







One Interview Question That Nearly Every College Student Fails

Here it is. The one question that nearly every college student fails to answer properly (and will continue to send students to their interview ruin) is:

"Why did you choose to attend this college?"

You have spent the last several years knocking the college--the professors, the administration, the dorms, the food in the dining halls, whatever--and now you suddenly need to come to its defense. And if you have not thought of an answer before the interview, you definitely will not come up with a valid one on the spot.

So think about it in advance. What is the real reason you are attending your college? Is it because of the academic program? Is it because of extracurricular programs? Athletics? Close to home? Party school? Great dating opportunities? Everyone else turned you down?

Once you acknowledge your true reason for attending, you will need to temper your response with some directed reasoning--tie in what it is about your college that makes it worthwhile from the perspective of the employer. Your response should emphasize what it is about the school that makes it an attractive training ground for this employer. You need to talk about your college as the ideal training facility for becoming a _____ with that company.

You might find it best to give a "process answer" such as:

"I originally decided to attend State U. because of its strong general academic reputation and its close proximity to my home, which gave me the opportunity to continue working at my part-time job. During the years I have spent here, I have come to truly appreciate the depth and breadth of the _____ curriculum. It has given me an excellent foundation for becoming an immediate contributor in the _____ field."

Lay on the superlatives, but don't get mushy. You will come to appreciate your time at college later in life, but for now, a few well-chosen words about why it is #1 for you in your career will suffice.      Back to the List





 What To Do If You Are Asked An Illegal Question

The interview is going along smoothly. You are psyched that "this may be the one." And then it happens. Out of nowhere. "Are you considering having children?" Or, "How long has your family been in this country?" Or, "Your people place a high value on that, don't they?" Or, "You've done amazingly well for someone in a wheelchair. How long have you had to use one?"

On the surface the question may seem innocent enough. And most of the time, they are truly asked in innocence. Yet the structure and format of the question is entirely illegal. So what do you do? How do you respond?

First of all, it is important to understand the difference between an illegal question and a criminally liable question. Even though a question or comment may have been stated in an illegal form, it does not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed. There is a difference between criminal liability and civil liability. For there to be criminal liability, it requires establishing a motive or intent. Most illegal questions are asked in ignorance, not with malicious intent. Yet there can still be civil recourse, even when there was no criminal motive or intent.

In our politically correct society, we often cry "foul" at the slightest deviation from the accepted standard. But the reality is that most illegal interview questions are asked in true innocence. Or, better stated, in true ignorance. Ignorance of the law, ignorance of what questions are proper, ignorance of how the information could be used by others in a discriminatory way.

Ironically, most illegal questions are asked when the untrained interviewer is trying to be more friendly and asks a seemingly innocent question about your personal life or family background. Therefore, any attempt by the candidate to assert their constitutional rights will merely throw up the defense shields and will put an end to mutual consideration. Warning lights go on, sirens sound, and the interviewer begins backing down from what may have been an otherwise very encouraging position.

So what is the proper response? The answer is up to you, but my recommendation is to follow one of two courses of action: answer in brief and move on to a new topic area, or ignore the question altogether and redirect the discussion to a new topic area. The interviewer may even recognize the personal misstep and appreciate your willingness to put it aside and go on.

Unless the question is blatantly discriminatory--and yes, blatant discrimination does still take place--your best option is to move on to other things. But if it is blatant and offensive, you have every right to terminate the interview and walk out.

While laws vary from state to state, there are some definite taboo areas with regard to interview questions which employers should avoid. Following is a brief list of some of the questions that employers should not be asking:

·         Questions related to birthplace, nationality, ancestry, or descent of applicant, applicant's spouse, or parents

(Example: "Pasquale--is that a Spanish name?")

  • Questions related to applicant's sex or marital status

(Example: "Is that your maiden name?")

  • Questions related to race or color

(Example: "Are you considered to be part of a minority group?")

  • Questions related to religion or religious days observed

(Example: "Does your religion prevent you from working weekends or holidays?")

  • Questions related to physical disabilities or handicaps

(Example: "Do you have any use of your legs at all?")

  • Questions related to health or medical history

(Example: "Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?")

  • Questions related to pregnancy, birth control, and child care

(Example: "Are you planning on having children?")

It should be noted that just because an illegal question has been asked does not necessarily mean a crime has been committed. It is up to a court of law to determine whether the information was used in a discriminatory manner.

  Back to the List






Don't Commit One Of The Worst Interview Sins

Don't Commit One Of The Worst Interview Sins

One of the worst "sins" an interviewee can commit is to speak in generalities rather than specifics. It is not enough to say, "I'm a very goal-oriented person." You have to back it up with specifics. For example: "I'm a very goal oriented person. In fact, I regularly update a list of personal and business goals with specific time frames. Since I started keeping this goal list three years ago, I've successfully reached or surpassed over 95% of these goals. I'm confident that the other 5% are also within reach in the coming year."

If you are prone to using generalities, a sharp interviewer will usually follow with the behavioral question "Can you give me a specific example?" So beware! In fact, a favorite dual interview question of mine is: "Do you consider yourself to be goal-oriented?" (which to date has been answered 100% of the time with "Yes"), followed by: "Can you give me a specific example?" It's amazing how many people could not answer the second question or (worse yet) attempted to snow their way past it. The best answers came from those who didn't even need the prompting of my second question, but gave specifics in response to my initial question. That is what a good interviewer will be looking for.

An important aspect of being specific is to use the quantitative approach. Don't just say, "I increased productivity." Instead use, "I increased staff meeting productivity 25% in one year within our department by implementing a video teleconferencing system for participants at our other location on campus, thereby reducing unnecessary travel time. And as a by-product of this focus on the needs of our employees, meeting attendance is up over 10%. In fact, the teleconferencing system was showcased in the August newsletter. Let me show you a copy."    Back to the List







The Parroting Technique

If a question is unclear to you, it is entirely appropriate to ask a clarifying question or paraphrase the question to make sure you understand. "Parrot back" the question in your own words to make sure you have the correct meaning. Don't assume or make a "best guess" of what the interviewer is looking for. They are the only ones who truly know what they want, so a well-placed "Just so that I understand, what you are asking is . . . " question will serve you far better than treading down an unknown path.

The Parroting Technique will also serve you well as a temporary stall when you do not have a ready answer.

Back to the List 







The Safety Valve Technique

What do you do when you have been asked a question that you know you have a good answer to, but cannot think of it immediately? Don't get caught using the typical "I know the answer to that and I will give it to you as soon as I can remember what it is" line that is most often blurted out (either figuratively or, I'm sorry to say, literally by some). Instead, use the Safety Valve Technique. Basically, this technique allows some of the "steam to escape" while you formulate your answer. If handled well, it will appear almost seamless to even the most experienced interviewer.

Here is how it works. The interviewer has just asked you a question for which you know you have a good answer, but you just cannot think of it at that moment. First of all, repeat back the question with the Parroting Technique. This will buy you a few precious seconds before going on to the next level. If you still cannot put together the answer, you have two "safety valves" left. First, comment on the importance of the question and its context--"I understand the importance of this in regard to . . . " If you still haven't formulated your answer, turn the question back to the interviewer for comment--"Can you tell me how _____ (subject area) specifically plays a role within your company?"

This technique takes some practice to avoid the "snow job" look, but if you practice it enough (try attending some MENSA meetings to watch the professionals perform), you will find yourself quite ready and able to squeeze precious seconds out of even the most seasoned interviewers. Back to the List






The Reframing Technique

The word "control" is often used with regard to interviewing. Often it is used incorrectly, by giving the interviewee the impression they should attempt to take full "control" over the questioning in the actual interview. This is, quite simply, a terrible mistake. If you attempt to take one-sided control of the interviewer and the interview, you may win the initial battle, but will certainly lose the war. I will let you take control, but I will press the "reject" button as soon as you leave my office.

The right use of "control" in the interview is your ability to control both the context and perspective of your answers. You can do this effectively by utilizing the Reframing Technique. To do this, you should always attempt to answer the questions as straightforwardly as possible initially, but then reframe the original question to illustrate an area of your background that can further enhance your overall image. This requires a thorough understanding of your strong points so you have a planned direction and course. By properly using the Reframing Technique, you will find yourself covering the same core topics (which reflect your greatest strengths) in nearly every interview, regardless of the questions used as the launching point.

For example, if you are asked who your favorite professor is, you might give a short answer about a particular professor, then reframe the question by telling why that professor is your favorite. "She has the ability to tie in all of the classroom theory with practical business applications; in fact, it was her inspiration that encouraged me to participate in a two-week internship over Winter Break, where I combined my classroom knowledge with practical experience in the field of _____."

Reframing can take many forms, but at its best there is always a solid connection between the original question and the reframed emphasis. If the reformatting of the original question goes into a totally unrelated topic area, it will be counted against you. The key is to stay within the same general frame and use the question as a launch pad in a new, yet related direction (the reframed question). When done smoothly, the interviewer will not even be aware of the slight shift in focus. And you will have the opportunity to put forth your strongest points. Know your strong points and all the bridges you can use to reach them so that you can use reframing to your advantage in the interview.     Back to the List






The Experience Of A Lifetime Technique

One of the most difficult questions at the entry level can be the "experience" question. If you have applicable work experience in your chosen occupation, great! Make the most of it and capitalize on this area to differentiate yourself from your competition.

But what if you don't? What if your experience consists primarily of flipping burgers at McDonald's? Don't answer apologetically, as most do, that you really don't have any real experience to speak of. Instead, use the Experience Of A Lifetime Technique to solidify your background and confirm your ability to do the job:

"Thank you for asking me about my experience. I understand the need to review my past experience to determine whether or not I'm able to accomplish the tasks necessary for this job. I have, in fact, had a lifetime of experience that is directly related to this job. For example, I've learned . . . "

Then go on to relate life experiences and what those have taught you or how they have prepared you for this job. These responses can include the generic, which would apply to any position ("I've learned the ethics of hard work and seeing a job through to completion, whatever the cost, during my summers working for my uncle on his farm. One summer, my uncle broke his leg, and the entire family counted on me to . . . ") to the specific ("I've learned through my classes how to utilize object-oriented development tools to efficiently develop modular systems that can be used across a series of platforms. In fact, in the capstone project in my final year . . . ").

Then close by detailing your personal attributes: "I've learned that for a company to succeed, it needs people who are ready and willing to put forth their very best effort. People who aren't afraid to work hard. People who are dependable. That is the experience that I bring to you and your company."

Modify the above to suit your own needs, but please don't regress to the "I really don't have any experience" line. The interview is as good as over the minute you say it.    Back to the List







The Articulation Factor

The ability to articulate your background is a combination of good preparation (which you have full control over) and vocabulary/enunciation (which you have little control over). Your "smartness," "sharpness," "quickness," "aggressiveness," and "brightness" are all attributes that are evaluated based upon your articulation. If you have "lazy lips" you may want to practice enunciating and forming your words more clearly. And whatever you do, don't continually reach for elusive words to perfectly portray your thoughts and feelings. Any practiced interviewer prefers an individual who is comfortable within their vocabulary level than one who is always searching at the level above.

In practicing your articulation, take careful note of the "quickie" words which we tend to develop in our everyday speech pattern. Words like "gonna" and "yeah" and "y'know" and "kinda" are all killers. They can make you sound uneducated and coarse. And they have a habit of repeating. We have all probably had a parent (or sibling) point out the use of "y'know" in our speaking. In addition, you may have particular words or phrases which you use for emphasis which can become particularly pronounced in the interview. These would include "to tell you the truth" and "truthfully" and "basically" and "OK, well" and "Like, . . ." As a side note, I once counted the number of times a candidate said, "to tell you the truth" after it became particularly repetitive. She said it over fifteen times. And I began to question her truthfulness.

Make sure you are fully prepared for the interview, on your own background (nothing will kill an interview quicker than someone who cannot recall personal events) and background on our company. Proper research will help you formulate your answers in a clear and succinct manner.    Back to the List







The Dirty Dog Theory

We all love the dog, except when he needs a bath. Same with interviewing. I have conducted countless interviews where things seemed to be going just fine, when suddenly the interviewee began a series of complaints about others. And suddenly the spotless interviewee has become hopelessly stained.

Is there anything worse than a complainer? Nope, nothing worse. We all know one, and we all want to distance ourselves from that person. Company or otherwise. So remember that the interview is not your forum for griping. If you gripe about your current or past employers or professors or make note of any shortcomings in your life of missed expectations (even though they may be few!), you have just relegated yourself to the position of "complainer." And complainers are all too common already within most companies. Why would any company hire new complainers? They won't. Be positive about everything. Case closed.    Back to the List






The Abraham Lincoln Technique

It goes without saying that talking down the competition is a no-no. But talking about the competition can be quite different--if handled appropriately.

When Abraham Lincoln was arguing a case in court, he would usually argue both sides of the case to the jury. He would first take the opponent's side of the issue and then his client's side. But note: he was always very precise in bringing out more favorable facts for his client than for his opponent. Both sides were covered on a positive note, although his client's side was always more favorable.

At IBM, we followed this same principle. We were not allowed to talk down our competition. We could acknowledge them and their products, yet we never put them down. We were required to sell IBM on the strength of IBM, not on the weakness of others. Our customers appreciated our willingness to accept the competition and seek to rise above on our own merits rather than try to push the competition down to a lower level. So if you are confronted with a comparison to your competition, be prepared to fully acknowledge the strength of your competition, then follow with what you feel are your own greater assets.

An example in applying this technique is how to handle the potential negative when the interviewer asks why you are lacking in a particular area (be it grades, work experience, extracurriculars, etc.). You need to first speak well of the others. Then you need to establish your own case, which can also include using the Reframing Technique. An example would be in response to a question about a low GPA:

"I'm sure that there are many who have put more time and energy into their GPA than I did--and I congratulate them on their efforts. Grades are important, but my overall focus has been to develop myself as the very best accountant I can become. For me, this has involved not only time in the classroom, but also time in applying these skills in real world situations. Because of that focus, I have spent 15 to 20 hours per week working as a bookkeeper during my final two years. While I was not able to devote myself full-time to pure academics, I feel the combination of academic and work experience has more fully prepared me for the accounting field than full-time academics alone."

Honest Abe would be proud of you.                    Back to the List








The Pride Of Ownership Technique

Not sure how you are doing in the interview? Want to greatly increase your odds? You can do both with the Pride of Ownership Technique. To use this simple technique during the course of the interview, simply start giving your replies and asking your questions in terms of ownership--as if you are already part of the company. One way is to formulate the last part of your response to a "Teamwork" question with, "What kind of departmental structure will I be working in with your company?" Note the important difference. You are not asking, "What kind of departmental structure does your company have?" This is detached. You need to attach yourself--take pride of ownership--in the company.

Why? Two reasons. First and foremost, it will establish the link between you and the company. This is critical in helping the interviewer visualize you actually working for the company--the offer will never come if they cannot get past this step. Second, it provides you with instant feedback as to how you are doing within the interview. If the interviewer balks at your question or reshapes it by unlinking--especially by adding the "if" word in restating your question--you have a pretty good indication that you have not fully sold them on you. But if they accept your language and begin talking about you as if you are a part of the company, you are probably in a good position to close the sale.       Back to the List






The Competitive Posture Technique

It's important to maintain a competitive posture in the interview. The employer should be aware that they are not your only suitor. There is a delicate balance between letting the employer know that you really want to work for them and that if they don't make an offer, you will go with another company. The best way I can illustrate it is with the dating game. Sure, you love him/her and only him/her, but if things don't work out, there are plenty of other hims/hers banging on your door asking for a date. Right? Well, maybe it doesn't equate directly to your personal life, but you get the drift.

This posturing is very simple to incorporate into your interview language. Frame it in the form of a simple 1-2-3 engage/disengage/re-engage statement. Example:

1.      After what I've heard from everyone here at the company, I'm more convinced than ever that I would be an excellent contributor to your team. Just say the word and I'm ready to come to work for you.

  1. Of course, I do still have several other interviews currently pending.

  2. But at this point in time, yours is the company I would most like to work for.

If you feel comfortable with closing the sale, you can add the "Are you ready to make an offer?" question to the last statement above. The point is that you have put a limited time offer on your enthusiasm--if they want you, all of you, they better move quickly and decisively.      Back to the List







The One Question To Ask Every Interviewer

The One Question To Ask Every Interviewer

The opportunity for you to ask a question often comes only at the end of the interview. In fact, you are typically offered the chance when the interview is over: "Are there any questions that I can answer for you?" However, there is a question you should ask of every interviewer as early as possible during the course of the interview: "Can you tell me about the position and the type of person you are seeking?"

Properly positioned, this question can provide you with your single greatest opportunity for understanding more about the job and your ability to fill the role. The answer can show you the specific areas of need which you should address during the course of the interview. So it is important to inject this question into the interview as early as possible. You can do this with an out-take question. As you finish an answer, use it as a lead to your question. Be careful not to use this technique as an attempt to control the interview. You merely need to use this technique to inject this critical question.

For example, in answering a "What do you know about our company?" question, you can answer directly with what you know about the company (you have done your research, right?), then state that you do not know as much about the specific position. Turn your answer into the out-take question: "Can you tell me more about the position and the type of person you are seeking?"

Find the strategic opportunity to inject this question as early as possible in the process. Then, as appropriate, frame your answers around what they are seeking in the person to fill the position. Stay within practical and ethical bounds in directing your answers, yet keep in mind the perspective of the interviewer and seek to meet their needs for the position. You will be further ahead in the interview than if you merely take shots in the dark, hoping for your answers to magically hit the mark.    Back to the List





Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Following are additional questions you may want to consider asking at an appropriate point in the interview:

"Why did you personally decide to work for this company?"

"What are the three most important attributes for success in this position?"

"What are the opportunities for growth and advancement for this position?"

"How is your company responding to competition in the _____ area?"

"What is the anticipated company growth rate over the next three years"

Limit yourself to no more than one or two questions during an on-campus interview and no more than two or three questions during each company-site interview. Even if you are not able to get answers to all of your open questions before the offer is made, you will have one final opportunity at that point.   Back to the List







The Money Response Technique

If the "money question" is asked early in the interview (as it often is), the best response is: "What would a person with my background and qualifications typically earn in this position with your company?" The best response if asked late in the interview process is: "I am ready to consider your very best offer." This is one time you don't want to be specific. If you give specifics, you lose--you will either be too low or too high, costing yourself thousands of dollars or possibly even keeping yourself from getting the job.

That said, if you are pressed by the interviewer for specific numbers, don't put them off with more than one "end run" response. First, make sure you have done your homework on the expected salary range for your field. The salary surveys usually are skewed toward the high end (possibly because only the best paid graduates responded, while those with average or low pay did not want to admit what they were earning), so take them with a large dose of conservative adjustment. The best surveys are from those who graduated within the last year in your major from your school. You can possibly locate such information through your Career Center, Alumni Office, or your personal network of contacts. A business grad from Stanford is going to be earning a lot more than a business grad from Podunk U. Know the "going rate" for your major, your school, and the field that you are considering entering. And make sure you know it before you get propositioned with the money question.

Armed with this information, ask the interviewer: "What is the general salary range for new hires in this position?" If the entire range is acceptable, respond with: "That would be within my expected starting range, depending on the entire salary and benefits package." If only the top end of the range is acceptable, respond with: "The upper end of the range is what I have been discussing with the other companies that are currently interested." If the range is below your expected starting salary range (be careful!), respond with: "The other companies I am currently speaking with are considering me at a salary somewhat higher than that range. Of course, money is only one element and I will be evaluating the overall package." Do your best not to get pinned to specific numbers, but if they do mention a number and ask if it would be acceptable to you, respond by saying: "I would encourage you to make the formal offer. What is most important is the opportunity to work for you and your company. I am confident that your offer will be competitive." Remember, don't do any negotiating until you have a formal offer in hand. When that finally happens, go straight to the "Successful Job Offer Negotiation" Section for guidance on shaping it into the best offer. Back to the List









The Lockdown Technique

If you are truly interested in the job, one thing you should do at the end of the interview is recap: (1) why you feel you are the best candidate for the job (give two or three of your strongest attributes and/or qualifications), and (2) restate your interest in the position by asking for the job. Don't expect the employer to make the first move. Let them know of your interest and desire to work for them.

It is interesting to note that fewer than 1% of all college students actually ask for the job. It's almost as if they assume it to be a given. But it's not. So those who take this extra step will put themselves far beyond the rest of the competition. If I know that you want the job--that you really want the job--it makes my job as the interviewer that much easier and will greatly increase the odds of an offer either on the spot (it does happen) or in the very near future.

Remember that you cannot close the entire sale except with the person who can actually make the entire purchase. So if you are interviewing with Human Resources, close by asking to move forward to the next step in the process, which will likely require meeting with the hiring manager. When you interview with the hiring manager, you are ready to close on generating an offer.    Back to the List