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Interviewing Tips

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As a long-time recruiter and career coach, are there any secrets or tips you can give for interviewing?


I have written articles on interviewing in the recent past, but I thought this question would provide an opportunity to share some things that could dramatically impact your chances of getting hired during an interview. Some you will have heard, but some will be new.

Don't focus too much on your degree or college, especially if you have been in the business world for 15 to 20 years. The further you get away from college, the less relevance your degree tends to have.

If you have an engineering degree but have spent the last 15 years in sales and marketing, that degree is probably not going to help you very much when it comes to getting an engineering position. Also, there are no degrees in certain disciplines. For example, there is no such thing as a sales degree (that I am aware of), so the actual field of one's degree will typically have little or no bearing on a sales position. All of that said, many degrees have value, such as degrees in engineering, accounting, etc., especially if you are fairly recently out of college.

Your college experience is probably, at best, a mixed bag, unless you are interviewing with someone from the same alma mater. I have seen Ivy League graduates who had no common sense and low-rated college graduates who were brilliant. Remember, Bill Gates and the majority of entrepreneurs are college dropouts.

A number of years ago, I was involved in hiring a sales executive into Dell. He was a Princeton grad, but there were many more things on his resume that had more impact on the hiring decision, including well-rounded experience and top results at HP, the HP experience itself, prior Big Six experience, and his All-Ivy League experience in both football and track. The latter was significant because it showed competitiveness, teamwork, etc.

Not all hiring managers know how to interview and the questions to ask. In fact, a good many of them don't because they haven't been trained in this area. Typically HR people have and will be good at interviewing. So be prepared for strange questions and non-systematic interviews.

Make sure you have your stuff, including accomplishments, well rehearsed, and be prepared to subtly get the interview back on track. Also remember that someone can have all the right skills but just be a boring interviewer. It is not good form to nod off. That type of situation you will probably have to carry.

Practice good listening skills. Don't step on the ends of people's sentences. Don't be too quick to respond; count to three before responding. Sometimes a little thoughtfulness will impress the hiring manager as well as give you the chance to make sure you say what you want to say.

Try not to be forming your answer while a question is being asked (especially jumping out of your chair with unbridled excitement). That way you will hear the entire question and won't just answer the first half. If you hear something that is not crystal clear or ambiguous, repeat back to the interviewer what you heard, explain what you think he or she might be looking for, and ask if that is correct. This demonstrates exceptional listening and interpersonal skills. Finally, up front, listen for the interviewer's speech style (slow or fast, etc.) and try to mirror it.

Always have paper copies of your resume. With today's technology it is easy to assume they already have it. But people forget them, and someone who has never seen it might interview you. It is also probably not good form to whip out a printer and print it, though it might demonstrate technological proficiency.

Have your car washed before going on the interview. They may not see your car, but if they do, it will make a statement about you. (Fast food sacks are acceptable if they are well hidden.) If you are flying in and renting a car, don't rent the cheapest thing you can find (unless you are the bean counter), but don't rent a Hummer either. You don't want to appear either cheap or lavish.

Wear conservative clothing. Years ago, when I worked at NCR, I learned that you don't want your clothes to distract from why you are there. That is a good barometer. Dark suits, blue or white shirts or blouses, and conservative ties are preferable (watch the size of the knot). Make sure your shoes match what you're wearing. For women this is probably a no-brainer, but for some of you men I wonder.

I recently heard an interview with Doug Conant, head of Campbell's Soup, who at one time was a pro tennis player. He said that at his first corporate interview he had long hair and an impression from his headband and wore a brightly colored suit and earth shoes (remember those?). Within a couple of months, he had adopted the Brooks Brothers look.

If you have unusually strong breath or are getting a little older, have your teeth cleaned. No, I am not promoting good hygiene (though that is a good thing). You probably have never heard or seen this one. Neither had I, but it makes sense.

Absolutely do not insult, demean, act superior to, be dismissive to, etc., the receptionist or secretary! This is an opportunity killer. In fact, go out of your way to be nice.

Take something to calm the anxiety. This doesn't mean two shots and/or a couple of Valium. I am talking about a token, cross, Star of David, etc. — something that can "ground" you. Keep it in your pocket, and if you start to feel a little anxiety, subtly reach down and grab it. Also, it would be a good idea to do some breathing and visioning exercises before you go.

Watch excessive talking. This is either a sign of nervousness or that you are a salesperson (I am guilty.). Brevity and succinctness are typically the keys. You will want to be thorough enough to answer the question but not so thorough you spend 10 minutes providing minutiae before you get to the answer.

I won't go into a lot of detail about assumptive closes, asking for the job, and follow-up. You should talk with your recruiter or career coach about these things. I will say it is critical that you send a thank-you note or email. (I will leave which one up to the etiquette experts.) Don't let the thing drop unless you are not at all interested in the job. Even then, send the thank-you note and do a professional follow-up that removes you from consideration.

There are many more items we could cover, but I have found these to be some of the most important.

Have a great 2008.

Here's wishing you terrific hunting,


About the Author

Bill Gaffney has had 17 years of experience as an executive recruiter and a career coach. He can be reached at 937-567-5267 or
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