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Q-Tips: Critical Interviewing Tips
Key Job Interview Advice -- #2


These job interviewing related tips -- preparing for job interviews, tips for handling tricky interview questions, and more -- have been gathered from numerous sources throughout Quintessential Careers and organized here for your convenience.


When you interview for a job, know your resume, cautions Diana LeGere, of Executive Final Copy "I have interviewed many people who didn't have a clue to the content in their resume. The resume was written, and they simply delivered the goods. Your resume is your advertising campaign. Know what you stand for! Read your resume and be sure that you can back up each claim. Lack of integrity is an easy way to be eliminated from the competition."



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Time for diction lessons? Heavy regional accents have a negative impact on hiring decisions, according to a recent study by the University of North Texas, reported by Taeyma Sapp in Business Week. After listening to recordings of 10 men with college degrees from various regions of the country reading the same passage, 56 executive recruiters ranked candidates from California and Minnesota as the most employable because of their neutral accents. A New Jersey candidate with a doctoral degree and a doctoral candidate from North Georgia were ranked as the least employable.



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The majority of factors that employers consider before extending a job offer are absolutely in the jobseeker's control, asserts Diana LeGere of Executive Final Copy. Take image for instance. If you were to examine a product that claimed superiority but was presented in an unattractive package, would you buy it? Probably not. In fact, you would be twice as likely to purchase an inferior product with a remarkable package.



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One of the most dreaded interview questions (and it's not even really a question) is "Tell me about yourself." Eric Schlesinger of PFPC, a company that puts on career fairs for college students, provides this helpful template for responding (it's geared to college students but can be adapted by others): "My name is _____. I will be graduating from ____ with a degree in ______. I have had some experience in __________ (industry/function) doing _______. Most recently, I _______. Before that I was ___________. My areas of expertise (core transferable skills) are ____________. My particular strengths are (relate to the specific opportunity you are interviewing for) __________________. I am interested in how I might contribute to your organization."



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Employers aren't hard to please, says Diana LeGere of Executive Final Copy. In fact, they want only three things:
  1. A job candidate with skills (quality) who is a...
  2. corporate fit (value) tucked into a ...
  3. professional image (package).


Initially you acquire the interview by focusing careful attention to developing your resume. It's important to remember that a resume never buys a job. It merely buys an appointment for an interview. By handling the interview as a champion, you will get a job offer. Think of your resume as a product description. You are the product! Once you entice the employer (buyer), you are halfway there. A professional resume writer can easily convey your skills in an accurate assessment appropriate to the position you are applying for. Once you've accomplished that, the interview stage is potentially easier than wading through the sea of good and bad resumes.



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Nonverbal behaviors that make job candidates appear to be lying in interviews include licking the lips, coughing nervously, blushing, or restricting hand gestures, says Peter Thomson in his book, Secrets of Communication: Be Heard and Get Results. The lesson that you shouldn't lie in an interview is obvious. What may be less obvious is that exhibiting these nonverbal behaviors may make you seem dishonest even when you're completely truthful. In our experience, the two most important nonverbals in a job interview are a smile and a forceful voice (yes, we know voice is verbal, but we're talking more about HOW you project your voice than what you say). Employers frequently cite lack of enthusiasm as a major reason for not hiring a candidate; a warm and consistent smile in the interview is the best way to show enthusiasm. And the best way to show confidence is with a voice that's not timid, but strong and forceful.



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Is it okay to take notes to an interview -- in other words a sort of "cheat sheet" with key words/phrases to help you focus and remember situations? Most experts discourage taking notes to an interview. While they do show you are prepared for the interview, they also show that you are not prepared enough -- otherwise you would have the information in your head. Some people benefit from composing interview responses in writing and reading over them before the interview. If you'd like to try the technique, visit our Practice Interviews.


Don't memorize your responses or they will sound over-rehearsed. Try not to take any notes to the interview; instead, use a copy of your resume to help trigger your key points. But if you feel as though you really must have notes, keep them as unobtrusive as possible -- perhaps using a small notepad.


And don't fret about not saying all your key phrases and comments. You can always include some follow-up in your thank-you letter (which you must write), samples of which you can find here: Sample Job Interview Thank-You Letters.



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A number of companies use group or panel interviewing techniques. If they happen late in the job-hunt process, these interviews sometimes are more like informal meetings where the focus is on the level of a general discussion. However, these group interviews can also be extremely tough sessions, in which each person is lobbing questions at you in rapid fire. To prepare yourself, try to talk with someone at the company to ask what to expect at the interview. If this interview is your first with the company, prepare as you would for any job interview. Anticipate questions these people might ask you and prepare responses. Prepare for both traditional interview questions (such as, "why do you want to work for this company"), as well as behavioral interview questions (such as, "tell us about a time when you had to overcome huge obstacles.").


You can find information about interviewing and interviewing tips at Quintessential Careers: Guide to Interviewing Resources. Finally, be prepared and be yourself; show enthusiasm for the position and for the company. Be ready with some questions to ask your interviewers, and make sure you send thank you notes to everyone who interviews you. Ask for business cards to make sure you have everyone's name with the correct spelling.



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What can you do to keep your mind from going blank in an interview, creating an awkward silence? Those silences in job interviews seem like they last for hours when your mind is racing for an answer, but all you draw is a blank. Not only is it embarrassing, it usually kills the interview. The easy answer is that you need more experience interviewing -- and more practice and rehearsals before big interviews. The more you rehearse, the less likely you will draw a blank. The best way is to ask a friend to serve as the interviewer and fire questions at you.


Numerous Web sites list practice interview questions; we've gathered a collection of them here: Interview Question Collections. You should also visit our Practice Interviews. There's even software that offers mock interviews. You can find more links to these kind of resources at Quintessential Careers: Interviewing Resources.


Even if you've practiced, you should have a system down to give your mind more time to think, such as asking the interviewer to rephrase the question or rephrasing the question yourself and asking the interviewer if that was what he/she had in mind. Many employers we've talked to about this issue are split on our next piece of advice, so take it with a grain of salt: If you carry a portfolio with you to your interviews, keep a sheet of paper in there with a few memory aids that you can glance at to jog your brain. Keep in mind that some interviewers might find this practice odd.



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What kinds of questions should you ask prospective employers in an interview, when you are asked, "Do you have any questions?" Employers are truly interested in answering your questions, but mainly they ask you because they want to see how prepared you are for the interview. If you don't have any questions, the interviewer may assume that you are not really interested in the job or too lazy to prepare any questions. Thus, have some questions ready! There are numerous questions you could ask in reply to that question:


You could ask fact-based questions about the company, division, branch, or product. Example: "How do you determine the value customers are receiving from your products or services?"


You could ask specific job-related questions for the position you are interviewing for. Example: "How much of the current position involves meeting with clients?"


You could ask about future plans of the company, division, branch, or product. Example: What are some of the challenges you see this organization (or division, branch, brand) facing in the next year?"


You could ask questions about the hiring process. Example: "When can I expect to hear back from you?"


You could ask a question that places you in the job. Example: "What kind of projects/assignments would I be working on first?"


You could ask about anything that you are really interesting in getting an answer to that was not already discussed during the interview (but avoid asking "me-first" question about salary and benefits).


A number of great interviewing Web sites can help. For a list of the best, go to Quintessential Careers: Interviewing Resources. There are also many good books on interviewing. One of our favorites is: Killer Interviews, by Frederick W. and Barbara B. Ball (McGraw-Hill). A complete list of the best interviewing books can be found on Quintessential Careers at the Job Interviewing Books Bookstore.



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A common interview question is: "Where do you see yourself in the next several years?" Employers ask this question partly to see if you truly are seeking a permanent position. This question is also one of the most popular for employers to ask because it's a way (they think) of understanding a prospective employee's drive and ambition. Yet, you don't want to answer that question too ambitiously: "I plan to be running this company," or "I plan to be your boss." But you need to show some direction and ambition.


A good answer would be something like: "I would hope I am still with this organization in a position of increased responsibility, making a vital contribution to its success." You could also add a statement about professional career growth to your answer: "I hope to be in a position of increased responsibility that allows me to continually sharpen and grow my career skills, while making a significant contribution to the success of this organization."



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If a company has a "business casual" dress code, should a man still wear a nice suit to an interview there? How to dress for interviews continues to be a complex area as more companies adopt business casual dress codes. The rule of thumb is that you never want to dress below the dress code when interviewing, but dressing too far above it can also be risky, possibly signalling that the person doesn't fit into the culture of the organization -- and fit is a big issue. Try to fit the part. Find out more about the dress code of the executive staff. Do they always dress casually, or just on certain days? Is the dress code different when working internally than when dealing with external clients? For some general attire advice, go to Dress for Success for Men.



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Ever get asked a question in a job interview that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the job? "Whom do you admire most and why?" is an example. We call this type of question a "wild card" or "off-the-wall" question, which is meant to see how well you think on your feet and whether you will get flustered. While you can prepare for most of the standard interview questions, these wild-card questions can catch even the experienced interviewee off guard; thus, the key is to not allow yourself to get rattled by it. Keep in mind that there really are no wrong answers, but some answers are better than others.


As with all interview answers, it's best to answer in a way that helps you state your case that you are the right person for the position. The answer to the "most admired person" question, for example, could be a famous leader, enabling you to discuss the value of leadership and the leadership traits you have; or perhaps a famous businessperson, allowing you to cite the value of business acumen and your key business skills; or perhaps an athlete, opening the door to talking about the value of teamwork and your experiences as a team player.


For interview prep, check out this article Types of Job Interviews, which looks at the common aspects of all job interviews and then takes you through the differences between traditional job interviews and behavioral-based interviews. Read up on all aspects of job interviewing -- including how to answer common questions -- by going to Quintessential Careers: Job Interviewing Tutorial.



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How should you deal with interview questions about grades if your academic performance has been less than stellar? Take comfort in the fact that many employers are more interested in a job-seeker's previous accomplishments and in what skills they could bring to the job. GPA is some measure of academic success, but what it really measures is questionable -- and there are certainly no conclusive studies that tie academic success to workplace success. One way around an average overallGPA is to focus on the upper-division courses or courses in the major. This GPA is generally higher. So, if you have a 2.1 overall, but a 3.1 in your major, use your major GPA on your resume and in your interviews. Second, examine mitigating circumstances. Did you hold a part-time (or full-time) job while attending college? If you held down part-time jobs to pay for college, or worked full-time while attending college, you can talk about the lessons learned from multitasking and balancing work and education. Third, examine your extracurricular activities. Did you participate in an extraordinary number of extracurricular and/or volunteer activities? Use these activities to help explain that you were seeking a well-rounded education that included both classroom learning and experiential learning. Finally, if the employer is irrevocably focused on GPA, you probably don't want to work there anyway. The degree is what matters -- not always the path one takes to get it.



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To prepare job-seekers with the keys to successful phone interviews, we offer a series of articles. Check out Phone Interview Etiquette Can Propel You to the Next Step in the Hiring Process.


A companion piece to that article is our collection of Phone Interviewing Do's and Don'ts.



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Many disappointed job-seekers have been heard to say, "but the interviewer said I was perfect for the job." If the interviewer indicated you had a great interview, but you don't hear anything, ask yourself some questions. First, did you follow standard rules of job-interviewing etiquette and write thank-you notes (or letters) to each person who interviewed you? Second, did you ever call the employer back and express your interest in the position? You may also want to read two articles. First, FAQs About Thank You Letters, which includes all the reasons you should write thank-you notes -- and provides sample letters. Second, The Art of the Follow-Up After Job Interviews, which discusses what job-seekers should do after job interviews.


The problem could be with your interview style, your references, or something else. Call one of the people you interviewed with -- the one you felt you had the most rapport with -- and politely ask the person to critique your performance. Once you have broken the ice, you should ask in a non-confrontational manner why you didn't get the job offer.



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The keys to successful job interviewing are three-fold: research, preparation, and practice. Job-seekers can usually discover what kind of interview to expect by doing some basic research; in fact, some companies even post this information on their corporate career section of their Web sites. Once you have some knowledge about the type of interview(s) to expect, the next step is preparation; prepare your answers and anecdotes to properly respond to anticipated questions. Finally, practice giving your answers to the questions; the trick is being rehearsed while sounding spontaneous when at the actual interview.


Go to Quintessential Careers: Job Interviewing Resources, where you can also find short descriptions of each type of interview -- as well as descriptions of many other terms -- in our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.


We also have a growing library of interviewing articles at Quintessential Careers, which you can find at: Job Interviewing Articles. And if you want to know about case interviews in great detail, please read Mastering the Case Interview.



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Answering questions about how and why you left previous employers is always a tricky issue for job-seekers. If you left under negative circumstances, the key is to put a positive spin on the story. Most of us -- at one time or another -- have been fired, asked to resign, or been rightsized - so that's not really the issue. One final note about your response: be sure that besides your verbal response to the question, that your nonverbal gestures are not telling another story. Be confident and positive.



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If you want to be prepared for just about any kind of interview, check out our Job Interview Questions Database, which includes The Interview Question Database, 109 typical traditional and behavioral job interview questions, and The Practice Interviews, where you can test your responses to typical interview questions.


The key to successfully answering interview questions is understanding the purpose behind each question. Your answers should always be focused on the prize -- getting to the next step, getting the job offer. Thus, your answers should always be framed in the context of how your mix of education, experience, and skills will add to the company -- and make the interviewer's job easier/better. Once you have a handle on what the position entails, you should have a good idea of how to frame your answers to skills-based questions, identifying and matching the key skills you can bring to the employer.



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Every job-seeker should have a one-minute sales pitch. While parts of the pitch can be general strengths and skills you can offer to any employer -- including your unique selling proposition (USP), you should, of course, tailor your answer to the employer and job at hand to provide the strongest possible sales pitch. And regardless of whether you end up using the sales pitch in the interview, you should most certainly write it in your thank-you letter following the interview.


To learn more about using marketing and sales techniques in job-hunting, read our article, Using Key Marketing Tools to Position Yourself on the Job Market.



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In all situations, from your cover letter to the interview, you must be able to showcase your accomplishments and achievements in your previous experiences - and build a platform for showing how you'll be able to do these same things (and more!) for a new employer. For help with focusing on your achievements, read: For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments.



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At the end of the interview, assuming you feel it was a good interview for a job you want with an employer that is a match with your values, you as the job-seeker should ask for the job. There is really no harm in asking. It certainly reinforces your position as someone who not only is interested in the job, but is the best candidate for the position. The worst the employer can do is tell you the company is still interviewing other candidates; and perhaps, the interviewer will think you a bit overconfident. How do you do it?


Wait until the end of the interview, as things are wrapping up. Then simply restate the key skills/education/experience that the employer is seeking and how you fit exactly with what the employer is looking for. Stress the overall fit between you and the organization (in terms of values, culture, etc.), and then simply state that you want the job offer.


One caveat: Be sure you really want the job before making such a bold request because if the employer then offers you the position they will expect you to accept it rather quickly -- and perhaps on the spot. A less risky interview closer if you are interested, but not quite sure if the fit is perfect is to end the interview by telling the interviewer that you are interested in the job and asking about the next step in the process.



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A significant rule of job-hunting and interviewing is to never, never say anything bad about former bosses or employers - no matter how much you want to ventilate. Simply come up with a reason for leaving your last job. A common response is something along the lines that you had achieved all you could, and it was time to move to a higher level of challenges. Focus on accomplishments and challenges, not learning - and don't make the answer too self-centered. You could also say the organizational structure was such that you really had nowhere to go internally, so unfortunately you are looking at new opportunities and employers.


You might want to review key interviewing issues with the Quintessential Careers Job Interviewing Tutorial, which is designed to help you become more knowledgeable about all aspects of job interviews, from the importance of establishing rapport, to nonverbal cues, to types of interviews and types of interview questions (and how to best answer them).



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Asking questions in any interview situation is critical for job-seekers; when job-seekers ask questions during interviews, potential employers perceive it as a sign of interest in the company. In our interviewing resources section you'll find Questions You Can Ask at the Interview, all of which could be asked during an interview.



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If you have some sort of negative issue in your job history (such as getting fired), don't raise it -- ever -- but especially not in your cover letter or resume. Even in the interview, let the employer bring it up. Once the issue has been raised, the best answer is always the truth. Admit that you made a mistake -- and, more importantly, show how you have learned from that mistake. Read our article, Getting Fired: An Opportunity for Change and Growth.



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Diana LeGere, of Executive Final Copy, has a piece of career advice that we have certainly tried to impress upon those we counsel: "Ask not what the company can do for you, ask what you can do for the company. Remember the prospective employer is buying you. Companies make quite an investment over the years in terms of benefits, wages and company rewards. Choosing the wrong candidate will result in lost salaries, and an unfilled job, funds spent on employment ads, recruiters and time lost pursuing the unfavorable task of interviewing are to name a few. Therefore, they care more about meeting their needs than yours. Ideally, you want a match that suits you both. So, keep your needs in mind. However, for the sake of landing the job, focus on how you will benefit the company. Inquire about their concerns and prepare to offer solid logical solutions to their issues. You may have been able to recognize some problems during your initial research of the company. Why not arrive with knowledge of the employer's corporate issues and a plan to glide through them for positive results? This gesture will clearly define problem-solving and teamwork skills. The more you can do for the company, the better candidate you will be to join the firm's team."
  Find even more job interviewing tips in Critical Interviewing Tips: Key Job Interview Advice -- #3.



Check out all of our Quick and Quintessential Job-Search Interviewing Tips.


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