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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
  Interviewing with the Pros  
  by Glen Stoltz & Peter Grech    this article appeared in December 2005 issue of Super!  


ďDon't talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.Ē  -Wilson Mizner

Interviewing well with a prospective employer is a set of skills or techniques that can be taught. If someone can teach it, then it follows logically that it can be learned. You can pick up the proficiency and expertise you need to interview well and land the job of your dreams. Giving a good interview can be the key to doing just that, opening the door to your next big step. Advancing your skill in the interview process is one of the most important areas on which to concentrate to help yourself get ahead and get a job.

What follow are some questions and answers on how to improve your chances at landing the job you want through improving your interviewing techniques.

Q. What is the number one thing I should know about the interview process?

A. Keep your mouth shut. Keep my mouth shut? How do I, as the interviewee, keep my mouth shut when I am playing a game of 20 questions with the interviewer? I want to put my best foot forward. I want to impress. I want to wow him or her into giving me that job I so badly want or need. How can I do that if I donít talk?

Will Rogers said this, quite simply: ďNever miss a good chance to shut up.Ē I have interviewed many people for jobs at my buildings or on behalf of boards as a consultant. The number one problem that keeps cropping up is talking too much.

Knowing when to talk and when to shut up is a skill you can learn. (More on that with the next answer also). Most of that will be learned by trial and error, in real interviews, but if you have someone to help you, especially someone with experience interviewing people for jobs, so much the better. Practice it.

Q. When I MUST speak, what should I say?

A. Instead of always answering the question that is being asked, think about what is the point of the question, and get to that point. In other words, try to determine what they really want to know (which isnít always what they ask), and answer that question.

Furthermore, there will be times when you should not directly answer a question that is asked of you. Sometimes the best way to answer a question, or to avoid answering a question that youíd rather not answer directly, is to ask a question of your own.

Most people donít understand that an interview is a two way street. In essence you are also doing an interview; you have to ask questions as well as answer questions. If you donít, how will you get to know the company or the person youíll be working for, or what they need or want, and whether you and they would fit together well?

To reiterate, quite possibly the most important idea about talking that you can internalize about the interview process is this: donít talk too much. Frank M. Garafola said: ďThe difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows whether or not to say it.Ē  Now, again youíll say, ďItís an interview. I am expected to talk. How would the interviewer get to know the real me otherwise?Ē 

Thatís true, but you have to learn the fine distinction between answering a question well and overdoing it by adding more than was asked or expected. Jobs have been won and lost by what was said (and what was left unsaid) during the interview process. It is a fine line but again, it is a learned skill. And yes, sometimes a thing might be the right thing to say, but it isnít the right time to say it, as Garafala said.

If you can acquire that wisdom, learning the skill of knowing when to listen - when to talk Ė you may be at least one full step ahead of others competing for the same job. Furthermore, you have to know what to say and what not to say when you talk. You can talk too little, you can talk too much. Again, these are fine distinctions, but with practice you can pick it up.

A long time ago Abraham Lincoln said, ďIt is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and resolve all doubt.Ē  There have been many books published on this talent, all of which will tell you in essence that people who talk too much end up losing in the end. Iím not advocating that you lie, neither am I saying be too afraid to talk at all. Just to choose your words carefully Ė especially at interview time.

Q. Can you list a few questions I can expect to be asked so that I can practice answering them?

A. Here are a few questions youíre sure to be asked one way or another, and how to answer Ė or avoid answering - them. There are always stock questions that an interviewer will ask in connection with any line of work, along with specific questions that will be asked for the particular job for which youíre interviewing. Here are several specific questions that are asked in one form or another:

Question: What is the salary you are looking for, or what salary range are you looking at, or how much money did you make in your last job?

DO NOT ANSWER this question.  If you do, you will be locked into the number you give - especially if it is too low. If the number is too high, then you just may have lost their interest, pricing yourself out of a job.

Instead of answering that question directly, ask them what are they offering or what is the range, or what was the person in this position making. 

Think about asking this question first; donít bring it up right at the beginning. Ask it maybe 10 minutes or so into the interview, if it hasnít already been addressed by your interviewer. Remember, in most cases salary can be negotiated, another skill you can learn.

If you are cornered and have to reply, tell them that you would like to know more about the job before answering. Remember, you are also being tested on how you reply, as well as the content of what you say.

Question: How long have you been looking for a job?

If you are not asked this, DO NOT volunteer this information. Never say something like: ďoh boy I have been looking for ages.Ē If you have been unemployed for a while, say that youíve been busy getting your affairs together and doing things that you didnít have the time to do before.

Question: Why are you here - why do you want to leave your current job? 

This is the hardest question to answer. First, NEVER state that you hate your job. NEVER put down you current job, or your boss or the board. Instead you will want to focus on the new opportunity at hand. Emphasize that you took this interview, even though you love your current job, because you find this possibility interesting and that you believe it just might be a perfect match for you.

Too much talk can get you into trouble. Conversely, simple ďYesĒ and ďNoĒ answers will often lead your interviewer to think that you may have something to hide. Itís a fine line to walk, but practice will help you improve your skills. So do respond, but choose your words carefully.

Q. When I am forced to answer a question that I donít want to answer, what do I do?

A. Think before you speak.  You are allowed to do that, you know. When a question is put to you, take a moment or two to think through the implications of an answer. Itís not only what you say, but how you say it that will convey your meaning. Being a thoughtful person is a good trait, thinking before speaking is what employers expect and want.

Q. What else should I know about what to say and what not to say?

A. A few more things you should remember as you go through the interview process:

1. Donít put down your current boss, supervisor or co-workers, or denigrate the company you work for. Think of something good to say Ė if asked - no matter what.

2. Be honest in your responses as much as possible. If your answer can be checked, assume that it will be, and if youíre caught in an outright lie or a deception, donít expect to get that job.

3. Go on a few interviews where the job, for whatever reason, does not particularly interest you. This way you will care little about impressing the interviewer, and you will find youíre more relaxed and can concentrate on the interview process itself better. You will get the practice you need to interview from strength.

Too often people interview from great weakness rather than from strength, because they desperately need a job or are anxious to leave their current job. When you can interview and communicate from strength you will be more relaxed and open, more comfortable and friendly. This in turn means that to your interviewer you will appear more able and ready for the better jobs, the higher salary.

4. After all the advice going before this, donít take yourself too seriously, and donít be too afraid to make mistakes. Youíll only appear to be paralyzed by fear. Donít try to be or act like someone else, or as you think your interviewer expects you to act. Allow yourself to be as relaxed as you can be. Try not to be too serious. Smile a lot and try joke or two. Be yourself, and donít put yourself down.

Q. If you wanted to mention one thing that interviewees often over look, what would it be?

A. Watch your body language carefully. You can literally be articulating one thing and your body is saying something else entirely. A good interviewer can pick up on that, watching what your body is saying as well as hearing the words you are speaking. If there is a conflict between what your mouth is saying and what your body is saying, the tendency is to be puzzled and confused by it and subconsciously deterred from hiring you. There is often an inclination by the interviewer to subtly think, consciously or unconsciously, that he or she is being lied to in those cases.

If you donít understand the issue of body language, pick up a good book on the subject, either at your local library or in a book store.

As with learning to play the piano, what you need to do is practice, practice, practice. To put it another way: observe, follow, practice. Extensive practice will help you to be more comfortable with yourself and with your next interviewer.


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