Bill sat across from me recently, engaging in a mock interview. He has a Ph.D. and for years held a high profile job. But four months ago he was “downsized” and since then has been looking for work. Bill sought help because he was running out of options, and even after months of interviewing, he had no offers. Not even a nibble.
This problem is not uncommon. Let’s face it: Interviewing is not something seasoned workers do everyday. Hence, our “edge” can get a little dull in this department.
As someone who has probably interviewed more than 2,000 people in my life (screening is one of the services my company offers), I’d like to think that the points covered here come from “a voice of experience.”
Since this is about interviews, the only thing I’m going to say about resumes is “make the reader say ‘wow’ in the top third of the page.” If the screener doesn’t say “wow” in the first eight-to-ten seconds, it’s tougher to make the “A+” list.
On to interviews. If you have one it’s because your resume already communicated that you have the requisite skills. Therefore, be careful not to recite your resume in the interview. The purpose of the interview is to see if you “fit” with the company. In other words, they’re asking, “how well can we get along with this person?”
Clothing: Guys, buy a new shirt and get it pressed. Shine your shoes to a sparkle. Get a new tie. It’s impossible to emphasize how much these things make a huge difference. Gals, dress conservatively and professionally. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Give your hair a professional look. If you want the edge, you have to look extremely successful.
With your first impression, you must display confidence, but not arrogance. This is simply a professional, well-mannered etiquette.
During the interview: Keep a conversational voice tone and a professional posture. Imagine a string surgically attached to the back of your head with someone applying a gentle pull upward. This usually provides good posture. You don’t want to be overly rigid, but you certainly don’t want to slouch! Slouching communicates things in body language that you don’t want to communicate. There’s such a thing as being “too” comfortable.
As you proceed, be optimistic but realistic. Kraig Boyd of the Success Institute says, “Always tell the truth – just be careful which truth you tell.” Plus, never say anything potentially negative about yourself without explaining what steps you’re taking to overcome it or what you learned from it. Again, this has to be done with confidence, not defensiveness. Also, never portray yourself as a victim. Employers want people who can solve problems, not those who complain about the cards they’ve been dealt.
Negotiations: Always wait for the employer to make the first offer. Rick Searing, an outplacement consultant, tells a story about a middle-aged candidate who told his prospective employer, “I’ve heard that you guys don’t pay very well. I want you to know I won’t work for less than $40,000 a year.” After huddling, the company came back and told him they decided to meet his request for a $40K salary. Later, Rick found out they were prepared to offer the guy $52,000. Ouch.
Practice, Practice, Practice: I can’t emphasize this enough. Practice with mock interviews. Walter Sims, at 52, had been a business owner for years when he was asked to interview with a large company. A little tired of running his own business, he decided to apply. During his initial mock interviews he was stiff as a board with none of his normally engaging personality showing through. But after four or five mock interviews complete with feedback and guidance, Walter finally loosened up. And his investment gave him the edge he needed: He beat the #2 choice by only two-tenths of a point on a 100-point scoring grid.
As another testimony for practicing, Bill, the out-of-work Ph.D., had three interviews the week after his practice mock interviews—and all three employers offered him work!
Bottom line, when preparing for interviews, nothing beats the time-tested principles of looking successful, being confident about your strengths, and practice, practice, practice.