Seven Steps to Interviewing Success

These proven interviewing tips and techniques will help you maximize your chances of getting a second interview and, ultimately, an offer. They should be used with each person you interview with and at each step of the interviewing process.

Step 1 – Enthusiasm
Always show as much enthusiasm as possible for the company and the position–even though you may not know that much about either. Remember, hiring managers are people and get nervous too. One thing they always look for is a candidate who is excited about the opportunity. That makes it easier for the hiring manager to ask a candidate back for a second interview or make an offer–since they know the candidate will want to come back. Several ways to show enthusiasm are as follows:

  • Arrive 5 to 10 minutes early.
  • Dress appropriately and professionally.
  • Sit straight and on the edge of your chair.
  • Listen carefully to the interviewer and respond to the real questions.
  • Smile and relax.
  • Show confidence in yourself and your abilities.
  • Speak-up! Avoid coming across too quietly.

Step 2- Reasons for Pursuing the Opportunity
For experienced professionals, this is also known as “reasons for leaving your current position.” You should always address this subject in a positive manner. Rather than talking about the things you dislike about your current position or why you aren’t pursuing other areas/positions, talk about the reasons why you are pursuing this position. Think in terms of what the hiring manager wants to hear. Following are some examples:

  • The opportunity to make a contribution.
  • Growth and advancement potential.
  • Stability of the company.
  • Quality of the company.

Things not to mention – pay and benefits (see Step 6).

By the way, if you were fired of laid-off, this step is especially important. Again, always focus on the positive. However, do not attempt to lie or mislead the hiring manager. That almost always leads to disaster. If asked directly about the termination, give an honest but quick answer. Immediately follow with an offer of references to support your story.

Step 3 – Ask Good Questions
This three-tiered approach will lend a logical flow to our questions.

Tier 1 – Questions about the Company

Do your homework here! If it is a publicly held company, go to the library to read their annual report. If it is a privately held company, call the company to request copies of any printed material they can provide such as company profiles sales brochures and product descriptions. Also, ask friends or associates who are employees or otherwise know about the company. Get resourceful! Be alert to recent events and trends. Examples of areas to question are as follows:

    • Company’s history.
    • Company’s products.
    • Company’s competitors and customers.
    • Company’s strategies for growth.

On first interviews, keep these to three or four key questions since your time may be limited.

Tier 2 – Questions about the Department/Division

Narrowing your focus, prepare questions about the internal organization. Here you are trying to get a sense for where the open position stands in the organization and whom the players are that you will be working with. Areas to ask about include the following:

    • Organization chart.
    • People/positions you would interact with most.
    • Reporting relationships – above and below the open position.
    • Interactions with other divisions, subsidiaries or corporate departments.
    • Interactions with outside groups including vendors, customers and governmental units.

Obviously, these questions should be tailored to each particular situation.

Tier 3 – Questions about the Position

This is the heart of the interview. Your questions here will serve two distinct purposes. First, to provide you with sufficient information to determine if the position is appropriate for your skill-set and career objectives. Second, and more important from an interviewing perspective, to provide you with a view of what the hiring manager is looking for in your background. Areas to ask about here include the following:

    • Specific duties and responsibilities for the position.
    • Areas which may have been neglected that will require special attention.
    • Projects to be addressed initially and over the next six months.
    • Existing or potential people problems.
    • Special training needs.

An excellent question to ask each interviewer is what, in their opinion, it takes to be successful in this position and with their company. If you get the answer to this, you’ll know exactly what they are looking for in your background. This is a natural lead-in to our next step.

Step 4 – Discussing Your Qualifications
This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Seize this opportunity! In today’s highly competitive job market, you must distinguish yourself from other candidates. Don’t be shy about it. Since the hiring manager will typically lead this discussion, be prepared to answer their questions fully and positively. Some keys to doing this are as follows:

  • Answer questions using IMPACT STORIES. Make a statement (“I am a results-oriented manager”). Describe a specific example where you showed this attribute. Always use specific names, dates, and other facts. Clearly define your role and how you interacted with others (“In February, 2011 I was asked to take a leadership position on our Ford business team. I had 4 direct reports shared quality and product development responsibilities with Joe Smith…”). Use quantitative results to describe the outcome (We were able to increase productivity by 30% and, by adding 2 new accounts, sales increased by $2 million). Restate the opening statement (“This is just one example of my results-oriented management style”).
  • Make sure you are answering the question asked. Many times interviewers ask general questions (“What are your goals?”). Qualify these questions so that you are answering the question as the interviewer intended. (“Do you mean my short term or long term goals, personal or professional?”).
  • Know your resume including dates of employment, grade point averages, special accomplishments, etc.
  • Realistically relate your skills and strengths to the needs of the company and position. A good way to accomplish this is by using examples from your experience.  Answer questions using IMPACT STORIES.  That is, discuss a specific, positive situation by stating: a) what difficulty you were faced with; b) your solution to the difficulty and how it was implemented; c) the positive results, including dollar/time savings or other quantification, and d) how this example relates to the needs of the hiring manager.
  • Be prepared to field questions about weaknesses or failures. In order to avoid coming across as arrogant, you must discuss something.  We all have weaknesses.  We have all failed.  Employers are looking for candidates that are self aware enough to recognize their weaknesses and mistakes and are able to learn from them.  Do not give a weakness or a failure without also being able to give your specific corrective action and what you learned.  Try to avoid personality/character flaws.
  • Confirm with the interviewer that you have satisfactorily answered their questions.
  • Volunteer additional information about your skills and work habits that would make you successful in the position that the interviewer may not have asked about.

Steps 1-4 will cover the bulk of most first interviews. Steps 5-7 will be covered quickly in most interviews, but are integral areas to prepare for and will become more critical in second interviews and beyond.

Step 5 – Advancement Potential
This is an area of obvious interest and concern to you and, therefore, is fair game for you to ask about. In fact, most interviewers will discuss promotional opportunities from the open position as part of their interview. You, however, must be careful in how you approach this subject. For example, if you are interviewing with person you would report to, the interviewer may feel threatened by your aggressiveness in seeking the next level in their organization (i.e. their job). Also, hiring managers may be concerned that you wold take the initial position too lightly while focusing on the next step-up.

The safest way to address advancement potential is as follows:

  • Express a tremendous amount of interest in the position you are interviewing for.
  • Ask how the position came open (if through promotion, you’ll get a good example of advancement potential).
  • Ask the interviewer how he/she got to their level in the company.
  • Directly ask about promotional opportunities by saying, “if someone came into this position and performed very well, what additional responsibilities or promotions might be available?”

If you sense any hesitation to discuss this by the interviewer, drop it until the second interview or until you get an offer.

Step 6 – Salary and Benefits
Most people know that it is inappropriate to discuss salary and benefits on a first interview. In fact, if you know that the position’s salary range is appropriate, do not ask about these issues until an offer is on the table. However, you want to be prepared to discuss them if the interviewer brings them up. The following are suggestions on how to address the question of what salary you are looking for:

  • Do not give a specific dollar amount since it may be lower than what you might be offered or higher than the next candidate would say. You do not want to be disqualified based only on salary.
  • Do not give a range since most hiring managers will automatically look at the bottom end of the range as a number they can get you for.
  • Do provide the hiring manager with the basics of your current salary, review date, overtime and benefits (for new grads and career changers be prepared to talk about your understanding of the going rate for such a position–again, do your homework).
  • Let the hiring manager know that the most important thing to you is the right company and the right position, and you feel very good about this opportunity.
  • Also let the hiring manager know that if they make a reasonable offer, you would be happy to come to work there (let the definition of “reasonable” wait).

Your opportunity to negotiate the best offer comes when you know you are the final candidate–the one they want to make an offer to. Usually that will be revealed to you when an offer is make.  Until that point–when you know an offer is imminent–avoid discussions about salary.

Step 7 – Ending the Interview
When the interview is winding down, there are a few key points to cover. The meeting may end quickly so be prepared. These points are important in order to set the frame of mind of the interviewer regarding you. They are as follows:

  • Thank the interviewer for his/her time.
  • Re-express your sincere interest in the position and the company.
  • Ask if there is anything else you can add to clarify your qualifications for the position.
  • Ask the interviewer for a business card in case you think of questions later (this will also help when you write your thank-you notes).
  • Firmly shake hands and exit.

As you review these interviewing tips and techniques, keep in mind two things: First, the order of these tips are for the ideal flow of an interview. However, most interviews will start by the interviewer talking about your background (point four). Therefore, you will have to weave your questions into that discussion so you can tailor our answers about your background to fit the needs of the hiring manager. Second, these tips are intended to help you add structure and substance to your interviews. However, they are not intended to replace your interviewing style. You should try to blend these suggestions in with your own interviewing style to develop a customized, confident, and winning interviewing personality.

Additionally, you should use these techniques with each interviewer you meet. Even feel free to ask the same questions of each interviewer. It is better to duplicate questions rather than not asking anything of the last interviewer.

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