The Interview

The Interview!
By Arthur J. Byrnes

Well, your resume did its job, and got you an interview. What should you do now? Prepare!

Dress your best, you can never over dress for an interview. Well, ok, you wouldn’t wear a Tux or an evening gown, but a suit or a dress should be your first choice. Don’t be influenced by the business casual dress code that many companies have today, this is your only chance to make a good impression. The grunge look is not what you want to wear to an interview, even if it is people you know. Dressing up shows the interviewer that you respect their position and their company.

It is amazing how many people go to an interview unprepared, especially when most of the questions are about the person or their resume. The fact that you are invited for an interview, means that they think the person described in the resume may be able to do the job. You should know your resume, you lived it! But take some copies with you, in case, you have to interview with someone who didn’t get a copy. With some companies you may have 3-4 interviews, with folks at several different levels.

There are two types of questions that are asked on an interview. Technical, that determine the ability to do the job, and Compatibility, that determine if a person can get along with the other persons already on the job.

The technical questions, can be tough, but remember, they assume that you know the answer. Answer truthfully, and directly, don’t ramble, but if question leads to a chance to talk about how you were able to contribute to a former company, do it! If you are the person who helps co-workers with tough problems, describe a problem and how you helped. If your technical ability helped a former company, find a place to work it in.

Don’t bluff, and don’t lie. You have no idea of the interviewer’s knowledge, and it is a common ploy to pretend to know less than the person being interviewed. Another technique that some technical interviewers use is to ask “Unanswerable” questions, just to see if the applicant tries to fake it, or is truthful.

The compatibility questions are the toughest because there are no perfect answers. There are some loaded questions, designed to see how you cope. The welcomed, “Tell me about your best qualities”, is soon followed by, “Tell me about your worst qualities”. Be truthful, but selective, even a “Worst” quality can become a positive. “My worst quality is that once I get a tough problem, I don’t give up until I find the answer. Even if I loose sleep.” Is an answer that has impressed many managers.

Compatibility is more important to many companies than ability. There are only a few openings that can be filled by a “Hermit in the corner”, the rest must be filled by someone who can deal with other people, without creating hate and discontent. Even a position that doesn’t deal with customers still has to deal with co-workers. Questions during an interview are often phrased to determine how well the applicant interacts with people.

There is a trend today, toward the “Camelot Interview” where the applicant is put in the empty seat on the round table, and several interviewers ask questions at the same time. This makes sure that all the decision makers get to hear the same answer. They know that it is more stressful to speak before a group, and part of your rating is how well you handle the stress.

The Camelot Interview can be very tough, since its not just the King who you have to impress. All the Knights get to ask questions and judge you. The panel can misjudge you on questions that someone else asked, or find that your answer is incomplete. The good part is that you get a glimpse into the company’s culture, and how the main players interact.

There are some taboos in interviews, but not many. Don’t argue with the interviewer, even if you are sure they are wrong. Don’t tell them that your former company was all screwed up, even if it was. Don’t point out their or their company’s failings. Don’t be late, but don’t be too early, showing up an hour before scheduled means that they have to go out of their way to take care of you. If they offer you a soft drink or a cup of coffee, it is ok to take it, unless you think that you are so nervous that you might spill it.

Remember that the interviewer is just a person, with problems, concerns and people to please. There are not too many that look at interviews as a time to use their masochistic skills, most just want to try and find the best fit for their position. Very few companies even have professional interviewers, most are just people trying to run their part of the business.

My most interesting interview? As a city commission candidate, at a modified version of the Camelot Interview, with over 100 people (along with newspaper reporters) in the room, and any of them could ask questions. Some had a vested interest in my opponent, so the questions were tough. I was reelected by a 70% margin, so I guess I did ok.

Arthur J. Byrnes, has been to many interviews on both sides of the table.
On-line he runs Arthur’s Job Blog.