Preparing to Interview

With Fred Coon

You have an interview scheduled. Now, you must really do important homework-both written and verbal-to survive the next phase of this process. I mean, why would you have worked so hard to get this far and then blow it because you thought you could wing it?

Machiavelli said that knowledge is power and any person who has it has the potential to control the events surrounding her/his destiny. To have control, you must gain power (knowledge); and in order to use this power to your advantage, you must build communication. Knowledge begins with the gathering of information. Before you are hired, you will engage in several rounds of interview activities, each involving different methodologies. Each methodology requires a different approach and has a different set of rules. Ignore any of these and you will eliminate yourself from competition.

By submitting your resume, you have provided sufficient background information to justify the interview. The interview process is the ultimate gladiatorial event. You either win or lose-there is no second place or chance. The purpose of the interview process is to justify why they should hire or eliminate you when compared with the half-dozen other finalists, any one of whom would be qualified to fill the position. The other equally-important purpose is for you to be able to size them up and make a good decision about working there.

Whenever you send correspondence or interact with anyone in the company, they will have begun to form an impression of you. Any material you send to them must be thoroughly checked and rechecked for correctness, both grammatical and factual. Of equal importance is being nice to everyone you encounter. Remember, in small companies, the secretary who you just brushed off may very well be the owner’s wife, daughter, or have equally important influence. Stop and think about everything you say before you say it and always show a positive attitude. But save any jokes until you report to work. Your first impression follows you always and can open doors or create barriers.

When they call you and arrange your meeting date and time, ask two questions: What is the time period for making a hiring decision? How long do you think the interview might last? These questions are important because:

  • They allow you time to prepare your interview answers and research the company.
  • They allow the company the opportunity to adjust the focus of the job description and duties. Nearly all job criteria change during the interview process. Therefore, be on the later time slot because you will want to interview against their latest criteria, not the earliest.
  • The latter question alerts you as to how well you’re doing in the interview process. Knowing that you have been scheduled for an hour interview but it ends after 20 minutes is not a good sign. Being at the company for two hours when the original interview was only scheduled for one is a good sign.

Using a Pre-Interview Questionnaire is a very useful tool. The information required to plan a “great” interview begins with these items and will help you appear better than the competition. An example can be seen here: Make copies for each of your interviews. Secure the following information as early as possible to incorporate into your contact strategy long before a telephone or face-to-face interview:

  • Job Description: invaluable information for planning an interviewing strategy. It also might help you determine a salary range and a benefits package.
  • Company Brochure: products, services, and overall corporate direction can help you determine if you are a right fit.
  • Key Contacts: attempt to secure the names of the President and VP in whose division you will be employed. More importantly, attempt to secure the name of the person you will be reporting to and the person they report to, as well.
  • Company’s Products: know what products or services are produced, how they are made and delivered. How many divisions do they have? Are they a multi-location or multi-plant company? Are these products or services obsolete?
  • WWW Address: an almost overwhelming amount of information available at your fingertips.
  • Any Information about Your Interviewer: critical intelligence you must have to be well-prepared. When calling the company to ask another type of question, inquire about the interviewer and see if you can glean enough information (subtly) to help you form a strategy. If you are to interview with a human resources staffer, your approach will be different than with the hiring manager.
  • Three Competitors: not only are you to be concerned with internal interviewing, but you must also focus on the external issues. Your interviewer most certainly will think in the back of his/her mind, “You’re hard to hire because we don’t hire careless or unprepared people.”
  • Directions to the Interview Location: prior to the interview, do a drive-by or check out the directions on a map. People often do not give good directions and nothing is more embarrassing than looking the hiring authority in the face and saying, “Sorry, you’re hard to find” or “Sorry I’m late.” Your interviewer most certainly will think in the back of her/his mind, “You’re hard to hire because we don’t hire careless or unprepared people.”

Of course, you will have already identified the company and will have done your strategic homework. But in case you don’t remember, here is a brief recap:

  • Explore economic trends of the industry sector to which the company belongs. Are the trends moving up or down? Is the company moving with or counter to these trends? Why or why not?
  • Complete a Pre-Interview Questionnaire as soon as possible after the interview is scheduled. Obtaining this information will set you head and shoulders above your competition.
  • Take the job description and other information you learned in your preparatory investigation, put yourself in the interviewer’s position and make a list of all the skills, technical proficiencies and character traits that you would want an employee to have.
  • List the job description requirements and then a quick summary of your qualifications in parallel columns. Now, how do you look? During the interview process, each interviewer is taking mental or written notes. They are comparing you to the identified and hidden criteria for the position. You will do the same thing, but well in advance of the interview. Use the job description information in two ways: first, to write a letter to secure your interview and then, following the interview, as a beginning point for your follow-up letter.
  • Practice interview questions. Drill yourself from lists in books or questions you remember from previous interviews. Your answers should be succinct and never exceed 45-60 seconds in length when spoken. Whatever you do, don’t “over share.” Too much information could possibly eliminate you as well. Stick to the question and make your point, then SHUT UP!
  • Prepare your interview outfit. This should be completed well in advance. Don’t wait until you are getting dressed to discover that your suit needs pressing and that you are out of shoe polish. Don’t eat food that drips or splashes just before your interview, nor during a second interview lunch with the hiring authority. If you are interviewing out of town, be sure to check the local weather forecasts before heading out.

You should now be almost ready to walk confidently into that interview. But just to brush up ahead of time, review our list here of basic interview DO’s and DON’Ts: And while you’re there, check out the rest of The Gladiator, our world-renowned newsletter full of articles and tips on job and career transition. Good luck!