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In search of interviewing excellence – Part I

This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on how to interview successfully. As you read this column remember that when you are looking for employment, you are a salesperson selling yourself to a buyer (the hiring authority.) The company has a need for someone who can help them change or improve conditions and solve problems. It is your job to convince them that you are that person. If you wish to be perceived as the ideal candidate the following guidelines will serve you well.

The interview consists of two major components which form the basis for the hiring decision in all job interviews. These are your ability to perform the functions and responsibilities of the job, and the chemistry that develops between you and the hiring manager. If the interviewer does not like you, it is unlikely that he or she will hire you. We usually do not hire people who we don’t like. Therefore, put yourself in the interviewer’s position, and ask, “would I hire someone who dresses the way I do, conducts themselves the way I do, and answers questions the way I do?” The hiring manager has a difficult job. They typically do not interview very frequently, and they are not experts at interviewing. You can help them to perceive you as the most qualified candidate if you do the right things.

After having interviewed hundreds of employers, we have determined five universal factors in how they look at candidates for employment. We call them the little hinges that swing big doors.

  1. Be knowledgeable. Do your research. Employers expect you to be informed. Find out everything you can about the company, its history, mission, products, services, and key management. Try to speak with a few of their sales people – sales people love to talk about their company. Find out who their customers are and, if possible, speak with a few of them. If the potential employer is a retailer, walk into two or three of their stores. See how you are treated, look at how they merchandise and display products, note if the stores are clean and organized – or dirty and in disarray. Find out if they are profitable or if they are having financial problems. Write down pertinent comments. Now you are prepared with information. You are knowledgeable.

  2. Be a good listener. Ask targeted questions about the company, its needs, objectives, and the most pressing issues. You will be more empathetic and able to tailor your presentation to their specific goals and the problems they face. Don’t spend time thinking about what you want to say next, you will miss what is being said to you. Let them know you understand their concerns, etc. and tell them how your skills can assist them in solving those concerns. Find out what is most important to them and what they are looking for in the person they hire. Don’t talk too much.

  3. Present solutions. When you know the specific needs, issues, and what is expected, you can direct your presentation to how you will help the company achieve solutions and fulfill those needs. You are not just selling yourself, you are selling solutions to problems. It is your job to show the employer how you can help them grow their business, increase revenues, decrease costs, improve profits, enhance quality or productivity, etc.

  4. Be willing to work hard. Employers appreciate employees who put in extra effort, who go the extra mile. Extra effort builds credibility and achieves rewards. Let them know you will not have a problem working extra hours when necessary. Help them to understand that you recognize your future growth is tied to the growth of the company and you are willing to do what it takes.

  5. Honesty combined with character values is the glue that holds every relationship together. Don’t mislead the interviewer. Don’t misrepresent your past, your responsibilities, or your accomplishments, and don’t sell what you cannot do.

The most frequent reasons that people are not hired. An article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal reported on a study regarding the seven major reasons that professionals failed to get hired. The study involved 200 unsuccessful candidates for management or professional positions over a two-year period.

  1. The inability to project a special competence in the interview.

  2. Frequent job moves without marked advancement in salary or responsibility (job hopping.)

  3. Failure to project objectivity or appearing to be emotional and subjective.

  4. Over-aggressiveness and verbosity.

  5. Lack of clarity or clearness in expressing views or responding to questions.

  6. Over criticism of past or current employers.

  7. Poor dress, grooming, body language, or personal habits.

The lesson is simple. We are hired based upon the perceptions of others and whether or not they like you. Only you have control over how you are perceived. Your attitude must be positive, your conduct professional and appropriate. Remember the five areas that employers look for in a candidate, and remember the seven reasons why employers eliminate candidates. If you practice these principles, you will have a formula for successful interviewing techniques, and a prescription for generating an offer.

Read Part 2

"Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Send ideas or questions via email to: Website address:"