Interview Preparation – Step Four: How To Interview

In last week’s post on interview preparation, I discussed the essentials of practicing and rehearsing. There is a vast range of questions that could be posed to you in an interview. It is critical that you prepare and practice questions that you will also ask of the interviewer. There are several different interview formats including telephone, screening or panel/group interviews to name a few. Regardless of the format you must thoroughly be prepared.

Range of Questions

The myriad of questions can range from the very obvious to the incredibly surprising, disconcerting and even down right illegal. No matter the question, you have to be ready for how to appropriately address it and turn it to your greatest advantage.  The following array of questions provide an idea of various and possible “gotcha” questions.

Previously, I discussed preparing your comments aligned to your strengths, accomplishments and successes. Do not underestimate the questions you could be asked regarding your weaknesses, flaws or failures. You may also be asked what makes you unique, or as I like to say – your value proposition. Other questions can include things that are plan related, such as your approach to a “90 or 100 day plan” or how quickly you think you can come up to speed. They make ask future-related questions such as where you see yourself in five or ten years.
You will likely be tested on your knowledge of the company, why you want to work for them, why you left your last position, or what you thought of your last boss. There are more personal, but not illegal, questions that can come your way, such as what is most important to you at work, describing your personality to include describing yourself in terms of an animal, or the “if money didn’t matter” question – if you could do anything, what would it be.

On the other side of the equation, you should be prepared to ask questions such as their opinion on where they see the industry headed in the next three to five years, or where the organization’s priorities lie and what the critical factors of success are for the company. In addition, you could ask how they define success for the given role over a period of time, such as thirty, sixty or ninety days or at the end of a year.
Other questions can include things about their culture, leadership style, or the mission or vision of the organization. Again, there are a host of questions you should be prepared to ask.

The Salary Question

The compensation question seems to be the one question that just about gets everybody.   I can assure you it happens to people with all levels of experience and self-confidence. How you answer this question can be the biggest success or greatest mistake you can make in an interview. My recommendation is to not bring it up in the first interview. In fact, most candidates who discuss compensation too early in the interview process have already started to negotiate against themselves.

If asked about compensation, try to turn it around to ask more questions about the position. State that you are sure they would like to know more about you before discussing compensation. Alternatively, you could try to get them to tell you a salary range for the position. If all else fails, answer the question using ranges and not specifics. Talk about the range in terms of what the “market” demands. If you are interviewing for other positions, you could say that the other positions you are interviewing for are in range of ___. Remember – do not negotiate against yourself!

Chemistry & Non-Verbal

This is quite simple and straight forward – people hire people they like, people hire people who are similar to themselves, and people hire people who are like others in the organization. It’s all about chemistry and fit. Unfortunately, when you ask for honest feedback, whether from the company or the executive search firm, nine times out of then, they will not tell you. Why? Because they don’t have to!
There are also non-verbal queues to consider, such as your first impression. How you dress, a firm hand shake, energy level, self-assurance and your posture will all make a difference. You can’t leave anything to chance.   The attire situation has become more complicated given casual work environments. Through your research or simply asking the person arranging the interview, you should be able to glean what attire is most appropriate. Many executives wonder how to handle interviews which take place over a meal. My bottom-line – it is about the interview and not the food.

Off-Limits Questions

There are several types of questions than can be considered illegal or inappropriate. You should not be asked about your age, ethnicity, family heritage, religious preference, marital status, if you have children, your family situation or future plans or your sexual preference. There are several ways you can handle these types of questions – refuse to answer, ask why they would ask that given question, ask why it is important for them to know, or you could skirt the question. Most importantly, in today’s business environment it should be well know that these types of questions should not be asked. If they are, it may tell you something about the company’s culture!

Thank You

Whether you are interested as a result of an interview or not, it is appropriate and frankly polite to follow-up with a thank you letter. This will set you apart from most other candidates, because most forget to do so or simply do not think it is important. The thank you note gives you the opportunity to keep your candidacy front and center, to reiterate your strengths, value and interest. It also establishes the reason for the next step or follow-up. Your method can be email, formal letter or a handwritten note. It really depends on the culture you observe. Lastly, the letter is short and to the point – open with a thank you, reference your skills, interest or fit, and close with reference to next steps.


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