Master the Art of Interviewing
The David Anthony Group
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports
To a large degree, the success of your
interview will depend on your ability to discover needs and empathize with
the interviewer. You can do this by asking questions that verify your
understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without
editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this
manner, you’ll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and
demonstrate your suitability for the job.
In addition to empathy,
there are four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview.
These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived,
and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry you’ll share
with the employer.
 Enthusiasm -- Leave no doubt as to
your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do
this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the
case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open --
wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a
prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?
 Technical interest -- Employers
look for people who love what they do, and get excited by the prospect of
tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.
 Confidence -- No one likes a
braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost
certainly be more favorably received.
 Intensity -- The last thing you
want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. There’s nothing
inherently wrong with being a laid back person; but sleepwalkers rarely
By the way, most employers
are aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position, and
will do everything they can to put you at ease.
The Other Fundamentals
Since interviewing also
involves the exchange of tangible information, make sure to:
• Present your background in a
thorough and accurate manner;
• Gather data concerning the company,
the industry, the position, and the specific opportunity;
• Link your abilities with the company
needs in the mind of the employer; and
• Build a strong case for why the
company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make from building
rapport and asking the right questions.
Both for your sake and the
employer’s, never leave an interview without exchanging fundamental
information. The more you know about each other, the more potential you’ll
have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.
Basic Interviewing Strategy
There are two ways to answer
interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a
question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let
me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the
answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the
The reason you should
respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of
answer each question will need. A question like, “What was your most
difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty
minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.
Therefore, you must always
remember that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you
should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot
of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and
create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would
do just fine?
Let’s suppose you were
interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked
you, “What sort of sales experience have you had in the past?”
Well, that’s exactly the
sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short
version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off
everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience. Though
the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get
pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s neatly packaged.
One way to answer the
question might be, “I’ve held sales positions with three different
consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like
me to start?”
Or, you might simply say,
“Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you
want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in consumer
product sales with three different companies, and held the titles of
district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my
background would you like to concentrate on?”
By using this method, you
telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized, and
that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel
too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green
light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the
things that are important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.
Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job
I’ve got a friend who’s the
hiring manager of an electronics company. He told me once that he brought
a candidate into his office to make him a job offer. An hour later, the
candidate left. I asked my friend if he had hired the candidate.
“No,” he said. “I tried. But
the candidate wouldn’t stop talking long enough for me to make him an
Don’t misinterpret me. I’m
not suggesting that an interview should consist of a series of
monosyllabic grunts. It’s just that nothing turns off an employer faster
than a windbag candidate.
By using the short
version/long version method to answer questions, you’ll never talk
yourself out of a job.
The Prudent Use of Questions
Beware: An interview will
quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask
some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are the
lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:
• Create dialogue, which will not only
enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but will help you
visualize what it’ll be like working together once you’ve been hired;
• Clarify your understanding of the
company and the position responsibilities;
• Indicate your grasp of the
fundamental issues discussed so far;
• Reveal your ability to probe beyond
the superficial; and
• Challenge the employer to reveal his
or her own depth of knowledge, or commitment to the job.
Your questions should always
be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or understanding of
the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because
the employer’s company has some piece of work which needs to be completed,
or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that have
proven to be very effective:
• What’s the most important issue
facing your department?
• How can I help you accomplish this
• How long has it been since you first
identified this need?
• How long have you been trying to
• Have you tried using your present
staff to get the job done? What was the result?
• What other means have you used? For
example, have you brought in independent contractors, or temporary help,
or employees borrowed from other departments? Or have you recently hired
people who haven’t worked out?
• Is there any particular skill or
attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?
• Is there a unique aspect of my
background that you’d like to exploit in order to help accomplish your
Questions like these will
not only give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, they’ll
indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company’s
Give It Some Thought
Here are seven of the most
commonly asked interviewing questions. Do yourself and the prospective
employer a favor, and give them some thought before the interview occurs.
 Why do you want this job?
 Why do you want to leave your
 Where do you see yourself in five
 What are your personal goals?
 What are your strengths?
 What do you like most about your
 What do you like least about your
The last question is
probably the hardest to answer: What do you like least about your present
I’ve found that rather than
pointing out the faults of other people (“I can’t stand the office
politics,” or, “I don’t get along with my boss”), it’s best to place the
burden on yourself (“I feel I’m ready to exercise a new set of
professional muscles,” or, “The type of technology I’m interested in isn’t
available to me now.”).
By answering in this manner,
you’ll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across as a
whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak negatively about others.
I suggest you think through
the answers to the above questions for two reasons.
First, it won’t help your
chances any to hem and haw over fundamental issues such as these. (The
answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.)
And secondly, the questions
will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy
on an interview. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you come
up with, maybe the new job isn’t right for you.
Money, Money, Money
There’s a good chance you’ll
be asked about your current and expected level of compensation. Here’s the
way to handle the following questions:
 What are you currently earning?
Answer: “My compensation,
including bonus, is in the high-forties. I’m expecting my annual review
next month, and that should put me in the low-fifties.”
 What sort of money would you need
in order to come to work for our company?
Answer: “I feel that the
opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work
together, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer.”
Notice the way a range was
given as the answer to question , not a specific dollar figure.
However, if the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by all means,
be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so
In answer to question ,
if the interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you
should also suggest a range, as in, “I would need something in the low- to
mid- fifties.” Getting locked in to an exact figure may work against you
later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you
really want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the
employer, and an offer never comes. By using a range, you can keep your
Some Questions You Can Count On
There are four types of
questions that interviewers like to ask.
First, there are the resume
questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job
responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and so forth.
Resume questions require
accurate, objective answers, since your resume consists of facts which
tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid answers which
exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be opinionated, vague, or
Second, interviewers will
usually want you to comment on your abilities, or assess your past
performance. They’ll ask self-appraisal questions like, “What do you think
is your greatest asset?” or, “Can you tell me something you’ve done that
was very creative?”
Third, interviewers like to
know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to
explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that you explore
hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. “How would you stay
profitable during a recession?” or, “How would you go about laying off
1300 employees?” or, “How would you handle customer complaints if the
company drastically raised its prices?” are typical situation questions.
And lastly, some employers
like to test your mettle with stress questions such as, “After you die,
what would you like your epitaph to read?” or, “If you were to compare
yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?” or, “It’s obvious your
background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we
even waste our time talking?”
Stress questions are
designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes
while you’re under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational
questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive
posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully
Whenever I hear a stress
question, I immediately think of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. The
finalists (usually sheltered teenagers from places like Zambia or Uruguay)
are asked before a live television audience of three and a half billion
people to give heartfelt and earnest responses to incongruous questions
like, “What would you tell the leaders of all the countries on earth to do
to promote world peace?”
Of course, your sense of
humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so
long as you don’t go over the edge. I heard of a candidate once who, when
asked to describe his ideal job, replied, “To have beautiful women rub my
back with hot oil.” Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.
Even if it were possible to
anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers
would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy is to review your
background, your priorities, and your reasons for considering a new
position; and to handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you don’t
know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think
about your response.
Wrapping It Up
At the conclusion of your
interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to cover so
far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.
During your interview
wrap-up, it’s a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other
opportunities you’re exploring, as long as they’re genuine, and their
timing has some bearing on your own decision making.
The fact that you’re
actively exploring other opportunities may affect the speed with which the
company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively influence the
eventual outcome, since the company may want to act quickly so as not to
However, your other activity
should be presented in the spirit of assistance to the interviewer, not as
a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic. I’d advise you to play it
straight with the interviewer.
And remember to maintain a
positive attitude. In today’s job market, you’d be surprised how often
victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The better your interviewing skills, the
greater your chances of getting the job.