The interview: Step-by-step

by | March 31, 2009

This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
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T-minus 24 hours

Make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before the interview. Before you go in, make sure you've have plenty to eat and drink -- preferably brain food like fruit, vegetables and fiber -- but at least eat something so that you'll be operating at peak thought and coordination. It's also a good idea to eat before you get into in your interview attire. You don't want to spray spaghetti sauce on your white shirt or drip grape juice on your only clean suit.

For your own peace of mind, get to your interview site early. Give yourself a 30- to 45-minute window. The last thing you want is to have to start off the interview with an apology for being late. If you can, go to the building the day before your interview and scope it out. See how long it takes you to get there and give yourself more than enough time the next day. Even if you can't make a trial run the day before, give yourself enough slack so that you can go to the door and walk away. Hang out in your car and listen to relaxing tunes. Go for a stroll around the neighborhood, or find a soothing place to wait. Then enter the office approximately 10 minutes early.

In the office

Once you're in the office, treat everyone you meet with respect and courtesy. Don't snub the receptionist. Introduce yourself and mention the name of the person you're there to see and the time of the appointment. Run to the bathroom and check yourself out. Make sure there is no toilet paper in your shoe. Then, take a seat. Do not start eating anything. Pretend to read company literature. Wait.

The meeting and small talk

If you're old enough to be vying for a job that requires a serious interview, you've probably met a lot of people in your life. Extend those social skills to the people in the office. Maintain solid eye contact and a firm handshake. This proven greeting combination implies strength, confidence, competence, and honesty. Consider the alternative: shifty eyes and a limp handshake.

After the initial meeting and a stroll back to the interview room, the next phase of the interview begins -- small talk. The interview hasn't officially begun, but make no mistake: your ability to talk about the weather is being measured up. The topic of conversation might in fact be the weather, a brief discussion of the latest media frenzy, the game last night, a round or two of the name and geography game. Small talk is meant to relax you, so allow yourself to be relaxed. Remember though, that you're still in an interview and anything you say can be used against you in the decision process. Answer small talk questions briefly, honestly, diplomatically and tactfully. Be witty, but not obscene or clownish.

The main event

At some point, the interviewer will shift to the heart of the matter and begin to ask questions pertaining to the job and your fitness for it. Often these questions will follow a description of the available job and an explanation of the company and what it does.

Often the segue from the small talk session into the more serious portion of the interview will be marked by a description of what the company does. Your interviewer might ask you what you know about the company, and after you give your answer (astute and detailed, due to your extensive research) the interviewer will talk about the company, the job, the industry, their plans for the future. This is a good time to demonstrate your listening skills. Let them see that you're listening and interested and pay attention to what they're saying. Take notes on the notepad you remembered to bring.

Focus

Before anything else is said it might be helpful, here, to dispense an all- purpose interviewing bromide: remember to focus. Once the middle, substance portion of the interview begins, the interviewer is primarily interested in your past job performances and possibly your life performances in as much as they relate to the open job. He or she wants to know how your experience and personality will translate into the available job. For example, when the interviewer says, "Tell me about yourself," they're interested in your work experiences, not the fact that you were born in deepest February when the moon was on the wane, and frost obscured the windowpane. Your interviewer will be thinking of little else except whether or not you will be able to do the job. (This does not mean that you should purge yourself of all personality -- it's fine to mention that you like ice fishing -- but you should keep your eye on conveying your fitness for the job.)

During the interview you should act like a boxer in the ring. You want to land as many substantive punches as possible. You want every one of your answers to count. If you use up a lot of your time and energy on false punches -- statements that fail to focus on the job and why you're a good person to fill it -- the interviewer is going to decide you're wasting time. If you feel yourself getting off topic and talking about something that's not really relevant, it's all right to mention this. Your interviewer will appreciate the fact that you reined yourself in -- this demonstrates control, maturity, an understanding of the bottom line, and well-developed communication skills.


This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
Discuss the job search at Vault's Job Search Message Board.
Find the right position for you on the Vault Job Board.

Filed Under: Interviewing


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