Strategies of Effective Interviewing
The executive engaged in the normal conduct of business devotes much of his time to interviewing. However, there is an appalling lack of effort given to systematic attempts at building improvements into this age-old process. Interviewing remains one of those activities which we think we know all about merely because we have been doing it so long; we have been lulled by habit. It seems apparent that a modest effort aimed at an analysis of our interviewing techniques would yield generous returns.
In the broad sense, interviewing is the process whereby individuals (usually two) exchange information. The individuals may be concerned with a job opening, a promotion, a special assignment, a product sale, information for intelligence purposes, a proposed merger, or other questions. The information exchanged need not be limited to facts. In business, particularly, such products of an interview as meaning and understanding are oftentimes more significant than objective factual statements.
Interviewing in the contemporary business setting invariably takes place in an atmosphere filled with a sense of urgency. The time allocated to the interview is necessarily limited. Consequently, a nondirective approach finds little application; it is necessary to use the guided interview in the vast majority of situations. This inherent time constraint sometimes brings about dysfunctional consequences: the interviewer is so preoccupied with budgeting his time that the content and the purpose of the interview are vitiated. Hence, we must define what we mean by an effective interview. For the purposes of this article, an effective interview is one that optimizes the perceived communication objectives of the individuals involved, with time as the principal constraint. We shall focus on research findings concerning:
Planning & Preparation
The lack of adequate planning for an interview is the greatest single fault found in my studies of the interviewing process. 1 All too often, the inexperienced interviewer launches into a discussion only to find midway through that his preparation is incomplete. A moderate amount of preplanning can easily obviate such unfortunate occurrences.
When the objective of the interview is well-known in advance, it is usually a good practice to allow the individual concerned ample time to prepare for the talk before the actual involvement. By indicating, ahead of time and in writing, the points to be covered, the interviewer gives the interviewee an added advantage and reinforces the specific purpose of the session. Too often the expectations of the interviewee may be far different from those of the interviewer. This misunderstanding, if not corrected, can be disastrous.
On the other hand, too much preplanning and detailing for an interview can be equally harmful. The interviewee may then develop conventionally correct answers or platitudes which, of course, reduce the informational content of the interview to virtually zero. In short, he needs a guide, a “steer”—but no more than that.
A written outline of important points to be covered is not necessarily an indication of rigidity; rather, it reflects consideration for all parties concerned. When explained, it generates a feeling of confidence as well as fairness—particularly if two or more people are to be ranked in an evaluation. The outline may even include typical questions in order to solicit comparable responses. Again, however, a warning against excess is needed: too much reliance on a programed questioning approach is often disconcerting to the interviewee and may lead to stereotyped answers. Ideally, of course, each question should be designed for the situation and the respondent.
In presenting information, a speaker allocates blocks of time to various items on his agenda. If no time limit is established, the presentation can continue indefinitely. Even worse, the truly important information may never be told. This process takes place by dint of the normal human trait of retaining the most significant bits of information for the end. Psychiatrists recognize this and are particularly attentive in the last ten minutes of the therapy session. Borrowing from this insight, the interviewer, although not able to set an hourly cycle as does the psychiatrist, should try discreetly to indicate a time scale. This allows the interviewee to plan and to include relevant information which otherwise might be withheld. If the interview is terminated too abruptly, the probability of losing valuable information is very high.
A time limit can be suggested by citing the next appointment or by noting, perhaps, a previously scheduled conference. Actions such as tapping—consciously or not—on one’s watch to indicate time are out of order, of course; so is sitting precipitously on the edge of the chair. Sometimes it may be in the best interest of both parties to set another date for an extended session or to plan on completing only one or two stages of progress at a time.
Interviewing techniques tip 2: Develop a compelling story
We tend to conclude that our lives are pretty much the same as other people’s, that they’re average and boring. As a result, many people don’t tell their own story well. But your story is so much better than you think. The way your life has evolved; the things you’ve learned; your achievements, failings, and dreams—these things are unique to you and much more interesting than you realize. Sharing your well thought-out story is a powerful interviewing technique.
Your story is what helps people understand who you are and where you are going. So learn to tell your story and tell it well, especially for interviewing and networking purposes. Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
Developing your story for job interviews
- Take a comprehensive inventory of the chapters of your life. Think about major events, memories, and turning points that shaped who you are. Make notes about your feelings, expectations, and frustrations, or what you learned, accomplished, and experienced. Organize your chapters by time periods or jobs.
- Focus on memorable “aha” moments. These stories need to have vivid dimensions so people will experience that moment with you. It may have been a moment with your mom on the porch, or a trip you took to a faraway place, or what a boss or mentor told you. The stories don’t have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you.
- Uncover the themes in your story. What emerges as your passion? Mentoring others, doing research, helping a specific type of client, advancing knowledge in your field? What gives you joy? Are you a teacher, a leader, an entrepreneur, a risk taker?
- Reflect on your career path. How have you arrived where you are today? Why did you make certain choices? Who helped you along the way? What motivated you then and now? Have your career goals remained the same or have they changed? Are you someone who likes new projects? Or executes the details of someone else’s vision?
Practice makes perfect
Once you’ve developed your story, the next step is to practice telling it—saying it out loud, ideally to others. Don’t wait until the interview to tell it for the first time. Try reciting it into a tape recorder or sharing it with a confidante for feedback. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself.
As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of random events. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes clearer when you understand where you have been. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, “Tell me about yourself.”
Interviewing techniques tip 3: Tailor your story to the job
Applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Lining up the stories that apply to the opportunity at hand is critical. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and pose the questions you would ask. Which stories are relevant to this job interview? Think about personal stories that show how you handled change, made choices under pressure, or learned lessons from mistakes and failures. You should also think about stories you can tell in the interview that reveal your skill set.
Learning and appreciating your story is a prerequisite to any interview process. Don’t rely on your ability to think on your feet. Anticipate the questions and have answers at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability.
You may want to start by developing your stories around these areas:
If you’re having trouble developing a good interviewing story, ask your friends or family members for their own success stories. Notice the elements that make them work, such as specific details and a smooth flow. Notice elements that don’t work, such as vagueness or rambling. Then think about your own experience and try to uncover the moments when you really excelled or when you rose to meet a challenge. After you identify several, practice them until they flow easy and work on adapting them to different types of questions.
How to Handle the Interview
Listen. The best job interviews often feel like a conversation (albeit one where both parties are trying to impress one another). To achieve this, remember to focus on listening, not just waiting for your chance to speak. Not only will you be able to respond more effectively to their questions, you’ll also demonstrate a valuable soft skill.
Handle Questions About Salary the Right Way. Dreading the salary negotiation portion of the interview process? You’re not alone. Less than half of respondents to a CareerBuilder survey said that they negotiated salary after receiving a job offer. And 51% of those non-negotiators said that they resisted because they were uncomfortable asking for more.
When they do, keep in mind that it’s likely a good sign: employers typically don’t broach the subject of salary requirements unless they’re contemplating you coming aboard. (This differs from questions about salary requirements and salary history earlier in the process, which are intended to weed out applicants whose demands are outside the budget.)
Avoid Typical Interview Blunders. Mistakes happen. Sometimes, a question will stump you. Or an unexpected situation will make you late. Many of the most common interview mistakes can be avoided with a bit of planning – and some awareness of interviewer pet peeves.
What to Do After the Interview
Send a Thank-You Note. One of the most important parts of the job interview happens after you leave the building: sending a thank-you note. How important is it? According to an Accountemps survey, 80% of hiring managers say that they consider thank-you notes when deciding which candidates to hire. The same survey found that only 24% of candidates actually sent a post-interview note, though, so if you take the time to say thanks, you’ll stand out from the competition.
Follow Up the Right Way. What if you send your thank-you note and don’t hear anything back? If a week or more has gone by—or you’ve waited the amount of time specified by the hiring manager—it’s a good idea to send a follow-up email to check in and reiterate your interest in the job. After that, let it go.
Don’t Pause Your Job Search. Don’t wait to hear from the hiring manager, even if things look good. Keep your job search rolling and you won’t have to restart it again if the job offer fails to materialize. Plus, you never know what kinds of opportunities are waiting for you if you keep looking.