August 2, 2013 at 11:39 AM
'An interview is like an oral exam. You wouldn't take a test without preparation and you shouldn't go to an interview without having written out and reviewed likely questions and best answers...'
Where’s My Great Career?
Patty Armstrong is a career counselor and educator on a mission to help people of all ages find careers they enjoy.
Congratulations to all of you job seekers who have arrived at the interview stage. You’ve successfully cleared a lot of sorting hurdles and demonstrated you’re well qualified for the position you seek. Now you must stand out from the other finalists.
Today we’re in a tough job market, because employers have the upper hand with more candidates than they can hire to choose from. Right before the 2008 Economic Crash we had a job seeker’s market, where there were more openings than applicants in many fields. Job seekers who are used to competing in a job seeker’s market may have been used to walking into an interview and having no trouble proving they are great candidates, because they weren’t likely to be competing with many people as good as them. These days, we need to be ready to bring our absolute competitive best against people just as good as we are – or better. The way to do that is be confident in what we have to offer and know how to best communicate that in an interview.
An interview is like an oral exam. You wouldn’t take a test without preparation and you shouldn’t go to an interview without having written out and reviewed likely questions and best answers, using all your best test-taking, memorization skills to remember the ideas and concepts you want to articulate. Know your true strengths and claim them confidently. Don’t trot out someone else’s strengths or list those you’re not confident you have. Your voice and body language will betray you and make you look like a liar if you’re trying to give rehearsed, rather than natural, answers. Don’t torpedo yourself by admitting unresolved weaknesses. Just give a single weaknesses you’re working on resolving, which will stack up positively along the list of strengths you already told them. Be prepared to give stories about how you solved a problem at work, making a boss or customer happy. Your problem-solving skills might also be tested by being given scenarios and then being asked how you’d handle the situation.
Never complain about previous bosses, customers, co-workers or tasks. Stay away from discussions about anything negative, even if it’s not about you, because it brings a negative tone to the interview which sticks to you, anyway. Think about true, positive things to say instead. Avoid touchy subjects by coming up with true and neutral answers. For example, you would say “I left my last job because the commute was just too long” when you were fired because you were always late. The long commute did increase the challenge of being on time, especially if you had to rely on public transportation or car-pooling. So you are telling the truth, just not the negative details.
Don’t be too friendly or casual, even if you already know your interviewers. You can come off as not being very professional, or you can let slip personal details that give interviewers fuel for negative speculation. If you talk about children, they think of extra sick days off, family crisis phone interruptions, and childcare emergencies. If you mention you are divorced, they wonder if you are bitter and resentful. If you say you are married, they might assume you could abruptly leave to follow your spouse’s career changes.
The more you practice and prepare for interviews, the better impression you will make, until you finally surge ahead of your competition and get that job you’ve truly earned.