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More Job Interview Tips
In a previous article, we covered how to prepare for an interview and how to deal with behavioral interviews. This article covers additional aspects of interviewing to help you be at your best.
When you think about a job interview, what picture forms in your mind? If you’re like most people, you probably envision an interviewer sitting behind a desk, with you sitting across the desk from him/her – or perhaps alongside the desk. While this interview scenario is fairly common, it’s important to remember that there are other formats that you’ll need to be familiar with.
Sometimes you’ll be in a panel interview. In this format, you’ll be a in a room with several people – perhaps three to five, and you’ll have to respond to questions from all of them. Organizations use panel interviews to save time and gain the benefit of several opinions and points of view on the candidates. It might seem intimidating at first, but don’t panic! It’s not as hard as you might think.
To begin with, you should introduce yourself to each of the people individually. A firm handshake, a nice smile, and friendly eye contact will help you establish rapport with each of the panel members, which will help you reduce your level of tension. Once you’re seated, and the interview begins, you’ll probably notice that the panel asks questions one at a time. They won’t all be talking at once. This allows you to respond primarily to the person who asked the question. Maintain primary eye contact with the questioner, and every few seconds throw a little eye contact around the table. This enables you to focus on the questioner while keeping the rest of the panel involved. By maintaining your focus on the questioner, you can emotionally tune out the rest of the “audience,” and lower your anxiety about speaking in front of a group.
While you’re responding to the questioner, use your peripheral vision to take note of the body language of the rest of the panel. Be on the lookout for head nods, smiles, and other positive body language. This will be another way to manage your anxiety and help you know what parts of your answers to emphasize.
At the end of the interview, be sure to get business cards from each of the panel members and send a thank you note to each of them individually. If that’s not feasible, write your note to the convener of the panel and ask that person to convey your thanks to the others.
Another interview format is the serial interview. In this format you will meet individually with two or three people, one after the other. While this may seem a more comfortable format, since you’re only talking with one person at a time, keep in mind that as you move from one person to the other, you will start to get fatigued. Meanwhile, each of the people you speak to will be fresh as a daisy.
In the serial format, you will need to pace yourself mentally. This doesn’t mean you hold back during any of the interview segments, but it will allow you maintain your energy level and ability to focus over a longer period than just 45 minutes to an hour.
Each of your interviewers will meet later to exchange impressions, so you’ll need to make sure that your answers to the same or similar questions are consistent. You don’t have to answer the questions exactly the same, and – as a matter of fact – it would probably be a good idea to respond with the interviewer’s perspective in mind.
As with the panel interview, make sure you get a business card from each of your interviewers so you can send them each a thank you note.
Another common format is the telephone interview. Employers often use telephone interviews as screening interviews, mainly to verify information on the resume and to get a sense of your interpersonal style. If you’re applying to an organization at some distance, phone interviews may be used instead of first round in-person meetings as a way of saving money.
The disadvantage of a phone interview for you is that you don’t get to see the interviewer’s body language, making it harder to develop rapport and more difficult to know where to put your emphasis in your responses. On the other hand, you get to have all your notes in front of you, which makes it easier to respond to many of the questions. Even though you’re not visible to the interviewer, it’s a good idea to be dressed professionally and smile frequently. It sounds strange, but the person on the other end of the phone can actually hear the smile in your voice.
If you get a phone call without warning from a screener, it’s best not to let yourself go into the conversation completely unprepared. If the caller has any courtesy at all, s/he’s likely to ask if this is a good time for you to talk. Rather than give in to the temptation to talk with an honest-to-goodness interviewer, it’s best to say something like, “Wow, I really do want to talk to you, but I’m dripping wet from the shower. Can I call you back in ten minutes?” If you don’t like that line, make up one of your own. Then gather your materials together and get your head on straight, and call them back.
Here is some general interview etiquette to consider. When you’re in someone’s office and speaking across a desk, do not put any of your things on that person’s desk. If you have a portfolio, a notepad, or purse, keep it on the floor right next to your chair. The desk is the interviewer’s territory, and you mustn’t invade it. On the other hand, if you’re in a conversation area in the office, or in a conference room, the table is neutral territory, and you can feel free to use it for your things.
You may be asked if you’d like coffee. I generally advise against accepting coffee or any other refreshment except water. You don’t want to risk the chance of coffee spilling on someone’s carpet or furniture. Sure it’s unlikely, but why take the chance? If you must, drink water sparingly to keep your mouth from drying out.
If you can, avoid sitting in a soft, plush chair. When possible, choose a chair that has four feet on the ground, with just a padded seat and back. You will be more in control of your posture that way. Also try to avoid chairs that swivel or rock back and forth. If you get nervous, you’ll be rocking and rolling your way through the meeting, and distracting yourself and the interviewer.
There might be an occasion, especially during a serial interview, where your interview runs across a meal period – maybe lunch or dinner. Or if you’re interviewing out of town, you may be talking to someone across a breakfast table. In such situations, you must remember that no matter where you are, you’re still in an interview. That means you should be eating interview food. It’s easier to say what it’s not than what it is. Interview food is not spaghetti with red sauce, barbeque ribs with lots of sauce, sandwiches that have everything inside squishing out the sides when you bite into them, etc. You get the idea. Stick with something you can eat neatly with a knife and fork – and don’t talk with your mouth full! It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol – you want to keep a clear head for an interview.
Because a restaurant is a less formal setting than an office, you may be tempted to be less circumspect – or if you’ve gone out with some of the other people from the organization, they might be less familiar with the rules of interviewing, and ask what they think are innocent questions, but which EEOC says are verboten – like your marital status, what kind of car you drive, or what church you go to. A trained interviewer will know to stay away from questions like that.
Well, while we’re on the subject, what happens if you are asked an awkward question, which you know is inappropriate? It’s probably not a good idea to confront the interviewer – “Say, that’s an illegal question!” If the question is innocuous, such as “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” you can usually answer honestly. That information is almost always public information, especially if you’re wearing a wedding band. If the question is more sensitive, or if you think you’d rather not answer it all, you might try a little humor while you gently remind the interviewer that s/he shouldn’t be asking such questions.
I once worked with a female client – I’ll call her Julie – who was actually asked a series of increasingly inappropriate questions about her marital status and children, culminating in an unbelievable “So, what kind of birth control do you use?” She was so upset and flustered, that she said the first thing that came into her head – “Do you have a policy on that?” When she reported this to me later, I concluded that her response – “Do you have a policy on that?” – was probably the best possible answer to any inappropriate question in a job interview. When said with a smile and raised eyebrows, it’s the gentlest way to remind the interviewer that s/he stepped over the line. In Julie’s meeting, the interviewer simply changed the subject and moved on to more relevant questions.
When you agree to an interview, your goal should be to get an offer. Even if you decide part-way through the meeting that you don’t want to work for this organization, don’t give up on it. For one thing, the offer might be sweet enough to overcome any of your objections. And even if it’s not, having an offer in your pocket might be used as leverage with another organization you’ve been talking to. It’s amazing how a company that seemed luke-warm towards you, now sees you as a hot property when they know that someone else has made you an offer. Maybe it gets their competitive juices flowing. Just remember, you can always turn down an offer if you decide you really don’t want to work there.