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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Five Tips to Empower Yourself During the Interview

Eureka! Let’s say you’ve finally landed an interview, did all the research on the target company, and are now sitting in the hot seat, being grilled about your background from a panel of prospective bosses.

Who is exactly in control here? Did you guess the employer?


You BOTH are in control.

Most job applicants mentally hand over all the power in a job search to the prospective employer, being that they (the employer) has something that the candidate wants (the job). It’s easy to think that the target company is the sole decision maker as to whether they hire that person or not.

This is a dangerous attitude to take, because in essence, you are effectively handing over the power of the situation to someone else, when in fact, you equally hold the reins.

If you have carefully managed your career, are confident in your abilities and what it is that you offer to the employer, you also have control in the interview room just as much as the employer. Flip the dynamics around, and suddenly, you are the industry subject matter expert who is top in your field, and what you offer is exactly what the employer is seeking (perhaps even desperately so).

Interviews are a two-way street. You are interviewing the interviewer as well, so here are five essential tips to keep yourself in the driver’s seat along with the employer, when it comes to the balance of power during an interview (well, without being you becoming too over-confident, of course!):

1) Respect yourself, just as you respect the employer. If the person or people interviewing you aren’t showing you the same amount of respect that you’d expect, write an “X” against the employer. Just like you, the employer’s representatives should be on their best behavior during the interview. Think of this as the ‘courtship’ phase when everything should be all ‘go’ and not any ‘no!’ Don’t like how they are treating you? It’s a sure sign that worse things are yet to come.

2) Test for chemistry. Just as there are good bosses out there, there are also bad bosses. We’ve seen them. Control freaks, neurotic messes, people with anger issues… they are all out there. The question is: are they sitting in front of you in an interview? I was once interviewing at a large corporation where the HR person (!!!) told me that the CEO that I was going to be directly reporting to had extreme anger issues and treated staff horribly. Then the HR person asked how I would handle that. At that point, I decided I didn’t want to. Who needs that lying on your doorstep every day?? If it isn’t a fit, walk away. You’ll save yourself from ulcers, high blood pressure, and a miserable existence. Sure, it could be the job you’ve always wanted, but at what cost?

3) Watch the interview team for clues on team dynamics. If you are in a panel interview, or have successive follow-up interviews, examine how the team communicates. Is there camaraderie? Are they having fun? Or are they sour, droll, or beaten down? Clues to the team dynamic can also give you a heads up on the corporate culture.  I remember during one interview many years ago that there were several people on the panel who seemed rather combative. Fortunately, I had done my research and found out that the organization had been suffering from a lot of external politics, and the observation of these folks in the interview verified this revelation which came from an inside source. I weighed everything after the interview, and that was the determining factor of why I chose not to accept the position. Again, if they were fighting in the interview, what kind of toxic work environment would I be getting myself into??

4) Ask your own questions in the interview. In addition to learning more information about the company, by asking questions, you demonstrate innovation and initiative by focusing on the employer while framing yourself up as the likely top candidate to be chosen. It’s always a good idea to walk into every interview with a minimum of at least 10 questions that you want to ask. In all likelihood, several of the questions will be answered during the course of the interview, so you need backups. Questions to ask could include:

a. What types of professional development does your organization offer?
b. Can you describe some of the challenges you (or your company) has faced in the last two years (in addition to the economy)?
c. As the new ___ (position title)__, what would be the first thing I’d need to be working on to hit the ground running?
d. What are the top two accomplishments that you are most proud of since you started here?
e. What do you see as your biggest advantages over your industry competitor?
f. Can you describe the ideal candidate for this position? (This is also a good reality check for you to ask this question towards the end of the interview to see how you are performing to their standards.)
g. Overall, how would you classify the fiscal health of your company? (IMPORTANT and totally appropriate question to ask, especially now. Had a client who moved his whole family from California to Oregon only to get laid off 8 weeks later.)
h. What are some of the key projects that I would be working on immediately after hire?
i. What are some of the skills and abilities necessary for someone to succeed in this job?

5) Do a ‘temperature check’ at the end of the interview. This is a critical juncture. Usually, employers will close the interview and say thank you, etc. etc. and once you walk out of that room, the chances of you getting feedback on how you actually performed fall to practically zero. They’ve put you on the spot, so it's time to be assertive and put them on the spot as well.

Ask, “Based on our discussion today, do you have any concerns about my ability to perform this position?” You are holding them accountable for their ultimate hiring decision… you’ll find out right away how you did, and have a good understanding as to why you were or were not chosen for the position. Too many times, most of us walk away without any kind of closure of our performance. We may sort of know, but don’t really have a sense of what the employer is thinking. The only way you can improve your interviewing skills is by learning, and by asking this question, you are creating a learning opportunity to empower yourself to do better in future interviews.

1 comment:

superisabel said...

I found your blog after reading your columns in ONE+ magazine (I'm a member of MPI). This particular post reminds me of one of your columns that I actually ripped out and keep in my home office: Interviewing the Interviewer.
I just wanted to thank you for your great writing, that really addresses ACTUAL issues job seekers have. Valuable stuff!