by Bill Radin
To a large degree, the success of
your interview will depend on your ability to discover needs and
empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking
questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer
has just said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By
establishing empathy in this manner, you'll be in a better
position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your
suitability for the job.
In addition to empathy, there are
four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview.
These intangibles will influence the way your personality is
perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal
chemistry you'll share with the employer.
 Enthusiasm -- Leave no doubt
as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it's
unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more
enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it's
best to keep your options open -- wouldn't you rather be in a
position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job
evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?
 Technical interest --
Employers look for people who love what they do, and get excited
by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.
 Confidence -- No one likes a
braggart, but the candidate who's sure of his or her abilities
will almost certainly be more favorably received.
 Intensity -- The last thing
you want to do is come across as "flat" in your
interview. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back
person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.
By the way, most employers are
aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position,
and will do everything they can to put you at ease.
Since interviewing also involves
the exchange of tangible information, make sure to:
• Present your background in a
thorough and accurate manner;
• Gather data concerning the
company, the industry, the position, and the specific opportunity;
• Link your abilities with the
company needs in the mind of the employer; and
• Build a strong case for why
the company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make
from building rapport and asking the right questions.
Both for your sake and the
employer's, never leave an interview without exchanging
fundamental information. The more you know about each other, the
more potential you'll have for establishing rapport, and making an
There are two ways to answer
interview questions: the short version and the long version. When
a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they
say, "Let me give you the short version. If we need to
explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I'd be happy to go
into greater depth, and give you the long version."
The reason you should respond
this way is because it's often difficult to know what type of
answer each question will need. A question like, "What was
your most difficult assignment?" might take anywhere from
thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the
detail you choose to give.
Therefore, you must always
remember that the interviewer's the one who asked the question. So
you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know,
without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation.
Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon
when a short prayer would do just fine?
Let's suppose you were
interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer
asked you, "What sort of sales experience have you had in the
Well, that's exactly the sort of
question that can get you into trouble if you don't use the short
version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling
off everything in their memory that relates to their sales
experience. Though the information might be useful to the
interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and
long-winded unless it's neatly packaged.
One way to answer the question
might be, "I've held sales positions with three different
consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where would
you like me to start?"
Or, you might simply say,
"Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me
where you want to go into more depth. I've had nine years
experience in consumer product sales with three different
companies, and held the titles of district, regional, and national
sales manager. What aspect of my background would you like to
By using this method, you
telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well
organized, and that you want to understand the intent of the
question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you
wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your
interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are
important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.
Yourself Out of a Job
I've got a friend who's the
hiring manager of an electronics company. He told me once that he
brought a candidate into his office to make him a job offer. An
hour later, the candidate left. I asked my friend if he had hired
"No," he said. "I
tried. But the candidate wouldn't stop talking long enough for me
to make him an offer."
Don't misinterpret me. I'm not
suggesting that an interview should consist of a series of
monosyllabic grunts. It's just that nothing turns off an employer
faster than a windbag candidate.
By using the short version/long
version method to answer questions, you'll never talk yourself out
of a job.
Use of Questions
Beware: An interview will quickly
disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask
some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are
the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:
• Create dialogue, which will
not only enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but
will help you visualize what it'll be like working together once
you've been hired;
• Clarify your understanding of
the company and the position responsibilities;
• Indicate your grasp of the
fundamental issues discussed so far;
• Reveal your ability to probe
beyond the superficial; and
• Challenge the employer to
reveal his or her own depth of knowledge, or commitment to the
Your questions should always be
slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or
understanding of the employer's needs. After all, the reason
you're interviewing is because the employer's company has some
piece of work which needs to be completed, or a problem that needs
correcting. Here are some questions that have proven to be very
• What's the most important
issue facing your department?
• How can I help you accomplish
• How long has it been since
you first identified this need?
• How long have you been trying
to correct it?
• Have you tried using your
present staff to get the job done? What was the result?
• What other means have you
used? For example, have you brought in independent contractors, or
temporary help, or employees borrowed from other departments? Or
have you recently hired people who haven't worked out?
• Is there any particular skill
or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?
• Is there a unique aspect of
my background that you'd like to exploit in order to help
accomplish your objectives?
Questions like these will not
only give you a sense of the company's goals and priorities,
they'll indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying
the company's objectives.
Give It Some
Here are seven of the most
commonly asked interviewing questions. Do yourself and the
prospective employer a favor, and give them some thought before
the interview occurs.
 Why do you want this job?
 Why do you want to leave your
 Where do you see yourself in
 What are your personal goals?
 What are your strengths?
 What do you like most about
your current company?
 What do you like least about
your current company?
The last question is probably the
hardest to answer: What do you like least about your present
I've found that rather than
pointing out the faults of other people ("I can't stand the
office politics," or, "I don't get along with my
boss"), it's best to place the burden on yourself ("I
feel I'm ready to exercise a new set of professional
muscles," or, "The type of technology I'm interested in
isn't available to me now.").
By answering in this manner,
you'll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across
as a whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak negatively
I suggest you think through the
answers to the above questions for two reasons.
First, it won't help your chances
any to hem and haw over fundamental issues such as these. (The
answers you give to these types of questions should be
And secondly, the questions will
help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and
energy on an interview. If you don't feel comfortable with the
answers you come up with, maybe the new job isn't right for you.
There's a good chance you'll be
asked about your current and expected level of compensation.
Here's the way to handle the following questions:
 What are you currently
Answer: "My compensation,
including bonus, is in the high-forties. I'm expecting my annual
review next month, and that should put me in the
 What sort of money would you
need in order to come to work for our company?
Answer: "I feel that the
opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide
to work together, I'm sure you'll make me a fair offer."
Notice the way a range was given
as the answer to question , not a specific dollar figure.
However, if the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by
all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits,
expected increase, and so forth.
In answer to question , if the
interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you
should also suggest a range, as in, "I would need something
in the low- to mid- fifties." Getting locked in to an exact
figure may work against you later, in one of two ways: either the
number you give is lower than you really want to accept; or the
number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer
never comes. By using a range, you can keep your options open.
You Can Count On
There are four types of questions
that interviewers like to ask.
First, there are the resume
questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job
responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and
Resume questions require
accurate, objective answers, since your resume consists of facts
which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid
answers which exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be
opinionated, vague, or egocentric.
Second, interviewers will usually
want you to comment on your abilities, or assess your past
performance. They'll ask self-appraisal questions like, "What
do you think is your greatest asset?" or, "Can you tell
me something you've done that was very creative?"
Third, interviewers like to know
how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you
to explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that
you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future.
"How would you stay profitable during a recession?" or,
"How would you go about laying off 1300 employees?" or,
"How would you handle customer complaints if the company
drastically raised its prices?" are typical situation
And lastly, some employers like
to test your mettle with stress questions such as, "After you
die, what would you like your epitaph to read?" or, "If
you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it
be?" or, "It's obvious your background makes you totally
unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time
Stress questions are designed to
evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while
you're under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational
questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive
posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give
carefully considered answers.
Whenever I hear a stress
question, I immediately think of the Miss Universe beauty pageant.
The finalists (usually sheltered teenagers from places like Zambia
or Uruguay) are asked before a live television audience of three
and a half billion people to give heartfelt and earnest responses
to incongruous questions like, "What would you tell the
leaders of all the countries on earth to do to promote world
Of course, your sense of humor
will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so
long as you don't go over the edge. I heard of a candidate once
who, when asked to describe his ideal job, replied, "To have
beautiful women rub my back with hot oil." Needless to say,
he wasn't hired.
Even if it were possible to
anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock
answers would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy is
to review your background, your priorities, and your reasons for
considering a new position; and to handle the interview as
honestly as you can. If you don't know the answer to a question,
just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.
Wrapping It Up
At the conclusion of your
interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to
cover so far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.
During your interview wrap-up,
it's a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other
opportunities you're exploring, as long as they're genuine, and
their timing has some bearing on your own decision making.
The fact that you're actively
exploring other opportunities may affect the speed with which the
company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively
influence the eventual outcome, since the company may want to act
quickly so as not to lose you.
However, your other activity
should be presented in the spirit of assistance to the
interviewer, not as a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic.
I'd advise you to play it straight with the interviewer.
And remember to maintain a
positive attitude. In today's job market, you'd be surprised how
often victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. The
better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of
getting the job.