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Technology has undoubtedly changed the format of the job search. We send emails as cover letters, format tweets as resumes, and “connect” to potential employers through whatever online service will work. But once job seekers get those employers’ attention, they face the most important part of the process: the interview.
The basic goals of all interviews are the same — impress the interviewer, show that you would be a good fit for the company, and find out if the job is right for you. Interviewees, though, don’t get to choose the format of the interview and may find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. There are a growing number of types of interviews that job seekers might encounter, and each requires different techniques for success.
Meeting with an interviewer in person is the traditional job interview format, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to be successful. Interviewing in person takes confidence, personability, and preparation, and many of these qualities are needed in other types of interviews, as well.
When you find out you’ve landed an interview, you should get started researching the company and position. This will help you speak intelligently about what you can contribute and show that you’re taking the opportunity seriously. “Research is critical to success here – know something about the company, what it does, where its offices are located, who the leaders are,” says Melissa Venable, who has experience as a career counselor.
You should also take some time to look up the person who will be interviewing you, if possible, Venable suggests. This can help you connect more personally with them. Find out how this person’s role relates to yours. You might act differently if it’s your future supervisor than if it’s the HR manager.
Your pre-interview preparation should also include practicing your answers to likely questions. You can find lists of typical interviews topics or questions online. Talk through your responses and practice pacing, giving examples, and being enthusiastic.
“Start practicing your responses, including actual examples of projects you’ve worked on, decisions you’ve made, lessons learned when things went wrong — be able to tell short stories,” Venable says. “Develop examples that you can present in response to a variety of questions. Have a good idea of how your experience applies to what they need, the needs of the position for which they are hiring.”
Even though you’re trying to impress the interviewer, it’s important to make sure the position and company are a good fit for you. The best way to do this is to ask questions. Don’t make the interviewer feel like they’re being grilled, but show your interest in the position by asking relevant questions about job duties and the company. Not only will you create an atmosphere that feels more like a conversation than an interrogation, the interviewer’s answers to your questions can give you an opportunity to highlight your experiences that fit with what they’re saying.
When the interview is coming to a close and you’re asked if you have any questions, make sure you finish strong by asking one (or all) of these questions suggested by career experts: Is there any reason why you wouldn’t hire me? As an employee, how could I exceed your expectations? How could I help your company meet its goals? What excites you about coming into work every day?
If you’ve given a potential employer your phone number, you’ve got to be prepared for a phone interview at any time. While many employers will set up a specific time to talk to you about the job, others might call without notice. These on-the-spot interviews help hiring managers shorten their stack of potential candidates.
To help prepare yourself as much as possible for an impromptu phone interview, make sure you only apply to jobs you really want and that you research the company and read through the job description several times before applying. This will give you a working knowledge of the organization to rely on when an unexpected call comes in. It’s also helpful to keep a log of all the jobs you’ve applied to with a brief description of the company and position to refer to when someone calls.
Try to make yourself available when the call comes in. If you’re out somewhere, try to step away from any loud activity to complete the phone call. While the interviewer may not call at an ideal time for you, how you react to the circumstances can be a sign to interviewers how you act in stressful situations. Jonathan Langley, director of career services of Kaplan College in Riverside, Calif., told a local news network about a candidate who impressed him with her demeanor.
“I interviewed one candidate over the phone while she was at an airport waiting to catch a plane. She actually handled it really well by telling me up front that she would love to chat, but asked for my patience because she was at an airport and it might be a little noisy,” he said. “Her composure and ability to answer intelligently in a very busy atmosphere really impressed me and actually moved her forward in the process.”
If you have control over the situation, remove all distractions from around you. Leaving the TV on or staying in the same room with your barking dogs will not only be distracting to you but also the hiring manager on the other end of the line.
“Block your calendar and plan ahead for where you’ll be when you take the call. A quiet room, free from distractions, is ideal,” Venable says. “If you plan on being interviewed by phone while at home, ask for help in keeping kids and pets diverted during the call. Turn off any other devices that might make noise — alarms, notifications, etc.”
Treat it like a normal interview. Interviewers can tell if you’re taking the interview seriously by the tone of your voice. Sit up, smile, and speak enthusiastically about your qualifications and passions as if you were talking to the person face to face.
And don’t think you can get away with doing other tasks just because you can’t be seen. Morgan Nichols, a managing partner of a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, says that he’s heard toilets flushing and showers running during phone interviews. There’s no question what an interviewer will think when he or she hears those sounds.
Being out of sight, though, can actually be used to your advantage. “Place your notes, resume, cover letter, etc. nearby so that you can reference them as needed,” Venable suggests. “You may even want to be near your computer and have the company’s website up for quick review.”
Now that webcams have become a standard part of home offices and laptops, video interviews, particularly with Skype, are becoming more common. And while they may feel similar to face-to-face interviews, there are potential pitfalls. Choosing a location, dressing for the interview, and making the experience as natural as possible are key parts of having a successful Skype interview.
Besides the typical aspects of preparing for an interview — learning about the company, the interviewer, and where you would fit within the organization — Skype interviews require special preparation. Put significant thought into how you’re going to come across on camera. When you pick a place for your location, make sure you are away from loud sounds and possible distractions. Maureen Francisco is the author of It Takes Moxie: Off the Boat, or Out of School, to Making It Your Way in America and has appeared on TV as a news anchor and reality show contestant. She says you have to evaluate each potential location based on the noise factor.
“Can you hear your neighbors? Is it near the busy area of your house, like the kitchen?” Francisco asks. “If so, move to a location that’s quiet.”
She also recommends turning off cell phones, landlines, and any other noisemakers that might go off during the interview. Interruptions like these can indicate that you didn’t fully prepare for the interview by thinking through any possible distractions.
Test your equipment well in advance of the interview. This includes making sure your Internet connection can handle a video call, that syour microphone works, and that you can hear clearly through your speakers or headset.
Looking Your Best
To look your best on camera, you should dress as you would for a traditional interview and set up your computer in a flattering way. On Skype’s blog, Global Staffing Manager James Gould and Staffing Consultant Sean Wilkes provide tips for angling your camera and getting the best light.
“If you’re lit from behind, it will look like you’re in a witness protection program,” Gould says, because the camera will adjust to that direct light and turn you into a silhouette. Lights above or below you can cast unwanted shadows on your face. The best results come from natural light or a lamp aimed at your face from behind the camera.
It’s best to have your camera at the same level as your face. Too high and you’ll look small; too low and you’re likely to have a double chin. If needed, stack the camera or your laptop on top of something to reach the best height for the interview.
To make the interview feel more natural, don’t focus the camera on just your head. “Get all of your upper body in the visible area on camera, not just your face,” Gould says. “Hand gestures are an important part of natural communication. You don’t want to be constrained to just wiggling your shoulders.”
Francisco says the camera should capture from just below your chest to a few inches above your head, allowing you to move and talk naturally without cutting off your head.
How you look is as important on camera as it is in person, but with Skype, you also have to think about your background. A messy, cluttered room behind you can give your interviewer an unwanted impression. “The interview should be focused on you and not your environment,” Francisco says.
On the other hand, blank white walls aren’t ideal either. You want to create some depth behind you; most experts suggest using a bookshelf or a desk as the backdrop.
During the Interview
You can make the interview feel more natural by simulating eye contact. It feels more natural to look at the video of the interviewer or yourself, but looking into the camera is the best way to make the interviewer feel that you’re looking at them.
“During a Skype call, you can move the image of yourself around the screen,” Wilkes says. “We’re all self-conscious during an interview and are tempted to look at ourselves. Move your picture to the top corner of the screen, where it’s closest to the camera lens.”
Other experts suggest taping a photo of a friend just above your camera or even cutting a hole in the photo and placing it over the camera. This makes you feel as if you’re talking to someone when you’re looking at the camera and can put you at ease.
Group interviews, where you’re interviewed with other candidates, are popular for entry-level or hourly wage jobs, like retail, or those where employees often work as a team. It saves employers the time of interviewing candidates individually and allows them to see how they interact with others. Many group interviews involve a lot of activities, so don’t expect to be sitting down answering questions the whole time.
Patrick Edmunds, a former hiring manager, told Snag A Job that candidates must be ready for anything in these types of interviews. Some may involve talking with a panel of interviewers, while others involve a project that the group must complete together. There’s no way to prepare for this unless you’re told beforehand, so just be on your toes. Be ready to be social, show your leadership skills, and to think differently about a problem than others might.
You should also be personable but assertive, Edmunds recommends. It’s important to show that you can work with a team and get others to like you, but you have to speak up to make sure that you’re noticed. Don’t interrupt or try to put down other candidates, but make sure you’re highlighting your best qualities for interviewers to see.
The difference between a traditional interview and a panel interview is that instead of one person firing questions at you, there are several. Panels can have just a few people or more than 10, made up of different potential supervisors and colleagues. While facing down several people at once can be intimidating, it’s possible to go in prepared and remain calm.
“Ask the person scheduling the interview if it’s possible to get the names of everyone who will be on the panel in advance,” Venable says. “This is not always a possibility — for example, you may be asked to meet with an impromptu group of staffers while on site — but if the information is available, it gives you a chance to find out more about them, their relationship or role within the company, and how the job you are applying for may tie in with their projects. You may also be able to prepare questions that you can ask (you usually get a chance to do this near the end of an interview) that may address specific members of the panel.”
While you may want to give a little more attention to the person who asked a question as you respond, it’s important to make every member of the panel feel like you’re connecting with them.
“During the interview, make eye contact with everyone on the panel. Try not to leave anyone out or focus on responding to just one member,” Venable says.
Interview with a Recruiter
In this tough economy, experienced recruiters can be a huge boon to applicants searching for the right job. Recruiters get paid by companies to find suitable candidates for open positions and may contact job seekers outright if they think they’re a good fit. They may also post job listings for their clients that job seekers can respond to.
Meeting with a recruiter for an interview is different than meeting with the employer directly. A recruiter is just looking for basic qualifications and answers they can give the client. “A recruiter’s job is to screen candidates to make certain that they meet the client’s minimum qualifications for consideration, check their professionalism (how they interview), and get a feeling for whether or not they will be a cultural fit for the client,” executive recruiter Bruce Hurwitz says.
You often won’t know an employer’s identity when you respond to a recruiter’s listing, so preparation is a little different. Follow the basic interviewing rules: show up on time, dress to impress, and come prepared to talk about your accomplishments and how you’d be right for the job listing. Researching the company is difficult, though, if not impossible. Hurwitz suggests a possible trick for discovering the employer’s identity: Many companies post job listings on their websites, so searching for key phrases in the recruiter’s listing may bring up the employer’s site. This can give you some more insight into what skills and qualities you should highlight in your interview.
Recruiters are looking for short, direct, and honest answers from possible candidates. “Many candidates have lost job offers because they talked too much, or could not get to the point, when they met the employer,” Hurwitz says. This can cost the recruiter money, as some recruiters only get money if one of their candidates is hired.
The types of questions you can expect from recruiters normally include checking to see that the candidate meets the minimum qualifications, that their experiences make them suited for the position, why the candidate left their last job, and what he or she is currently earning. There should also be plenty of opportunities to highlight achievements, since interviews with recruiters are largely about what the candidate has to offer.
A technical interview is one where you may be asked questions about technical aspects of the job you’ve applied for, brain teasers, and reasoning questions. There may also be a hands-on component where you’re expected to demonstrate your technical skills. These types of interviews are often used in the IT, engineering, and science fields, but may be found in others, as well.
If you have the skills required for the position you’re interviewing for, there’s only one thing you can really do to prepare for the interview.
“Practice, practice, practice! If there are specific tasks you will be asked to perform (or you anticipate you’ll be asked to perform), take the time to work them through a few times before your interview date,” Venable says. “This is helpful even if you are already highly skilled and have years of experience, and will help offset any nervousness that may emerge during the interview session itself. We’ve all drawn a blank in a stressful situation when asked something we should have known.”
If your potential employer has set up an interview over lunch (or breakfast), you have to juggle an extra task while you attempt to wow him or her: eating. You still need to prepare like you would for any face-to-face interview, but an extra set of etiquette skills will come into play.
Meeting at the Restaurant
Arriving early to a lunch interview is a good idea. Give yourself a 10-minute grace period before you’re scheduled to meet. “That way you have time to compose yourself, or to run to the bathroom and check your appearance,” says Jorie Scholnik, an assistant professor at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., who trains Millennials in business etiquette. Arriving on time or late will likely leave you flustered and more nervous in an already-tense situation.
The next step is finding your interviewer. Without a receptionist to usher you into an office or conference room, it’s important to do some homework or pick up on signals. “I recommend looking at the company’s website to see if there’s a picture of the interviewer. Get a visual,” Scholnik suggests. Professional Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn accounts are also good sources for photos.
If you can’t find any photos online, look around the restaurant for someone who also appears to be looking for someone. Depending on the type of business, you may be looking for someone in a full suit. To avoid this awkward situation, you can tell the interviewer beforehand what you’ll be wearing and carrying so they can keep an eye out for you.
Handling the Food
Ordering and eating food is a tricky part of any lunch interview, so it’s important to use your best manners. Since most restaurants have their menus available online, look it up before you go. Figure out what you could order at a few different price points so the cost of your meal will be similar to that of the interviewer.
It’s common for the interviewer to allow you to order first, since you’re considered a guest. To determine the price point you should be looking at, Scholnik suggests asking the interviewer “What do you normally recommend here?” or “What do you plan on having?” before the waiter comes to take your order. This can clue you in to what’s appropriate to order.
Need rules on what not to order? Scholnik says to avoid these types of foods:
- Finger foods.
- Sloppy foods. This includes anything with a lot of sauce, wings, pizza, and some types of pasta.
- Anything that will likely get stuck in your teeth. Broccoli and lettuce are common offenders. Since the interviewer doesn’t know you well, he or she probably won’t feel comfortable telling you there’s something in your teeth, and you could go the whole interview not realizing it’s there.
- Anything with odor. Foods heavy on garlic or onions are a bad idea.
Scholnik says chicken is generally a safe choice, as long as you cut it into bite-size pieces. Depending on the price point, steak can also be a good option if you eat it neatly.
One tip from Scholnik that seems a little counterintuitive: eat before you go. This allows you to concentrate on the person in front of you and responding to questions rather than concentrating on your food. “If you’re starving, you’ll focus on eating and look down at your food,” she says. Eating beforehand will allow you to give your food less attention; having lunch is the secondary reason for this meeting and should be treated as such.
Mind Your Manners
You know not to talk with your mouth full, so don’t take a bite if the interviewer’s asking a question. But you also need to remember a few other etiquette tips for meal time. If you need to use the restroom, excuse yourself and put your napkin on your chair. When you’re finished eating, place your napkin to the left of your plate.
Since this meal is probably being put on a company expense card, don’t offer or insist on paying. Just say “thank you” and be gracious when the interviewer covers the bill, Scholnik says. You should also be gracious to your waiter or waitress.
“One of the biggest signs you’re difficult to work with is losing your temper with someone who’s helping you,” Scholnik says. If you get the wrong drink or your meal isn’t what you ordered, keep your composure and be polite. It can speak volumes.
Chatting over lunch and becoming friendly with your interviewer can help him or her see how you’d fit into the office environment, but you have to avoid becoming too casual with the situation. It’s still a formal interview. No discussing relationship problems, parties, drinking, or anything else you wouldn’t discuss with someone you’re trying to impress, Scholnik says.
It’s in Your Hands
Interviewing may not be anyone’s favorite part of the job-searching process, but it’s the last step before hearing those wonderful words: “You’re hired!” Though some basic preparation is key for every interview format you may face, it’s important to make sure you understand the factors at play for each type. Don’t let technology, interviewing with multiple people, or bad manners cost you a job.