How to Take Control of a Job Interview and Make Yourself a Winning Candidate Every Time

[Editor's Note: This two-part story is the latest installment in an ongoing series that highlights unique career strategies for navigating the jobless recovery.  To read Part I, which appeared yesterday (Thursday), please click here.]

Thanks to your diligent preparation, you made the perfect first impression on your prospective new employer.

Now it’s time to close the deal.

How will you do this? Simple. You’re going to close the deal with an outstanding interview. Then you’ll seal the deal with a post-interview follow-up call that will leave your prospective employer asking for more.
And that should provide you with exactly what you’re seeking – a job offer.

Let’s take a closer look at both these key objectives. And let’s start with the job interview.

Always keep in mind that, under our strategy, you’re not merely trying to persuade your interviewer that you are the right person for he job.

You’re trying to demonstrate that you you’re the best fit for the company. 

The easiest and most effective way you’ll do that is by turning the staid and often overly formal interview process into more of a relaxed “discussion” between two people who have the same goal – filling an open position.

Actually creating a “relationship” between you and the interviewer is probably much easier than you imagine.  All you’ll need to do is adopt a slightly different role during the interview itself – a role that bridges the gulf between you and that puts you and the interviewer on more or less equal footing. Achieving this is easy: Just encourage your interviewer to contribute as much to the conversation as you do by using personalized follow up questions throughout the entire interview.

In the following text, you’ll learn exactly how to phrase your follow up questions for maximum effectiveness, to engage your interviewer, and ultimately help you close the deal on the job.

How to Control a Job Interview Without Appearing to

In every interview, about 60% of the allotted time will be taken up by the same standard questions.  It’s up to you to “control” the other 40% of the time – and manage it to your ultimate advantage – by using the afore-mentioned follow-up questions to create more of personal dialogue with your interviewer.

But here’s a key caveat: Never try to anticipate the interview question or cut off the questioner.  Listen to the entire question, and then begin to answer.  That way, you’ll appear polite and focused – and won’t give away your strategy by being overly aggressive.

So let’s now take a look at the formalized interview questions – and at the “standard-fare” interview questions you can expect, and look at questions you can use to “manage” the interview process:

1.    Resume Questions:  Even though your resume got you into the interview, you may be asked to quickly review it for new people in attendance.  You need to be able to:

  • Summarize your resume/biography/life in three to five minutes. Prior to your interview, practice until you can do this. To stay focused and manage your time.
  • Include highlights of each position you’ve held, its responsibilities, how long you held it, and the accolades/awards you received.
  • Make sure you can explain any gaps in employment.
  • If there are gaps in employment, make sure you can explain them.
  • Take some time to ask the “Follow Up Questions” that will help you establish the rapport you’re seeking with your interviewer. Once you’ve answered the resume questions, turn the topic back on your interviewer by asking:
      • What did his or her resume look like prior to joining the company?
      • What is the most common background for people in the company?
      • How many others have backgrounds similar to yours?
  1. Strength & Weakness QuestionsYou’ll almost always be asked to list your strengths and/or weaknesses.  Again, practice these so that you can answer quickly and succinctly.
  • For strengths, typical answers may include such descriptive labels as “strong multi-tasker, works well with others, self-motivated, quick-learner, thorough, and great eye for detail,” to list a few.
  • Don’t be afraid to toss in a lighthearted answer, if only to take the edge of the interview (you’ll be able to tell when it’s needed, and when it might be viewed as inappropriate. In my case, I might say that  “I call a mean game of ‘Simon Says’ at my children’s parties.” As I said, this will certainly set you apart from the crowd, and may lighten the mood of the interview, if that needs to happen.
  • Also include an example of a strength you’ve acquired from a previous job that will help you in this new position.  This shows the ability to learn.
  • For weaknesses, remember you may be giving the interviewer grounds for not hiring you. So, answer this question with care.  First, you can’t answer that you have no weaknesses; you’re not Superman or Wonder Woman; you’ll seem insincere. For those weaknesses you do share, also include the steps you’ve taken to turn them into strengths. For instance, you can recount how earlier in your career you had a propensity for taking on too much – but then you learned the benefits of delegating responsibility. Your work load became lighter, your subordinates felt “empowered” and overall department performance increased in a substantial way.
  • Follow Ups:  Turn the same questions back on those in attendance:
      • Which strengths/weaknesses do you consider most important for the job?
      • Which of my strengths do you perceive to be the biggest asset?
  1. Company/Business QuestionsThe more you know about the company, its position within the industry, and its recent history, the more conversant you’ll be during the interview, and the more you’ll stand out.  Chances are, you’ll have more to ask about the company than the interviewer will, so make sure to ask about:
  • The company’s status:  Ask about the firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (the always-handy “SWOT Analysis”).
  • And the company’s corporate cultureWhat parts of the business are most valued? In other words, is it a sales-dominated, technology-dominated or finance-dominated culture? That question will demonstrate insight about the inner workings of companies in general, and will also allow you to determine your chances for high-level advancement, if that’s a personal goal.
  1. Questions About the Job Itself:  If you haven’t already done so, ask for a list of the most important qualities the person must have to succeed in the position you’re interviewing for. Then share how you’ve already demonstrated those qualities.This is probably also a good time to ask what sort of plans they have for the position, be it short term (in the next 90 to 180 days) or long term (three years down the road)? 
  • What’s the career track like, where does it end?
  • What are the compensation and benefits like for this position (it helps to have some numbers for reference: average compensation for your job in this same sector, as well as for the geographic area in which you work). If  there are discrepancies – such as the salary seems low – now’s the time to ask. 

Use the Final Part of the Interview to Seal the Deal

You’ve done well to this point – very well, in fact. Invariably, the interviewer will turn to you and ask what questions you may still have. If you’ve previously created a single sheet of all of the questions within this article, take it out, and see what’s left.  Chances are, you’ll have questions left to ask in the following areas: 

  1. The Interviewers ThemselvesAs soon as you learned the name of your interviewer, you should have consulted Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linked-In, or any other social network you could think of, for information on that person. 
  • Don’t miss out on chances to ask questions dealing with shared interests you discovered during that research. You’ll be surprised at how a person will brighten up when they discover you share an interest or hobby, hail from the same hometown or alma mater, or root for the same sports team.
  1. How Do You Stack Up?  Depending upon the situation, most interviewers are open to giving you an honest assessment of your candidacy.  If you sense reticence, don’t push it. Also, be careful how you phrase the question, in case the answer isn’t as positive as you hoped – you don’t want to end your candidacy before it’s even had a chance to take wing. It probably also doesn’t hurt to display some enthusiasm about the job – that’ll make the executive feel as if his or her time was worth the investment.

The End-of-Interview Action Plan

Once you’ve been given the cue that the interviewer is ready to end the session, make sure to ask that person what the next step is.  If the interviewer seems unsure, or hesitant, offer to take the lead.  For example, don’t hesitate to pose a question like: “Is there anything else that I can provide to you that will give you a better idea of what I can bring to the table?”

Find out when a decision is expected, and whether you should contact them or they’ll contact you.  Then, right before you’re ready to leave, offer a positive summary statement to end the meeting on an upbeat note.  For example:

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.  I know you all have busy days, but I hope you agree that this time together was well spent.  I’m confident that we discovered I’m an excellent fit for the position.  Good luck with the rest of your interviews.”

Post Interview:  Stay In the Decision Makers’ Minds

Even if you think the interview was a slam-dunk in your favor, don’t commit the typical faux paus of forgetting to thank the interviewers for their time. This also gives you the chance to remain fresh in their minds without seeming to bother them. Here’s a good strategy.

  • Immediately after the interview, send a “thank you” e-mail to your interviewer, or to the main contact person you dealt with. Express appreciation for their time and for the opportunity, and reiterate that you feel you’d be a great match for that company.
  • Within 48 hours, send a hand-written note via regular mail. This is a personal touch that is often ignored. And because it is so often forgotten, taking this step can go a long way toward showing you take the extra effort.
  • Make absolutely sure to follow up on the action steps established in the interview.  If you’ve been asked to provide additional information, do so on a timely basis. Failing to do so – even after a terrific interview – portrays you as someone who overlooks the details.
  • Finally, if you haven’t heard from the interviewer or the company after 72 hours, you can send a follow-up e-mail or place a call to the interviewer directly to get an update.

Here are a couple of other moves you can make to continue to set yourself apart from the rest of the candidate crowd. If you’ve also noticed an article about the company in the news, make mention of it in your e-mail or call to the interviewer.  This will lessen the impact of you contacting again.  For example:

“Hello Mr. Davis, It’s been a couple of days since we met, and while I was going through the paper this morning, I saw an article detailing how “your company” is undergoing “x.”  It reminded to give you a call to see if you’re any closer to a decision on the position yet.”

In the end, if you’ve used follow-up questions to create a natural connection with the interviewer and the appearance of a nice fit within the corporate culture, the last call you should receive from the company will be from human resources, offering you the position.

If that happens, the final step you need to take (after accepting the job, of course) is to celebrate. After having developed and then carefully followed through on you plan, you deserve it.

[Editor’s Note: Part I of this story – “The Sure-Fire Job Interview Strategy” – appeared yesterday (Thursday). To read that story, please click here. To read the sidebar to this story – “The 10 Secrets to a Winning Job Interview” – which appears elsewhere in today’s (Friday’s) issue of Money Morning, please click here.

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