Interviewing Tips
A Primer
(1999 Copyright Dan Augsburger)

Key factors evaluated about every candidate

•    Has candidate had the necessary prior experience?

•    Does candidate have the proper tools/skills for successfully doing job?

•    Is candidate philosophically aligned with goals of position?

•    Is the candidate genuinely enthusiastic about task?

•    How badly does the candidate want the position?

•    Can candidate fit into the existing organizational culture?

1.  Seize the interview early on and answer the “Can he/she do the job?” question.

After initial pleasantries, establish an appropriate background by summarizing your work experience, carefully highlighting those activities that demonstrate necessary prior experience.  Successfully establishing background negates the “Can this person do the job?” discussion, and allows the preferred “He/She can do the job, is he/she the right fit?”

“To save us time, Mr. Employer, let me review my background.  My first role....”

2.  Move from “I can do the job” to “Am I a good fit” with a strong concluding assertion in the initial review statement.

Conclude initial review with confident statement about ability to take on position.  Then turn the question back to interviewer.  This allows the interviewee to determine interviewer’s agenda and perspective on role.  Begin establishing enthusiasm for the role as well.

“I’m confident, Mr. Employer, that based on the things I’ve done in the past, this is the kind of role I seem to be well prepared for and would enjoy doing.   From your prospective what are you looking for this person to accomplish and how will success be evaluated?”

3.  Establish depth through healthy give and take.

During the body of the interview, a healthy give and take further establishes skills and enthusiasm.  Challenging questions are often a sign of expertise, and are respected.  Because interviewers can frequently get carried away selling their position and organization, it’s important to continue asserting specific experience points as appropriate.

“I can recall my organization struggling with that kind of situation.  We considered several possibilities....”

4.  Conclude with a strong statement of interest.

The easiest way to strongly assert continuing interest in a role is to verbalize interest and ask about the next steps in the interviewing process.  Be sure to ask about your next step!

“Mr. Employer, this sounds like an excellent position.  X Y Z are things I have a  lot of interest in, and I can tell the role is the kind I could really enjoy.  It definitely sounds like something I want to pursue further.  What is the next step in the process for me?”

If unsure of your level of interest, conclude with a statement that keeps the door open for further discussion.

“Sounds like a position with much potential.   Tell me about  what happens next?”

5.  Beware of tricky questions!

Every interview includes challenging, and potentially, dangerous questions.

a.  Why did you leave your old position.

This question should be carefully responded to in a way that suggests prospective role is a natural next step.

“I appreciate your asking me, Mr. Employer.  I have always been committed to working at the cutting edge of technology, and take pride in being employed by excellent companies.  I have been at firm X for three years now, and  have increasingly realized things were becoming somewhat routine.  Having pretty much accomplished my objectives, I have begun looking around for the next right step.  From what I hear, your organization sounds like that kind of place.”

b.  How much are you making?

This is a fair question.  Be aware that “money” questions generally screen candidates out, not in.  Accordingly, answer with the highest number you can honestly give.  In some cases you state compensation from your past employer, or alternatively your 1040 amount.  Prior compensation is a significant factor in determining future pay.  If you are using a 1040 figure, be sure to identify it as such.

c.  How much do you want to make if you take our role?

This question should be avoided since there is no right answer...ever!  For one thing, an inappropriate role would hopefully never even be considered.  Compensation can only confirm a role being right, never make it right.  Secondly, to provide an answer suggests that compensation, benefit and costs of living are identical between candidate's present location, and the location of new role; which they are not.  Accordingly, the following two step response seems to work well.  Be quick to ask a follow up question to keep the conversation going.

“I appreciate the question, and wish I could give you an answer.  But I really can’t.  For one thing, I am committed to finding the right job.  If the job isn’t right, all the money in the world couldn’t get me to come.”  Then ask the next question and keep the conversation going.

If the question is raised again, the next response should put the question to rest.

“I do appreciate your question, and wish I felt I knew enough about the job to give you an answer.  However, above and beyond that, I cannot pull a number out of thin air and give it to you since my understanding of your compensation and benefit program is limited,  nor have I ever lived in this area.  I am sure there are differences.  Accordingly such a number would be unfair to both of us.  Be assured, however, if the job is right, I am confident we can make the numbers work.”  Ask a question again to keep the conversation going.

The time to discuss compensation comes when the prospective employer wants to hire you, and the question becomes “We are interested, what will it take?”

d.  What was the most challenging thing about your old boss?

Once again, the question should be answered very carefully.  Never answer with anything that sounds personal in nature.  If there were negatives, it’s better to say you desire to make a change for job content and the chance to work with a great company.  Leave the past where it belongs...in the past.  Interviewers tend to view unfavorable personal comments in the most negative light possible.  They undoubtedly have supervisors like yours.  Positively tiptoe around this one quickly!

e.  What do you want to do ten years from now?

One candidate said he planned to be in another company for the sake of his career, but he didn’t know which one.  Another stated his intentions of updating his resume as soon as he started so he would be ready for the next good job.  Needless to say, neither were offered positions.  It’s a hard question to respond to, but worth thinking about ahead of time.  Respond positively with a flexible future in mind.

“That’s a great question.  I’m happiest where I am challenged and where the company is doing great things at the cutting edge.  I am guessing that kind of activity attracts top notch people too.  I forgot to take the crystal ball class in school and therefore can’t predict the future.  However, from what I’ve heard about your organization, it sounds like the kind of company I want to be working with.”

f.  What is your greatest strength and weakness, and how will they affect your performance in our organization?

g.  What has been your most significant accomplishment, and why was it so significant?

h.  What are the more significant lessons you have learned along the way?

i.  How do you get people to agree with a new idea of yours?

j.  If I were to talk to your coworkers, what would they tell me about you?

k.  What are the more significant job characteristics you consider when evaluating a position’s potential fit, and why are these factors so significant.

l.  Who was your most effective supervisor, and why was that person so effective?  

m.  Who has been the hardest colleague to get along with, and why was this individual so difficult to relate to?

6.  Be academic with questions that can be answered in more than one way.

Some questions have multiple right answers.  Most employers are evaluating a candidate’s general knowledge of the alternatives and willingness to consider more than one perspective.  Accordingly, it is wise to acknowledge that more than one solution exists and discuss them from an academic perspective.  If pinned down, give plenty of room for alternatives.

“That’s an interesting question with many correct responses.  And, depending on the situation, each has merit.   Here's an alternative that seems to make sense, but please be aware Mr. Employer that if I were to get the role and discovered my solution wasn't correct, I would be the first to want to modify the approach...."

If the employer pushes for a specific choice, do so with a caveat.

“Like I said, there are several, well established —and depending on the situation—correct solutions to the question  posed, and I will give you what I might try if I were in the role, based on my past experience.  However, be aware that if I were to come and discover the solution untenable to your situation, I would be the first to want to modify,"    Then proceed....   

7.   Dealing with differences of opinion.

Occasionally differences of opinion will surface.  Out of courtesy, listen carefully and probe to understand reasons for the organization’s posture on the subject.  Don’t disagree, especially in a personal way.  Rather be academic and respond in an information gathering and evaluating manner.

“That’s an area with varying opinions.  From my experience, they all have their proper sphere.  Share with me some of the history behind this question, and the kinds of things your organization’s attempted in coming to your perspective.”

Frequently, organizations have good reasons for the way they do things, and perhaps have even waged a few internal battles in the process.  Instead of entering the fray, ask good information gathering questions that can be later used to determine your compatibility with that particular entity.  If nothing else, it allows you to again raise the question in a more thoughtful manner later, after you have gathered further information through additional interviews.  It’s easy to jump to hasty conclusions based on limited, and often, inaccurate information.  Whatever happens, avoid argument with the person interviewing you!
8.  Connecting with individuals from varying backgrounds.

At some point, the interview process will include individuals from other sectors of the organization.  Each discipline sees a role differently and can provide valuable information on the position, on the inner workings of the company, and the manner in which interdisciplinary decisions are made.  Disarm any concerns by sincerely seeking interviewer’s assistance and perspective by expressing your sincere interest in being part of the “company team” if you were hired.  This should take place when you are turning the question back to the interviewer after the initial preamble.

“I feel very confident I can do this job....  You obviously see this role from the perspective of your department.  If I am hired, I want to make sure I am someone you are really pleased joined the firm.  From your vantage point, what needs to be done, and what do I need to be doing to be a valuable contributing team member that is supporting your efforts as well.”
9.  A follow-up “Thank You” letter is a great final step.