Preparing for the Interview

In another time, in another galaxy, interviews were simple things. This bloke went and talked to that bloke. That bloke gave a job to This bloke. They shook hands. Happiness and smiles all around.

Now, according to some experts, interviewing for a job will take anywhere from four to six ‘meetings’, conducted by telephone or via video conference as well as in person. (At a conference I attended last week, I heard of a man who was interviewed by nine different people for the position for which he was finally hired.) No one actually makes the decision alone.

These experts offer advice on how to prepare for a job interview, and the range of their advice goes from reasonable to ludicrous. One expert gave his clients such a detailed (and extreme) list of preparatory steps that it sounded as if he were teaching how to conduct a daring daylight bank robbery. He also advised making friends with the department receptionist, because her input might be the ‘decisive factor’, and, if offered a beverage, to take it in your LEFT hand, when shaking hands keep yours PERPENDICULAR to the floor, and don’t cross your legs.


Certain steps are obvious. Take a bath, shave where appropriate, wear clothing. Try not to smell (no cologne, no smoking until after the interview). Show up on time. Dress appropriately for the position you are seeking. If you are applying for a house-keeping position, do not show up in a Saville Row suit; if you are applying to be bank president, cut-offs and flip-flops are not recommended.

There are valid things to do to make ready: research the company as best you can. Find out as much as you can about the business, the corporate culture, institutional philosophies, etc. Try to know something about the competition (although there are not competitors in every profession).

Read your resume thoroughly. There’s nothing more awkward in an interview than being questioned about something you’ve forgotten you said because you’ve rewritten your CV so many times. (In fact, to save yourself difficulty, take copies of your current CV with you, and offer it as an ‘update’. And read it thoroughly before you do.)

Let this be your mantra: BE POSITIVE IN EVERYTHING. Even when presenting negative information, do it in in honest and positive way. That two-year period of unemployment can be presented as a ‘time-out opportunity to reassess your priorities, acquire additional training and information, and make decisions about the course in life you wish to pursue. Now you’re seeking opportunities to make contributions in .’

I advise embracing a different mental attitude from those of other candidates. The situation is that you need a (different) job; that’s usually foremost in most interviewees’ thinking. Forget about that for the moment. All the other candidates want/need a job too; you’ll hardly stand out in the crowd. Instead of thinking about what you want or need, think about the interviewer’s needs instead.

You’re about to be interviewed by someone who has his own set of problems and needs. This person has been tasked with identifying suitable candidates for a position the bosses have created. S/he may conduct only the first interview. You have to be memorable to be recommended for further consideration.

In the preliminary interview, the issue most concerning the interviewer (really) is not if you know how to tune pipe organs, or can reduce mint jelly without burning it, but if in a general way, you’re a person who might ‘fit in’ to the bigger picture. Questions from the interviewer might SEEM to show an interest in you, but actually are part of a check list—can you tune a pipe organ? can you reduce mint jelly? do you have a match? what time is it in Zurich?

People love to be LISTENED TO, so as the interviewer takes you through your paces, ask open ended questions when you can, elicit information from her and LISTEN. (An open ended question is one that cannot be given a one-word answer such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’.) Use the information you are given to focus your answers and be more responsive to the interviewer’s need.

People remember stories much better than they do lists of facts. They enjoy stories—they’re entertaining and don’t require the brain-drain that a list of facts does. Prepare stories to illustrate your accomplishments, and here’s a tip I was given recently: let the first line of your story be true but outrageous: ‘Oh yes, I saved my last department $240 thousand using a thumb tack.’ That’s memorable. Now back it up with facts, limit of three—more tend to make the interviewer’s eyes glaze over. Then, finish with a very positive statement that really just repeats (in different words) the things you just said. You will be remembered.

Present everything in as positive a fashion as possible. Significant personal problems such as death and divorce can be represented briefly as ‘changes in my personal life,’ and leave it at that. Were you dismissed from your last position, or did you take advantage of the opportunity to explore and pursue alternative interests?

Another suggestion—DON’T ask for the job. People do not like to be sold to (and in a job interview, you’re trying to sell the idea that you’re the answer to all their problems). They do not like being told what to do. They like to make their own decisions; when they make a decision, they own it and they’re invested in it. So don’t tell them ‘You want to hire me. I’m the best person for the job.’ You’re forcing yourself on them.

Instead, demonstrate how you handle situations based on past experience, offer forward-looking ideas for the future, and maintain the mental attitude that you’re there in that meeting room to help the interviewer solve the problem of finding suitable candidates. Conclude by saying, ‘I’d be interested in pursuing this.’ Instead of forcing yourself on the interviewer, you’re leaving the unpressured opportunity for the interviewer to think, ‘this person should be put forward as a candidate.’

Because of your stories with the true and outrageous first lines, you’ll be remembered. Because you were helpful and supportive to the interviewer in the quest to find a suitable candidate, you’ll be warmly appreciated. When the time comes, you’ll stand out from the crowd as memorable and different, focused and positive. You more probably will be proposed for additional interviews than the other candidates.

In the end, you’re the one everyone sees as the ‘go-to’ person for your field.

The ‘Go-To’ folks are the ones that get hired.