You Can Control That Interview
A friend I had not heard from in almost 4 years called me yesterday. She is out of a job and complained that after 12 years in one job she has been laid off. She is nervous about being unemployed but also disillusioned about the job market and scared about the interview process itself... She mentioned that several of her friends have changed jobs recently and complained about the rigors of the interview process.
She asked for some advice. I have sat in on some of the worst interviews known to man. Hiring managers often roll out the tired old questions "Tell me about yourself, "or "Why should I hire you?" I have seen even senior management refuse to hire someone because they stumbled over a dumb interview question.
The two major pieces of advice I can give job applicants are first realize that the prospective employer is interested in how you can help THEM solve a problem or achieve some goal. Secondly, they want to know some concrete achievement you have made in the past. Try not to keep repeating the same answer, but if you can craft answers against the backdrop of these 2 organizational needs, you are half-way there.
Let the interviewer lead the way for the first part of the interview until some rapport develops, then it is perfectly OK to give longer more detailed answers and even to bring up information the interviewer hasn't asked. Suppose they do the traditional boring superficial interview and you want to mention that you made some real measurable achievements at your last job. Even if the interviewer has not asked about your achievements it is perfectly OK to say "One thing I am particularly proud of is that at ABC I led a team that was able to add real value. We overhauled the staffing model, reducing overtime from 14% to about 4%." etc etc. That is also likely to elicit more exchange of your potential value.
Remember that you also have many transferable skills. If you have always worked in the clinical laboratory but you are interviewing for equipment sales, point out that you are tech-savvy, detailed oriented, responsive to customers' needs and always went the extra mile to satisfy a fussy physician. Again: how can you use your skills to bring value to the interviewer's company?
Be prepared with a list of questions to ask when the interviewer invariably asks "Do you have any questions for me?" Sitting there blankly does not create a good impression and asking questions with obvious answers also indicates you are not adequately prepared.
It is good to ask about the job, reporting structure, current priorities, reason for current vacancy, opportunities for advancement, but not about salary or days off at this point. If asked directly about salary expected, deflect by saying something like "If offered the job I am more than willing to look at the range and share with you what I was paid in my last job." If offered the job that is the time to negotiate salary because you are their number one choice, which gives you leverage. You do not want to remove yourself from the running by discussing salary too early or locking yourself into a low salary just to seem amenable.
The first part of the interview is similar to a buyer's market: the interviewer wants to know why they should hire you. The second part of the interview or a call-back interview should entail you sizing up the company as well. Remember jobs are scarce, but it must be a good, mutual fit or it won't last long. And who wants to have to face yet another interview??