Master the Art of Interviewing
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports
To a large degree, the success of your interview will depend on your
ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking
questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without
editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this manner,
youll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your
suitability for the job.
In addition to empathy, there are four other intangible fundamentals
to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is
perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry youll share
with the employer.
 Enthusiasm -- Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the
job. You may think its unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more
enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, its best to keep your
options open -- wouldnt you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have
a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?
 Technical interest -- Employers look for people who love what
they do, and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.
 Confidence -- No one likes a braggart, but the candidate
whos sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.
 Intensity -- The last thing you want to do is come across as
"flat" in your interview. Theres nothing inherently wrong with being a
laid back person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.
By the way, most employers are aware of how stressful it can be to
interview for a new position, and will do everything they can to put you at ease.
The Other Fundamentals
Since interviewing also involves the exchange of tangible
information, make sure to:
Present your background in a thorough and accurate manner;
Gather data concerning the company, the industry, the
position, and the specific opportunity;
Link your abilities with the company needs in the mind of the
Build a strong case for why the company should hire you,
based on the discoveries you make from building rapport and asking the right questions.
Both for your sake and the employers, never leave an interview
without exchanging fundamental information. The more you know about each other, the more
potential youll have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.
There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version
and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that
they say, "Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of
the answer more fully, Id be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long
The reason you should respond this way is because its often
difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, "What
was your most difficult assignment?" might take anywhere from thirty seconds to
thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.
Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewers the
one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to
know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and
create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?
Lets suppose you were interviewing for a sales management
position, and the interviewer asked you, "What sort of sales experience have you had
in the past?"
Well, thats exactly the sort of question that can get you into
trouble if you dont use the short version/long version method. Most people would
just start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience.
Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty
complicated and long-winded unless its neatly packaged.
One way to answer the question might be, "Ive held sales
positions with three different consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where
would you like me to start?"
Or, you might simply say, "Let me give you the short version
first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. Ive had nine years
experience in consumer product sales with three different companies, and held the titles
of district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my background would you
like to concentrate on?"
By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your
thoughts are well organized, and that you want to understand the intent of the question
before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the
green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are
important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.
Talk Yourself Out of a Job
Ive got a friend whos the hiring manager of an
electronics company. He told me once that he brought a candidate into his office to make
him a job offer. An hour later, the candidate left. I asked my friend if he had hired the
"No," he said. "I tried. But the candidate
wouldnt stop talking long enough for me to make him an offer."
Dont misinterpret me. Im not suggesting that an
interview should consist of a series of monosyllabic grunts. Its just that nothing
turns off an employer faster than a windbag candidate.
By using the short version/long version method to answer questions,
youll never talk yourself out of a job.
The Prudent Use of
Beware: An interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation
or monologue unless you ask some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions
are the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:
Create dialogue, which will not only enable the two of you to
learn more about each other, but will help you visualize what itll be like working
together once youve been hired;
Clarify your understanding of the company and the position
Indicate your grasp of the fundamental issues discussed so
Reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial; and
Challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of
knowledge, or commitment to the job.
Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show
empathy, interest, or understanding of the employers needs. After all, the reason
youre interviewing is because the employers company has some piece of work
which needs to be completed, or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions
that have proven to be very effective:
Whats the most important issue facing your department?
How can I help you accomplish this objective?
How long has it been since you first identified this need?
How long have you been trying to correct it?
Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done?
What was the result?
What other means have you used? For example, have you brought
in independent contractors, or temporary help, or employees borrowed from other
departments? Or have you recently hired people who havent worked out?
Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is
critical to getting the job done?
Is there a unique aspect of my background that youd
like to exploit in order to help accomplish your objectives?
Questions like these will not only give you a sense of the
companys goals and priorities, theyll indicate to the interviewer your concern
for satisfying the companys objectives.
Give It Some Thought
Here are seven of the most commonly asked interviewing questions. Do
yourself and the prospective employer a favor, and give them some thought before the
 Why do you want this job?
 Why do you want to leave your present company?
 Where do you see yourself in five years?
 What are your personal goals?
 What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
 What do you like most about your current company?
 What do you like least about your current company?
The last question is probably the hardest to answer: What do you
like least about your present company?
Ive found that rather than pointing out the faults of other
people ("I cant stand the office politics," or, "I dont get
along with my boss"), its best to place the burden on yourself ("I feel
Im ready to exercise a new set of professional muscles," or, "The type of
technology Im interested in isnt available to me now.").
By answering in this manner, youll avoid pointing the finger
at someone else, or coming across as a whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak
negatively about others.
I suggest you think through the answers to the above questions for
First, it wont help your chances any to hem and haw over
fundamental issues such as these. (The answers you give to these types of questions should
And secondly, the questions will help you evaluate your career
choices before spending time and energy on an interview. If you dont feel
comfortable with the answers you come up with, maybe the new job isnt right for you.
Money, Money, Money
Theres a good chance youll be asked about your current
and expected level of compensation. Heres the way to handle the following questions:
 What are you currently earning?
Answer: "My compensation, including bonus, is in the
high-forties. Im expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in
 What sort of money would you need in order to come to work for
Answer: "I feel that the opportunity is the most important
issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, Im sure youll make me a fair
Notice the way a range was given as the answer to question , not
a specific dollar figure. However, if the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by
all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so
In answer to question , if the interviewer tries to zero in on
your expected compensation, you should also suggest a range, as in, "I would need
something in the low- to mid- fifties." Getting locked in to an exact figure may work
against you later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you really
want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer
never comes. By using a range, you can keep your options open.
Some Questions You Can
There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.
First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past
experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and
Resume questions require accurate, objective answers, since your
resume consists of facts which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid
answers which exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be opinionated, vague, or
Second, interviewers will usually want you to comment on your
abilities, or assess your past performance. Theyll ask self-appraisal questions
like, "What do you think is your greatest asset?" or, "Can you tell me
something youve done that was very creative?"
Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different
stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain certain actions you took in the past, or
require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. "How
would you stay profitable during a recession?" or, "How would you go about
laying off 1300 employees?" or, "How would you handle customer complaints if the
company drastically raised its prices?" are typical situation questions.
And lastly, some employers like to test your mettle with stress
questions such as, "After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?"
or, "If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?"
or, "Its obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this
position. Why should we even waste our time talking?"
Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes,
creativity, or attitudes while youre under pressure. Since off-the-wall or
confrontational questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive
posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered
Whenever I hear a stress question, I immediately think of the Miss
Universe beauty pageant. The finalists (usually sheltered teenagers from places like
Zambia or Uruguay) are asked before a live television audience of three and a half billion
people to give heartfelt and earnest responses to incongruous questions like, "What
would you tell the leaders of all the countries on earth to do to promote world
Of course, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire
interviewing process, just so long as you dont go over the edge. I heard of a
candidate once who, when asked to describe his ideal job, replied, "To have beautiful
women rub my back with hot oil." Needless to say, he wasnt hired.
Even if it were possible to anticipate every interview question,
memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy
is to review your background, your priorities, and your reasons for considering a new
position; and to handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you dont know the
answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.
Wrapping It Up
At the conclusion of your interview, you can wrap up any unfinished
business you failed to cover so far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.
During your interview wrap-up, its a good practice to make the
interviewer aware of other opportunities youre exploring, as long as theyre
genuine, and their timing has some bearing on your own decision making.
The fact that youre actively exploring other opportunities may
affect the speed with which the company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively
influence the eventual outcome, since the company may want to act quickly so as not to
However, your other activity should be presented in the spirit of
assistance to the interviewer, not as a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic.
Id advise you to play it straight with the interviewer.
And remember to maintain a positive attitude. In todays job
market, youd be surprised how often victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of
getting the job.
to Top of Page
Go to the next section:
Position Comparison: How to Evaluate a Job Offer