Last week, I shared with you a reader question about following up after an interview. In the note was a paragraph that caught my attention:
I’ve come to realize I don’t interview very well. My true friendly personality doesn’t come out during the interview. I just applied for a terrific job, where I know I can make a difference. I had an interview and I believe it went well but I’m not sure I convinced them that I am the right person for the job.
I’m sure most people don’t want to admit it – but we’ve probably all botched up an interview at some time in our careers. So I wanted to share a few insights about how to gain experience interviewing and what to do when an interview doesn’t go as planned. I reached out to a couple of colleagues who have kindly agreed to share their expertise.
Miriam Salpeter, is a coach and speaker on careers. She’s the author of the book “Social Networking for Career Success”. Steve Browne is executive director of human resources for LaRosa’s Inc., a Cincinnati based regional pizzeria. I’m thrilled they agreed to share their experience with us.
Obviously, if I’m looking for a job…it’s important to interview well. But let’s say I’m not looking. Why is it important for individuals to become comfortable being interviewed?
[Miriam] Be prepared – it’s a scouting motto, but also a good maxim for all professionals to keep in mind. You never know when an unexpected opportunity to apply for a great job may arise. If you haven’t interviewed for a position in years, it can be a big deal to get ready for an interview. That’s very stressful, especially if the opportunity is your dream job. That’s a lot of pressure.
Good interview preparation is mainly about knowing your skills and accomplishments and being able to explain them as they relate to the target job. If you’re managing your career, and noting your accomplishments and successes along the way, you’ll be prepared to interview for an unexpected opportunity.
To me, this is one of those chicken and egg topics. If the only time I interview is when I’m looking for a job…how do I get practice and become comfortable interviewing?
[Miriam] I like to tell people to put a note on their bathroom mirror that says, “Why should we hire you?” Then, you’re prompted to answer the question every time you check your hair or brush your teeth! Another great way to get some experience interviewing is to arrange informational meetings with people. While these meetings can be very casual – over coffee, for example, they are great opportunities to practice articulating what you do well, as your meeting partner is likely to ask you about yourself and your professional interests.
Of course, it’s not a bad idea to arrange a mock interview with a career professional to get practice and feedback. I’ve seen some otherwise talented professionals throw away an entire interview by answering the first question, “Tell me about yourself,” with a complete autobiography starting from birth!
[Steve] It’s important for people to look at an interview as a conversation. It’s really no more than that. If people would look at this forum as a dialogue, they would be more comfortable. You can’t force this. Your approach going in will determine if you can be at ease or not.
I believe in practicing for “what if’s” because we all need to manage our careers better. Too often we are behind when we HAVE to interview and we go in on the defensive, or are desperate to land that next job. I would network with HR pros and ask them for them to help me practice. It seems a little odd, but good HR folks will help out !!
Often candidates leave an interview not knowing how the interview went. What recommendations do you have for candidates trying to figure out if the interview went well?
[Miriam] During an in-person interview, candidates should be able to learn a lot by watching the interviewer’s body language. Is he smiling and nodding? Leaning forward? Intently listening actively? If not, it may not be a good sign. If he interrupts you, rushes your answers and seems disinterested, it’s probably a sign that you’re not the best candidate.
Some interviewers have very good poker faces, which leaves job seekers at a real loss. You may ask the interviewer if he or she has any specific reservations about your ability to do the job, but some hiring managers may not appreciate the forward nature of a question like that. Do ask when you can expect to hear about next steps, and always follow up with a note thanking the interviewer, even if you don’t think it went well.
[Steve] I think that candidates can gauge how an interview went by asking the best question ever !! I recommend that people ask “Why do you work here?” as their first follow-up question every time. When they do this, the interviewer will inevitably let their guard down and the candidate can judge how the person answers. If they seem to relax and engage the candidate, the interview went well. If they are aloof and give the Company “line” as a response, then it may have not gone well.
If I suspect that the interview didn’t go well, is there any opportunity to recover? Or should I just focus my energy on the next interview?
[Miriam] Once the interview is over, you can send a note following up regarding some point you didn’t articulate as well as you would have liked. For example, “You asked about my past successes planning major events, and I forget to mention the XYZ program for over 1,500 colleagues I planned last year. The CEO personally thanked me!”
During the interview itself, you can overcome certain obstacles. For example, if the interviewer asked you a question you are not prepared to answer, don’t panic. Stop and think for a few seconds, and if you still can’t think of an answer, choose an aspect of the question and respond with a succinct comment – politician style. It’s better than saying, “I don’t know, “ and some interviewers may move along and not even notice you didn’t answer the question. Another tactic to try to save a bad interview: ask good questions. A disinterested or bored interviewer may perk up if you start asking about him or her. If you Google your interviewer in advance, you may be able to come up with some good, relatable questions.
Even if you think you bombed the interview, send a nice thank you note and chalk it up as a learning experience.
[Steve] The best chance to recover is to be unique in how you send a Thank You back to the company. I recommend a hand written note on a card. It works every time because most people jump to an electronic response which doesn’t differentiate them from anyone else. I’ve also seen very creative responses as Thank You’s such as a person who sent all of the interviewers a kaleidoscope with a note to remind us that he truly could “look at things differently” which is what we were looking for. We hired him on the spot.
Can you share a resource for people who want to become better at being interviewed?
[Steve] I would recommend a couple of possibilities. First, connect with your local SHRM chapter and network with HR pros. Getting them in your network is valuable during a job search and also when you land. Also, check out transition groups and see if they have mock interview days. I’ve participated in them as an HR pro giving back to the community. They are great resources and usually free.
Many thanks to Steve and Miriam for sharing their wisdom. Be sure to check out their blogs at Keppie Careers and Everyday People. And you can follow them both on Twitter at @Keppie_Careers and @SBrowneHR.