How to Have Good Interviews — Getting a Job, Part III

J.C. LaCroix Personal Finance, Personal Productivity, Power Tactics

So it’s the big day – soon, you’re going to go in and talk with some people. You are hoping that, at the end, they’ll give you the nod and tell you those two magical words – you’re hired. But what if you could turn that from a heartfelt hope into a “more than likely”? In this article, we will continue to apply the First Law of Darkworking, and I will show you how. Just as a refresher, remember, no one cares about your problems and needs but you – thus, we need to focus on what your interviewer wants to bring your desires and their desires into alignment.

So, they have your resume, and they received your letter, now they want to come in and ask you some questions. It is a classic ritual that has proceeded since long before you and I were around – but let me tell you, an interview has nothing to do with the interview questions, and it has everything to do with feelings. People just do not make hiring decisions logically, they do it from their “gut”. A lot of people fail at interviews because they spend all their time rehearsing for interview questions, with the idea of providing intelligent, reasonable answers which focus on their skills. This is them focusing on what they want. I want you to do better – I want you to focus on creating two emotional responses in your interviewer. These are the two positive feelings you must create in your interviewer, and you will do it with your responses to the interview questions:

1) I would like to have this person around me on a daily basis.
2) This person will make my life easier, on a daily basis.

Now, before we cover that, we need to do some prep work. In order for you to focus on your interviewers emotions, your feelings need to be in order first. Otherwise, you will totally blow the interview questions and end up with nothing. Thus, we need to address the first thing that kills the overwhelming majority of interviewees: Desperation.

I am assuming you are the Average Joe, and you just got fired or laid off, and you have no savings. Thus, your money is counting down or is totally out. And, it is not like you want a job, you now need a job. No job, no food, no job, no house, no money, and you will end up homeless, mugged, and probably dead. This is where we need to arrest this in its tracks. It will be impossible to focus on the needs of others in this state. I want you to go out and do one of two things: Either, pick up a small part-time night job (pick something you think might be fun, I’ve worked in movie theatres, wal-marts – you learn some interesting things with this), or go hit up every temp agency in town. First off, just swallow your pride. You’ve been taught to identify your self-worth with your job title, instead don’t view this as a job – view it as a penicillin shot. We need to immediately kill that panic so you can focus on the task at hand. Just having some money coming in will turn this from a driving force to a manageable urge.

On the other hand, you might be drawing unemployment or have some liquid assets you can sell off, or have savings. Good. Still do the above, or go out and volunteer. Why? In work-dominated cultures, your self-esteem has just taken a hit with your firing or lay-off. Even if you quit, the message you have received is “you are not a capable person”. By having a place to go to every-day, you prevent the mopes from setting in. And, you avoid the other problem with unemployment, where you’re just sitting there waiting on the phone to ring. That is a cagey feeling, a rejection akin to desperation – we need to kill it. And, keep in mind, volunteering is a great way to network and find out about local companies that you might not have known about. Beeing needed in some fashion sends a new message of value to you.

Okay, one more thing – lets talk pre-prep. First off, don’t try to come up with the interview questions they are going to ask – there’s no such thing as a standard, and you’re likely to get an interviewer who either has no idea how to interview, or is busy and comes to it with very little preparation. More importantly, you want your answers to be spontaneous and not rehearsed. I’m telling you with all my soul – a rehearsed interview is about 1/3 as effective as a spontaneous one. We’ll get into this in a second – but trust me in that they only thing you should be rehearsing is reviewing all that information that you picked up about the company during your research.

Secondly, and this cannot be understated – now is the time to be a psycho about your appearance. Groom all those little loose hairs, trim your eyebrows, clip and file your nails. Get a good night’s sleep the night before, make it a priority, eat in advance and take some vitamins. If you don’t have a suit with a tie (for guys), or a business suit (for the ladies) – borrow one. Clean the lint off it, iron it and press it. Don’t be too shy about the cologne either. All this primp goes a long way – the interviewer’s first three seconds of taking you in are a mine-field. They are looking for anything in your appearance that says “I presented myself as a solution guy/gal, but I can’t even dress myself properly”. I don’t care if the interview is for a coffee shop – go all out. Now’s the time to showcase the product, make that cereal box sparkle!

Arrive a little early, at least fifteen minutes. When you announce yourself (to whomever, but usually a receptionist), state that you are early and don’t mind a wait. Review your notes about the company as you wait.

When your interviewer approaches, they will usually do so with a smile.

Do not, I repeat, do not repeat the smile in a reflex fashion.

I’m going to diverge and show you the delayed-acceptance technique. Its simple. First, try it on the phone, especially in a business situation. In your first round, answer the phone all chipper and happy, with a big smiles on your face, and then when the person identifies theirself to you, continue the “happy vibe”. Note the reactions that you get from people. Now, on your second round, do it this way – answer the phone all monotone and matter-of-fact, and when the person identifies theirself, then let all the happy come out in full force, and restate their name, “Oh HI JOHN! Sure, we can get right on that!”. You will notice the difference. The rationale is simple – in the first round, when you initiate a blind interaction all chipper with someone you don’t know, its fake, you’re doing it for everyone, and they know it, and sometimes they don’t like it. In the second round, you become chipper when they identify themselves, and they can’t help in ego-centrism but feel as thought they caused your joy – you are sending them the message that they are oh-so-special, wanted, and deserving.

Do this with the interviewer. Remain neutral until they identify themselves, take a moment to look them over (now don’t DRAG THIS OUT, this is a less-than-a-second up and down evaluation), then let your warmth flood and react to their presence in a positive way, big smile, introduce yourself. If done properly, without drama or elongation, the delayed acceptance technique creates the gateway to positive rapport.

The other thing you want to do is give your interviewer alpha-deference, even if they won’t be your direct supervisor. In other words, don’t sit down until they have first. Let them walk a slight bit ahead of you. Don’t interrupt them when they are speaking, and if they interrupt you, raise your eyebrows and listen intently. And so on, and so forth.

When the interview begins, they will usually either ask you how much you know about the company, or they will start off by saying “Let me tell you about us”. This is the only time I want you to interrupt your interviewer, and its with a question, “Well, would you mind if I took a try at that, and you can correct me if I’m wrong?”. Then you are going to rattle off a pre-prepared summary of the company you have in your head, with market share, sales figures, product times, megers and acquisitions, whatever knowledge you think is impressive. And, at the very end, you are going to get one “common knowledge” fact wrong, on purpose. Usually, this will lead the interviewer to correct you, and this is where you get to laugh a little and say, “Oh, really, my mistake”. This will take the interview to a whole new level, and the interviewer will know you came with your game face on – sometimes, I even get double takes as I launch into this. The purposeful mistake, however, is important, because it allows the interviewer to get an ego-boost in correcting you, and it makes you human (and a non-threat).

A quick word on body language – many will tell you to mirror the body language of your interviewer (relaxed, stiff, aggressive, etc), don’t do that. The possible benefits are outweighed by the risk, and many interviewers will take a certain pose, but not want to see that in you. Simple rule of thumb is upright posture, slightly leaned back in your chair, shoulders even but not thrust back. You may cross your legs, but don’t cross your hands. Clasp your hands on the table, but turn your palms open and/or up as your speak – keep your hands above the table as well. And a final tip – if your interviewer begins to lean forward as you are speaking on something, lean forward a little too.

Of course, mostly make eye contact, but look away from time to time – no matter what kind of eye contact your interviewer makes.

Now the actual interview starts, and it takes many formats – usually, its either a walk through the resume and then discussing a position, or it will be a series of interview questions (sometimes annoying generic ones designed to trap you) – I am going to lay out an organic method you can adapt to fit all situations. Here we go.

The interviewer will speak, and you will listen. Then, either with a statement or a question, it will be your turn to speak. When you are listening, I want you to realize that what is said isn’t important, its what is underlying what is said that matters. The interviewer will have a position in mind (remember, nowadays, people don’t so much hire for positions as they build teams), but that position represents some problem they will have. They will want to know if you can solve that problem, and if they will like having you around. Many of the techniques I have shown you thus far answer the second part, lets focus on the first.

They will want to know if you are reliable.
They will want to know if you are a team player.
They will want to know if you can handle the job.
They will want to know if you can be trusted.

Now all the above pieces relate to the question – can he or she solve our problem? When you listen to the interviewer, try to pick up on which of the above pieces they are presenting you with (reliable, team player, capabilities, trustworthy), and then pause. Frame your answer to respond – I am reliable, I am a team player, I can meet or exceed your expectations, I am trustworthy). Don’t directly say it, let your previous experience, actions, history, credentials, etc say it for you.

A quick word about salary, if it comes up at this point – I don’t apply to companies that request salary history before they will grant an interview. It means they’re cheap, and probably hurting for cash with tight budgets, not worth my time. However, if asked about desired salary on a form, I will put – NEG – (for negotiable). When it comes up in the interview, I will jump and dance however long I have to in order to get them to state a figure first. I do this by rephrasing their question, they will say “How much are you looking for?”. I will smile a little, and laugh and say, “Well, how much are you looking to give?”. I make it a fun game on purpose, I want their offer first. If I like it, I try to push a little more out. If I don’t like it, I don’t say no, I say something like, “Well, we can work something out” or “It’s a good position, that might be doable”. It works for me, you might have to find your own method, but don’t ever let them force you to state a number first – its how people get screwed over. Negotiation 101. If I absolutely have to state a number, I say, “Well the industry average is X, I think you can do better than that at Y”. But, I’ve only had to do that once.

A final note, at some point you will be given a chance to ask questions, but don’t be afraid to do this technique as you give your replies to their interview questions. After your answer, for example. Don’t ask about benefits, I learned this from experience. Frumpy bitch. Anyway, what I want you to do is to ask questions to them that illicit their values. Examples are, “What do you think is most important quality for someone to have when they work here?” or “Do you like working here? Why?”. When you ask these, and do come up with your own, I want you to listen for the underlying values that person is expressing (“I like integrity”, “I like a strong work ethic”, etc), and then agree with them and elaborate on why you share that value. Don’t overdo it, but this is the trick that seals the deal on their second question, “Will I like having this person around”.

Now, remember your letter? Don’t bring it up unless they do. Often, I actually get called in to discuss the letter, and I do exactly that – all within the framework I have just shown you – but after a lot of experience, I can control an interview with confidence. For you, simply react to what is thrown at you. Sometimes they bring it up at the end, and that’s okay. Remember, if they don’t bring it up, it means they have brought you in for a position (a problem) they have in mind. Bringing up the letter is focusing on your wants, not theirs. So if they don’t bring it up, it did its job and got you in the door, leave it at that for now.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Definitely write a short thank-you letter, sign it by hand, and 1-3 days after your interview, hand deliver it to the receptionist or other person who can get it to the person who interviews with you. If you can’t deliver it by hand, express mail it, or if you must, send it regular mail. This can, and does, get you a job in favor of a tie. 90% of employers want a thank you note, only 15% get them. Thing is, they do get an ego boost, but its marginal, the real thing is that it says you will go the extra mile on tasks, and especially with their clients.

Good luck, and happy hunting.