Excerpt from “Surviving In-Spite of Oneself”
© 1988 Pi Arthur Stuart
Getting the Job
Some background: I’ve conducted, or as a member of a group, participated in over three hundred interviews and performed an equal amount of paper screening. On the receiving side, I have been interviewed more than fifty times. In addition, I've worked with friends, co-workers, and family to prepare them for the job they were seeking. I reviewed their applications, résumé, and assisted them in answering questions.
I was speaking with someone very close to me, that had applied for a position. He told me the position went to an individual that was least likely to be promoted. It appeared to him, that two excellent candidates were not chosen because the supervisor making the decision would have to hire a replacement for the excellent employee and then train them, which he didn't want to do. Sometimes there is very little you can do to obtain the position you want. Things I found that you cannot overcome are bias, ignorance, and incompetence. Frequently the wrong criteria are used in selection of applicants. The most prevalent is selecting an individual for a management/administrative position based on technical ability instead of relevant managerial/administrative background. My experience has been that, for the most part, a good technician does not usually make a good manager; supervision/management require a different set of skills. Although the effort you put forth in the aforementioned situations may seem like a waste, in any case the effort and time spent, will in the long run prove worthwhile. You get practice, keep your materials up-to-date, send the message that you want to advance, and most important: You never know what's going to happen.
Note: I can write extensively about poor management/supervision, and I do in the book under the section on management/supervision. Suffice it to say that the only thing you control is yourself, therefore you must maintain a positive attitude and approach. I cannot over emphasize the importance of a "POSITIVE ATTITUDE." Do your best.
Although the questions (appendix x) and tips that follow are primary jobs related, the basic premise of answering interview questions is applicable to all interviews. While there are no answers that will work for all interviews, there certainly are answers that will mean sudden death. I asked an applicant what he dislike on the job. His reply, “Blacks.” Needless to say, he didn't get the job.
The are many reasons interviewers choose an applicant, besides the answers to the questions. I once hired a marginally qualified applicant because of his smile and positive attitude. He turned out to be a wonderful employee. You never really know what will endear you to an interviewer.
Before you even start looking, you should figure out what you want to do. Then determine what you will need, and how to get it. Develop a strategy – with step-by-step goals.
The next thing you should do is put together a job history and continually keep it up-to-date; you never know when you’ll need it. You should do this long before you start looking for a position and you should keep it current. You really never know what is going to happen next; so Be Prepared. The job history should be well organized. Your file should include, at a minimum:
Things to do prior to submitting an application and the interview:
Visit the prospective place of employment. Speak to the person in the job and their supervisor. Speak to anyone that can provide useful information. In addition, ask if there is an internship or if you can volunteer. Serving as an intern or volunteer will have several benefits. It will show your capabilities and enthusiasm. It will provide you with experience. The people will get to know you. While everything you do is important in the getting a job, this by far can do more for you than anything else. The reasons should be obvious, but if they're not, you can email me at the feedback page and I'll be glad to discuss it with you.
There are several good reasons to do this. The more information you have about the position and organization, the better prepared you'll be to fill out an application, do an appropriate résumé, and answer questions – both oral and written. If you happen to meet a prospective interviewer, you can create a favorable image, by projecting interest, enthusiasm, and motivation. When interviewed you will have a better knowledge of the organization and its mission. You may also boost your motivation for getting the position.
Always apply for a position you would like to have; you never know what might happen.
Remember, you can always say, "NO." The chance to say "yes" may not be available again. There will also be times when you suspect that the organization already made its selection and that they are only doing the process to fulfill a policy; apply anyway. Although you may think it is a waste of time, there are several benefits that you get. First, you never know for sure what might happen. While I was working for a maintenance department, the organization created a position for an individual I worked with. And everyone knew it. When the position opened, I applied. The slated person had decided to move back to his home state. I got the position. In addition, you send the message that you want to move up. You get to practice interviewing, when it counts, up-date your résumés, and job history. If you make a favorable impression and the position or another in the same organization becomes available, the people (usually the same) making the selection may remember you. If so, it tells them you persistent and really interested.
Review the job description and other available literature. Put them in a folder, along with other important documents, you will take with you to an interview. When you have to wait, you can review them and think about the questions they might ask and how you would answer them. Some organizations ask you to give written answer to questions, just prior to the interview. If you have your materials, it will be a lot easier.
Think of situations you could use to show experience or answer questions.
Prepare application, résumé in highly comprehensive manner; type everything, and check spelling. Put the most relevant items first. Keep miscellaneous items at the end and keep them short. Make sure all your time is accounted for.
Things to do for an interview.
BE ON TIME!! Arrive early and allow extra time for the unexpected - flat tire, car won’t start, or a button pops off. It is good to arrive a little ahead of time because there may be some paperwork or preliminary things they will want you to do. Allow for possible traffic or other delays.
The day prior to an interview, review Position Description, Job Flyer, and Application.
Make a list of generic and specific questions you might be asked, then practice answering them.
Bring a folder with important papers. résumé (the résumé should be specific for the position), Letters of Reference, job history data, school transcripts and degrees, Letters of Commendation, Awards, DD form 214, and other supportive papers.
Put your papers in an accordion like holder or a loose leaf book, so you can easily label the section. This will allow you to find it quickly, if asked. Make sure you have sufficient copies and don’t give the original away. If you locate your document quickly, you send the message that you are organized and prepared.
Use good manners.
Don't chew gum.
Bring a pen, pencil, and small pad.
Dress properly. Be conservative
Shake hands firmly.
Stand until you are asked to be seated.
Bring change for parking meter and funds for possible parking fees.
Most companies will tell you where to park when they invite you to interview, but they may forget, you might forget to ask, or they just don’t care.
At the conclusion of interview:
Have a list of questions, but don't ask about benefits or salary. Before you develop this list, research the company or organization; you should know as much as possible about the company before you apply. Among the questions you should ask, are things like, what's the company's long range goals, how many people are in the department, training or advancement opportunities, etc.
Thank interviewers for their time.
Get business cards if possible - they’re usually available at reception desk.
Send thank you note.
The Interview – Pi’s Guide to Interviewing
☺ Think like a winner. ☺
The impression you make on an interviewer is as important as what you say in answering questions.
Remember that the first impression is very important in this situation. In fact, it may be the determining one, therefore you want to make the best possible impression. You've only got one chance, so nothing less than your best effort should be considered. Dress appropriately for the position you are after. Sit straight, smile, and be well groomed. Get a haircut.
I either read or heard this story and it is supposedly true. A CEO and a noted psychologist were discussing hiring. During the discussion the psychologist said that the first impression was extremely important. The CEO stated that it wasn’t all that important and that he, would during the course of an interview determine if a candidate were good.
It so happened that several months had passed when the CEO called the psychologist and asked her if she knew anyone that would be interested in a position he had available. She said she would get back to him shortly. The psychologist had a friend that had taken a sabbatical from that type of work. She called him and asked if he would be interested in applying for the position. He said. “Yes.” She then asked him if he would do her a favor and explained it. He agreed. While he was on sabbatical he took on the role of a hippy – long hair, unshaven and raggedly clothing. And that’s the way he would go to the interview.
The psychologist called the CEO and told him she had contacted two men. She further explained that one of the men was overseas and would not return for a couple of weeks and could he wait for his return before making a final decision. The CEO agreed.
Shortly after the interviews, the psychologist received a call from the CEO. He told her that he hired the second candidate and what a great find he was. He added that he didn’t understand why she had sent the first candidate. She began to laugh and then told the CEO that the first applicant was also the second one. She explained what she had done. A bit humble the CEO acknowledge that first impressions are extremely important.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, our biases get in the way and we usually are unaware that they are operating.
Bottom-line: “Make a good first impression all the time.”
Your CONFIDENCE is reflected in the manner and response to questions. It is of the utmost importance to believe you are the right person for the job
You must relax. This shows that you can deal with pressure.
Listen carefully – make sure you answer the question asked. If you're not sure of the question, ask for it to be repeated or clarified.
You need to understand that an interviewer holds you accountable for all errors, even if the interviewer misstates the question or phases it improperly. Be careful, if you only do this occasionally, it will show that you want to get things right. Another approach would be to restate the question as it appears to you.
Maintain eye contact but don’t stare. Intense staring makes people nervous. It's okay to look away from time-to-time.
Since there are really no specific right answers, answer all questions HONESTLY and Sincerely. Be positive.
I could probably give you more reasons than you would care to receive. Suffice it to say here are the main two. If you have to lie to get a position, you will likely be working with people you will have difficulty with or be in a job you really don’t like. Equally important, you can be fired on the spot if they find out you lied.
Take time before answering questions. Pause and think. This is very important.
Except for trivial and simple questions, pause before you answer a question. This sends the message that you are “not hasty” and are thoughtful. The time does allow you to gather your thoughts and present a good answer.
Whenever possible, QUANTIFY. Avoid vague and general terms.
The point here is to avoid words like: a few, many, a lot, extensive. For example, if asked how many sick days do you use in a year? The answer could be “a few.” To some this could mean three or four, to others it could mean five or six. It is better to say, “two or three.”
Keep answers short and to the point. Don't talk yourself out of the job. Provide only the information asked for.
It is my understanding that after ten to fifteen seconds most people tune out. So remember, it is difficult to listen to someone talking for a long period. If you have to make an answer long, break it up with pauses. I interviewed for a position where one hour had been set aside for each candidate. The guy before me took the whole hour plus ten to fifteen of mine. Even with that, my interview finished fifteen minutes before the hour was up. I got a call back. If your answers are succinct, you’ve said enough.
When asked a broad question, break it in to smaller parts and answer the parts.
This goes with the above rule. In this situation you are given a task that requires a detailed answer. Not necessarily a long one. For example: “Tell us about yourself and your goals.” In situations like this it is easy to ramble. Think about it in parts. Talk about school. Pause, then talk about the kind of work you’ve done or want to do. Move to ability to get along. Just keep each component short. Limit the number of components to three or four
Be Positive! Nothing will cause failure faster than a negative attitude.
This is about the glass that's half full or half empty. It is simple, really, interviewers are looking for people who will do their work without constant complaining. They see people that complain as disruptive and unproductive.
Always end the response to a question with a positive answer.
Some questions require an answer that shows failure, weakness, or mistakes. For example: You might be asked to tell the interviewers, "What's was your biggest mistake?" or "Tell us about one of your weaknesses?" If you can, think of something that they could associate with. My response might be, "I should have listened to my parents and teachers better." Don't stop there add a positive that you've gained, like, "Now when someone tells me something, I evaluate it carefully and then act on it." If appropriate answer, "I didn't get a college degree, but I may go back to school in the future". The point is "What did you learn from it and/or what are you doing about it?" You can also use a positive to be negative. "Sometimes I try too hard to do a job perfect, when meeting standards is best. They may or may not ask what you learned or what are you plans to correct. You need to understand that if it is a fault, it will probably interfere with your work performance or ability to get along.
Personnel Matters: Remember! In dealing with personnel matters the first step would be to follow organizational policies. Followed by, a careful review of the individuals performance, length of service and other such things should also be considered. Never be hasty in responding to personnel matters, take a few extra seconds to respond.
In this area you want to project a caring and fair image. And that you can be strong when you need to be. You need to understand progressive discipline.
Don't bad-mouth anyone or criticize others.
It is easy to blame previous bosses or coworkers for thing that went wrong or problems you had. What the interview hears, is that you are difficult to work with or you will be hard to manage.
Never assume the interviewer knows or doesn't know what you're talking about.
Never use profanity or slang.
If I have to explain this one, you're in trouble.
Always answer questions regarding reason for wanting the job with answers related to the job and its requirements -- not benefits or conditions.
Prospective employers want a candidate that is interest in the job. They know benefits are important. Typically, prospective employers, see someone that's most concerned about salary and benefits, as someone that will move on at the first opportunity and that their efforts will be somewhat less than an applicant interested in the position's work details. They want a person to be motivated and enthusiastic about what they're doing.
Avoid (curb) nervous habits -- for example tapping finger, wearing jewelry that bang on the table, stamping foot.
Have a strategy for answering questions you don't know or haven't an answer for. Don't guess at the answer.
The first thing you should do is ask questions for clarification. If you are asked a technical question you don't know, you can answer along these lines. Answer along lines of, "If this issued were to occur at work, I would research technical data and ask others for their advice." The idea here is to let them know you would use available resources to find a solution. I was asked a question I didn't understand because they used a word I never heard or read before. I asked if they would tell me what it meant. I still don't understand why they wouldn't. So, I told them what I thought it meant and answered accordingly. Although I was call back for another interview, I would decline to answer any future question I didn't understand. This is how I would answer that same question, "I really don't know what the word means, so I can't possibly provide an appropriate answer."
Never get into a confrontation with an interviewer; you lose every time.
ALWAYS END AN ANSWER WITH A POSITIVE.
I've repeated and capitalized this one because it's that important.
Have a few job related questions to ask at the end of the interview.
At the end of a typical interview, one of the interviewers will generally ask, "Do you have any questions?" You can ask about the hiring time table, job related duties, and things that indicate your interested in the job. Avoid anything to do with pay and benefits. My favorite ending question is, "What will be my biggest challenge?"
Things to do after the interview:
Send a thank you note.
When can I expect to be notified.
At the end of the interview, if you haven't already been told, ask when you might expect to be notified of the decision.
Do some follow up. Call, write, or e-mail.
Depending on what you were told, you may after a reasonably period, check to see if the position has been filled or its current status. Don't overdo it.