Taking Ownership of Your Interview, Part 2
As discussed in Part 1 of this series, during an interview you must take responsibility for sharing all the best information you have that conveys you are the perfect fit for the job. Although the interviewer is asking the questions, you are providing the answers. How you do this dictates how much "ownership" you have in the process.
How to take ownership and use your checklist
In the interview, your goal is to get as many of the items on your checklist (discussed in Part 1) shared as possible. This requires some quick thinking during the interview. The different kinds of questions you are asked allow you to cover a lot of ground. Here are types of questions and how to answer, while leveraging your checklist along the way. Remember, as you cover each point on your checklist, be sure to check the box next to it. This way, you'll know what hasn't been covered toward the end of the interview.
The direct question
This is where the interviewer asks you a very specific question that you have a very specific example/answer from your checklist. A simple example of this question: "How much experience do you have in sales?" You should not only have those facts on your checklist, but also a few key achievements in this area.
The indirect or generic question
Some interviewers pose questions like "Tell me about yourself or your experiences." They do not want to hear where you grew up or what high school you attended. They want to hear examples of work and skills that pertain to the job. Use your checklist! If the interviewer really does want more on your personal background, they will probably ask a slightly more direct question in that direction.
Another generic question is, "Qhat is your favorite work experience or position held?" Again, your checklist has the answers -- you certainly listed some of your best work. The key to this type of question is to talk about experiences that are relevantto the job for which you are interviewing, not just anything that comes to mind.
The "classic" question
These are the ones that you know they are going to ask or you have heard many times in interviews. Examples include "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "What is one of your pet peeves?" Even these questions can be links to your checklist. For these types of questions, don't be shy about practicing the answers with a friend first. The test is to see whether what you wanted to convey in your answer is what is perceived by your friend. Sometimes answers are so convoluted that the true essence of your answer is lost in a long-winded, multi-faceted answer.
One of my favorite classic questions is "Why should I hire you?" Instead of telling the interviewer why you want the job (which tells them little about why they should hire you), tell them more from your checklist, specifically: 1) your skill set; 2) your knowledge about the company, industry, processes they use, challenges they face, clients, and their learning curve; 3) your manageability (you are not a "problem child," but low-maintenance); 4) your value and their return-on-investment (you bring more to the table than they requested for the same salary); 5) your tendency to go above and beyond a job description (you work hard and contribute in unique ways).
Sometimes you'll be asked a direct question where you'll want to "bridge" to a secondary answer to the question. There are two scenarios to do this: 1) when you have a good answer, but also have a second answer that is on your checklist; and 2) when you have a weak answer, but have a related experience or skill that will improve the overall impression. Here are examples of both.
Question: "What is your experience in using Tool XYZ?"
"Strength to Strength" Bridged Answer: "I have used Tool XYZ for several years on five different projects and consider myself an expert user. During those projects, I also used Tool ABC, which I consider to be equally useful and sometimes faster to use."
"Weakness to Strength" Bridged Answer: "I have used Tool XYZ sparingly during the last year. Typically, I use Tool ABC for the same purpose and have found both easy to use. I'm sure I could become an expert in XYZ, too, if I were to use it as often in the future."
The key to bridging is that the two topics should be related somehow so there is a natural connection between the two items. Also, it is essential to answer your first part of the question concisely. If you take up too much time with the first part of the question, it's probably not wise to bridge to another time-consuming topic.
Controlling the flow of information
Another aspect of taking ownership of the interview is to control the flow of information. Good interviewers are trained to let interviewees talk and talk and talk. There's no harm in this as long as the right information is shared. How does one gauge this? It's essential to stop for clarification or watch your interviewer. While answering questions, see if they are taking notes or checking boxes on their list. As they say in sales, once you get your "yes," stop talking. You've done enough.
If there is no note taking, is your interviewer still paying attention or is he/she glassy eyed? If you're not sure if you've answered the question, then ask. Simply asking, "Does that answer your question?" or "Is that the kind of information you were looking for?" helps verify you are ready to move to the next question.
Keep in mind that many interviews are on a timetable. You only get so much time to answer questions. You want to answer as many as possible -- taking too much time with one can be a time waster.
Don't depend on your interviewer to cover your best reasons for being the ideal fit for the job. Prepare and use a checklist to make sure you own the interview and the flow of information.
Jeff Lipschultz is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a premier recruiting firm in Dallas-Fort Worth. Jeff shares his views on employment trends and quirky observations of society at http://jefflipschultz.wordpress.com. Jeff has worked in start-ups to Fortune 500 companies and has interviewed thousands of candidates. When not recruiting great talent or writing about the challenges of the candidate search process from all perspectives, you’ll find Jeff cycling around Texas or Colorado or wherever there’s a hill to climb.
In an effort to help job seekers, Jeff offers a concise, easy-to-read guide on interviewing through his company’s web site (www.alistsolutions.com).