Preptel’s Insight Guide to Interviews
“It’s easy to tell when a candidate knows the company. They’re informed and engaging in their interviews, and essentially, they have a clear advantage in the selection process over their fellow applicants. “
“As an interviewer, when someone’s done their research, it really shows. It makes me feel like this person truly wants to work with us – clearly they’re self-motivated and have initiative that’s already directed our way.”
It’s Time to Prepare
Pre-interview research is an essential component of a successful interview outcome. It is almost certain that it will make the difference between getting and not getting a job. As noted previously in this guide, if you want to ace your interview and get to the next step in the hiring process, you have to act like you’re already working for your interviewer. You need to be able to imagine the hiring manager as your boss. That intimate perspective is almost impossible to acquire without conducting some research.
The type of research you need to do depends upon the level and type of position you’re interviewing for. If you’re interviewing for a professional position, one where you will have no direct reports or management duties, you need to know about the past, present and future work you’ll be participating in and toward which you’ll be making contributions. Management positions need to be researched for corporate management styles, organizational structure, reporting structures and procedures, performance appraisal processes, sales and performance goals, and track records of successful company projects. Director and Executive positions have yet another set of research needs, like corporate strategy, past, present and future initiatives, economic and financial condition and other long-term company interests.
No matter what level or type of job you’re seeking, all interviewers should know, at the very least, some basic company information. Across all positions, one of the first things you need to find out about is the interview and hiring process you’ll be following. Why? Because the questions you confront during an interview will be formatted according to the interview process and policy. Likewise, your answers will be expected to address these questions accordingly.
Researching the Interview Process
What does it mean to research the interview process? It’s more than finding out if you’ll be subjected to a single or a series of interviews. It’s more than discovering if your prospective employer will be doing a credit check, a background check, or a drug screen. Certainly, those are aspects of the interview and hiring process you need to know, but understanding the expectations of your performance during the actual interview is just as important. Every interview is different. Every interviewer is different.
Generally, the more “corporate” your targeted employer is, the more standardized your interview will be. It is a much more arbitrary process when you’re dealing with a small “mom and pop” environment. This is not to say that corporate jobs are preferable over small business employment opportunities. From beginning to end, each has its positive and negative aspects. The interview process is also not set in stone for either of these employer types. You may find some large company practices among small employers, and vice versa. Still, it helps to have some guidelines from which you can gather a few strategic points.
Small Company Interview Processes
Many candidates and job search assistance programs tend to ignore small companies. There are many reasons why the structure of these organizations often doesn’t fit well with stringent, formal hiring processes. Still, small businesses employ more than half of all private sector workers, pay more than 40% of all U.S. Payroll, and generate about 75% of the jobs that are available each year. Obviously, these are statistics that the average job seeker should not ignore.
If you’re interviewing with a small company, chances are you’ll be interviewing with someone who will be directly affected by, and involved in your job performance. While a corporate interview may involve meeting the person responsible for your performance, in a small company you’re likely to be working right alongside the person conducting your interview. You’ll start building that rapport from the first meeting.
There is likely to be very little public or readily accessible information for you to research about the company, and none, if any, available about any hiring or interviewing process. If there is no information on the company website about the interview process, and none is provided to you when you schedule your interview, there are a few things you can consider in preparation for a small company interview:
|Things to consider when your interview is with a small company…|
|Your interview is very likely to be with the owner of the company, or possibly a family member who is directly involved in business operations.||
|The interview process may be highly variable between applicants. You may be competing against other applicants who have a stronger interpersonal connection already in place with the interviewer.||
|Interviews tend to be very informal and “chatty.”||
|Time to hire may be greatly reduced – same day and next day hiring decisions are not uncommon.||
|Questions will be random, and they’re likely to address immediate activities, needs and concerns.||
|It is highly likely that you will be filling the shoes of someone who was either recently fired, or working with someone who has been doing the job; you’ll be filling an unknown person’s shoes. An unrealistic or misrepresentation of the job is possible.||
|Your attitude will be extremely important during this interview!||
Research the Interview Process for Larger Companies
There are several pre-interview advantages when you’re working with a corporation through the interview and hiring process. Most corporations have developed extensive, systematic approaches to insure their compliance with employment laws. The interview process is likely to be a well-defined method, and access to that process information is usually documented or fairly easy to acquire. Preparation for your interview will begin with understanding what kind of activity you’ll be experiencing at each step along the way.
Typical company interview processes involve selections and combinations of these steps – usually in the order presented:
Keyword or Search Engine Scan
This is a relatively new development in the interview process, although it has been practiced by nearly every employer since about 2000. In order to narrow hundreds or even thousands of applications down into a workable approach, resumes and cover letters are scanned through either an internal or external search engine. Only materials that contain a certain percentage of keyword and skill matches will be printed or forwarded to the next step in the process. These search engines can be programmed to look for as much as 100% matches, meaning that every keyword and skill identified within the search engine’s job description must be matched at least once in the body of the resume or cover letter. Typical requirements are set at a minimum of 95%. Review your resume content against the job description and set your response expectations accordingly.
Phone and/or In-Person Screening Interviews
A screening interview is exactly what the name implies – you’re being screened from among a large pool of candidates. It is a process that allows hiring managers to stay focused on their jobs until absolutely necessary, and limits the amount of additional, more expensive steps to be taken only with qualified and screened applicants. In today’s job climate, it is a way of narrowing an applicant pool of hundreds or thousands of candidates down to a more manageable, efficient, less expensive and approachable field.
Screening interviews sometimes occur without warning, and may precede a scheduling call for an in-person interview. Your job-search research should give you a head’s up about whether or not you’ll want to be prepared for such an impromptu call. Otherwise, you may receive a call or email requesting you to schedule an initial “pre interview” or “screening interview.” They’ll typically be set for about 15-30 minutes, but may last for an hour or more. You’ll be asked to be sure to bring a resume, and perhaps, to arrive early to fill out required documentation.
Likewise, screening interviews often take place with an internal or external recruiter who is considering whether or not to submit your resume to an employer or manager for further review. If a recruiter is calling, there may be another layer before you actually get presented to the employer – you’ll likely be asked to participate in another interview-type discussion with an “account manager” of HR Supervisor, who knows more about the client’s needs and the job. Again, given that this process is conducted with the most numbers of applicants, it is handled in the most cost and time efficient way available to the company.
In either case, the interviewer’s goal is to simply document your qualifications on paper or within a database. Interviewers are verifying the results of search-engine screening, or initial resume keyword matches. Interviewer impressions might also be added to this data during the screening process, and become another key selection indicator. You’ll be informed of your success by receiving a call for a second interview. The second interview is usually with the hiring manager.
Pre-Employment Testing – Polygraph, Mechanical, Skills, Psychological Assessment
Many employers today turn to pre-employment testing to verify existing skills and to help measure less tangible psychological qualities such as aptitude, honesty, personality and intelligence. These tests range from mechanical and equipment operation skills to standard psychology testing tools. Some employers will also conduct background, drug screens, medical evaluations, reference and credential screening at this stage, although most employers save these more expensive measures and activities for later in the hiring process. Exactly when these types of tests are administered in the hiring process depends on the type of job you are applying for, and the type of outsource services being used by the employer.
If you are asked to submit to this type of testing during an interview process, the results of the various assessments will become another measure weighed in the overall interview and hiring decision process. They’re verified against your resume, your background and work history, and against any assumptions or impressions derived through screening and face-to-face interviews.
Most companies list any mechanical testing that will be required in the job description. These tests include such things as driving tests, typing/computer operation tests, software skills tests, programming/technical knowledge tests, and tests performed using specific types of specialized equipment. Basically, if you’re looking for a labor, machine operation, clinical, driving, or technology job, you should expect and be familiar with the various types of credentialing, skills and mechanical tests common to your field.
Types of Psychological Tests Used
- Aptitudes. These are timed tests that look at your reasoning skills. They can be abstract, numerical, verbal, etc.
- Motivation. Motivation assessments are un-timed questionnaires that identify what aspects of work are important to you. It also identifies what motivates you to work.
- Personality. Personality tests are un-timed tests that give insight on your behavior, values, and ethics. Most questions are true or false, yes or no. Two of the most widely used personality tests are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and various types of Strengths Based Assessments. You can get more information about MBTI at the Myers & Briggs Foundation ( http://www.myersbriggs.org/ ), and on Strengths Bases Assessments at http://www.strengthstest.com/theme_summary.php
Preparation for a Psychological Assessment
There are many free psychological tests offered online – just search for the various test types to find out more about these tests. Even with knowledge about what these tests entail, there’s nothing much you can do in preparation for a psychological test. You are who you are and these assessments simply measure what those qualities and characteristics are. However, before arriving to take your tests, you can remind yourself of a few things:
- You cannot fail – you will only find out more about yourself by the end of the session.
- Show up for your test well rested, in a relaxed and calm, thinking state of mind. If you’re ill or stressed, or if you have been engaging in activities that will affect your mental state prior to the exam, inform the administrator or reschedule your appointment.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Plan to get there on time so you are not hurried before starting the test.
How Test Administrators Know if You’re Telling the Truth
Most psychological tests have built-in a ‘social desirability scale’. This measures the accuracy and consistency of your answers – untrue statements and intentionally misleading answers or responses can be easily identified. As far as an employer is concerned, there are no valid reasons for lying on a psychological assessment that will be allowable or excused when it comes time to hire.
Drug and Chemical Tests
Some jobs require pre-employment drug tests. Other companies drug screen to maintain internal policy and workplace standards. Some people have no issues with taking drug tests for an employer; others have very strong opinions against employers being allowed to base employment decisions on such information, or for being allowed to drug test prior to an offer of an employment or prior to a valid on the job reason to suspect such behavior and activity. One thing is for sure, if you start arguing with company policy about such requirements during the interview process, they will simply choose another applicant with whom they can proceed. Feel free to pursue activist and protest activities elsewhere in your life, but if you have strong objections to such policies you may want to consider applying only to companies that do not require such testing, or that do so according to your acceptable criteria. Here are some of the most common rationales used by companies to include drug screens in pre-employment activities:
- To comply with Federal regulations, e.g., the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Energy
- To comply with customer or contract requirements
- To comply with insurance carrier requirements
- To match other employer efforts, and to minimize the chance of hiring employees who may be users or abusers
- To reinforce the company position on “no drug use”
- To identify current users and abusers and refer them for assistance
- To establish grounds for discipline or firing
- To improve safety
- To convince “casual users” that the cost of using is too high
- To deter “recreational” drug use that could lead to addiction
- To reduce the costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in the workplace
- To give recovering users another reason to stay sober (relapse prevention).
Reference & Background Checks
Background checks are becoming a routine part of the interview and employee screening process, especially on candidates seeking a position that requires high security or a position of trust, such as in a school, hospital, financial institution, airport, and within the government. These checks are traditionally administered by a government agency, but they can also be administered by private companies. Results of a background check typically include past employment verification, credit score, and criminal history. Background reports can include information that helps employers objectively evaluate a job candidate’s qualifications, character, fitness, and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. They’re also used as the criteria on which to grant security clearances. Pre-employment background screening is commonly used to verify the accuracy of an applicant’s claims as well as to discover any possible criminal history, workers compensation claims, or employer sanctions.
Types of checks
- Employment References
- Education Verification – School grades, degree and any professional qualifications obtained
- Character Reference Check
- Gaps in employment history
- Identity and Address Verification – whether the applicant is who he or she claims to be. Generally includes verification of the candidate’s present and previous addresses. Can include a money laundering, identity and terrorist check and one to verify the validity of passports.
- Whether an applicant holds a directorship
- Credit History – bankruptcies
- Criminal History Report
U.S. Laws regarding Pre-employment screening
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates the use of consumer reports (which it defines as information collected and reported by third party agencies) as it pertains to adverse decisions, notification to the consumer or applicant, and destruction and safekeeping of records. If you’re denied employment because of a failed background check, the employer or agency must present you with a “pre-adverse action disclosure,” a copy of the FCRA summary of rights, and a “notification of adverse action letter.” You are entitled to know the source of any information used against them including a credit reporting company. You must also consent in order for the employer to obtain a credit report.
Types of checks
There are a variety of types of investigative searches that can be used by potential employers. A legitimate company will be happy to explain the process to you. Many employers choose to search the most common records such as criminal records, driving records, and education verification. Other searches such as sex offender registry, credential verification, skills assessment, reference checks, credit reports and Patriot Act searches are becoming increasingly common. Employers should always use the same searches for every applicant being considered for one position.
Possible background check information
- Criminal, arrest, incarceration, and sex offender records
- Citizenship, immigration, or legal working status
- Litigation records
- Driving and vehicle records
- Drug tests
- Education records
- Employment records
- Financial information (Credit scores, liens, civil judgments, bankruptcy, and tax information)
- Licensing records
- Medical, Mental, and Physiological evaluation and records
- Military records
- Social Security Number
First-level Interviews – Your Overall Interview Strategy
One of the most important things to remember as you prepare for your interview is that you are, and should be, very much in control. If you’re well prepared, and you’ve done your research, you should feel confident and capable during the interview. A well written cover letter and resume should provide the framework for your discussion. They should both be constructed in such a way as to prompt specific inquiries, and help you steer clear of things that will undermine even the best interviewing skills. Still, there are many ways an interviewer or an interviewing technique can throw you off guard. Again, the best defense lies in excellent knowledge and preparation.
Successful interviews happen when a targeted candidate and a targeted employer find one another, and confirm their mutual needs and expectations. Armed with your pre-interview research, your primary interview task is to let the hiring manager know you can, will and want to do the job.
Starting with the camouflaged opening question, “How are you today?” every question in an interview is an opportunity for you to let the employer know why they should hire you. What’s the right answer to some typical openers?
|Q:||How are you today?|
|A:||I’m excited to be here today! I’m looking forward to finding out more about this opportunity! I believe I’m a great fit for this so I’m anxious to hear more!|
|Q:||Before we begin, do you have any questions for me?|
|A:||Yes! I’ve looked over the job post, and I’m sure I’m a good fit; I would just like to confirm that these are the things you’re looking for, and find out what other factors will be considered when you make your decision to hire.|
Again, despite appearances, you are in control of your interview – or you should be! Your objective is to relay these points:
- Do you have the skills and education you need to do this job?
- Will you impact the department budget in a positive or a negative way?
- Have you done what they need before, and with what results?
- Can you do it again, and can you do it for them?
- What makes you different? What positive qualities or experiences make you a better choice than any other possible candidates?
- How long will it take you to become an asset to the company and to the manager?
Actual questions may vary and may cleverly try to distract or confuse you, but if you remember these important points, you’ll be able to answer just about anything that is thrown your way.
More about Interview Answers
During the interview your answers are gained from both verbal and non-verbal clues. Posture, dress, body-language and voice tone portray respect for yourself and the interviewer. Enthusiasm and job-confidence communicate your personal style and “fit” with the company and the team. Be concise, direct, and on-target with your responses. You’ll let the interviewer know you listen, and translate what you hear into directed and purposeful responses. It implies you’ll be able to do the same with actions.
|Q:||So, tell me about yourself?|
|A:||“I’m an experienced marketing professional with a successful track record crafting strategies that create new customer revenue.” “Since getting my degree at UCSF in Marketing I’ve worked my way up from an intern to a serious marketing professional. My input to our marketing team at my last company produced about $250,000 additional dollars with several of our Fortune 2000 account campaigns. I really love the process of producing great marketing ideas and impacting the bottom line sales through my efforts in marketing! I’m anxious to find out more about how I can do that here.|
Notice how this answer sticks to the point, provides a wealth of technical information, creates focus on the positive, and even prompts the interviewer to the next potential question – “tell me about that…” Congratulations; if you’ve got the right skills and experiences, you’re now in control of your interview!
Succinct, Positive Words that Focus on Achievements and Accomplishments
In these next examples, the interviewer wants to hear about achievements and accomplishments. Were results attached directly or indirectly to you? Did you work with a team? Did you produce revenue or advancements for the company? Is your performance reliable and replicable? Your answers will be dependent on the job type, but remember; focus your interview answers on results and accomplishments rather than tasks or procedures, and use the interview strategy to guide your answers.
|Q:||Tell me about what you did at your last company.|
|A:||I was an IT Project Team Lead at ABC Company. We started out as the “Alliance Project Team” and ended up being known as the IT SWAT Team! We started with a very difficult project and did it so successfully that we were reorganized into a specialty Team sent into national initiatives that were hopelessly stuck or too hot to handle. We were the company problem solvers. Personally, I led business and technical teams through 7 different projects over the 4 years that I was there. I was originally tasked with creating mutually compatible technical interfaces and customized associated business processes for alliance of 5 medical centers. Eventually my role was analyzing and assessing issues, then creating and implementing project methodology. The smallest savings realized through my work was about $4 million on a $23 million budget. The largest was $47 million on a budget of $650 million. I averaged impacts to budget around 7-15%.|
|Q:||What was the most difficult challenge you had to overcome, and how did you do it?|
|A:||Our “SWAT Team,” relied on each team member’s individual strengths and our ability to work as a team. We arrived on difficult projects to either turn them off or turn them around. Our first hope was that we were going to create positive change. Our first obstacle was always to get people to “disarm!” The objective was to lead clients to consensually get past the problems and focus them on working toward their goal. One best example: after 2 years of failure, we led 64 lab managers into a single lab system RFP within 6 weeks. I devised the methodology, taught a team of 15 project managers and analysts what to do, and consulted with them as they implemented the strategy with the clients. The solution used a creative similarity-focused gap analysis and employed some specific consensus-producing procedures during strategically designed meetings. The results weren’t really surprising, but they were amazing! We ended up saving more than 6 months and $40 million!|
Notice the important elements in both of these interview answers. They employ the interview strategy to answer the questions with succinct, positive and purposeful words. They indicate you knew your role, why you were there, and what you were there to do. They show you did “it” successfully, and you know how you produced that success. Try it yourself, with these examples of the most difficult interview questions;
Tough Interview Questions
- Have you ever been fired from a position? Why were you fired?
- Your resume looks like you’ve been job hopping lately; can you tell me about that?
- Have you ever had a conflict with your boss or a co-worker? What did you do?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why should we hire you for this job?
- What are your salary requirements?
If you have difficulty creating the right answers to difficult interview questions, get some assistance! Preptel can help you work through these and other tough interview questions and situations by teaching you unique and effective answer formulas that will turn any interview into a success.
Structured, Unstructured & Targeted Interviews
If you’ve passed the initial screening interview, you’ll likely be scheduled to participate in a “real” interview that is either structured, unstructured, or targeted. These interviews move away from simply verifying skills and claims. They focus on making important connections between what you’ve done, and what you will actually do in the new job.
Structured and targeted interviews are conducted with the guidance of documented questions and processes that the interviewer uses to get through a series of questions. Targeted interviews are the same as structured interviews, they just focus on a smaller, more specific set of your qualifications. Unstructured interviews are very similar to these other two types of interviews; however, the interviewer derives his or her own questions. They are not directed by a set question list or a stringent style. Unstructured interviews tend to be more free-form and of a conversational style. Smart applicants and job candidates will practice their ability to stay cooperative yet in control of the interview.
The most important strategy you can adopt in this, your first “real” interview, is to stay focused on the goal. You’re there to show your interviewer that you can apply your past and present talents, skills and experiences to the job you’re applying for. Additionally, your goal is to get advanced to the second or next interview. This is the interview that holds many hazards for the applicant. The temptation is to talk about your past experiences, but you’re there to draw connections and present evidential examples that show you can move forward, build on those experiences, and now apply them in a new company-specific direction. If you’ve ever been confused about why your stellar skills and articulate presentation didn’t get you the job, you can now surmise that it probably didn’t happen because you didn’t draw the best correlations.
How then, do you prepare for this important interview? It can only happen with research. First, you need to know what the job is about, and what the company wants that job to do. Next, you have to examine and research you! Imagine yourself in the job. Forget that you’re looking for a “job,” and put yourself in the shoes that walk you through the door labeled “challenges and opportunities.” Pretend that your new boss wants to know why they should give you an important, recognition-packed, career-making project over your fellow co-worker. Why, exactly, should you be given this opportunity? What skills and accomplishments will you recall and build upon to deliver singular and exceptional results? What parts and activities of your education make you the better prepared? What past successes make for good predictors of your success with this important work? Now, prepare for the big day where you get to present yourself to your boss, and his or her boss, and tell them about why you understand the job, yourself and the challenge like no other. This formula works, no matter if you’re pursuing a lateral move or a true jump or change in your career.
If you remain clear about what your interviewer needs and wants to know during your interview, you’ll be able to succeed, no matter what type of interview you attend. Once you’ve been properly screened and assessed, the next interview step will determine in you’ll be invited to continue on the hiring trail. If you follow the tips and strategies recommended in this guide you’ll be able to effectively represent yourself across just about any scenario. Still, knowing the types of scenarios that may pop up will help you prepare to adjust your strategy and your answers to specific interview styles. Just remember, your interviewer wants to know why you want to work for them, and why you can, will, and want to do the job. From there, all it takes is research, preparation, and confidence to accomplish a successful interview.
|Likely questions and things you’ll encounter during this interview:||Suggested Answers or Answering Strategy Tips|
|Education & Training
||Your Education & Training Responses
|Work Experience & Specific Skill Sets
||Your Work Experience Skill Sets Responses
||Your Technical Skills Responses
|Leadership, Motivation and Initiative Skills
||Your Leadership, Motivation and Initiative Responses
|Supervisor or Management Skills (where applicable)
||Your Supervisor or Management Skills Responses
||Your Interpersonal Skills Responses
||Your Teamwork Responses
|Time Management & Organization Skills
||Your Time Management & Organization Responses
|Customer Service Skills
||Your Customer Service Responses
|Motivation for the Job
||Your Motivations for the Job Responses
||Your Problem Solving Responses
Second & Subsequent Interviews
It’s a week after your initial interview. The phone rings, and it’s the company calling you back for a second interview! Congratulations! Follow our earlier suggestions for scheduling your interview and set the date and time. Next, pat yourself on the back, and enjoy a few hours of celebration! Then, get back into your interviewing mode and start to prepare! Start by reviewing and digging deeper with your Company research.
If you weren’t informed during the scheduling call, research what this second interview will entail. Sometimes, a second interview can last all day, as you meet with management, staff members, executives, and other company employees. Do everything you can so you know upfront what to expect. It will help you both relax, and prepare!
Was there something you thought you should have mentioned during your first interview? Was there a question you had difficulty with? The second interview will provide you with the opportunity to expand upon your responses from the first interview. Review the notes you took during the first interview, to see what you might have missed talking about and what you can clarify or add. Likewise, second interviews offer the opportunity to be sure the job is a fit for you. If a voice is telling you you’re that you are not sure about this job, listen to it. You don’t have to turn down the job, but, you can ask for additional meetings with staff, especially the people you are going to be working with, to make sure the job is a good fit for you.
Here are some important guidelines for things to do, and not to do on your second interview: