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Interview skills can be improved

Posted by Elaine Varelas  January 27, 2010 10:00 AM

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Q. I can't tell you how long it has taken for me to start getting interviews, but I have been doing the exhausting work of getting a great resume, networking, researching, making calls, using job boards, everything you are supposed to do to get a job. I finally got an interview, and I thought I was ready to answer anything. I wasn't surprised by any questions, but it didn't go well. It just seemed flat. I could tell I wasn't having an impact. I have worked too hard and too long to have it all fall apart here. Help me interview, please.

 A. Stay positive! You have made great strides to get this far in the process, and you can improve your interview skills. Interviewing doesn't start when you walk into the meeting room to shake hands with that hiring manager, but long before with the preparation involved as you work on developing the messages you want to convey.

Start by reviewing what you got you in the door. Was it a connection? Be able to address how you have that connection, and what your relationship is, and know how your contact is connected to the interviewer. A connection can get you in, but there has to be more to talk about. What was in your resume that interested the organization enough to invite you in? Make sure you know the details of that specific area of your work, and that it is current knowledge and not a vague memory.

Many people do only half the preparation needed for successful interviews. They prepare for the interview by being ready to answer questions. That is certainly part of the preparation you need to do, and many interview preparation books exist which will cover the most often asked interview questions. Most people are familiar with "Tell me about yourself", or "What are your strengths and weaknesses?". "Winning Job Interviews", by Dr. Paul Powers offers a great guide.

This is vital preparation, but it can become much more effective after completing research which will lead to the development of the messages and stories you want to tell. Your corporate research will give you details on the financial situation of the company, the outlook, organizational strategy, culture, and their biggest challenges. The research your network can provide most often brings you greater insight to the area your work will be part of, and the people with whom you would work most closely, what they need most from a person in this position, and what is most likely "to sell".

Rather than start by preparing for questions, begin with the messages you most want your audience to hear, and believe. I consulted with John Monahan, president of Monahan Communications, a public speaking and consulting firm, and a long time Boston TV reporter. John says "Your message has to be to the point. Your message or story must be well thought out to have impact. So, have a plan and keep it simple. The bottom line is understand the company and your relation to it."

Take the themes and messages you have identified, and work these into the answers you are preparing. What is it you can do to help the company succeed? Tell a story from your experience that highlights how you have done that in the past. This story needs to point to your skills, show how you fit into the culture of the company, and address how effectively you would work within this new organization.

These same ideas should be used to develop the questions you want to ask. Prepare questions that will show your sincere interest in learning more about the challenges this position will address. The answers you receive can help lead to a conversation drawing you deeper into how your skill set can make a positive impact on the organization. Practice interviewing is a very valuable tool. Work with a friend, a family member, or a tape recorder. We are all eloquent in our own minds, but hearing what we say out loud can improve interview skills and get you that offer!

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.