Q: What can I do to improve my interview skills? After months of networking I am finally getting interviews and I can’t afford to mess up these chances to get a job. I’ve been told that though I am likable, I ramble and give too much detail without getting to the point. What tips do you have to straighten out my presentation?
A: Interviewing is a skill that can be improved with practice. To really develop your skills, you will need to practice in writing, with friends, and in front of a video camera if possible.
Imagine the interview is thirty minutes long. Within those thirty minutes you will have specific time frames, each with a purpose. The first few moments are considered an icebreaker. These minutes may happen as you walk to or sit in someone’s office. Perhaps they ask about traffic or weather. Now is not the time to be negative, respond in short positive statements.
At this point, a transition to the more formal interview will take place. A question often used to start is something such as “Tell me about yourself.” This is not the time to start with a life history, so prepare a written answer which shows a professional progression, the strength of your work experience, and highlights aspects of your personality like dedication, commitment to learning, leadership, and willingness to work hard. You might also prepare a brief personal statement describing your education and places you have lived (particularly if you are willing to relocate). If you go over ninety seconds with this answer, you’ve moved into rambling territory. If interviewers want additional information, they will ask follow-up questions. Try to remember that interviews are conversations with give and take on both sides.
The next part of the interview is where you can showcase how well suited you are for this position. In preparation, study the job description to prepare statements which speak directly to the responsibilities and the challenges of the role. Your research should extend into the culture and environment of the company. Examples that you give should align with what you know about the work-style of the organizations. For instance, if their culture is all about teamwork, your examples will not focus on all the independent work you have done. Most of the errors made in interviews occur in this section, which can easily be prevented by research, preparation, and practice. Prepare at least ten examples highlighting aspects of your experience that will help the recruiter make a positive decision about your employment.
The next section of the interview is focused on questions you may have. You must have at least ten questions ready to ask. These questions demonstrate your sincere interest in the opportunity and that you have prepared for the interview. You will not use all ten questions and you don’t need to save them for this section. If a topic relating to your question comes up during the interview, ask it, don’t wait until the end of the interview. The questions you prepare cannot be questions you would have easily discovered the answers to in your preparation for the interview or questions related to compensation, vacation, or benefits.
As the interviewer begins to bring the meeting to a close, you may be asked if you have any other questions or if there is anything else you would like to say. Take this opportunity to quickly review the match between your skills and what the job needs. Next, express your interest in the position and ask if the interviewer has any concerns about your ability to do this job. If they do, try to resolve the issue at that moment. Ask if the clarification helped, which it hopefully did.
Your last question follows a “Thank you. I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with you. Can you tell me what the next step in the process will be?” This gives you information about the appropriate time to follow up, and the person you need to contact. This general guide to interviewing will only work if you invest the time and energy into the preparation. If you do find yourself slipping back into old habits of rambling, practice wrapping up what you are saying in 5-10 seconds, even if you are in the middle of a thought.
Call a friend, get out the video camera and improve your chances of getting the offer.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
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.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
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.