Welcome to the second half of my discourse on how to succeed in a job interview. Last month I offered some inside tips on how to prepare for the interview and what questions to ask (see "Ace that interview!," March 1995). This month I'm going to tell you how to handle issues such as multiple interviews with one employer, interview evaluations, and follow-up. I will also share some interview horror stories that will hopefully not happen to you (see sidebar Don't let this happen to you!).
As I mentioned last month, being prepared for the interview is vitally important. This includes everything from learning about the company to arming yourself with pertinent questions. The next step is evaluating your performance based on various signals employers give during the interview. Each phase of the interviewing process is important and, as the following letter illustrates, should not be taken for granted.
A recruiter called me out of the blue and convinced me to interview with a company I really respected. She assured me the company was already sold on me and that this was a sure thing. That turned out not to be the case at all. Consequently, I was unprepared for the interview and didn't do as well as I could have. I felt set up. How can I avoid this type of situation in the future?
It sounds like you and the recruiter misread the situation. As I mentioned last month, being prepared for the interview is one of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of getting an offer with a potential employer. Other points we discussed last month included what to wear to an interview and what to say. Let's talk for a minute now about how to "read between the lines" in an interview situation.
How's it going?
What signals are there as to how the interview is going? The general rule is the longer the interview the better. Most good interviews are at least an hour. Anyone leaving an interview after 20 minutes or a half hour typically did not do well (although I have seen job offers follow 15-minute interviews). The more people you meet, the more positive the outlook. It is also very encouraging if the hiring manager asks questions about when you can start or if the language of the discussion includes you in a project as if you're already a member of the team. Another sign that an interview is going well is if they want to know how much you currently earn. Finally, their closing words are also an important indicator. "I'll see you soon" or "I'll be in contact right away." are positive; but if they say, "We'll be in touch with your recruiter," that may not be a harbinger of hope. This kind of statement suggests that they don't want to talk to you directly. The sooner the company gets back to you the better.
At some point in your career, you will walk into a situation where there's not one, but three or four people sitting -- firing-squad fashion -- at a large table. Usually when this happens, each person represents a particular area they want to investigate. Companies often do group interviews in an effort to gather a full range of information about an applicant during one comprehensive interview, rather than through a string of individual meetings. If you know this in advance, you will be more prepared. If not, don't panic. Here are some simple things to remember during your interview:
If you make it through the first interview and are invited back to a second or even a third interview, the company will begin to focus more on your personality and how you might fit into the organization. The first interview establishes whether or not you can do the job technically. During subsequent interviews, the hiring manager will be checking to see if you have other characteristics they're looking for, such as decision-making abilities, good disposition, leadership abilities, analytical skills, and management potential.
While the company is sizing you up, these meetings are a good opportunity for you to do some evaluating of your own about the position and the organization. Ask the interviewer about their impressions of the company -- what they like and dislike, and what skills are necessary to succeed in that environment.
The final interview -- a meeting with a senior person (usually the vice president or president of the company) -- is known as the "rubber stamp" interview. If you have made it this far, the only way to ruin your chance for an offer is to blow this interview. You've already earned the thumbs up from everyone else. These interviews are typically less hectic and more enjoyable for the applicant. Be careful you are not lulled into a false sense of security at this point: It is, in fact, possible to get this far and not do well. If you swagger with false confidence, speak too freely, and offer unsolicited opinions about touchy topics, you could jeopardize your chance of getting an offer. It is important that you continue to show respect and humility at every stage of the process.
After the interview
Standard practice after an interview is to send a follow-up letter. It should be brief and to the point: "Thank you for your time"; "I look forward to hearing from you." Send the typed note or letter the day after the interview. It is a simple gesture that shows you're organized and responsible enough to get the job done. Make sure you get the proper spelling of the person's name, title, and address. Proof the letter several times to check for misspellings and grammatical errors. From a hiring manager's point of view, if you do not take the time to proof a letter, how are you going to be responsible on a major project? It could be interpreted as a sign that you don't care or don't have the ability to get the job done properly. I firmly believe sending out a thank you letter with mistakes is worse than not sending one at all.
If you are working with a recruiter, you should receive some feedback from the interview. The most important phone call during the interview process is the one the recruiter makes immediately following the interview to both the applicant and the hiring manager. The feedback gleaned from these conversations helps the recruiter qualify applicants better and also helps the recruiter prepare you for the next opportunity.
If you don't hear back within a week, it's typically a sign that you did not do well in the interview. Generally speaking, companies that find an applicant they like move quickly. Often recruiters are bad about not getting back to an applicant when they have negative news. However, the recruiter has a responsibility to help you prepare for the next interview by giving you as much detailed feedback as possible. Such feedback would include weak areas or skills you need to work on.
There are several areas where people can slip up during an interview. The most common mistake is talking too much. People often get nervous and go off on tangents. For example, if you interview in a Sybase shop and say, "I don't think Sybase is a good thing, I like Oracle better," that's a bad mistake. The company may have invested a lot of money in this database and regardless of whether or not you think its right or wrong, that's not something you should say in the interview. So not being prepared, and saying too much, could incriminate a person.
We have also seen cases where applicants haven't bathed, were disheveled, or were outright rude. In one case, a woman was interviewing a male applicant, and unfortunately, he had a chauvinistic attitude toward women, which came through clearly in the interview. Needless to say, he had no shot of getting a job there. When you express strong political views, complain about previous jobs or employers, or come across as self-righteous, you take a serious chance of offending someone who might otherwise make you a job offer.
The mail regarding your career concerns continues to flood in to us . Next month I plan to tackle several more of the commonly asked career questions. I am gratified that there is such an incredibly high level of reader interest in this column. It confirms my belief that this is a challenging time for advanced systems professionals. The more you know, the better your chances of landing that once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity. So keep those letters coming! Remember, I can be reached on the Internet at career @advanced.com or fax me your questions at 415-267-1732.
About the author
Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems, Inc., the largest opens systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. Saadi specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employers explore all their staffing alternatives including retained search, contract programming, on-site recruiting, contingency search, and more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax at 415-267-1732.
Unusual questions asked by applicant
Unusual statements made by applicants
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Last updated: 1 April 1995