Compiled by Carmelo Macasaddu
There are six basic steps to enable you to structure a professional and thorough interview:
- First Impression
- Questions and Answers
1. PREPARATION – BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
As any professional sales person knows, the preparation before a meeting with a prospective buyer (this case, with a prospective employer) is an essential requirement. Preparation paves the way for a professional performance. You can prepare for an interview by following three basic steps:
(a)Research your company thoroughly by whatever means possible.
Suggested methods are through the prospective employer himself, or at least his company. Contact them and ask for their product literature and company background information. If there is a local branch, call in, speak to the people and ask for the information you feel would be necessary.
If an agency has organised your interview, pick the agency’s brains for whatever information they can provide.
You must try to create as clear a picture as possible about the company that you are approaching, the products they sell, the markets they deal with and as much as you can about the particular job for which you are applying. Not only will this enable you to more fully participate in the interview with your prospective employer, but, if nothing else, it will help you to decide whether you are interested in the company and the job.
(b)Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask the prospective employer.
During the interview you are under pressure trying hard to please and to impress. Quite frequently this has a counter-productive result. What generally happens is that your mind goes blank and you remember all the questions that you want to ask as you are about to leave the interview or, indeed, after you have left.
A list of suggested questions are enclosed. The reason you need the questions is to ensure that by the time you have left the interview, you understand as much about the job and about the company as a prospective employer has found out about you. This should equip you to make an objective decision at the end of the interview session.
It also prevents those awful pregnant pauses when the interviewer says "and do you have any questions?" and you cannot answer. An interview should be a two-way process.
(c)Prepare a list of your selling benefits.
In order to do this, ask yourself one basic question – "Why should that employer offer me that job?", then write down all the reasons.
If you have been thorough in your questioning of the prospective employer then you will have a good idea of what he is looking for. You can then match your own capabilities, experience and ambitions against his criteria.
* "I have worked extensively with these development tools."
* "I have the right qualifications."
* "Although I do not have the full experience that you are looking for, I most certainly have ambition and the determination to succeed, together with a willingness to work hard in order to achieve this."
* "Although I have not supported your application, I have supported similar products to exactly the same market."
When listing out your selling benefits also bear in mind if you have what we call in the trade a ‘glory file’, i.e. any written documentation or league tables or memos from your boss that say "what a wonderful guy you are and how well you undertook you duties" – make sure that you take that with you. It saves a lot of unnecessary time in the question and answer session and proves you can do what you say. Written documentation actually proves this and enables you to move to a more constructive area in the interview.
Having completed these three basic steps of preparation, at least you are going to your interview with confidence, knowing that you are as fully equipped as you possibly can be to participate in the interview. Make no mistake – your prospective employer will be impressed that at least you have tried and, if you try half as hard with his customers then you will be creating the right professional image and impression that his company is trying to achieve.
2. STRUCTURE OF INTERVIEW
It is imperative that you create the right first impression. No matter how well trained or experienced the interviewer it has been proved that "subjectivity rules". People often form an opinion of you, and decide whether to offer the job to you, within the first four minutes of your interview.
Perhaps the following guidelines will help.
(a) GOLDEN RULE – ARRIVE ON TIME or preferably early.
(b) In most cases you will have to complete an application form so leave yourself enough time to do this comfortably and still be able to commence your interview on time.
(c) Always take a CV with you as it helps prevent having to sit there scratching your head trying to remember dates, etc. See attached addendum for completing application forms.
(d) Appearance – clean, smart and unfussy. The days of loud suits and loud ties are gone. The professional image of blue suit and white shirt is usually preferred. If you look good, you will feel confident too.
(e) When you meet your prospective employer try and introduce yourself first if at all possible; it slightly gives you the upper-hand.
"Hello, I’m Joe Bloggs, you must be Mike Stafford". Firm handshake and good eye contact.
(f) Look the man in the eyes as there is nothing worse than having a shifty expression and not being able to look at him – it destroys credibility! Would you buy something from someone who could not look you in the eyes? He is in the market to buy you.
(g) Please, no complaints about "traffic jams", "the previous appointment that dragged on" or anything else. A fresh, strong, positive approach is best.
(h) Do not smoke on interview, even if they do or offer.
3. QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
This part of the interview is purely to enable your employer to find out exactly what he wants to know about you, i.e. are you the right man for the job?
It should also be used from your point of view to try and find out as much as you can about the job and the company.
Now you are in the hot seat and this is where the list of questions, you previously prepared, will prove to be invaluable.
(a) Think of the ‘question/answer game’ as being, every time the employer asks you a question and you give a good response, you get a plus point. Every time he gets a negative response, you get a minus point. The more plus points you get, the closer you are to getting the job.
Try to turn your negative points into positive. For example, if he says "Well you have never developed using these languages before" your response should be "No, I haven’t but there is no reason why I can’t. I couldn’t use the tools I am using now until I joined my present company. I learned about it and I am now selling it very successfully"
What you have done in that instance is change the negative point of not being able to use his languages into a positive one in his mind, i.e. no reason why he shouldn’t train you to use his equipment too.
(b) Listen to the questions carefully.
If possible try and work out why the man is asking you the question. For example, "You’ve not been there very long and you weren’t very long in your last job". Is he actually trying to find out whether you are the sort of person who keeps changing jobs very rapidly before having had a chance to prove yourself. Perhaps he wants confirmation that, if he gave you the job, you would not leave him in an equally short time.
A possible response is "No, I wasn’t there very long but I did have good reasons for leaving. However, I don’t like changing jobs frequently and that is why it is very important that the next decision I make is the right one. I want to stay with the next company I join and progress through their organisation without having to leave and join another company to gain a promotion".
Make sure you have refreshed your Technical ability and experience, again do your homework!
(c) Answer the questions specifically and without waffling.
Once you have answered his question, if he wants more information, he will ask for it. When he asks you a question like "What exactly do you do in your current company?" he does not want to hear "Well, I was born at a very early age…." and half an hour later he has your whole life story, but not the answer to his question. Too much detail is boring!
(d) Be honest with him – if you can’t do something, there is no point in telling him that you can.
(e) NEVER answer with ‘I don’t know’. If in doubt, ask to think about it and ask if you can get back to them via your Consultant later.
(f) Although you are bound to read in most advertisements that ‘experience would be desirable’, ENTHUSIASM also counts for a lot in an interview.
If you are enthusiastic, willing to learn and, above all, willing to work hard, those messages must come across in your interview. This should satisfy the man that you are the type of person he would like to have within his company and within his team.
(g) If you don’t understand the question then check it.
(h) Remember, not all employers are trained to interview. It is as much your responsibility to make sure that he has enough correct information about you, as it is his responsibility to extract from you that information.
(i) NEVER BE NEGATIVE ABOUT YOUR CURRENT JOB – SELL THE POSITIVE POINTS ABOUT THE NEW ONE – exciting company – industry – product. Career progression – development – opportunities. Different and exciting style.
(j) Try to show some positive factors about your personality. Smile, be friendly, professional.
(k) Stress that the next position is important to you because you intend staying a long time.
(l) Never give the impression you are on too many interviews, only a select few.
(m) Tell them when you are next available for interview, or can start employment. Ask if you can see where you would be working, meet other members of staff where possible.
(n) If on a long notice period, say you will see if you can negotiate it.
(o) Take any good references you may have with you. This saves time and leaves a good impression – you are prepared and serious and not just "Window Shopping".
(p) Lastly, ask if there is anything that you think of after the interview, can you get back to them via your Consultant or call direct?
(q) At the end of the interview, do ask some questions, even if they have covered everything, at least go over some points already discussed.
SUGGESTED QUESTIONS TO ASK AT INTERVIEW
- What is your company turnover?
- How many employees are there in total in the company?How many employees are there in total in the company?
- Can you draw me an organisation chart and show me where I fit in?
- What development environment do you use?
- What platforms are you likely to develop upon?
- Why do people enjoy working for your company?
- Who are your main competitors?
- What sort of markets do you sell to?
- Can I see some company literature or do you have a demo room where I can have a look at the equipment/product?
- How may calls per day do you expect?
- Give me an understanding of the skill necessary?
- What percentage of the market do you hold?
- What sort of marketing support do you offer to the sales force? i.e. how many national exhibitions per year? Mailshots or generally anything that creates leads?
- How much technical support do you provide to your customers?
- What is your average service down-time response?
- What sort of the training facilities do you have. For your own staff? For customers?
- How long does training take and what does it involve?
- How realistic are the promotion prospects?
- Is there a planned career development path?
- What are the parameters of the product I will be supporting?
- Why has this vacancy arisen?
- To whom would I be reporting?
- What are your plans for product development in the future? New markets?/industries?/diversification?
- How much investment does your company make towards R&D to ensure a constant flow of new products?
- Do you run any competitions or sales incentives? If so, what kind of prizes do you offer?
- When can I start?
You should be able to identify when enough information has been exchanged between you and the prospective employer. As soon as you feel this has been achieved, you are probably then ready to go into the next stage of the interview.
Having extracted from your prospective employer exactly what he is looking for, i.e. the criteria that he is interviewing against, you then need to summarise your experience against that criteria.
"From what you have told me Mr. Employer, I understand that what you are looking for is somebody to support Office Automation software in a mainly commercial market. You want a bright, energetic young person who can present the right company image and support your product with enthusiasm. I realise that you demand a lot of activity but, there again, you pay well for the results that are gained".
REMEMBER YOUR SELLING BENEFITS LIST! Use this to summarise your experience against his requirements.
IN SUMMARY, MR. EMPLOYER, I AM VERY INTERESTED IN THE VACANCY YOU HAVE AND I FEEL THAT I AM ADEQUATELY QUALIFIED TO BE ABLE TO DO A VERY GOOD JOB FOR YOU.
– what are your particular strengths and weaknesses?
– when did you have your last appraisal and what did they say about you?
The last, but most important part of your interview structure is ‘The Close’. A trap that a lot of candidates fall into is that they assume the prospective employer understands that they can ‘close’. Please do not assume anything! You have to be able to demonstrate that you can ‘close’. In this case it is asking for the job.
– what committees do you attend and what is your role?
– how do you motivate staff working for you?
"Mr. Employer, are you in a position to make a decision today about this vacancy?"
Listen to his response – is he in such a position? Do you have a second interview? Does he still have other people to consider.
Set yourself one of three objectives to achieve:-
1) Obtain from him a commitment on the time and date when he can give you a decision. Don’t be fobbed off with "Thanks for coming to the interview – we’ll let you know". Respond with "By when will you have made a decision?"
If he says that he still has other people to see, ask him when his last appointment is. If it is, say, 10.00 a.m. Friday, respond with something like "So if I call you at 11 o’clock Friday, you will be able to give me a decision?"
If he says, "Yes, alright, but we would rather call you", show some enthusiasm. "Mr. Employer, you are a very busy man. I know that you are eager to fill this vacancy with the right person but you also have a lot of other priorities too. As far as I am concerned, my main priority is being offered this position, so it is going to be uppermost in my mind and I most certainly won’t forget to ring you" – and don’t forget!!
2) Obtain a commitment on a second interview time and date if that is necessary. If the prospective employer says that you will have to have a second interview with his boss, reach for your diary and say "OK, when I attend my second interview when will it be, where and with whom? Can we arrange that now?" Remember the usual objective of the first interview is to get the second; the usual objective of the second is to get ‘the offer’. Then you decide whether or not you want it.
What you have done is actually assumed that you have got a second interview but, with any luck, you will take him with you on the assumption.
3) Lastly, and most importantly, if a decision can be made there and then as to whether you have got the job. "When can I start?"
4) At the end of the interview, a firm hand shake. If keen let them know you want the position, or would more than seriously consider it.
Thank them for their time and explaining to you what they want.
If you follow these simple but basic rules, you should leave your interview feeling that you have done a good job. Also you should be armed with some sort of commitment, certainly knowing exactly what the next stage will be.
If you have done a really good job, you will be receiving an offer letter in your hand, have a smile on your face and be heading for the nearest pub to celebrate your new appointment.
Keep to the arrangements you have agreed with the prospective employer. If you promised to ring him at 10 o’clock on Monday morning – then DO IT at the time you promised!
Regular and efficient follow-up shows enthusiasm and reliability – do not spoil your chances at this final post by irritating the prospective employer with too many unnecessary calls. He will imagine you doing the same thing to his customers.
HELPFUL HINTS ON COMPLETING AN APPLICATION FORM
- Remember this is your marketing document – a brochure on you. It is your first introduction to the prospective employer and will create the first impression of you. Surely it is worth some effort? This will determine whether you will progress to the next stage, i.e. the interview.
- It may be helpful to take a copy of the form and complete the copy in pencil first … to enable you to complete the original form correctly without making alterations.
- Answers the questions specifically.
- Use neat clear handwriting, using ink never pencil.
- Don’t leave spaces on the application form. Why shouldn’t you answer all the questions? If you omit to answer, this will automatically make your prospective employer suspicious.
- It is very obvious when a candidate has made an effort to complete and present a form fully and effectively. Likewise it is very apparent where no effort has been made at all.
- "See CV" is a very irritating comment to see on a form – when you may have 200 forms to read. It is obviously easier to get through a large number of applications if they are in a consistent format – so please be co-operative and complete the application form even if you have already made considerable effort on your CV.
- "To be discussed" is another irritating comment to read on an application form.
- Omitting remuneration information is not wise – it just means the employer has to contact you to find out your current earnings before deciding whether your application is appropriate.
- Please be sure that you provide a full enough explanation on your job role, your product and market knowledge etc. for the reader to fully understand your skills and capabilities and knowledge.
- Don’t forget to list your achievements in each job role. All prospective employers will want to assess how good you were in each job.