Little Things That Will Improve Your Chances in the Interview

You can read as much information on interviewing as you like and almost all will all say the same thing – dress the part, brush your teeth, sit up straight, leave the personal stuff out, be ready for behavioral based questions, and on and on. While those are all important we wanted to share some of the little things that can really make or break your chances.

Setting the interview time. This might seem like a no-brainer – some company calls you and wants to talk so you make yourself completely open to whatever they want, right? Take a look at the following and  decide.

Your phone rings, you pick it up, and a nice voice on the other ends says, “This is Jane/John Doe with Acme Corp. You sent your résumé to us for a (fill in the blank) position that we have open and we would like to speak with you about that opportunity. When might you be available for an in-person interview?”

You have two options here:

  1. You: “I am open anytime;  when are you available?.”
    Them: “What about Thursday at nine or Friday at eleven?”
    You look our calendar, see nothing there and say: “I am open to either – let me know what works better for you.”
    /
  2. You:“I am particulary excited about this opportunity and am looking forward to speaking with you, when are you all available?”
    Them: “What about Thursday at nine or Friday at eleven?”
    You look at your calendar, see nothing there and say: “My schedule is pretty busy this week but I can rearrange a couple of things and be there Friday at eleven. Look forward to meeting you!”

In the first scenario you point out the fact that you and Oprah are best friends (not good) while in the second you give the impression that you are in demand, even though you might not be. Remeber, perception is everything.

Bring the right tools. Here are several things that you can bring with you to an interview to help your chances of standing out in good way –

  • A strong knowledge of the company including their history, mission/vision statement, leadership, products and services offered, competition, and what makes them unique.
  • A strong knowledge of who you are interviewing with. Search them out on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo and blogs to try to understand their background and interests.
  • A strong knowledge of the position. I would know their job-description back and forth, look up similar job-descriptions from others companies, and try to find the LinkedIn profile of people who have worked for that company in a similar capacity or people who have worked for a competitor in a similar role.
  • Several copies of your résumé printed on a neutral colored, 32lb., watermarked paper with the typeset and watermark facing the same direction and having the same orientation. Makes it look like you pay attention to details.
  • Examples of your successes at your previous jobs.
  • Ten specific, concrete reasons why that company should hire you right on the spot. If you don’t have them, someone else will.
  • Ten specific, concrete reasons why you want to work for that company.

The interview starts as soon as you can see the building and doesn’t end until you cannot see the building anymore.The last thing you need while in the interview process is for the hiring manager to see you in the parking lot (or down the road) running stop signs, scratching your backside, or getting dressed. Remember – the interview starts BEFORE you step into the office.

Arrive at the right time. I have seen people arrive for interviews 30 minutes early and 30 minutes late – neither are good. It is always a good idea to step foot into the waiting room five minutes before your scheduled time (unless otherwise instructed) because that shows you are responsible and respectful of their time without appearing desperate or giving you too much time to disrupt the receptionist or give him/her a reason not to like you.

Get your pronunciation right. Make sure you understand how to pronounce the name of everyone you are meeting with. I have seen people not move forward in the interview process because of their inability to pronounce a recruiters/hiring managers name right.

Is that right? Not at all. Does it happen? Most certainly.

Know who the power players are. Receptionists and assistants hold more weight than you think. Treat them bad, don’t engage them, engage them too much, or act inappropriately in front of them and it can kill your chances.

Expect the unexpected. Sometimes interviews will take an unusual twist or turn so be ready for them, particularly in the questions that get asked. Be ready, don’t stress, and roll with the punches.

Ask the right questions. Asking the right questions at the end of an interview can really help you gauge the quality of the company, how you did, and where you stand. Here are a few of my favorites –

  • Why did you decide to come work for (fill in the blank)?
  • What three things would you change about the work environment here?
  • How do you see my candidacy for this opportunity?
  • What skills, experiences am I lacking to perform this job successfully?
  • What does your ideal candidate look like?
  • What is the next step in the process?

Show interest. I have seen many a people lose an opportunity because they did not come out and say, “I am interested” even if they were. You don’t have to do a song and dance to show them, just tell them before you leave the interview, “I am definitely interested in this opportunity, think I would be a great fit, and look forward to moving forward in the process.”

Follow-up. Everyone, including the receptionists, assistants, the guy who offered you coffee, and the people you interviewed with have earned the right to get a hand-written thank you note from you. It will set you apart, I promise.

Interviewing is an acquired skills – no one is born being good at it. From your experiences both as an interviewer and interviewee what things would you add to this list? What little things have you seen and done that have helped your chances in an interview?

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14 responses to “Little Things That Will Improve Your Chances in the Interview

  1. All excellent points – I think your advise about setting the interview time is particularly useful for the reasons you site but also because whenever two people are setting up an appointment and the time/date is really flexible, it’s incredibly annoying to go around in circles of “I’m open – what’s good for you?” It’s polite to ask when the interviewer is available but shows more confidence to dispense with the repeated wishy-washy “whatever works for you” and just suggest a firm date.

    One technique that I’ve had luck with to show strong interest, get the interviewer talking about about their job/the firm (and who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, right?) and learn what the position will actually be like is to ask what specific projects they are bringing the new position on for.

    The hiring manager is likely to be excited about any new work coming in and be happy to talk about it, or in the case where they’re replacing someone who’s leaving, you’ll get a good flavor for the work you’d be doing while demonstrating direct interest in the meat of the job. Of course, it’s a little specific to industries where the work is tied to specific client jobs (development, design, etc) but might be more broadly applicable if tailored to specific fields.

  2. Agreed – all excellent points.

    Make sure you have prepared an answer to the questions…

    1) What are your weaknesses? Everyone can talk about their strengths, few have ever thought through their shortfalls in my experience

    2) What would your people/boss say you are like? This is a common question

    Don’t worry if it takes a short time to think through an answer. Pauses seem much longer for the interviewee than the interviewer

    Make sure you turn the interview into a two-way conversation, as stated in the reply above. You are being interviewed, but also you are interviewing them – they may like you, but you may not like them and the interview’s the time to find that out.

    • I could not agree more on the point of interviewing the firm/company – of course you need and want a job, but keeping your own professional goals/happiness on par with that need will make you come across as a more self-assured applicant who is in control of their own search, which, in job searching as in dating, always makes you a more attractive candidate!

  3. We are discussing behavoiral interviewing during medical sales interviews at our blog. Access it at http://www.gorillamedicalsales.com/blog

  4. Pingback: Great Post: Little Things That Will Improve Your Chances in the Interview « When Tweeting about HR is not enough…

  5. i think the research on the company and the people with whom you are interviewing is overdone. A little bit of that is good. What are you going to do with that knowledge? Regurgitate it to prove you looking into who they are?

    What’s MUCH more important is having a *process* that allows yuo to effectively “take over” the interview (in a skillful, positive way) so you can determine if you are a good fit and want the job. It goes like this.

    1) At the very beginning of interview politely inquire, “May I ask two questions that will help me assess my fit to the ______ job?” (they’ll almost always say yes)
    2) “Thank you. The first question is “What’ simportant to you about the person hired for the _______ position?” capture the key points of their answer while maintaining occasional eye contact. When they stop, say “can you think of anything else.” Write down their additional thoughts.
    3) “Thank you. The second question is “What are your concerns about the person hired for the _______ position?” capture the key points of their answer while maintaining occasional eye contact. When they stop, say “can you think of anything else.” Write down their additional thoughts.
    4) Use your “CARs” – simple 20 second descriptions of your accomplishments (CAR=challenge, action, result) as your proof that you come armed for their list of what’s important. If you don’t have a matching CAR skip that item. Also go through the concerns and point why (if it’s true) those concerns don’t apply to you – again use the PROOF of your CARs as necessary.
    5) You must be nimble using this process – NO droning, NO rambling. If their eyes start glazing, you better wrap up immediately, or politely ask if they are still with you & get their permission to finish up shortly.
    6) If you had impressive CARs that match what they’re looking for, then at this point they think you walk on water because you ran a really impressive meeting, showed leadership and had proof that you fit the job.
    7) At the very end, DON’T LET THEM INTERVIEWER LEAVE without asking: “Is there anything that would preclude me from being the top candidate for this position?” That keeps them from leaving with any unsaid doubts about your candidacy. If they have doubts, address them right then if you can. This is why you heear people say “I don’t get it, the interview went prefectly.” They probably didn’t ask this question and therefore the interviewers had reservations about their candidacy.

    I’ve trained a number of people that have used this powerful approach very successfully and I have used it very successfully.

    i also recommend book “200 best interview questions” by John Kador. When you hav esome extra time with an interviewer have these questions written down and ready and you’ll further impress them and also reveal critical information about the job that will allow you to determine if you want to work there.

    I can be reached at john@oreillywa.com if you want to know more about this.

    This is not my business. I was an executive in the semi industry and had the pleasure to be looking a few times and was given lucrative outplacement assistance – I internalized all the great training I received. I share with others just to help my fellow citizens. Let’s get back to work!!!

    Take care

    • I like your post. Here’s my 2 cents.

      “I think the research on the company and the people with whom you are interviewing is overdone. A little bit of that is good. What are you going to do with that knowledge? Regurgitate it to prove you looking into who they are?”

      Well, yah. Remember, job search is like dating. I need to tell you why you should like me and I definitely need to tell you why I like you. Are you a low-importance stepping stone on my path to success? I’m not looking for a hook-up thanks. “Next”

      Also, beware of the “take over the interview” strategy if you are interviewing in education or government. These folks are not paid in money, they are paid in prestige. Also, the interview is very prescribed to maximize fairness. The interviewer is not supposed to stray from the process. Use these great tips, just save them until the end of the interview when your are in the public sector.

      -Becky

  6. Great info! As an aside, here is a word of caution during the interview. When possible, stay away from asking “why” questions. “Why” questions require an emotional response and can put your audience on the defensive. If you want to maintain a positive conversational tone, ask a “what” or “how” question instead.

  7. I like your article.

    Just one thing bothers me.

    You look at your calendar, see nothing there and say: “My schedule is pretty busy this week but I can rearrange a couple of things and be there Friday at eleven. Look forward to meeting you!”

    Do you want to start any new relationship with lies? Never lie. If you are good liar, is that how you want to deal? If you are not a good liar…

    Besides, what are you doing with an empty calendar?! Get out there, volunteer, network, take a class. Get in the game.

  8. What if you do not meet the hiring manager because he is at an other location?
    You raise your concern on the absence of the hiring manager with the recruiter, and his answer is ” he has little to do with the hiring process because he is too busy”

  9. Excellent Advice. The section on “Bringing the Right Tools” and “Asking the Right Questions” will work. I’ve used them to my advantage. Take the advice in this column and use them to your advantage as well.

  10. Patrick Kirkland

    A point about the “Thank You” letter. I can attribute the first job I got out of school to sending a thank you letter. I was, I expect, a mediocre candidate in the process but had read to send a thank you letter after the interview. A day after I mailed it I got a personal phone call from the HR person for the express reason to thank me for sending a thank you letter. He was ecstatic and went ON AND ON saying that nobody ever sends him a thank you letter. From that point on it was like the red carpet was rolled out for me. That HR person worked his butt off to get me the job. Bizarre, but sometimes (as the article says) its the little things that make all the difference.

  11. All excellent points, hasn’t been recruiting for almost a year and after going through these info, feels like back on track! cheers

  12. Pingback: How Bad Do You REALLY Want A New J-O-B? « A Recruiters Guide to the Universe

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