Every job interview has three parts. It starts with the introduction, goes on to the purpose of the interview, and ends with the closing of the interview. If you understand the objective of each part—from the interviewer’s point of view—you can increase your chances of beating your competition. After all, someone will be hired. Will it be you or some other person who in the eyes of the interviewer is considered the ideal candidate.
The first few moments of an interview are awkward for both parties. Most hiring managers (not recruiters or human resources workers who typically interview people as one of their common functions) do not feel comfortable with the interview task. The candidate is usually pumped up and prepared physically and emotionally for the interview, but the hiring manager is typically much less enthusiastic about going through the process.
Very often, interviewers are not prepared for interviewing. They don’t know how to properly compare and contrast candidates. And they act mostly on gut feelings based on their past experiences with such activities. They do know that in the past, sometimes their hiring decisions did not work out well. And they know that in their role as interviewer, they are to ask questions, listen to answers, and then interpret those answers as they pertain to the job requirements, the fit of the candidate into the organization, and other considerations.
During the introduction part of the interview, the interviewer has to get used to the candidate’s tone of voice; demeanor; accent, if that is an issue; cadence; and mainly, what the candidate is focusing on. This is when the interviewer is trying to assess whether the candidate projects confidence. So far, the interview itself has not started yet. The parties are assessing each other and evaluating in their own minds their compatibility for working together. The discussion is general and non–work related. It can be about the commute to the office, the weather, or any other subject the candidate is commenting about. This is definitely a very important part of the interview because it is during this initial period that the hiring manager or interviewer is formulating a first opinion. That initial opinion is critical for the candidate. Psychologists have proved that a first impression is difficult to reverse.
Even though the introduction and the closing could represent a combined, say, 10 to 20 percent of a candidate’s interview time, the majority of the interview happens after the introduction. This is where the interviewer must assess the candidate’s true interest in the position by the candidate’s show of passion and excitement, cultural fit, technical skills, and motivation—and whether there are any red flags in the candidate’s background. Of course, the candidate is trying to hide imperfections about the past. It is the interviewer who needs to make sure of no significant negative surprises after the candidate is hired.
The best way to increase interview proficiency is to mock interview extensively. Remember that practice makes perfect. One cannot overdo mock interviewing. However, it is very important to do it with an experienced person—better yet, with a professional interview coach. Otherwise, the process can take you down the wrong path by your feeling confident but giving incorrect answers, which the interviewer will detect instantly.
This is also a very critical part of the interview. The closing part starts when the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” I know from personal experience that when I interviewed as a job candidate, I had lots of questions in my head that I wished to get answers to. But unfortunately, once the interviewer has gathered enough information about the candidate to make a decision, that interviewer is ready to move on and usually doesn’t want to spend time answering a series of questions.
Typically, a candidate’s questions are tactical, which is where most candidates make mistakes. The questions a candidate asks during the closing should be strategic. Strategic questions bring the candidate closer to the goal, which is a job offer. Examples of such questions should focus on candidacy for the position, on personality traits that are important to the interviewer, and potential challenges as viewed by the interviewer. The answers to such questions should then serve as topics in the candidate’s thank-you letter following the interview.
The very last thing prior to leaving the interview is to ask for the job. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. This is what the interviewer will remember because it will be a differentiator from other candidates who compete for the same position. And it better be genuine and emotional. Otherwise, it’s considered simply politeness.