We spend so much of our careers doing good work, meeting interesting people, and learning new skills. But it really all starts with one moment: the interview.
Once you get there, you need to be able to package everything together for a nice, neat presentation that’s memorable in exactly the right way.
Here are five mistakes a lot of people make — even people who are great at doing interviews:
1. Not preparing for a phone interview.
Most hiring managers screen candidates on the phone before they bring the candidate in for an interview. This is to make sure there aren’t any glaring problems.
A phone interview saves time. If you can’t get the answers to basic questions right on the phone, there’s no point in interviewers watching you botch those questions in person. Also, the hiring manager is looking for you to make a mistake that would rule you out. For example, not knowing that you shouldn’t take a call with a screaming baby in the background.
So instead of thinking of the phone interview as a precursor to the real thing, think of it as something you can prepare for. Learn the rules.
2. Misunderstanding the point of a face-to-face interview.
Hiring managers today have a lot of tools at their disposal to figure out if you’re qualified for a job. The Internet reveals your history, and often the content and quality of your work;LinkedIn can provide a plethora of references from people who have worked with you, whether you actually provide them to the employer yourself or not. And a phone screen can give a sense of your verbal abilities.
So what’s left? Whether or not you click with them — whether they like you. Remember that intangible thing that happens on a date when you decide if you like the person or not? The same thing happens with hiring.
This is what the face-to-face interview is all about. So make a great first impression, and focus on making sure the interviewer likes you.
3. Neglecting talking points.
When President Bush walks into a press conference, he doesn’t worry what journalists are going to ask him because he already has the answers he’s going to provide — no matter what the questions are. Such answers are called talking points.
Politicians want to frame an issue, so they listen to a question and then decide which of their talking points they’ll use to answer that question. In this way, each question they’re asked is an opportunity to get their own points across.
I once had a media trainer teach me how to stick to talking points, and it works for a wide range of situations — including job interviews.
You control what five topics you want to discuss, so you should pick five things about yourself that you want to get across in an interview, and each point should come with some sort of story or example. You listen to each question and then figure out which point fits in well for a particular question.
You’re not George W. Bush, though, so you can’t totally ignore questions that don’t have pat answers. But you’d be surprised how often you can answer an interview question with one of the five answers about yourself that you’ve prepared. This is a way to control an interview and make sure the focus is on your strengths.
A great resource for helping you understand how to frame your answer for any question is the “The Complete Q & A Job Interview Book” by Jeffrey Allen.
4. Thinking the job description is set in stone.
When you start an interview, find out what you’re interviewing for. Typically, the person who writes and publishes a job description is not the person making the hiring decision. Ask the hiring manager what the goals are for the position, and ask who the new hire will work most closely with so you know who’ll have the biggest say in whether or not you get hired.
And, if you get the job, remember that it could change all over again. Immediately. So don’t ever assume you know what your job is until you investigate. The only constant about your job description is that you must be invaluable to your boss in order to succeed.
5. Failing to close.
A job interview is a sales call, and all good salespeople know that you don’t have a deal until you close it. An almost-deal is not a deal, in the same way that a good interview is not a job.
So toward the end of the interview, if you think things are going well, say, “Do you have any reservations about hiring me?” Most hiring managers will answer this question truthfully, and it’ll give you a chance to assuage their fears.
This is a hard question to ask, because you’ll be faced with your weaknesses right there in the midst of the interview. But if you don’t take the time to explain how you’ll overcome those weaknesses it won’t come up, and you’re much less likely to get the job.