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The power of interview preparation

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The Power of Interview Preparation
By Bill Radin

Let’s suppose you were in the market for a new home, and you were shown a house for sale that was disheveled, poorly-lit, and overrun by cockroaches. Would the condition of the property affect your willingness to buy? Of course. That’s why competent listing agents always prep their clients’ houses before they’re shown. They know that a clean, cheery home with attractive furnishings and a manicured lawn will sell. And they know that a carefully prepped property is a reflection of an agent’s professionalism and attention to detail.

What’s this got to do with our business? Well, you’d be surprised how much money we lose by arranging interviews for candidates who are ill-prepared, poorly dressed, and lacking in the basic interviewing skills required to compete in a tight employment market. In our daily activities on a desk, we’re so busy marketing our service and digging for new referrals that we sometimes forget that it’s the successful interview that ultimately pays the rent. All too often, candidate preparation gets put on the back burner.

I’ve found that I can increase my sendout-to-placement ratio by making certain my candidates are well prepared prior to their interviews. To do so means taking the necessary time to help them understand the fundamentals of a successful interview.

In addition, I ask my candidates to read two of the Career Development Reports I’ve written, entitled “Seven Keys to Interview Preparation” and “How to Master the Art of Interviewing.” These 2,000-word essays reinforce the messages I’ve communicated with them verbally, and at the same time enhance my credibility and professional image, since people generally respect the authority of the printed word. Here are a few excerpts from the Reports, as told to the candidate:

Fundamentals of a Successful Interview
To a large degree, the success of your interview will depend on your ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just told you, without editorializing, or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this manner, you’ll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your suitability for the job.

In addition to establishing empathy, there are four intangible fundamentals to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry you’ll share with the employer.

1. Enthusiasm. Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open -- wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?

2. Technical interest. Employers look for people who love what they do; people who get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.

3. Confidence. No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.

4. Intensity. The last thing you want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a laid-back person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.

Both for your sake and the employer’s, try not to leave an interview without exchanging fundamental information. The more you know about each other, the more potential you’ll have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.

The Short and Long of It

There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of my answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long version.”

The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, “What was your most difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.

Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer is the one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?

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