Saturday, April 13, 2013

How to Conduct an Interview Like a Pro

Preparing to conduct an interview can be just as daunting a task as being interviewed. We usually think of interviewing people for jobs, but there are other situations such as college placements, summer camp programs, volunteer positions, hiring a tradesman, choosing a doctor or other professional or even going out on a date, where interviewing skills come into play.

How we ask interview questions and connect with the other person influences the outcome greatly. Some people are wonderful interviewers, making us feel good about ourselves even if we don’t get the job, the college admission, etc. Without the ability to interact comfortably with one another, the interview process can quickly break down, often leading to a lose-lose outcome.

One of the first things we must decide is whether to conduct an interview in the first place. After reading a resume or doing our due diligence research in some other way, if the candidate is clearly not going to be a fit, I recommend not going ahead with an interview. Leading someone on as a mere matter of courtesy can appear kindly, but may in fact create unnecessary awkwardness and be a waste of time for both parties. I have read more resumes from people who had no qualifications for a given position than I have from people with qualifications. As interviewer, the choice to meet or not is completely yours.

I recommend conducting interviews on your ‘turf’. This allows the candidate to get a feel for the environment he or she may be working in. Obviously there will be instances when this is neither possible nor appropriate, especially when making initial contact. Recruiters often go to college campuses; dating sites are clearly neutral; and some interviews may take place on their ‘turf’ – a doctor, banker, or lawyer for example.

Prepare a comprehensive list of questions you want to ask ahead of time and be sure they follow a logical sequence. Being organized frees your mind to focus on listening to the answers forthcoming. Listening to comprehend and listening to respond are two completely different processes, the former always being the preferred one! Being prepared ahead of time with a list of questions helps us to ‘avoid the avoidable’, and be in a better position to focus on the other person and on our own organization and impressions.

Ask questions that will elicit thoughtful responses, not simple yes or no answers. This gives you a chance to assess communication skills and a general evaluation of the understanding of the position. Honing the skills required for asking strong,  leading questions takes practice – lots of it. Some of us can develop these skills more quickly than others, but we all improve with plenty of practice. Experience shows and the candidate will notice, and will be silently doing a bit of interviewing him or her self.

Be welcoming and gracious to all candidates whom you interview. Offer a firm handshake and a smile, make appropriate eye contact. This sets the tone for the exchange and makes for a kinder interaction. Never shake hands across a table or desk. Always step around any physical barrier and stand faceto-face. 

Showing one’s humility as an interviewer speaks volumes about how he or she views the world. No one feels comfortable in the presence of someone who comes across as a ‘big shot’; that is simply a bullying tactic, which has no place in an interview – or in civilized society for that matter.

Ask the candidate what questions he or she may have. Be prepared to answer them to the best of your ability. It is helpful to be conscious of the need to discern between facts and feelings at this time. Remember that your feelings about a situation are far different from the facts of the situation. Be mindful not confuse the two.

Once the interview is concluded, thank the candidate for their time and let them know if and how you will be in contact with them moving forward. Walk them to the door, offering a final warm handshake, a sincere smile and appropriate eye contact. These are the ways to show respect to the candidate and the interview process in general.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dress to Impress

Spring has finally arrived and with this change of seasons comes a whole host of personal changes as well. For many young adults the prospect of job interviews is looming. There are job fairs sprouting up like so many daffodils and taking advantage of every possible lead is of paramount importance. However, if one dresses inappropriately, which is a predominant trend these days, you are definitely going to be eliminated from the competition right from the start. Getting into the right frame of mind is a very wise move if one is serious about job placement. Dressing the part will aid one immeasurably to that end.

Recruiters are the first gatekeepers for entry into many companies. The first impression one forms with them can be very important. Learning and executing a proper handshake, making appropriate eye contact ad engaging intelligently with these folks can make a big difference – in fact it can make THE difference. Part of the image one creates is how one dresses. Here are a few guidelines to assist and hopefully help tilt the tables in your favor.

For men:

1.     Be immaculately clean – including your hair and nails. Get a haircut – avoid looking unkempt.
2.     Wear clean pressed clothes that fit properly.
3.     Dress for the job you are seeking.
4.     Shine your shoes.
5.     Wear a necktie – preferably hand-tied – if at all possible.
6.     Your shoes and belt should be the same color.
7.     Your socks and trousers should match, if possible.
8.     Wear a light colored shirt, not a dark one.
9.     Tuck your shirt in all the way.
10. Remove all piercings and earrings. Conceal tattoos.
11. Consult with a trusted friend if necessary

For women:

1.     Dress conservatively.
2.     Do not wear clothing that reveals your body parts.
3.     Wear tasteful jewelry such as earrings, a pin or brooch, a ring or two, and a necklace.
4.     Remove all piercings from face and conceal tattoos.
5.     Wear clothes that fit - not a size too small.
6.     Wear comfortable, clean, low-heeled shoes.
7.     Arrange your hair neatly and with care.
8.     Apply fresh nail polish.
9.     Resist theatrical make-up.
10. Consult with a trusted friend if necessary.

In response to a previous column on wardrobe building, a reader commented that no one would spend $2000 on a suit. Although I strongly disagree, one can find bargains if one tries. I have made many purchases on eBay, as well as many second hand shops, discount outlets and thrift stores. The bottom line is that image does matter. There are many, many more image consultants than there are etiquette consultants because there is a greater perceived need. Image is often conveyed through one’s trappings.

Carrying on from the formal blue suit and black shoes, which are essential to any businessman’s wardrobe, fashions do shift and no longer are brown suits worn exclusively in the country. Many men feel more comfortable in less formal clothing and this is becoming more and more accepted. My traditional eye will tend to gravitate to a dark suit for business, but there are plenty of jobs – most in fact – where a less formal look is just as appropriate.

The same basic guidelines apply no matter what one wears. Be sure your clothes fit properly, are clean, and suit the job. Many people like adding a bit of flair to what they wear, and I am all in favor of that. The guideline in that case is to switch out one piece of clothing, not the whole outfit. For example, a pair of socks, a necktie, a shirt, or a pocket square would add a great accent and show off one’s personality. Be careful not to change all of those elements at once though and wind up looking foolish.

Keeping a professional image is one of the most important elements to being successful. That applies to all jobs. It also applies to all job interviews. The job market is highly competitive today. Many people competing for the same job have virtually identical skill sets. The skills therefore are not going to always be the determining factor of who is the successful candidate for the job. Corporate image is critical. When you apply for a job or even are visiting a recruiting fair, attention to sartorial detail should not be overlooked. Dressing for the part not only gives you an advantage of making a more favorable first impression, it also puts you in the right frame of mind.

Remember the saying that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression; but always be mindful that one always has a chance to make a good impression.