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The Big Interview

The Big Interview

In our May column we examined the résumé as that critical first step in the hiring process. The most effective résumés are filled with specific, relevant details about your skills and experience, what you've done, and when and where you've done it.

It's common for your first interview to be a preliminary phone screening or a conversation between you and a third-party recruiter who's providing candidates for the position, a recruiter or recruiting manager within the company that's hiring, or the hiring manager.

Be prepared to answer questions about your technical expertise and work experience, as well as more personal, career-focused questions.

Phone interviews for a contract position may be more focused on your hard-core technical skills. They're typically hiring you to come in and get the job done on time and right the first time around.

For a full-time position, the company is deciding whether or not it should make a long-term investment in you. Expect these interviews to also include questions about your long-term work history, what motivates you, and your long-term goals.

Be prepared to explain why your last job ended - or, if you're currently employed, why you want to leave. Be honest and direct without offering too much information. Responses to these questions reveal a lot about a candidate.

With recent market changes and corporate IT budgets freezing up, contract consulting opportunities are becoming more and more scarce. Many long-term contractors are now looking for full-time jobs. If you're one of them, be prepared to address your reasons for wanting to make that transition - and why you won't be tempted to leave at the drop of a new contract position.

Other topics should be your availability, your hourly rate or salary, and any other opportunities you may have at the interview stage as well as any offers still pending.

If the interviewer fails to bring up any of these questions, be sure to offer the information. Too often candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers waste a lot of time and energy going through the interview process only to find that there's no way you could start when they need you to, you're way off on the issue of salary requirements, or some other deal-killing issue that could've been prevented or cleared up on the first phone call.

Do Your Homework
The single most important advantage that turns job applicants into "new hires" is their level of preparation before the interview. In the Internet age, there's no excuse for not familiarizing yourself with the company you're applying to or the position you're applying for.

Target Your Résumé
Candidates whose job search consists of a mass résumé spam are easy for hiring managers to spot and are the first ones to be eliminated from consideration.

Preparing for the Face-to-Face Interview
When you're invited in for an interview, ask how many people you'll be meeting with and get their titles, and names (and how to pronounce them), and find out how long you should expect to be there. If you'll be meeting with an executive, see if his or her bio is posted on the company Web site.

Face to Face
Your goal is to convince the interviewer(s) that you're the best person for the job. Make a clear case for your technical skills and experience, but also convey that you are confident, capable, and easy to work with.

Many highly skilled engineers expect to be hired on the basis of their skills alone, but lose out on opportunities because they don't make a good personal impression. In addition to finding the technical skills required for the job, hiring managers are choosing who they want to come to work with every day.

If you're unsure if you answered the question to their satisfaction, ask - and be prepared to clarify or elaborate if necessary.

There is currently a movement away from experience-based interviews (asking people to repeat what's on their résumé) to behavioral interviews. In a behavioral interview, you're likely to be asked about problems you faced in the past and how you solved them.

You may be given a hypothetical situation and asked how you would handle it. While employers agree that behavioral interviews are more effective in revealing how the candidate thinks and solves problems, they do require a strong ability to communicate.

If English is not your first language, expressing abstract ideas in a behavioral interview may be a challenge. You might want to refer the interviewer to references who could speak to your past performance.

Be prepared but flexible: everything you say should be relevant to the job you're interviewing for. However, during the course of the interview, the manager may think of another position that would fit you even better. Be open to discussing other options as well and don't fall apart if the plan changes during the interview.

Interview Don'ts

  • Don't tell the manager how they need to do their project or their job differently.
  • Don't pitch a new business plan for the entire company.
  • Don't oversell yourself.
  • Don't burn a bridge. If it becomes clear in the interview that you're not a good match for the job, stay pleasant and professional so they'll remember you later on when the ideal position for you does materialize.
  • Don't offer personal information. By law interviewers can't consider it, so don't offer it.
Before concluding your interview, ask what the next step will be and when they expect to make a decision. Sending a follow-up note will further boost your chances.

More Stories By Billy Palmieri

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal of ObjectFocus. Before that he was at Renaissance Worldwide, a multimillion-dollar global IT consulting firm where he held several senior management positions in the firm’s Silicon Valley operations.

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