How to score points in the job interview

Do's and don'ts for the crucial day

Contributing columnistApril 5, 2010 

The job interview is make-or-break time.

A company's recruiter has a very important job to do; he must make sure he is bringing in talented individuals; he also must find the right fit. Understanding what employers need and want from candidates during an interview can help you make the recruiter and others at the employer more at ease and help them see you in the position.

I spoke to two recruiters, Crystal Gabbard, employment consultant with the University of Kentucky, and Mike Hammond, global recruiting manager with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. They're from organizations with very different missions. After taking almost identical notes after my conversations, I can tell you that recruiters are looking for very similar things from their candidates.

The following are their recommendations to make you more effective in interviews.

Prepare, prepare, prepare: Gabbard and Hammond could not overemphasize how important preparation is to an interview. You should have a deep understanding of the position you are seeking, the company, and the industry.

There is often an abundance of literature on an organization's Web site about its purpose and what it is like to work there. Know that information.

You also should understand with whom you will be interviewing. Often, interviews can be with more than one person or a series of short interviews with many people. Know this ahead of time and research the background of the people conducting the interview.

Being prepared demonstrates how seriously you take yourself as an applicant and can have the added benefit of making you less nervous. "Staying calm is important in an interview, and being prepared helps you do this," Gabbard said.

Be specific with your answers: In my notes from both recruiter discussions, I had the word specific underlined multiple times, as they continuously repeated its importance. They both desire candidates who can identify specific instances in their past experiences that relate to the particulars of the question and the needs of the job.

If you can provide specific examples from your experiences, you can demonstrate how your skills and abilities match up, and thus you are making it much easier for the recruiter to see you performing well in the position.

Have good questions to ask: It is pretty clear that the employer is going to ask you questions, but have you taken the time to prepare questions to ask? Employers not only expect that you have questions about the position, but they use this portion of the interview to further evaluate your seriousness and initiative.

You should absolutely not ask questions about compensation packages.

The questions you should ask should demonstrate your interest in gaining more insight into the position and the company. Again, I recommend Googling questions to ask employers; there are many lists out there. Select ones to which you are generally interested in learning the answers and bring those questions with you. Having a list is better than trying to remember them.

Be assertive; ask for the job: When I tell my students that at the end of the interview they should ask for the job, I often receive incredulous looks. "Really?!" is the common question. "Yes. Ask for the job. You do want the job, right?"

Hammond agreed with this suggestion. "It demonstrates confidence in themselves," he said.

Of course, you need to be professional and eloquent. You never demand the job or be arrogant about it.

"Thank you very much for interviewing me today. I hope I've been able to demonstrate both my qualifications and fit for this position. I would be honored to be offered the opportunity to join this company."

These recommendations are not exhaustive and don't cover all that you should do to be successful in an interview. But, if followed, they can help you be more effective and make it easier for the recruiter to offer you the job.

Be confident, specific and well-prepared. And send a thank-you note afterward. It might seem like a small gesture, but it will stay with the recruiter.

Michael J. Cronk is a National Certified Counselor and holds a master's degree in counseling from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. He has been assistant director of career development at Transylvania University since 2003. Reach him at mcronk@transy.edu.

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