The Interview: What Employers Really Want

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For many, a job interview is more stressful than the job itself. The worst part - we all have to deal with them. Even if you are self employed, winning your next consulting contract is contingent on your interview skills. Interview stress is the result of not knowing what the hiring manager really wants. If you knew what he is looking for before the interview starts, you would increase your chances of winning the job - and make the whole process a lot less stressful. So your best bet is to be prepared. Here are ten ways to strengthen your interview aptitude and help you win the job.
  1. Don't Monopolize the Conversation - An interview is a two-way street. Be interested and then be interesting. Be interested in the hiring manager, his company, and its challenges. Go equipped with questions and engage employers in dialogue. You want to learn as much as possible about the job, while at the same time not taking over the conversation. Give the impression that you're interested in more than just "what's in it for me."
  2. Sell Yourself - The most important thing to remember to do is to sell yourself during the interview. You want to explain what sets you apart from the rest and what you have to offer. This includes carefully tooting your own horn (have facts, figures, and testimonials ready). Make known that you're a great problem-solver if you are. Show that you have an immense amount of drive and ambition if you do. Explain that you're flexible and are able to roll with the punches when change is needed if you are. Report that you can deliver without constant oversight if you can; you get the idea. You have to impress upon them why you're the one they should hire and not the guy right in front of or behind you. If you don't do this your name will end up in the slush pile like most everyone else.
  3. Be Definitive - Learn and understand the employer's needs and goals and be clear about your own. "Unclear job goals eliminate many candidates from further consideration," says Christopher Hansen, entrepreneur and president of The Home Based Business Council. "If you are an IT supervisor and you don't know specifically what you want to do, are not sure if you want to supervise again, or can't communicate your interest during the interview, you're in trouble," says Hansen. Don't come off wishy-washy. Know what you want. Know what the employer needs. And know how your goals will align with the goals and needs of the employer.
  4. Make Sure You're Qualified - "You may have nothing to lose by applying for every job that even remotely peaks your interest or looks like it might fit your personal skills but if you overstate your qualifications, it will come out during an interview," explains Hansen. At that point you're only wasting both your and the hiring manager's time, not to mention possibly upsetting her in the process. "On the other hand," says Hansen, "it doesn't hurt to ask if the person whose position you are filling had all of the qualifications on the job description and if you can grow into the position."
  5. Dress for Success - First impressions are everything. Walk into an interview dressed like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness and contrary to the movie, you won't win the job. In fact, you'll be rejected even before you shake hands. Your thirty-minute interview will take ten minutes and the interview will be much harder to win. That said, you may not want to dress in a suit. It's always a good idea to check out what kind of clothes employees are wearing to work for the company you're interviewing for and then follow their lead. For example, if you're interviewing for a job at Apple, you might consider wearing something business casual. If you're not comfortable wearing a dress shirt and jeans to a job interview, throw on a blazer but forget the sport coat. This will impress the hiring manager because she'll see that you've done your research.
  6. Be (Really) Prepared - Think having a two-minute speech rehearsed for the question "Tell me about yourself," constitutes as being prepared? Think again. When preparing for an interview, the most important thing you can do, aside from practicing your answers to different interview questions, is research the company you selected. Find out what they sell or what service they provide, what their mission is, challenges they face, who their customers are, etc. "It's always impressive to us when you know something about our company," says Hansen. Really dig deep. Consume yourself with everything about that company for at least a few days. Live and breathe it. Then, enter the interview with some ideas already prepared on how you could make positive changes to the company, be it the way it operates, the products or services it sells, or anything else that will add to the company's bottom line. The ideas don't have to be earth-shattering, just plausible. The big idea here is to sell solutions. Aside from impressing him, this will show the hiring manager that you have value that you could bring to the company.
  7. Demonstrate Your Interpersonal Skills - You may have an impressive resume and aced the phone interview but if you have poor interpersonal skills and don't know how to be a team player, it's a deal killer. The face-to-face interview will show the hiring manager a quick snapshot of your personality and give him a good idea of how well you'll get along with other employees and whether you're going to be a prima-donna or not. In today's business climate, no man is an island and employers don't have time to deal with those who clash with colleagues and can't play as part of the team. So be sure to put your best personality forward during the interview and impress the hiring manager with your fantastic ability to get along.
  8. Show Enthusiasm for the Job - You must express real interest for the job if you really want it. By not showing enthusiasm you're telling the hiring manager that you're not really interested in the job and wouldn't care one way or the other if you were offered the position. So be enthusiastic about the job. Communicate using the tone of your voice that you really want this job. Passion is difficult to fake and the hiring manager will take notice.
  9. Ask For It - Sometimes people lose a job simply because they don't ask for it. If you want the job, you need to communicate that you want the job; physically ask for it. At the end of the interview tell the hiring manager that you're really interested in the job and would appreciate an offer. Occasionally that alone can seal the deal.
  10. Remember to Say Thank You - "Follow-up with a phone call three or four days after an interview. We expect it," says Hansen, "and it's a great way to reinforce your interest in the job as well as ask a question or two that you may have forgotten to ask." Another advantage to the follow-up thank you call is that it may lift your resume from the bottom of the pile to the top. Above all else, it's good PR to do so. Even if you don't get the job, the hiring manager may just pass your name along to another hiring manager at a different company and a word-of-mouth recommendation always has impact.

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  • Tasha R.
    Tasha R.

    I have been unemployed for 11 yrs. due to fibromyalgia. I had to retire. I moved out of the state, got a super doctor and together, we worked on different meds. She was awesome! Now, I have my meds and don't feel like I'm 61yrs. old!!! I don't need to be supervised!! I'm a hard worker and I need to pay my bills off!! I want to be DEBT FREE!!!

  • Jerilyn S
    Jerilyn S
    Superb, what a blog it is! This webpage provides helpful information to us, keep it up.
  • christopher cambe
    christopher cambe
    The tips are very good tools in theory but may vary in applications. We just have to be more persistant in the pursuit of the elusive jobs in recession period.
  • Pamela Hall
    Pamela Hall
    I was laid off and have been looking for 14 weeks. The 10 tips in the article are good refreshers, but like several other people, I have my age against me. And, while there are jobs out there that I can do, employers are now requiring technical degrees for jobs that really don't need one to do. I have a liberal arts degree but  apparently, my experience doesn't "count." I haven't gotten any offers, but the first one that comes along with a salary we can even barely manage on, I'm grabbing!
  • Samuel E.B. Bulmer
    Samuel E.B. Bulmer
    As I read over the comments about individuals' lack of success interviewing for jobs, I couldn't help notice the number of grammer errors in their comments. I know I've lost job opportunities being sloppy. More important, as a hiring manager, I reject over half the applications I receive based on poor language skills. Re-read, re-read, edit, edit then re-read.
  • Wanda Goins
    Wanda Goins
    I have been unemployed since March 17,09. I have placed my resume on 5 different staffing companies.  I have my resume on and and one of our local colleges where I worked for 15 yrs then decided change careers.  I can't even get an interview.  I know companies aren't suppose to discriminate against age but I honestly believe that is my issue.  I'm 56 yrs old and have over 20 yrs of customer service and being a people person I KNOW I give great customer service.  Also since I've lost my job our bills haven't been able to be paid on time and that has lowered my credit rating.  I know companies check that as well. So I feel as if I'm in a lose lose situation here.  Any suggestions on what I CAN do to change this?  
  • Suzy
    I have been out of work for 6 months and have done all of the above.  There are 200 people after one job in the area where I live.  It has been very hard.  I believe who you know and luck are involved during this difficult time.
  • Sharon Podlozny
    Sharon Podlozny
    I found the article very informative and helpful.  I also found all the comments helpful.  It is always good to read "comments" from people who are in similar situations.  I have been an executive/administrative and legal secretary over a 30 year span.  I am gearing my search to my executive/administration secretary experience as opposed to the legal part of my career.  It has been difficult to date, but I am hopeful that 2010 will bring some initial interviews.  It has been four months for me.  One thing that I have noticed for the positions I am seeking is that, in most case, a bachelor's degree is "preferred".  I have decided to finish my education, hoping that will have some impact.  I wish everyone the best in their job search in the upcoming year.
  • Tamara Wolff
    Tamara Wolff
    I find this information to be good and a reminder for me as well. I too have been unemployed now for 9 months.  I find reading the information above not only helpful but the comments of all.  It is sad, but helpful to know I am not the only one having the issues with interviews (when I get one). I too feel I interview well and thinking positively I will get that second interview and to no avail...I get the thank you for your interest letter, BUT...NO.  It is hard to stay positive when it's been so long looking for employment and knowing everyone else is in the same shoes. But it is a must! So to all you hard working people, try and stay positive and good luck to everyone on their new lifes adventures! :)
  • Laurie Nesoff
    Laurie Nesoff
    I would like to have some specific advice about the phone interview. Additionally, is it appropriate to call or write a thank you after a phone interview?
  • Gale Loder
    Gale Loder
    I will have been unemployed for a year and a half as of the end of 2009; the longest I've ever been unemployed except when I was raising my daughter. I have had a few interviews; two very recently, but to no avail. I feel that interviewers are, for the most part, just interested in testing the possible employee market. My last interview went extremely well, or at least I thought it did, until I received a letter in the mail stating that they would keep my resume on file for six months. No mention was made if anyone was hired; just that I wasn't. I also believe that interviewers are looking for the "exact" prospective employee - for an employee that will need little or no training. I also believe that the interviewers silently use age discrimination and salary requirements when making hiring decisions. I have over ten years experience as an administrative assistant/secretary and ten years experience running a home based business with my husband. You would think that running my own business would qualify me for any number of administrative positions but instead I believe it has deterred me from being considered a qualified contender. I'm a firm believer that in this job market, it's not what you know, but who you know that gets you a job. The advice in this article would have been great advice in a fair competitive job market, but there's nothing fair about the job market any longer.    
  • Vincent
    I'm fresh out of my MBA program and needed to relocate to a new town for family and job opportunities. After 4 months of searching, I took a $10 an hour job, without any benefits, just to take the pressure off my bills. In the meantime, I am able to hopefully find better work. I have 14 years of experience in tech and education. Ed: it would be great if ANYONE would offer something even remotely within the range of $40-50K! Right now, be lucky you aren't a new grad, no one even cares!
  • Linda Mccord
    Linda Mccord
    The question of, "Tell me about yourself" is a good one. The interviewer does not want to hear your life story, they want to hear what your abilities are and how you accommplished them. I always start with my strongest strength and skill's and profits made from all and how I saved the company x amount of dollar's.
  • Matt Fitzgerald
    Matt Fitzgerald
    I'vE been without work going on a year and a half , so I feel this will help me to stay focused and prepared for battle. Thank you.
  • Fred
    I have been unemployed for 9 months. I have a very strong skill set. With that said, I look for positions that match my true "employable resources". I have had 4 or 5 great interviews, but I believe I missed the mark due to lack of experience in one or two areas, mainly software and scripting. The positions I use to apply to have expanded their requirements, so I am now behind the eight ball. If I attend classes, I'll fall further behind in payments. I am managing by studying on-line and watching my budget. I have learned to market enthusiastically my personality and my bottom line inventory skills for the Co. and what differences I made for my employers. I have gone back 35 years to my military as well.
  • Paula
    These tips are all great and I have used all of them!  I have been in the banking industry for 30 yrs. and have always been known as a team player with a very likeable personality.  I do not have a degree and feel that age and the lack of book learning is my demise.  I feel that I am very qualified for the positions that I am applying for and always show a very positive attitude.  Not sure if the interviewers are intimidated by my experience and personality.  I too have interviewed many candidates and I don't understand why I am not being successful. I always chose a candidate that had experience but the biggest thing that I looked for was personality and a willingness to learn and be part of my team.  I have been unemployed for a year and a half now and feel that even when I am jumping through hoops, it's not good enough.  
  • Tesfaye
    A great insight for persons like me who are less exposed to such an interview situation.Thank you again.
  • Steven Tegeler
    Steven Tegeler
    One question that employers seem to always ask,   is how much money are you looking for.  I have always hated that question, as It is a deal breaker if you say too high,  but it is also cutting you short if you say too low.  So how is the best way to handle that question?
  • Ed
    I lost my job about six months ago.  Since that time I have had a few very positive interviews as I've advance to talks about salary and provided references to no avail.  That being said, I know I interview well so that's not the issue.  I am beginning to think my MBA education and experience are meaningless to the people in a position to make hiring decisions because everything seems to hang on salary.  I am accustomed to making six figures yet I have been insulted by offers in the $40k - $50k range.  I know in this economy I will have to accept a little less but the latter is utterly ridiculous for anybody with an MBA.  Employers know they have the upper hand and I have seen tactics such as extensive questionnaires and multiple interviews.  I won't even get into the lack of professionalism I have encountered.  I recognize HR is inundated with prospective employees but come on.  How hard is it to do what you say?  Like call an individual back or pick up the phone when it is you that set the date and time for these activities?  In any case, I have opted to go back to school and hopefully by the time I'm finished the economy and job market will be better than it is today.
  • Cynthia
    Thanks for the info!  I have also been looking for a job for the last 9 months to no avail. I haven't worked for 10 years but did volunteer work but it doesn't seem to matter.  After reading the article I know I have to learn to sell myself better.  Good luck to everyone and hang in there.  "The squeaky wheel gets the grease!" Here's to a better year in 2010!
  • Steve
    It helps if you've had management training in how to interview prospective employees, perhaps a link or article to the interviewer's POV would help. The ideal interviewer of course works in HR and has little idea of the job they're hiring for. The LOB manager probably isn't a skilled interviewer and beyond seeing that you know what the job is, they want someone they can relate which is where (salesman's) social skills and body language help. In this contracting economy, potential is not a salable skill. Employers want a turnkey candidate who has been doing the same job previously, want to continue doing the same job for the next few years, do it for less money than before, and "left his previous job on a positive note".  Ideally you also know what happened to the previous holder of the position you are applying for. "Asking the secretary" when you drop off your resume or call to schedule your interview doesn't always work. As an interviewer, overly qualified and overly ambitious people (rem new hires use up hiring/training money) would move on to other companies after a few months, and were undesirable.
  • Larry Lee
    Larry Lee
    Well, some of the advice is very good and with an emphasis upon having knowledge about the company where you're making application.  Still, and make no mistake about it, there are many companies now advertising positions and even conducting interviews, with absolutely no intention on hiring.  The "You" is out of the equation.  As an individual with significant experience and a formal education, my 74 applications and 3 interviews is a testimony to it.  Everyone, good luck.  We all need it.
  • marilyn grace
    marilyn grace
    I feel like my fellow friends Deborah, Richard,Dorothy Battle, and Loreen; no matter how well or experienced you are in being dedicated to a position for years,these employers damn near wants you to do tricks like animals in a zoo especially, since they already have jobs. No matter how prepared you are its always up to the person interviewing you, whether they like/dislike you. Because God knows I've did the 10 steps for over 9 months and no one nibble. Well I wish all you Good Luck on landing that dream job!!
  • maquise douglas
    maquise douglas
    This article was very informative. I found the tips helpful and easy to do. I will certainly keep these points in mind. Thanks
  • Christina Dubay
    Christina Dubay
    Your suggestions are good ones and apply to anyone seeking employment. I believe the age concern is a valid one and although as older professionals we have more experience, we also have less time to offer...I also think that being very enthusiastic cannot be overstated.  You really have to let them know that you want the job.  Thanks for the advice, I found it helpful.
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