Interview Dos and Don’ts

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Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed thousands of people for a wide variety of positions and at different levels, from Intern to Director. I have seen some people hit a home run and seen some people strike out.

When companies interview candidates, they are trying to fill a gap in the organization. Therefore the goal of the interview is to get to know a candidate’s skills and character, assess if the person is right for the job and see if the opportunity is the right one for the candidate.

To ensure that you find yourself in the group of candidates hitting a home run, I have compiled a list of “Dos and Don’ts” to help you prepare for your next interview.

DO: Research the company

This is one of the tried and true interview tips. Why is it still relevant? Think of it this way. Many hiring managers have risen through the ranks at the company or the company saw their talent and hired them. Translation: they both like and feel an attachment to the company. In this day and age when gathering information is as easy as picking up your smart phone, many hiring managers take it as an insult when candidates can’t be bothered take 30 minutes to learn basic facts about the company.

DO: Answer the question

The goal of the interviewers’ questions is to obtain information about a person and compare their skill set to the requirements for the vacant position. There are no “right” or “perfect” answers. The best candidates answer questions directly and are honest and authentic in their responses. When this is their area of expertise, they give examples. When they don’t know something, they are straightforward about it.

The most embarrassing moments are when candidates ramble on a tangent – and forget their point. Ouch. This happens more often than you think. Stick to answering the question asked and you’ll do just fine.

DO: Use the SAR and/or PAR method

A lot of people answer the question with what they would do. Do you want a surgeon explaining how they would operate on you or one who gives you examples from similar surgeries they’ve done in the past?

The SAR or PAR method stands for:

  • Situation or Problem
  • Action
  • Result

When answering a question, giving complete and concrete examples will definitely help to underscore your experience.

DO: Ask questions

At the end of the interview, you will inevitably be asked if you have questions. Having no questions implies that you are don’t care or that you aren’t listening.

The best candidates arrive a list of questions that they’ve prepared prior to the interview. They go through their list, mentally crossing off those that have been answered and ask those that haven’t. Remember, an interview is a two-way street. The company is interviewing you, and this is also your chance to see if this is somewhere you’d like to work. Asking questions helps you to further asses the opportunity.

DO: Ask about the follow-up protocol

Interviewers will generally tell you when you will hear back about the outcome. If they don’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask when you can anticipate hearing from them. It is also good to confirm who the contact person is so that you can follow up with the right person. It is proper form to send a thank you note following the interview and taking this opportunity to reiterate your interest.

If your follow-up date arrives and you’ve heard no news, I would recommend sending a note the following day to underscore your interest and take a pulse about the process.

DON’T: Arrive late

Most hiring managers have schedules packed with meetings, managing their employees and doing their own work. Most HR professionals have meetings, other interviews as well as their own work. Their schedules hinge on things starting and ending on time. Don’t be late.

The first reason ultimately benefits you: assuming that no one minds, you are leaving yourself less time in front of the people who have a say in hiring you. The second reason is that they probably do mind because every minute is precious.

A good way to avoid being late is to go to the company the night before your interview so that you know how to get there and approximately how long it takes. Doing the route beforehand helps to reduce nerves and focus on having a great interview.

DON’T: Bash your previous bosses, co-workers or companies

There will be sticky parts in the interview where you will have to talk about a past disagreement or why you left a certain company. The interviewers are not trying to trick you, but they want to understand how you handle speaking about a negative situation.

As the saying goes goes, “Everything can be said; it’s how you say it”. This especially holds true in an interview setting. A diplomatic approach will help you to come across as someone who takes the high road.

DON’T: Initiate a spirited debate

Companies are a work in progress and it is highly probable that you can bring something to the table, which is exactly why you are in the interview in the first place.

If you ask why things are a certain way, the hiring manager is giving you an extremely high-level summary. If the explanation wasn’t clear, then it is okay to probe to better understand. However, this is neither the time nor the place to get into a “spirited debate” and dissect what was said, offering a better solution. While you may think it is demonstrating your problem-solving abilities and showing how well-versed you are in your subject matter, it actually comes across as confrontational and perhaps even arrogant. Hiring managers cannot divulge a great amount of detail to an external person. Also, remember that they too know their subject matter well.

Every single time I have seen someone has go down this road, the outcome was never good. My recommendation would be to wait until after you are hired to get down to business and challenge the status quo.

DON’T: Address only one person in the room

Interviewing is never easy and there are many things to think about simultaneously. While eye contact is important during the handshake, it is even more critical when answering questions.

Sadly, some candidates focus exclusively on speaking to the hiring manager, as this is their future boss or focus solely on HR, the person with whom they have built an initial rapport. This is a mistake in both cases. Focusing solely on the hiring manager is unnerving – no on wants to be stared at for 60 minutes straight. Ignoring the hiring manager, on the other hand, comes across as disrespectful.

If you are an extremely shy person or interviews make you exceptionally nervous, the best way to start is to answer to the person who posed the question. As you get more comfortable, try to look at the others in the room.

DON’T: Give an ultimatum

Sometimes the interview goes well – smashing even. The job sounds great. The people are amazing. They seem to like you too. You know no other candidate could be as good as you. What if there were a way to make things happen… a little faster. What if they thought you had an offer from another company… maybe this could motivate them to stop interviewing and choose you…

I am telling you now, every time someone has given an ultimatum, it has completely backfired.

I am not talking about candidates who are graciously keeping the company in the loop about their situation. I am talking about those who are bluffing about an offer to speed up the pace of the recruitment process. This breaks the trust in an irreparable way. And, because you don’t work for the company, you won’t have the opportunity to redeem yourself.

If you really think you are the best candidate, my recommendation would be to send a follow-up note reiterating your interest and remaining available for further interviews.

I hope you have found these tips helpful as you prepare for your big interview. I wish you all the best and hope that you’ll hit a home run and score your dream job!