Putting Yourself in the Interviewer's Seat Can Give You an Advantage

Alison Craig, author of "Hello, Job!"

What did you think of your last interviewer? Did you feel as if you were mortal enemies? Or were you on the same team? I know that can sound extreme, but many people view a job interview as a fight or a competition -- a duel of wits. Actually, it's just a conversation and collaboration to find the best candidate for the job.

So have you ever thought about the job interview process from the interviewer's perspective? As a job seeker, you are more concerned about yourself and your personal needs. That is natural, but this selfish attitude could stop you from getting what you need and want: a job.

A job interview is like a graceful dance in which two people come together and find out whether they are in  sync. There are three main components to all job interviews at any level:

1. Your personal  agenda.

2. The company's  agenda.

3. The common ground you both stand on.

Now here is the thing: The interviewer already sees and understands all sides. And if you as the job seeker can see the different sides as well, you could have an edge on your competition. You'll be able to communicate more effectively about how you can help the company and how you are the perfect fit for the position.

First think about that common ground. What do you and the interviewer have in common? To begin with, you both want to fill the position. You both want to be working rather than looking for that right fit. See yourself as being on the same side as the interviewer. The more you can find out in your research about the company (and the specific interviewer when possible), the more common ground you are likely to find.

Next, think about the motives: yours and the company's. Have a clear idea about what you are looking for and why you're well-suited for the job. That sounds obvious, but if you're coming from a desperate any-job-will-do place, you won't be convincing.

What is the company's agenda? There will be specifics for each job, and remember that all companies are looking for two things: flexibility and loyalty.

How flexible are you? Are you willing to take on new tasks to help the company or are you only going to do what is strictly written in your job description? The more you're willing to grow and stretch as the company grows, the more valuable you will be.

Loyalty also matters. As much as you don't want to keep looking for a job, a company doesn't want to keep training new employees. It's costly to keep replacing and retraining. So if you are loyal by nature, and you want to grow with a company and be there through thick and thin, then you are an ideal candidate.

So is that the end of it? Know what the company wants and mirror it, right? Not so fast! If you don't have qualifications, or you don't believe in the mission of the company, be honest and upfront. That will make you memorable, you both will know where everyone stands, and you won't waste each other's time. You're helping the employer find the right person for the job, and if you aren't it, simply say so.

It might be tempting to say whatever will land you any job, but by lying, you could you get stuck in a job that isn't right for you and end up looking for a job all over again. What's even more likely is that you won't land the job anyway. Your body language, that nonverbal communication, will rat on you. There's even a TV show on the Fox Network about this very thing, "Lie to Me." You may lie with your words, but you cannot lie with your body.

So what is your personal agenda? Do you want the job or just the money? When you apply for a job, are you thinking about how you can help the company and whether you're just what they are looking for? Companies want people who want to work, want to grow, want to help and want to be proactive. If you are such a person, it will show.

So as you prepare and polish for your interview, practice seeing yourself from the other side of the desk, and go in knowing that you and the interviewer are on the same team, simply finding the right match for the job.


Should You Leave Your Cell at Home During an Interview ?


True story: 

After a move to a new city, I finally land a job interview after weeks of sending out résumés.  The company offers good pay and great benefits -- not to mention that the job is right up my alley and right down the street from my apartment.  

The interview is humming along nicely, when "BLEEP BLEEP BLEEEEP! ... BLEEP BLEEP BLEEEEP!"  My interviewer is mid-question when she jumps out of her skin at the sound of my cell phone loudly ringing from my purse. I could have sworn I'd shut it off. 

I spend the next 20 seconds rifling through my bag to find the offending device and another 10 seconds powering it off. As I apologize and refocus my attention on the interviewer, I can tell our whole vibe is off balance. She is clearly annoyed and I feel like a fool (both of which are total confidence killers). In case I left any doubt in your mind, I was not called back for a second interview.

Lesson learned:  Don't let your cell phone get the best of you.

"In many cases, attitude trumps aptitude when it comes to candidate selection. Bringing a cell phone with you says a lot about your attitude," says Laurent Duperval, president of Duperval Consulting in Montreal. "It sends the message that your focus will not be on your job. If I, as an interviewer, can't get your full attention for a few minutes, what will it be like once you have the job? "

Chris Laggini, vice president of human resources for information-technology service provider DLT Solutions, echoes Duperval's sentiment, saying, "Bringing or using a cell phone or BlackBerry during an interview would only indicate to the interviewer a general lack of respect and good judgment, and would indicate that they would exhibit the same behavior during working hours if they were to be hired."

Laggini adds that the only acceptable reason for bringing a cell phone to an interview is if you need to be connected to receive an emergency call of some kind. In that case, he suggests that you discuss the matter with the interviewer beforehand.  

So what's the best way to make sure your phone doesn't interrupt your interview? Leave it at home or in your car. That way, you'll be assured that your phone won't disrupt your interview.

If you have other obligations that day and can't leave your phone at home, or if you take public transportation and can't leave it in the car, at least make sure you turn your phone off before going into the interview. Sue Thompson, a career consultant and founder of Set Life Free Seminars, provides the following advice to her clients: "Become proficient with your phone's voice mail setup so you are able to quickly record a new voice mail [greeting] as you go into a meeting or interview, something along the lines of, 'I'm about to go into a meeting. I will return your call by 4 p.m.' Then turn it off."

Despite our best intentions, though, sometimes -- like in my own interview -- plans go awry.  Should your cell phone unexpectedly ring in the middle of your conversation, Duperval advises that you apologize and quickly silence the phone or turn it off. "Most phones have a button that allows you to send the caller to voice mail or to silence the phone immediately. As long as you don't answer the phone or say, 'Oh! I have to take this,' the interviewer should understand," he says.

Why Do They Ask That in an Interview?
Understanding the meaning behind interview questions

Going into a job interview is difficult enough, but trying to figure out the meaning behind some questions just adds to the anxiety of job-hunting.

Sometimes seemingly simply questions will have a hidden agenda, but more often than not, the interviewer is trying to gauge your true interest in the company and what value you can bring to its work force.

If asked, "Why do you want to work here?" that's a perfect opportunity to show the company you've done your homework. The interviewer wants details -- how does this company stand apart from its competitors, what new products or services are they offering -- and this is the moment to shine by having well-researched answers ready to deliver. If possible, mention something you are particularly familiar with about the company that you can link directly to your own work experience and talents.

Even when asked the inevitable "What are your strengths?" find something in your own background that shows the particular talents you bring to this company's table. Put your strongest qualities into the context of what this prospective employer does and how they meet the company's goals.

Then there's the flip side: "What are your weaknesses?" For years, people have been counseled to envelope their "weakness" in an answer that actually makes it sound like a strength. But job interviewers have heard them all, and those answers tend to sound hollow these days. Rather, choose a time when you had to face a significant challenge or adversity -- without getting too personal -- and tell how you overcame that dilemma and were improved by it. Tell what you learned and how that newfound knowledge benefited you as a professional. People who recognize their weaknesses and show they want to do better are showing a prospective employer they are willing to do their best, even if it means learning from mistakes.

The company wants a team player and an independent worker
When you are asked whether you work better alone or in a team, what they really want to know is how you interact with others and how much direction you need when you're assigned to work by yourself.

If you use time alone well, are you able to keep your boss posted on your progress at reasonable intervals? Are you good at brainstorming in a group, the one who comes up with rapid-fire ideas? Or are you the person who is likely to mold them into a collaborative effort to find a solution for the challenge at hand?  Either alone or in a team, you want to convey that you can interact well with co-workers at various levels of authority, but that you're a person who can be productive and come up with answers on your own as well.

Remember, an interview is a two-way street, and that's true where questions are concerned. Be sure to ask questions that show you have researched the company and that you're aware of current issues faced by the company and the industry it's in. You need to show an interest in the company if you want it to show an interest in you.

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