Step Seven: Interview Like a Rock Star

We have all heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When it comes to interviewing for a job, the very first impression made is usually based on appearance. Before you even say hello and offer your firm handshake, the interviewer already has made a decision about how well you fit with the organization. You may not be able to respond to all interview questions with a perfect answer or have the exact qualifications the position requires. You can, however, be well-prepared to market yourself to a prospective employer and ensure that you are appropriately dressed for the interview. Here are some tips to assist you as you prepare:

  • Thoroughly research the company or organization before the interview. Go on the company’s Web site and learn as much as you can about the company and position. Know the company’s business, target clients, market and direction.
  • Prepare your “script.” Pick three talking points about yourself and stick to them. Read the job description in advance and make sure these three talking points are completely relevant to the position. If you stick to your talking points, you’ll avoid one of the most common errors people make in job interviews: talking about themselves without a real purpose. 
  • Dress up and wear a suit, even if the atmosphere is casual. 
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early. 
  • Greet the first-line contact politely and write down his/her name. 
  • Greet the interviewer(s) with a firm handshake. 
  • Maintain a professional posture as well as good eye contact with the interviewer(s). 
  • Watch your nonverbal communication. Pay attention to your posture and hand gestures. 
  • Don’t exaggerate or be dishonest about your background, experience or credentials. 
  • Expect to spend some time building rapport because personal chemistry is a main ingredient in the hiring process.
  • Pay attention to the timing of your answers. And, keep your responses to questions relevant to the position to which you are applying. 
  • NEVER speak negatively about a former employer, colleague, teacher or institution. The employer may assume that you will someday do the same to him/her. 
  • If you catch yourself making an error or contradiction, correct yourself. 
  • Show enthusiasm. It usually will make up for less-than-perfect qualifications. 
  • BE YOURSELF! You don’t want to get hired on the basis of something you are not. You want to be hired for who you are and what you have to offer.
  • Write a thank you note to everyone for whom you interview. (See the next step for more details.)

Tips On Dressing For An Interview
In the age of corporate casual, many people are uncertain of how to dress for an interview. Here is a simple response: 90 percent of employers say that a dark suit is still the preferred attire for an interview. A general rule is to dress one step higher than what people wear daily in that setting. According to Kim Zoller of Image Dynamics, 55% of another person's perception of you is based on how you look. Her dressing for success formula gives some tips on how to look your best, without necessarily spending a lot of money. Here's a quick look at the basics: 
  • Prepare your clothes the day before the interview in case there is a problem with them. Make sure your clothes are clean, pressed and professional. 
  • If you have a visible tattoo, try to wear something that covers it. 
  • Wear clean/polished shoes. 
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum (no jewelry in areas with nontraditional body piercing, such as earrings in your tongue, nose, etc.). 
  • Have a briefcase or professional-looking portfolio to carry your resumes, reference list, notepad, pen and any literature from the company. 
  • If you are a smoker, avoid smoking immediately before your interview; the scent of cigarette smoke may offend some interviewers. 
  • Avoid wearing cologne or perfume.
  • Carry a neutral-colored umbrella if there is a chance it will rain.
Women Should Wear:
  • A solid color, conservative suit 
  • Coordinated blouse 
  • Moderate shoes 
  • Limited jewelry 
  • Neat, professional hairstyle 
  • Tan or light hosiery 
  • Sparse make-up & perfume 
  • Manicured nails 
  • Portfolio or briefcase 
Men Should Wear:
  • Solid color, conservative suit 
  • White, long-sleeve shirt 
  • Conservative tie 
  • Dark socks, professional shoes 
  • Very limited jewelry 
  • Neat, professional hairstyle 
  • Go easy on the aftershave 
  • Neatly trimmed nails 
  • Portfolio or briefcase
The Most Common Interview Questions

Traditional Questions

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume.
  3. What are your greatest strengths?
  4. What are your greatest weaknesses?
  5. Why should I hire you?
  6. What are your short and long term career goals?
  7. Why did you select Triton College (or other school, if appropriate)?
  8. What led you to choose your major?
  9. How do you handle rejection?
  10. Do you prefer to work alone or with others? Why?
  11. With what kinds of people do you most enjoy working with?
  12. What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
  13. What kinds of decisions are most difficult for you to make?
  14. What two or three things are most important to you in a job?
  15. What do you know about our company?
  16. Why do you want to work here?
  17. What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? Why?
  18. How has your college (or high school) experience prepared you for your career?
  19. In what kind of environment are you most comfortable?
  20. What have you learned from participating in extracurricular activities?
  21. Do you have any questions?
  22. Describe your ideal job.
  23. Did you get good grades in school? 
  24. Why have you been out of work for so long?
  25. What skills do you want to improve at this time?
  26. Are you willing to take calculated risks when necessary?
  27. Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
  28. With what kinds of people do you find it difficult to work? How have you successfully worked with this kind of person?
  29. Tell me about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle at work.

BEHAVIORAL STYLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
A popular trend in job interviewing is behavioral interviews. Behavioral-based questions ask for specific examples of how you handled a situation in the past in order to predict future performance. Typical behavioral-based questions are similar to the following:

  1. Describe a time when you had multiple tasks to accomplish and deadlines were approaching. How did you prioritize what needed to be accomplished first?
  2. We all experience difficult situations. Tell me about a time you had to deal with conflict. How did you handle it?
  3. Working with people from different backgrounds or cultures can be a real challenge. Have you had this experience?
  4. Have you ever faced an ethical or value conflict in your job? Explain.
  5. In what skill areas are you most proficient? Give an example of a project you have worked on that shows your expertise. What skills do you see as needing improvement?
  6. Give me a recent example that best shows your ability to communicate effectively?
  7. Give me an example of a time when you did more than what was required in your job.
  8. How do you define leadership? Describe the most recent time when you displayed leadership on the job.
  9. Listening is a valuable tool. Describe a time when good listening skills helped you overcome a communication problem.
Questions You May Want To Ask 
You should always have two or three questions in mind to ask the interviewer. This will show him/her that you are enthusiastic about the position. It will also give you a clearer picture of what the company is all about. 

1. What kind of training can I expect?
2. How do you motivate people?
3. How would you describe your ideal employer?
4. How are new ideas sought? Acted upon? Rewarded?
5. What is the next step in the selection process?
6. What type of feedback can I expect?
7. What are the company’s long-term growth plans?
8. Why is this position open?
9. What would be my initial duties and responsibilities?
10. What is the turnover rate among company personnel?
11. What is your management style (if talking with your manager-to-be)?
12. How does this position fit in with the company’s long-term plans?
13. What would a typical working day be like in this position?
14. What is the biggest challenge I’ll face in this position?
15. Will I be expected to resolve issues independently, or will there be opportunities to consult with others?
16. What is an example of a typical career path beginning with this position?
17. What exactly will I be expected to accomplish in the next year?
18. Will there be opportunities for advancement?

Is Your “Elevator Pitch” Taking You UP or DOWN? 
Or How to Answer the Question: “Tell Me About Yourself.” 


Not too long ago, I overheard a job-seeker deliver an “Elevator Pitch” to a prospective hiring manager. After about 3 or 4 minutes, the manager stopped the speaker and said: “Is this your ‘Elevator Pitch’? … because if so we must be on a skyscraper – I think we’ve just reached the 40th floor and we’re still going up!” How embarrassing! Clearly that job-seeker had droned on way too long and was boring the manager. Most listeners would simply shut down at that point and say nothing … but this particular manager (an HR professional who was actually trying to help the job-seeker) decided to offer some blunt but much needed feedback. Needless to say, the lesson was learned! That job-seeker went home, re-worked the Elevator Pitch, and was much more effective the next time!

Every job-seeker should know what an “Elevator Pitch” is. Put simply, it’s a short introductory speech designed to be given in the time span of an elevator ride – approximately 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It’s a standard tool in the world of sales, where people want to interest someone else in their product quickly, without sounding too pushy or intrusive. 

The fact is that a job-seeker IS a salesperson … and the product is YOU! The basic idea is that you never know when or where you’ll run into someone who might be a prospect for you – a potential customer, a networking partner, a key contact or decision-maker at one of your target companies, or an actual potential employer. 

Being able to instantly deliver your Elevator Pitch to anyone, anywhere and at any time is something every job-seeker should be prepared to do.

Elevator Pitches can be quite versatile. In interviews, a well-written Elevator Pitch can be the response to the common opener: “So, tell me about yourself.” In social situations, a shortened version can be the quick answer to that often-heard question: “So, what do you do?” Elevator Pitches can also easily be adapted for use as either an email or a voice-mail message.

So what are the important elements of an effective Elevator Pitch? Here are the key components, broken down from the perspective of a job-seeker:

Keep It Short!
The entire speech should be no longer than 2 minutes – the accepted rule of thumb is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Shorter is better, but not so short that you fail to get your main points across. Too long, and you risk overwhelming your listener with too much information and they’ll tune you out. 

You might even consider having a couple of different versions of the speech – one complete version and another shorter, more abbreviated version for situations where your time is more limited. Either way, what you say in the first 15 seconds is the most important part. 

Why? Because the sad truth is that most people have incredibly short attention spans. As a result, they need to be “hooked” by what you say right up front. Any listener should know exactly what you do within the first sentence or two.

An effective Elevator Pitch should give your audience just enough information so that they will understand who you are and what you are looking for, and want to know more.

Keep It Simple! Use Language Your Grandmother Would Understand.
Describe what you do, and what your target goals are in simple, everyday language. After saying your name, start with a simple statement of what you’ve done (job title, industry niche, etc.) the fact that you are “in transition,” and what type of position you are now seeking as a next step in your career. 

Don’t use industry-speak, technical jargon, or cute marketing catch-phrases. Ask yourself this question: would my grandmother, my mother or my kids understand exactly what I do if they heard the first few lines of my speech?

I heard one job-seeker start his Elevator Pitch this way: “I’ve done many things over the years, but mostly I’m known as a Problem Solver. I’m looking for an opportunity to use that unique skill to help another company overcome obstacles and grow its bottom line.” 

Well guess what, Mr. “Problem Solver” … I have a problem – and that is that I have NO idea what you actually do! What is that person’s job title and function? What industry is he experienced in? Exactly what type of job is he looking for? None of the information he followed that opener with zeroed in on those critical questions. By the time he got around to being more specific, he was way past the point where he lost his audience’s interest! Keep it simple!

Make It Compelling.
Once you’ve established exactly what you do, and what you are looking for, you need to sell yourself. Talk about your successes. Highlight what you’ve done – your concrete accomplishments or skills, rather than intangible concepts. What differentiates you from others who do what you do? What is your specific area of expertise? Put yourself in the listener’s shoes and realize that most decision-makers are thinking of that famous marketing acronym: “WIIFM” (What’s in it for me?)

Explain as briefly as possible why you are someone who could help a future employer. How can you identify and then solve their problems. Why should someone hire you? The trick here is to not go overboard or sound self-centered – and you certainly don’t want to seem overly pushy like a used-car salesperson.

Your goal is not to “close the deal” … rather, you simply want to “set the hook,” start a conversation, and create just enough interest to pique the listener’s curiosity and make them want to hear more about you. 

An Example.
There’s no way to make a generic “template” for an Elevator Pitch, since each one is so unique. Specific job areas, industry types, levels of experience, and target goals require different types of speeches. This isn’t a “one size fits all” situation. However, at the risk of sounding self-serving, following is an example of an Elevator Pitch I’ve used for myself.

Compare this speech to the above-mentioned components to see how it was constructed. I’ve timed this out to well under two minutes. Feel free to use this as an starting point, and adjust or re-write it to fit your own situation:

“Hi, my name is Michael Spiro, and I am an experienced Recruiter with 9 years of success in the third party, agency-based staffing world. I’m in transition right now, and my current focus is to shift away from outside agency work, and move into a “Corporate Recruiter” role inside a company somewhere in Northeast Ohio. 

I’ve worked for two of the largest search firms in North America – MRI for six years and Kforce for three years. At those agencies I recruited and placed very hard-to-find candidates in many different industries.

Most of those were for jobs in Information Technology, as well as in Sales and Finance. When our client companies had difficult searches where they simply couldn’t find the top talent they were looking for – I’m the guy they’d come to for help … and I won several awards for those recruiting successes.

My real expertise is in the use of creative methods to locate candidates, including extensive networking, advanced internet searches, and most importantly – using all the latest online Social Media (like LinkedIn and Facebook) to find passive, non-job-seeking candidates.

By moving over to an internal corporate position, I’m hoping to be able to continue recruiting top talent, but to do it from the inside of a company so I can also concentrate on my passion for building and maintaining relationships with internal business partners and decision-makers. 
Again, my name is Michael Spiro.”

Now here’s a shorter, 30-second version of that same speech for use in situations where time is more limited:

“Hi, my name is Michael Spiro, and I am an experienced Recruiter with nine years of success in the third party, agency-based staffing world. I’m in transition right now, and my current focus is to shift away from outside agency work and move into a “Corporate Recruiter” role inside a company.

My expertise is in the use of creative recruiting methods to locate hard-to-find top talent, which I plan to continue to do from the inside of an organization. Again, my name is Michael Spiro.”

By the way … it’s often effective to repeat your name a second time at the end of the speech – especially when speaking in a more formal group situation. The reasoning is that people don’t remember names the first they hear them … but after the speech is delivered, a second hearing of your name will be more likely to sink in.

You can eliminate that second repeating of your name when you meet someone in a more personal, one-on-one setting.

Sound Natural. Practice Your Delivery.
Nothing is worse than sounding like you are reading a script. By all means, write your speech down and memorize it … but then try practicing it out loud.

Practice to yourself in a mirror. Practice into a recording device or a video camera and listen back to yourself. Practice on your family and friends. Practice in job-seeker networking groups and ask for feedback.

As you hear yourself reciting your speech, ask yourself: does this sound like my natural speaking voice? Are these words I use in everyday conversations? Could someone from outside of my industry who hears this easily figure out what I do and what I’m looking for? 

If not, change it! Use your own natural language. Use words that sound natural coming from your mouth. Sound conversational and comfortable. And sound enthusiastic and excited! 

When you deliver your Elevator Pitch, if you sound natural and upbeat, and you truly believe in what you are saying … chances are so will the listener!


8 Interview Questions & Answers for Older Workers 

Here are eight sticky questions that older job candidates often encounter—with several appropriate responses to each:

  1. "You appear to be overqualified for this position. Won't you get bored?" 
    • "You are an excellent company. You deserve excellence in employees. " 
    • "Experience is a great premium today." 
    • "There is a greater return on your money if I hit the ground running. Less training time."
  2. "This company is on the fast track. Do you think that you can keep up?" 
    • "I have stayed on top of the industry and am computer literate. "(Use this opportunity to showcase any training classes or courses you have taken.) 
      • Consider hitting this question head-on by stating politely that you have not noticed any slowdown or stagnancy in attitude or energy.
  3. "This is a completely different industry than you were in before. Can you tell us how you will transfer your skills?" 
    • "I have accessed your website and have read everything about your company.” (Then, draw some analogy to a previous area of expertise, and relate it to the new company's product or service.) 
  4. "I have noticed that you have been out of work for over six months. Can you explain this break in employment?"
    • "I tried retirement, and it's not for me. I am a do-er and like to be active. I feel I have many more years of productivity left. " 
    • "I am looking for something different. I am fortunate to be in a position to take time to make sure this job is right for both of us. " 
    • "I have used this time to brush up (or learn) a new skill, and now I am ready to contribute my knowledge and expertise to a viable company such as yours. "
  5. "Why do you think you are qualified for this job? I don't see where you have experience that would match our business needs." 
    • "My excitement at learning new things never diminishes. With my work experience, I know I will be a quick learner. "
      • Take this opportunity to point out any skills you have added to your repertoire. 
      • Identify a skill you have, and align it to something you would need to do on the new job.
  6. "Your resume indicates you have worked at a lot of different places. Can you comment on that?" 
    • "Each of those positions broadened my knowledge and skill base. Each was a promotion. " 
    • "It does appear that way, but, in the last 10 years, the economy has been such that mergers have forced a number of us to realize our potential in various environments. " (Always turn a perceived negative into a real positive!)
  7. "You were with your last company for 19 years. Can you change the way you did things?" 
    • "I am looking for change!" 
    • "My last company underwent many changes during that time, and I enjoyed trying new things and ideas. " (Show examples whenever possible.)
  8. "We are on the cutting edge of technology. Can you keep up?"
    • Again reinforce skills, classes/courses and upgrades you have had. You may need to mention this several times and in as many different ways as possible to overcome their doubt.
  9. "I see you have been a consultant. Does that just mean you were out of work?" 
    • "My old company brought me back on contract to complete several projects, which I did — and now I want to see if there is something more exciting out there. " 
    • "I understand lots of people are calling themselves consultants while they look for a new position. " (Laugh — sometimes, it's OK to insert a little bit of levity.)
  10. "What do you think you are worth since you have been in the work world so long?"
    • Never respond with a specific dollar amount. Affirm that you have vast skills and experience. Indicate that you are either willing to start over to show them what you bring to the table or deserving of top dollar. Either way, be confident.
    • Ask them what dollar amount is allocated for the position in this year's budget.
    • Ask if they are offering you the job!


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