Interview Advice

   With the uncertainties in today's workplace, the ability to continue your career may depend on your interviewing capabilities. Few of us have many opportunities to practice the skills required until they are most needed. The interview is an exercise in selling yourself. There is seldom a second chance to correct poor first impressions. You should not try to revise your image; just be yourself - but put forth your best self.

   A first rule we stress in interviewing is to concentrate on selling yourself. Once offered an opportunity, you will have adequate time to determine whether it is right for you. In order to sell anything successfully, it is necessary to satisfy the buyer's (employer's) needs. Careful research into the company, position, and individuals with whom you will meet will provide valuable tools to assure that you address the company's need. If the company's interviewing style allows, it is very helpful to get them to elaborate on their requirements early in the interview process. If available, you should review the company's annual report. Speak with any friends or associates who have worked for or with the company in an attempt to learn all you can about the company and the people with whom you will interview. 

   It is most important to be thoroughly prepared for the interview. Have a fresh copy (or several) of your resume available, as well as contact information on your references, so you can provide immediate response if asked for this information. Dress appropriately; this means very formal and conservative. Even if you are somewhat overdressed for the occasion, you will still look your sharpest and feel most confident.

   Take an active role in the interview. Passive interviewing never works. You must not assume that the company knows how to conduct an interview and will ask you the right questions to draw out your talents. While it is not necessary to wrest control of the interview, you must be fully prepared to take advantage of every opportunity to sell yourself. This means advanced preparation on how you plan to answer a variety of questions, and a careful assessment of the skills you bring to the table, so you can easily demonstrate how you can be an asset in their position. Practice before a spouse, a close friend, or a mirror, so you are comfortable with your responses. 

   Think of the interview as a professional process. While both parties will be naturally nervous, you must work at developing a pleasant, friendly and business-like atmosphere. A good interview is like a good business meeting. If all that transpires is a discussion of sports or fishing, little work has been accomplished; if the meeting is so tense that both parties are on edge constantly, little good will come of the meeting. Instead, both parties should come away with the feeling that an excellent exchange of ideas occurred, and that their objectives were in large part attained by the interview. 

   To be a successful applicant you must emphasize your positive accomplishments. A company should be interested in you for what you can bring to them. Avoid discussion of negatives. No one ever left a job because he loved it. Even if the company asks you why you left your previous employer, they are not interested in the gory details, but rather want to satisfy themselves that there was no problem that will carry over to their employ. Long discussions of dissatisfactions with previous employers will only harm you. Some interviewers, usually because they are uncertain of productive questions to ask, will ask negatively worded questions. Be prepared to answer them briefly, and turn the question to a positive point. "What do you do least well?", could be answered by an anecdote that describes how you took a former area of weakness, and through diligent work, turned it into an area of strength. 

   Likewise your own questions during an interview should be positive. Rather than asking, "How much time will I have to spend in the field?", you might ask "Will I have an opportunity to go to the field to visit the wells for which I am responsible?" You can then use your own standards to determine whether the company's response is to your liking, rather than having implied an unwillingness to perform a particular task. Similarly, avoid questions that concentrate on trivial matters, or subjects best left for the company, such as "How much vacation will I receive?" 

   While asking perceptive questions during an interview may impress the company, you must be careful of your approach. Stop to consider how your question will be perceived by your interviewer. Many an interview has been spoiled by a tactless question. Asking an exploration manager to explain a company's previous lack of success, or a controller to discuss a poor financial performance, may not be the best way to get yourself hired. If you have concerns such as these, they are better saved until you have been offered a position, or asked of a neutral bystander who will not be evaluating you as a candidate for employment. 

   Do not undersell yourself. An interview is not the time to be modest. No one else will be there to brag of your accomplishments. On the other hand, make sure you only take personal credit for what you have done. Giving credit for a successful team effort while stressing your contributions to the effort is often much more effective. Do not dwell on areas where you fail to have all the expertise the company is seeking. If they are going to hire you, it will be for what you can do, and not what you haven't done. I am not talking about trying to mislead anyone into hiring you for a position where you are unqualified, but most jobs should provide room for growth. Rarely is anyone hired for a position where he is "fully qualified." Too often we have seen individuals who meet ninety per cent of the client's requirements spend most the interview trying to convince an employer that they can do the remaining ten per cent of the job, while ignoring their obvious qualifications. Often, as a result, they talk themselves out of a position where they were the best candidate interviewed. 

   Remember that the interviewer will have to formulate a recommendation on whom to hire. It is easy to recommend someone who is enthusiastic about the prospects of joining the company, and confident of his own abilities to do the job. Rarely will someone recommend an individual who has expressed doubts about his interest in the job or ability to perform the task. All too often candidates assume that the company is aware of their interest merely because they took time to interview, or satisfied with their qualifications because they have perused their resume. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is essential that, if interested in the position, you clearly and overtly communicate your interest. Words such as "This opportunity appears to be exactly what I'm looking for" or a similar statement are most appropriate. 

   A very effective technique for expressing your confidence in your abilities, as well as ensuring that you and the interviewer have been communicating, is to summarize the course of the interview. Tell the company what you understand they are looking for and why you believe you are well-suited for the position. There are several advantages to this approach. Most individuals when confronted like this will level with you about your chances of being hired. While you may find out early on that you are not a candidate, this is generally preferable to receiving a rejection letter after four to six weeks of nervous anticipation. If there are some doubts in the interviewer's mind about your capabilities, he may share them with you. This gives you an invaluable chance to correct any misunderstandings. You may not have mentioned an area of expertise because you were not aware of its importance; he may not have realized that a task was part of your previous duties, etc. I can assure you that after an interview is concluded, it will be almost impossible to correct such opinions. Lastly, and most importantly, if you are an excellent candidate, these thoughts are going to be firmly cemented in the interviewers mind. 

   Frequently the process involves interviews with several individuals. You cannot assume that they have adequately communicated about previous conversations. Cover the same relative ground with each new interviewer. Make sure you know what he is seeking in the position, and satisfy his needs. Attempt to get everyone with whom you interview to become your advocate; you can't have too many. 

   Compensation is always a difficult topic. The old adage that says to let the company bring up the subject still holds, but you must be prepared to talk money. Honest open communications are essential when discussing such an important subject. Be tactful in handling the discussion of compensation, because a salary request can easily be misinterpreted as an absolute. The company may chose not to offer you a position if it is not prepared to fully meet your salary demands, yet your position may be more negotiable than they realize. 

   Be willing to share your present compensation, if asked. If not willing to quote your exact salary, have a plausible reason. Be hesitant to quote a base salary requirement until you have all the facts. It is most appropriate to tactfully inquire about issues such as benefits, moving expenses, incentive compensation plans, etc. prior to responding to a request for a salary requirement. Rarely should you respond to such a request with a range. This only confuses the communication process. I recommend that you pick a reasonable figure that you will surely accept, and qualify it by saying that you are interested in more than just base compensation, and that if the figure you have cited poses a problem for the company, you would certainly entertain any reasonable offer that approaches that number. You may then decide whether or not their offer provides sufficient inducement to join their firm. Protracted back and forth negotiation of compensation is usually counterproductive. If, however, you have a compelling reason to reject an offer solely on compensation grounds, it doesn't hurt to explain your reason to the company, and give them the opportunity to respond. Perhaps they have misunderstood your situation, or you have overlooked some aspect of their offer. It is always to your advantage to preserve good relations, you may have to deal with the same people at a later time. 

   Finally, end the interview on a positive note. Thank them for their time, and, if they have not reached a conclusion on your candidacy, assure them that you will be available for further meetings if necessary. If possible make an appointment to contact them in the near future about the results of the interview, and let them know one last time of your continued interest. Follow up with a thank you letter, usually to each person with whom you have met. 

   While these are very simple suggestions on how to handle an interview, years of experience has demonstrated the importance of adhering to these principles. They will help you make sure the company fully recognizes your potentials as an employee, and give you your best shot at being hired. Good luck on your next interview!

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