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Getting these 5 questions wrong can ruin your chances in a job interview

There are the questions that you’ll be asked, and then there are the questions you need to ask yourself.

Getting these 5 questions wrong can ruin your chances in a job interview
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

Making a good impression at a job interview involves a lot more than just dressing appropriately, being on time, and researching the company. Here are five key questions to answer for yourself if you want to make it to the next round.

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1. How will I strike a balance between selling myself and praising the company?

Everyone knows that pitching yourself is key, but overdo it and you’ll turn the interviewer off. You need to strike the right balance between talking about the company you’re interviewing with and talking about yourself. Suppose you start off with, “Here’s why I’d be great for this job. Here are my accomplishments.” You’ve just dug a hole for yourself, because you’re making the interview all about you.

Instead, start with explaining how you admire the company, its accomplishments, and leadership. If you can, show you know something about the person interviewing you. Express your excitement about that particular position. In short, talk about the opportunity–and then show why your qualifications make you such a good fit. Your interviewers will be impressed. You’ve made the connection between the job and your abilities, and so will they.

2. How will I tout both my knowledge and my teamwork?

Be proud of what you’ve done and your credentials, but remember, you’ll lose big points if you come across as a know-it-all. Be sure to acknowledge the people who mentored you and teammates who helped you with your achievements. The interviewer wants to know that you work well with others and give credit where it’s due. Sounding too smart will make people feel that you won’t fit in, that if you’re hired you will tell your team just how to do things, and when they get it wrong, you’ll tell them how stupid they are. So be careful.

Don’t put down others or correct the person interviewing you. If you say you restructured an organization that was badly in need of your expertise, you’re dissing your former colleagues. If you correct the person interviewing you by saying, “Well, actually, I didn’t work for that division,” or “I’m late because I think you sent me the wrong time in my Google Calendar,” you might as well kiss the job goodbye. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong to sound superior.

3. How do I avoid sounding passive?

Interviewers will ask you specific questions. Answer them but also come prepared to shape the dialogue. The secret is to prepare a narrative that shows your strengths and illustrates why the job is right for you. This script should have a main message about you, as well as key supporting points explaining why you feel qualified for the position.

When you’re asked a question, let the answer flow into the material you have prepared. If the interviewer asks, “What is your most outstanding characteristic as a leader?” you’ll have the answer and more: “I see myself as a leader who can inspire others. I do this in several ways. First . . . ” This preparation will give you a stronger presence. It also means that when you leave the room, you won’t have regrets about failing to mention any of the reasons that make you a strong candidate.

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4. How eager should I be?

You may be uncertain about whether you’ll take the position. After all, every interview flows both ways–you are evaluating the company, just as they are judging you. But regardless of such feelings, you should act hungry for this job.

It’s easy to feel ambivalent about a major career move. Maybe you’re not quite ready for a big jump, perhaps the company interviewing you is not in your industry of choice, or the salary and benefits are not wholly to your liking.

But beware: Recruiters and employers will pick up on your ambivalence. They’ll hear it in your tone of voice, your body language, and words. So avoid giving mixed signals. Don’t suggest you’re considering other positions. Express how excited you are about this opportunity. Once the job is offered, you can decide whether you want it.

5. How much should I rehearse?

There’s nothing more important than rehearsing for that interview. But too many candidates think they can wing it and find out (all too late) that strategy was a mistake. The executive communications company I founded and headed for 30 years often rehearsed leaders for job interviews. I know from experience that practice made all the difference.

Rehearsing allows you to fine-tune your “pitch.” Work with a communications professional if you can, but even if you deliver your remarks to a family member or friend, you’ll find that trial run useful. A rehearsal will also allow you to address delivery issues. An audio or video recording, as well as feedback from a coach, can lead to remarkable improvement. It can help you get rid of filler words like “um,” “ah,” and “like.” Rehearse well, and you’ll enter the room with a great deal of confidence.

Ask, and answer, these five questions before a job interview. You’ll kill the interview, rather than getting killed by it. And when you land your dream job, you’ll be happy you took these steps.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors

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