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Here's What to Say in Job Interviews

Two women laughing at a table in an office.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I'm getting a decent number of job interviews, but I don't often get past a phone interview, and I've only made it to the final round a couple of times. I'm very good at what I do, but one thing I am not good at is job interviews—I either freeze up or open my mouth and spout gibberish. What can I do?

Getting promotions and new jobs both depend, to a considerable degree, on your interview performance. And the interview process can be nerve-racking: You're waiting outside the hiring manager's office, palms sweating, worrying about the coming interview. You have no idea what is happening on the other side of that door.

But l do. Let me share a secret that can change your whole attitude about interviewing: Behind that door, the interviewer is desperate, murmuring, "I'm not asking for much, just someone who can do the job and get along well with others. Then I can make the hire and get back to my job."

When you go to an interview, the hiring manager wants you to be the one so he or she can hire you and get back to work. All you have to do is help the hiring manager make the right decision, and it really isn't that hard.

How to Turn an Interview into a Job Offer

Turning interviews into offers is a critical skill—and probably one of your weakest because you likely have less experience doing this than anything else in your professional experience.

Treat every interview as an opportunity to build this most crucial survival skill. Nothing else about the job matters—not the pay, benefits or work environment. They are all irrelevant until an offer is on the table. Here's how to get that offer.

Know the Job Inside and Out

A successful interview starts with preparation and having something you know you can talk about easily and well. Once an interview is scheduled, study the job posting and connect the company's requirements to the skills and experience you have. Identify the job's challenges, their causes and solutions for each and be ready to tell the interviewer how you faced these problems before and solved them. Interviewers love to hear stories about achievements.

Hiring managers make judgments about candidates based not only on the candidates' responses to questions, but also on the questions the candidates ask, because those queries demonstrate a candidate's depth of understanding and engagement with the work. And it keeps the conversational flow of the interview from stopping and starting abruptly.

After you answer each of the hiring manager's questions, add a question of your own. For example, ask about the challenges that are anticipated in the job, or why people have failed or succeeded in the position. Listen and respond appropriately to the answer.

Don't forget to discuss the ways you've been a team player, recalling how you have worked with colleagues to deliver on your department's mission. Talk about responsibilities and working for the common good, using "we" instead of "I."

Show How You Solve Problems

Hiring managers are looking for candidates who can identify, anticipate, prevent (when possible) and solve the problems that continually arise within their areas of responsibility. When you cut right to the heart of any job, you see that we are all hired to be problem identifiers, problem preventers and problem-solvers.

The candidate who is best able to identify and discuss his or her skills and experiences and show how they relate to the recurring problems of a job is the one who gets the job offer. That person can take problems off the hiring manager's desk and prevent them from getting there in the future.

Think about every deliverable of the job in terms of the problems it presents and how you can identify, anticipate, prevent and solve those problems—then tell it to the hiring manager. It's the best way to hit on the very areas of concern that hiring managers are most concerned about.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!


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