Your Career Q&A: Turning a Job Interview to Your Advantage

By Martin Yate Dec 20, 2016
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​Ever been in a job interview where the interviewers didn't quite know what to ask? Here's how to help them out and land the job. 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 went to an interview recently and I knew I would be able to do the job really well. I was excited and I wanted the job, but the interviewer never asked me the questions that would have allowed me to show my enthusiasm or capabilities. In fact, he didn't ask many questions at all, and he did most of the talking. It was a really depressing experience, and I'm wondering if there is anything I could have done differently.

Anonymous

You are not alone! Almost everyone has come away from an interview thinking that they could do the job but that they hadn't been given the opportunity to showcase their skills and the great match they were for that employer's needs. What you experienced may happen again, so let's make sure you are ready to turn this to your advantage next time.

[SHRM members-only: Join the discussions on SHRM Connect]

Success as a manager depends on getting work done through others, which makes employee selection critical. Nevertheless, there will always be interviewers who don't know how to interview*, and—worse for them and for the company—they don't know that they don't know how to interview. These tips will help you help them learn more about you.

Interviews often start with the interviewer saying, "Tell me about yourself." Tailor the short bio you give to directly reflect the priorities of the job description, using the words, phrases and acronyms most likely to resonate within your industry and for the position you are seeking. Then end with a statement along the lines of, "So you can see why I wanted to talk to you. I'm pretty close to a perfect match for the job, and I'm eager to talk about the nuts and bolts of the work." Clear, succinct verbal communication speaks to the employer's needs and demonstrates intelligent and informed enthusiasm. Even if the interviewer is incompetent, you've gotten started with a clear statement of your relevant capabilities.

As the interview progresses, if you notice an absence of questions, use your knowledge of the company's customers' needs to ask questions that showcase your expertise. These can be tagged onto a close-ended question from the interviewer like, "Can you work under pressure?" You would answer yes and add, "Would it be of value if I gave you a real-world example of the problems and pressures I deal with every day in this area?" This kind of answer shows how well you understand and can deal with the job's problems efficiently and professionally.

Done in a quietly enthusiastic and curious tone, such questions turn a one-sided examination of skills into a conversation between two professionals with a common interest. That can really set you apart. It gets the interviewer thinking, "He knows his stuff and asks some really pertinent questions. This is the kind of talent we need."

The key to it all is knowing the job's priorities and then preparing for the interview by thinking about the problems that come with each responsibility. Consider how you would anticipate, identify and solve those problems when they arise—and prevent other problems from occurring. Your abilities in these areas are what will help you contribute to the company's profitability.

* From an HR perspective, we know that the inability to evaluate candidates effectively is a drain on the bottom line. Unfortunately, the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more difficult it is to get management to attend training events. A solution to this really serious problem is to have an online workshop available for on-demand viewing. Executives can attend in private and have a reference tool ready at their fingertips. With a reference guide to accompany it, this approach is tailored to the needs (and egos) of the users and can have a very powerful impact on the talent that the company attracts.  Proposing and coordinating this training is a way for HR professionals to contribute directly to the bottom line—an outcome we greatly desire!

Track workshop completion and management performance for two years, and the results will be astounding.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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