Best Ways to Ace Your Next Interview

Robin Ryan


You're there in the hot seat ­ sitting across from the interviewer, the person who has the power to give you the job you desperately want, or who can decide to give it to someone else. The pressure is on, and you know there's no instant replay ­ you must succeed. Your stomach tightens, your throat feels dry, your heart pounds, your hands get sweaty ­ who ever said job interviews were easy?

When you want the job so badly you can taste it, it can feel like your whole world depends on these next few minutes. It's a make it, break it situation. So how do you do your best? What are the tricks, tools, or secrets that allowed someone else land the job? Are they really better qualified? We've all heard that before, when the employer politely says, "We've hired someone else."

Here are the keys to interview success, six ways that will help you improve your technique and do your best the next time a potential employer calls to say, "We'd like you to come in for an interview."

  • Determine a 5-Point Agenda

    This tool focuses the interview on your strengths as well as your ability to meet the employers' needs and get the job done. Job hunters are often amazed to learn that an interviewer can ask you an entire hour of questions and not hear one word you've said. They may be bored, frustrated, or unimpressed with your image within the first few answers and tune you out. After interviewing several people, hiring mangers will tell you that all the candidates begin to blur together. The 5-Point Agenda is your customized hiring strategy - your top five selling points that you bring to the job.

    Examine your previous experience, noting any special accomplishments. Zero in on your important work strengths ­ those abilities where you are most productive.

    Do some company research. Check with contacts and use your network to get as much background as possible. Thoroughly examine all the information you've been able to obtain about the employer, the company and the position's needs. Many times, your contacts will point out the very aspects that must make up your 5-Point Agenda. Other times, there will be little information available and you will need to guess, based on what you know in general about performing the job.

    After reviewing the employer and position needs, determine which of your abilities and experience will be most important to the employer. Then create your 5-Point Agenda, selecting each point to build a solid picture emphasizing how you can do their job. For example, a fundraiser might select years of experience as one point, the fact that she organized a major fundraiser and raised 15% more than the goal as another.

    The five points are customized before every job interview, analyzing the duties to be performed as well as the company's goals and objectives. These five points are your basic building blocks to answer the interviewer's questions. You'll want to re-stress each of these points whenever the opportunity presents itself. The message the employer will hear is a confidence builder that you have the ability to perform and do well in their job.

  • Create Your 60-Second Sell

    Successful job hunters noted that the 60-Second Sell was the most influential tool they used during the interview process. They praised the tool because it was effective in capturing the employer's attention and it provided an excellent, concise answer to tricky questions.

    The 60-Second Sell is a customized 60-second memorized statement that summarizes and links together your 5-Point Agenda. After you have put your five points into an order so that they flow together in the most effective way, you will create sentences that allow these points to be spoken in 60 seconds or less.

    Most interviews are over before they ever really get started. You have to immediately capture the employer's attention, get them tuned in to you as a true top-notch candidate. You need to open the interview by using your 60-Second Sell, and it's the perfect answer to the question: Tell me about yourself? Your answer focuses the interviewer, bringing attention to your most marketable skills, not telling a life story, which loses the employer's attention right at the start.

  • Pay Attention To Non-Verbal Clues

    Employers evaluate what they hear, while lending credence to what they see. Nervous gestures such as playing with your hair to tapping your fingers can absorb their attention. Nervous job hunters then compensate with crossing their arms, a gesture that radiates a closed, non-approachable, "stay away from me" message. To demonstrate that you are relaxed and confident, sit with you hands on your lap or rest them open on the table if one is in front of you. Equally acceptable is to open your notepad and have a pen to hold.

    Your movements, gestures, posture and facial expressions are an important part of your overall performance. A sincere smile sends a warm, confident message. Eye contact is one of the important things employers notice about you. It is crucial and conveys that your message is believable. We all get suspicious of a person who focuses eyes on the floor, to the side, but rarely on us. Practice until it is second nature to look at the person when answering a question.

    Your face can reflect so many expressions ­ humor, confidence, seriousness, concern, enthusiasm ­ all of which add depth and meaning to your words. Be sure to not sit there stoic, with a blank face. So often you fail to appear "real" and come across boring and dull. If you sit rigid, upright, or frozen, you communicate anxiety and insincerity. Likewise, slouching projects cowardliness, insecurity, less competence. Sit up tall but lean forward from time to time to make your point and draw in your listener.

    Use vocal intonations to make your point. Pauses, soft tones, louder tones, all add interest to a conversation. Be human and personable, but not loud and boisterous, letting your natural self shine through.

  • Important Questions You Should Ask

    Hiring managers continually tell me that they pay particular attention to the questions that you ask them. Your questions, especially when they are insightful, send a signal that you are not only interested in the job but truly trying to evaluate whether this will be a good match and work out long term for both parties. A top manager at AT&T said: "I judge candidates by the questions they ask. That's what's most revealing to me. I want someone focused on succeeding in the job and not just centered around how much money I will pay them."

    Come to the interview with a typed list of questions. Do not bring up any questions about salary or benefits at this time. Focus on determining if you want to do their job. Ten to fifteen questions is a reasonable number to have on your list and many will have been answered during the interview. Bring up anything the employer mentioned that you want to know more about.

    Use this time to gain insight on their corporate culture. Every organization has a workplace environment that defines what it is actually like to work there. Prior to the interview, you may have preconceived ideas about the company's culture based on their marketing, advertising or media exposure. Oftentimes these preconceived ideas prove to be very inaccurate once you get into the interview and begin to ask your questions. Better to learn now you don't want this job, than three weeks after you've started. Therefore, pay close attention to the answers and whether this is a boss you would like to work with daily. Some important questions to always ask are:
    • "Could you describe to me your typical management style and the type of employee that works well with you?"
    • "What are some of the skills and abilities you see as necessary for someone to succeed in this job?"
    • "What challenges might I encounter if I take on this position?"
    • "Describe the atmosphere of the office." (You are looking for clues on pressure and stress level with this question.)"
    • "Can you give me an idea of the typical workload and extra hours or special needs it demands?"
    Ideally, you need to stay focused on the job, the duties and/or promotional opportunities. A key strategy is to not ask questions about the salary, benefits or perks. The best time to cover those issues is after you've been offered the job.

  • Use a Convincing Close

    Most employers use some sort of rating system at the end of an interview. Some may just jot down notes; others might use a comprehensive evaluation form. With this in mind, how you end the interview will be a vital component in securing the job offer. The best way to be memorable is to end with your 60-Second Sell, which reiterates your top selling points to the employer.

    When the interview comes to an end, just before you get up to leave, close with your 60-Second Sell. Be sure to incorporate any major point that you learned from the employer during the interview, replacing one of the five original points with a new one to hit upon their need. Format the close to directly apply your abilities to what they have revealed about the position. Once said, stand, shake hands, and leave. What the employer will be thinking about is those five specific ways you can best perform their job.

    Employers can be influenced once you have left their office. A thank you note might be just what's needed to tip the hand in your favor if it is tight between you and someone else. Always send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.

  • Be prepared to Negotiate Salary and Benefits

    The hardest questions can be those that deal with salary. Handling them like a pro can assure you of obtaining the highest offer possible from an employer.

    Always, always, always ­ establish your value first. People want what they want. Employers too. That's the psychology that becomes your competitive edge in the salary negotiation process when you are the one they want. Once the employer decides they must have you to do the work there is a role reversal. Now they need to recruit and sell you on taking their job. It all begins with knowing what your skills and abilities are worth, then communicating that value to an employer. The end result is they must have you to do the job.

    You need to know what your skills are worth prior to the interview. Investigate what comparable jobs pay for the job title you are looking for in your geographic area. There are several places to find this information. Associations and business magazines frequently publish annual salary surveys. They often break down salary by job title, level of experience and by geographical regions. The Department of Labor publishes numerous salary lists. Many such surveys are posted on web sites. Your best bet is to ask the reference librarian at your local library to help you find the salary information you seek.

    © Copyright 2003 Robin Ryan. All rights reserved.

    Robin Ryan has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, Oprah, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, CNN, CNBC and is considered America's top career coach. She is the best-selling author of: 60 Seconds & You're Hired!; Winning Resumés; Winning Cover Letters, and What to Do with the Rest of Your Life. She's the creator of the highly acclaimed audio training program Interview Advantage and The DreamMaker. Robin's passion is helping people find better jobs which she successfully does through her career counseling practice where she offers individual career coaching and resumé writing services. A popular national speaker, Robin has spoken to over a thousand audiences on improving their lives and obtaining greater success. To purchase her books and audio training programs click here: http://www.robinryan.com

    To contact Robin email: RobinRyan@aol.com; or phone her at 425.226.0414.