How to Handle Other Types of Interviews (page 4)
Off-site, Group, Panel, Campus, Case, Recruiter, and Internal Interviews
THE BEST WAY to prepare for any interview is to continue to hone the skills you've learned and developed, such as researching, listening well, preparing questions and answers, and editing and diversifying your success stories. You simply can't go wrong if you bring the same level of organization, alertness, and enthusiasm to every interview. At the same time, it helps immeasurably to know the nuts and bolts of each kind of interview.
Although it is true that most interviews share the same features, a few have pronounced differences. For example, a panel interview involves several interviewers—a difference that requires you to answer questions more concisely than you might in a standard interview, where there is more room to be expansive. Learning how to gauge your skills and responses to differences in interviewing techniques and styles requires flexibility and a willingness to improvise. But with a little preparation and practice, you should be able to handle the dynamics of any interview setting.
The key is to be as proactive as possible: Become involved in the interview process rather than letting it roll over you. And rather than dwell on the constraints of a particular form of interview, look for opportunities to show your strengths and best qualifications for a job. If you don't lose focus of your objective and have the courage to direct—and even re-channel—the flow of questions and answers, you are guaranteed to have a great interview.
The first step is to know what will be expected of you in each interview scenario. This article begins with a familiar form—the traditional interview. Here, it goes off site. As you will see, your skills and modus operandi will have to adapt to a change of location, but the information and advice that follows should help smooth the way. Finally, be aware that thoughtful and prompt follow-up is required of every form of interview. Use the opportunity of writing a thank-you note or making a phone call to consolidate and preserve the good impression you've already made.
Off-site interviews are generally conducted over a meal—lunch or dinner—in a restaurant. There are a number of reasons why you might be asked to attend an off-site interview. Your interviewer may prefer to meet you without office distractions, or the interviewer may work in a small office where the two of you could not have privacy. Or if your prospective job involves meeting with clients or being in the public eye, the off-site interview may be a test of your social graces.
No matter what the reason for your off-site interview, make sure that you're well versed in the rules of etiquette. In order to prepare your self for the meeting, peruse the pages of a standard book of etiquette, such as The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (revised edition, 2000). This is not to assume that you have no manners, but rather to help you be more comfortable with the situation. You will feel more confident knowing that you double-checked which bread plate belongs to you. Whether or not the job involves entertaining clients, your prospective supervisor will look for a certain level of poise in social settings.
The interview will likely be fluid and more conversational in tone. However, it is still in your best interests to consider it a test. Although you and the interviewer may discuss a recent film or a book you just read, remember that this is still an interview, not a meal with a friend.
On a purely pragmatic level, it makes sense not to order a dish that will be difficult to manage, such as lobster or spaghetti, unless, of course, you are extremely adept at handling both. But then there's the drinking dilemma.
Should You Order a Drink?
The best rule of thumb is: Never drink alcohol at an interview. Even if your host is drinking, it is not a good idea. Although you may think you handle alcohol well, it is easy to lose your focus and self-control if you drink. If you don't handle alcohol well, do not order it under any circumstances, even if your potential boss orders a glass (or bottle) of wine, a beer, or a cocktail.
Don't leave the interview, even if it is at a restaurant or in the company cafeteria, without finding out what the next step is. Who will be calling whom?
And, of course, you need to send a thank-you note. Typically, a note is handwritten on stationery or printed on the same paper with the same heading style as your resume and cover letter paper. Writing a note shows that you have taken the time to express your thanks in a thoughtful and personal way. Remember to refer specifically to something you discussed over the meal that reinforces how well suited you are to the job. If you are not sure how to write a thank-you note, almost any book of etiquette will show you how, or refer to the sample in Appendix D.
Regarding thank-you notes: Mailing an actual note is the best option, but in today's business world, e-mail is often the norm, especially when hiring decisions are being made quickly. The key to any thank-you communication is to be courteous, concise, and timely.
A group interview involves meeting with several different people over the course of a few hours or a day. If you are interviewing for a paralegal position at a large law firm, for instance, you might meet with a human resources administrator, a financial manager, several attorneys, and one or two paralegals, in addition to your prospective boss. The reasons for being interviewed by a group may vary, but in most cases, you will have already had two interviews before you are asked back to meet more people:
- A screening interview with someone from the Human Resources department
- An interview with your potential boss
The people you will meet in a group interview are either in your potential department or work with it, in one capacity or another. The most important thing to remember about this kind of interview is that although your potential boss's opinion of you counts the most, he or she would not have asked others to interview you if their vote didn't count also.
In the best-case scenario, the majority wins: If almost everyone—say five out of a group of six (including your potential boss)—agrees that you are the best candidate for the job, then you are hired. In the worst-case scenario, a consensus is called for, and you don't get hired unless everyone agrees that you should get the job.
Needless to say, it is important to do well in all of your interviews, whether it is one-on-one with someone in human resources or with a group of potential co-employees. Part of the test in being interviewed by many people is getting along with all of them. Often the feeling is, "Oh well, I didn't have chemistry with the financial manager, but I did with the marketing person, so they will cancel each other out. " However, that might not be true. Try to build rapport with everyone. Listen for clues about what is most important to each person; once you know, you can expand your answers to include relevant details.
Sometimes the interviewing group is composed of your peers, which may make you feel more comfortable and will give you an opportunity to learn about company culture from your peer group. Be careful, though, about the questions you ask. Your potential boss will undoubtedly ask members of the group what you talked about, and it could seriously work against you if he or she discovers that you kept asking everyone what the promotional opportunities or vacation policies are, especially if you've already covered this ground with your potential boss. It will look like you're double-checking what he or she told you or that you're less focused on the job itself than on the job's benefits.
Strategies for Talking to a Group
When you're talking to a lot of different people, you won't have as much time to get across as many stories as you did during the interview with your potential boss, so you will have to be selective about the ones you use. For example, if you're chatting with a financial person, work in a short story that demonstrates your numbers savvy; if you're talking to a marketing person, pick a story about when you've used creative ideas.
So it's important to understand your audience: What is this person's function in the organization, and which of my stories would be the most compelling and relevant to their particular experience? For example, here's how one person handled a group interview successfully.
After my first interview at an advertising company, I was called back for a group interview. I was a little nervous about having to sell myself to so many people in a single day—after all, one interview is exhausting, so I figured five or six would be grueling.
But then a friend told me a little trick to make things go more smoothly. She said that one way to make the interviews easier was to incorporate what the one person had told you about the company into your interviews with others. It sounds simple, but it really works.
My first interviewer told me a bit about a recent, untraditional ad campaign the company was involved in. So, when I met with the second interviewer, I mentioned the campaign and asked if the firm was planning to continue exploring innovative advertising methods. I was even able to tie our discussion in with a story about how I had used some unorthodox, but very successful, methods to boost the number of advertisers at my college yearbook.
As I learned more information from different individuals, I incorporated it into my next interviews. I was more relaxed, and I came across as very knowledgeable and interested in the firm. And, best of all, I got the job.
After a group interview, thank your potential boss for giving you the opportunity to meet with some of the people with whom you might be working. Don't leave without asking him or her what the next step is. If you need to call someone in human resources or your potential supervisor by a certain date, make sure that you do. In the meantime, send individual thank-you notes to the people you met. Take the time to write a thank-you note to your interviewer. It is important to reinforce your interest or to express renewed enthusiasm for the job.
During a panel interview, you will meet with several people at the same time. This type of interview simulates a business meeting where you are the presenter. The members of the panel will be people with whom you would interact when on the job or a group of individuals designated because of their status, skills, and areas of expertise as an "Employment Committee. " The panel might include your potential supervisor, his or her boss, someone from human resources, coworkers, plus one or more senior managers who might be tangentially involved with you and your work. The interview usually lasts for about an hour, although it could be longer.
Even if you are scheduled for a panel interview, you will still have a one-on-one interview with your potential supervisor, which should last at least an hour. The interviews don't necessarily occur on the same day.
A panel interview typically follows a standard progression: Stage one is the interview with human resources; stage two is the interview with your potential supervisor. On-campus panels take place at a college or university; in these interviews, students are asked to come into a room, one at a time, to be interviewed without the benefit of meeting with anyone from the company beforehand. In other words, this arrangement would take the place of a screening interview. If all goes well, the student is invited back to the employer's location for the second stage of the interview.
The person who moderates a panel interview is usually the senior person in the room. The arrangement varies from company to company, although it should be fairly clear who the moderator is because he or she will be the person to set the stage for you.
For example, the moderator might begin by introducing the members of the panel and then launch into the objective of the interview. Pay attention to both points, and quickly jot down notes to help you remember the names of the panel members. The moderator will then tell you what the next steps will be. Usually it is a straightforward affair: Members of the panel ask questions and you answer them until the hour is up or the questions seem to come to a natural stopping point.
There is no limit to the number of people who might be on the panel: There may be as many as six or more or as few as two. Remember, the composition of a panel varies depending on the nature of the job, so don't be surprised if there is someone on the panel who might actually be your peer. If the company expects you to work in teams with people from various levels of the organization, it makes sense to meet them early on. The main advantage of the panel is that it saves time. Everybody hears your story firsthand, so it's a efficient way of interviewing.
However, panel interviews can be stressful. This is something that most candidates underestimate. It is challenging to build rapport with each panelist. Also, panel members don't always decide before the interview what types of questions will be asked and who will ask them. So, while you're answering one question, the panel members are busy thinking of the next one. This rapid-fire questioning technique can be both hectic and demanding, and it requires that you think on your feet.
Strategies for Panel Interviews
In your effort to create some sort of structure to reduce the stress of being asked so many questions by so many people at such a fast rate, the tendency is to focus on answering the questions of one person on the panel. This is a mistake. Instead, you should try to include all members of the panel in the discussion. Make eye contact with the person who has asked the question, but make sure you include others by making eye contact with them as well. (See Chapter 5 for more information about using—and reading other people's—body language in an interview. ) If you can, tie comments made by one member of the panel into your answer of another member's question.
The second mistake you can make in a panel interview is to be reactive rather than proactive. On one hand, it is important to pay attention to the questions and make sure you answer them. On the other hand, you want to maintain some control of the interview and tell some of your success stories. First, focus on answering the questions being asked, and then switch your focus to using your success stories. For example, take a look at the following interview to see how you might accomplish this.
Panel Member 1: Why did you choose to go to Humboldt College?
Tyler: I chose Humboldt for several reasons. I knew that I wanted to go into journalism, and Humboldt has an excellent writing program, as well as a well-respected college newspaper—
Panel Member 2: Yes. I see here that you were managing editor of the newspaper. So you decided to do that to gain experience in journalism?
Tyler: That was certainly part of it. But I also chose to work on the paper because of the leadership opportunities the job provided. As managing editor, I was responsible for supervising a staff of 45 columnists and editors. I didn't just have my own deadlines—I had to keep track of and manage everyone's deadlines.
I created a computer tracking system that sent automatic e-mails to columnists, reminding them that their column was due in one week, two days, and one day. The reminders worked wonders, and because columns were in on time, the editors and layout staff were able to produce the paper in a timely manner—instead of being forced to pull all-nighters. So, I decided to work on the paper to learn about journalism, but also to tackle a leadership role and to prove that I could implement creative ideas to make an organization run more smoothly.
Tyler could have gotten flustered when the second panel member interrupted him. Instead, he capitalized on the panel member's question, using it to tell a story that demonstrated his initiative, leadership, and problem-solving abilities.
You may actually find it much easier than you expected to tell your success stories, because people will ask you a lot more questions than they would in any other setting, including group interviews. However, don't get nervous if you can't get all ten stories out—five or six is plenty. So, before you start freewheeling and talking off the top of your head, remember your strategy:
- Don't wait to work in your success stories if you see possible segues. It is just as important to illustrate your good qualities by way of success stories in a group as it is during a one-on-one interview. Remember to answer each question directly, if necessary, and then launch a story.
- If the panel asks you questions for which you have no prepared story, you will have to think on your feet. Pause, collect your thoughts, and improvise. Keep these answers short, and save your time for the success stories that you've prepared.
- Try to give the panelists equal time. Providing thorough answers to each question ensures that you've given respectful, thoughtful answers to each member.
If you tell your stories in a compelling way, your audience will want to hear more. If you've ever made a speech, delivered a paper, or made a presentation in class, you know the drill: People ask questions afterward. If your topic has been particularly stimulating, they get excited and start asking questions simultaneously, without waiting for each other. In this situation, you may feel relaxed because you know your subject and feel in control of it. You should feel the same way about a panel interview because the subject matter is you. Prepare to talk about yourself as you would any other subject of a speech or presentation.
Before the interview, go over the ten stories that describe your best qualities over and over again. Think of ways to weave them into the kinds of questions that might be asked of you. Following are some sample questions that do not specifically ask for stories. Pay attention to the answers, noting the way the speaker used the questions to segue into his stories.
What are your greatest strengths?
I am levelheaded, efficient, and I'm very persistent. I think my greatest strength, however, is creative problem solving. I'm good at looking at problems and thinking of ways to fix them. For instance, I spent one summer working at a doctor's office. The administrative assistants did all the billing by hand—it was an arduous process.
I knew there had to be a better way, so I did some research on computerized billing programs. I found one company that would come to the office and spend half a day training the employees, without charging any more than the other services. I also volunteered to learn all the intricacies of the program myself, so that I could assist anyone who had trouble using the system. Within a couple of weeks, things were running smoothly—and all of the assistants had extra time to devote to other tasks.
How do you usually handle conflicts?
I try to keep cool when dealing with a difficult situation. I think it's important to solve problems by reasoning, rather than letting personal issues get in the way. I often had to deal with conflicts when I was editor of my high school yearbook. I had a very large staff, and there were often huge disagreements over what photos to print, how to lay out the pages, how to spend our budget, and so on. In addition, there were many clashing personalities—some of the staff members had trouble getting along with others. During one meeting, the arguing got so bad that we simply couldn't get anything done.
Instead of losing my temper, I decided that we had to implement a better system of running meetings and making decisions: a set agenda. Everyone received a copy of the agenda, so there was no confusion about what would be discussed; I always factored in time for people to bring up other issues, but the agenda gave the meetings structure. We also voted on all decisions, and a decision could only pass if three-fourths of the staff agreed to it. Meetings ran much more smoothly after that, and there were fewer arguments.
There is a third mistake that panel interviewees sometimes make: They assume that they have to get everything right, but have no idea what that means. Relax. This is not a true/false quiz. The panel will evaluate all of your answers, your communication style, your poise, and many other factors. There is no right answer that will get you the job. As with all types of interviews, prepare yourself by doing your homework on the company and get a good night's sleep. Exhibit 6–1 is a checklist of suggestions to help you before and during a panel interview.
If a panel interview is either on the same day or within a day or two of a one-on-one interview with your potential boss, write him or her a thank-you note, and be sure to write individual notes to everyone on the panel. It is also a courtesy to thank your potential employer for arranging the panel interview. Remember to point out anything that came up in the panel interview that was of special interest to you or that relates to your particular fitness for the job.
If you really want to move on to the next step, you must take the initiative; you don't want to leave your future in someone else's hands
Some campus interviews occur at career fairs, which gives them an entirely different feel than traditional job interviews. For one thing, you have less time to present yourself in the best light. In fact, you don't usually have more than three minutes to deliver your sound bite at an employer's booth or table. Some companies conduct mini-interviews in an auditorium or hall filled with hundreds of other students who are trying to obtain the same job. Under these circumstances, what you have to do is get your resume into the hands of the right person, and make sure that he or she remembers you during the screening process.
Making an Impression
If you have only three minutes in which to sell yourself—and that's exactly how long most campus interviews really last—it is extremely helpful to research the company first and rehearse what you want to say. (Please refer to Chapter 3 for more information on researching a company. ) You will greatly boost your chances of being taken seriously if you can say that you are interested in the company for specific reasons and that your background is a good fit for the job because of specific reasons.
In any case, you won't have time for even one good success story, so you have no choice but to focus on facts. Be prepared to know what they are and make as compelling a case as you can for yourself. Don't be shy. Campus recruiters expect a hard sell because of time limitations and the sheer number of students who want to be interviewed. Once you get a date for a second interview, you can work on presenting yourself at length—and with a little more polish.
Your college or university may also participate in on-campus recruiting. This means that you can arrange interviews with certain firms through your college career center. The interviews will take place on campus.
The companies that participate in on-campus recruiting tend to be large firms that hire many new employees straight out of college. The types of companies that recruit vary depending upon which college you attend.
Speak with your college career center to see how on-campus recruiting works at your school. Some schools arrange a "resume drop," a day when students wishing to participate in on-campus interviews must file all resumes and cover letters with the college career center. Typically, students will have to prepare a separate resume/cover letter package for each firm to which they wish to apply. If your college has such a system, be prepared—resume drops may occur as early as December, although interviews may not be scheduled until February or March.
What to Expect
On-campus interviews are screening interviews to decide which candidates will be invited back to the company for further interviews. A company interviewer may be your potential supervisor, human resources personnel, or an employee in a position similar to the one for which you are interviewing. Companies usually try to include one employee who graduates from your school.
Because on-campus interviews are screening interviews, the interviewers will meet with a number of students and then select a certain percentage of those students to proceed on to the next round of interviews. Although your interviewer will not be making hiring decisions, expect competition to be pretty stiff—on-campus interviewers will be seeing many qualified candidates.
If you are interviewing in certain fields, particularly consulting, financial services, and business development, you may be required to participate in one or more case interviews. In such an interview, you will be presented with a business problem, and asked how you would go about solving it. The goal of the interview is for the interviewer to gauge your analytical and problem-solving skills.
The interview will not test your specific knowledge about an industry or business. Instead, applicants are typically presented with a generic scenario and may be given relevant information needed to solve the problem. As you work out the problem aloud, your interviewer will give you constant feedback and provide you with more information as you need it.
Cases can incorporate numbers and data to varying degrees. The interviewer may be interested in testing your ease with numbers and your quantitative abilities. If economic concepts are what the company is after (if, for instance, you are interviewing with a firm in financial services), they may instead deal with profitability or simple financial functions. In general, though, the most critical skills that case interviews screen for is the ability to think through problems in a logical, coherent manner with little preparation and limited information.
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