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Job Interviewing Skills: Chatting, Preening, or Dissing Not Permitted

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Imagine this. You're in an important job interview and your cell phone rings. Do you answer it? You're asked a question about your former job that you despised, do you diss it? You feel pretty confident about yourself, do you puff and preen? The answer to all three questions is "no," according to CareerBuilder.com. Most adults who have some common sense might not make these mistakes, but for 15- to 25-year-olds I imagine it's sadly typical. Any one of these things can disqualify you instantly for a job. And Inappropriate behavior and dress happen more often than you may think.

After interviewing thousands of people as a consultant for a large, well-known corporation for everything from account collections to senior management, I've heard a lot of tall tales and even fallen for a few. I've been surprised and alarmed by nutty behavior. I've fallen in love with candidates and taken an instant dislike to others. The ones I've been smitten by follow Oscar Wilde's advice: "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

Beyond that sage advice what I've learned is there are certain sound bites, protocols and manners that are essential to move from candidate to employee without being slick or sales-y.

They are:

1. Do your homework.
Think of this encounter as meeting your in-laws. You would want to know who loves lemon pie and who hates sports, so you would be adored, wouldn't you? Same goes. Learn everything you can about the company, the position and the interviewer before you set foot in the potential employer's office. When the time is right you can ask intelligent questions and know if the salary you're offered is commensurate with the market.

2. Choose what stories you'll tell.
Everyone loves stories. Turn the highlights of your accomplishments into stories that have three components: 1) a situation or problem, 2) action, and 3) result. Think of the best success stories to illustrate the skills and talents needed for the particular job for which you're interviewing. Or, give an example of when you overcame adversity. Both can be potent persuaders. I'll never forget my interview with the first African American man to be hired at Disneyland. He brought me to tears with his story of transformation from gang member to social worker. When you give colorful, specific details that engage emotions, your interviewer will remember you and your story better. If he needs to convince anyone else you're right for the job, he's ready.

3. Prepare for the worst.
When asked the dreaded question "Tell me about yourself" be prepared to take your interviewer through a few choice stories that illustrate skills you'll need for the specific job you're applying for. Get a friend or colleague to ask you worst case scenario questions, including illegal ones like, "Have you ever been arrested?" For "What if" questions feel free to clarify them with, "What I think you're asking me is... " and then launch into one of the stories you've prepared that answers the real question.

For questions about your worst qualities like "What is your biggest weakness" use the "kiss, kill, kiss" technique -- start with a positive statement, insert the negative in the middle, and then end with the positive action you took to change the situation for the better. If you know that your potential employer will have questions (like who will take care of your kids if you have to work late) address these concerns before you're even asked.

4. Prepare for the best.
Skilled interviewers use a technique called "behaviorally based" interviewing which means that past behavior predicts future success. These types of questions focus on how you've handled "failures" or difficult situations as well as successes. You'll be expected to demonstrate or prove your worth through specific examples. They often begin with the line, "Tell me about a time when... " Your examples can come from community work, education, or personal experiences that apply to the type of position you're interviewing for.

5. Listen for company values & issues.
Read between the lines. Listen, not just to the surface questions, but for problems that you are the solutions to. Also be alert to the underlying values of the company. One of the biggest hidden agendas of an interviewer is that he's taking your pulse to see if you mesh with the company culture. You'll want to demonstrate, through the types of examples you choose, that you do.

6. Turn the tables.
Don't beg, grovel, or otherwise flip up your belly doggie-style -- even if you're desperate for a job. Remember that you're interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Plan your questions to touch on important issues such as company or department morale, your exact job description, pending corporate changes, training programs, industry challenges, etc. Follow up on any answers that seem cursory, as they are typically the ones that will lead you to what you really need to know to make the proper decision.

7. Finish with a flourish.
When I was a consultant to a major corporation, I always gave the interviewee a chance to sell herself at the end of the interview by asking: "Is there anything you'd like to add that I haven't asked you?" The people who could name the problems that their skills and abilities could address impressed me the most -- and frequently got the job over someone equally talented, but less savvy.

I'm taking my almost 10 years of interviewing skills in corporate America in a different direction now to help the gum-chewing, cell-phone answering, boss-dissing teens and twenty-somethings learn manners and job interviewing skills so they don't get discounted for their talents and originality.

I want to accomplish four things that will help our economy out of the recession and improve the status and well-being of the United States in the global marketplace.

  1. Prepare college students for job interviews after graduation.
  2. Prepare inner city kids (not collegebound) to land a job w/a career path that suits their strengths.
  3. Teach teen, college and young adult entrepreneurs what it takes to get start-up funding from venture capitalists by media training them to say exactly what their audience needs to know.
  4. Teach teen, college and young adult entrepreneurs how to get and keep media attention to be profitable companies, thought leaders in their industry, and recognized, respected and sustainable brands.

Also, check out: Mission: Small Businesses

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