You can forget everything you've ever read in books about job interviewing. Whatever they say, today it's different. There may be one or two tips worth remembering but overall, if you go into an interview thinking that you're going to experience what you've read about in some book, be prepared for a shock.
It almost seems as if the hiring process has turned into the "wild west.â€ You would expect that those responsible for deciding who gets hired would at least know what they're doing. You expect them to be prepared, to know about your qualifications from your resume or even a pre-interview and to be able to answer questions about the company you might have.
It's no wonder we have unemployment verging on 10%. How does anyone get hired anymore when the people doing the hiring at out to lunch?
Veteran career coach David Couper tells Fortune magazine this month that job applicants should just toss their expectations out the window. And when it comes to the interview process, he's identified ten areas you need to know about before your next interview.
Couper calls them the ten myths of the interview process. Here they are in reverse order of importance, something like Dave Letterman's top ten lists.
So, job interview myth number ten is that the interviewer is always prepared. Actually, says Couper, the person you're meeting with is probably so overworked and stressed out about having to hire someone that they have no idea what they should do or say.
Couper's advice? Make it easy for him or her and just start talking about yourself. Tell them why you're a great fit for this job. It will become obvious they haven't read your resume, so just recap it briefly, and then tie it to the job you want. Tell them what they everything they need to know, so they won't have to come up with more questions.
As for myth number 9, most interviewers have been trained to conduct thorough job interviews. Right. Human resources professionals get training in job interviewing techniques, but not the average hiring manager or the person ultimately responsible for choosing the best candidate. They don't have a clue and usually just wing it.
Couper says it's going to be up to you to make up for their vague questions. So you need to be specific with two or three concrete examples of particular skills and experiences that highlight why they should hire you.
Myth number 8 is that it's only polite to accept an interviewer's offer of refreshment. Forget it. They're just trying to be courteous when in reality they'd rather not have to bother. So unless the beverage in question is right there and won't take more than a second to get, just say, no, thank you.
Couper says he once interviewed a job candidate who said she would love a cup of tea, which, he recalls, "meant I spent half the allotted interview time looking for a tea bag, heating water, and so on. It was irritating."
Couper adds that another good reason decline a drink offer is that if the interview is long, you don't want to need a restroom halfway through the conversation.
Myth number seven is that interviewers expect you to hand over references' contact information right away. This almost never happens. Couper says to hold off until you're specifically asked for references and even then you can delay a bit by offering to send the information in an email in a day or two.
There are two good reasons for not rushing it. Couper says that first you may not know until the end of the interview who would be the best reference for this particular job. He says if you get a sense that the interviewer cares most about teamwork, you want to choose someone who can attest to your skills in that area. A reference who can only talk about some other aspect of your work is not going to help.
Second, you want time to prep your references, by gently coaching them on what you'd like them to say before the employer calls them.
The right answer
The next myth, number six, is a major one -- there's a right answer to every question an interviewer asks. Again, there often is no right or wrong answer.
Sometimes how you approach your answer is far more important than the answer itself. Couper says that if you're presented with a hypothetical problem and then asked to solve it, try to think of a comparable situation from the past and tell what you did about it.
Myth number five is that you should always keep your answers short. Couper says here's where doing lots of research before an interview really pays off. The more you've learned about the company and the job beforehand, the better able you are to tell why you are the right hire.
Don't be afraid to talk at length about it, partly because it will spare the interviewer having to come up with another question for you and partly because "in a good interview, you should be talking about two-thirds of the time. A colleague went to an interview recently and went on and on about the company and how he didn't know how it would fit in but because he knew so much about the firm, he was hired anyway.
Myth number 4 -- if you've got great qualifications, your appearance doesn't matter. Actually, your physical attractiveness probably plays a bigger part in the hiring decision than your qualifications. Besides, it's nearly a given that everyone who gets to the interview has been pre-screened and is assumed qualified.
Couper says people care about your looks, so make the absolute most of what you've got. Even if you're not drop-dead gorgeous, it's impossible to overestimate the importance of looking healthy, energetic, and confident.
Myth number three is that when asked where you see yourself in five years, you should show tremendous ambition.
Unfortunately, the five-year question is a common one, but it's also very tricky. Couper says interviewers want you to be a go-getter, but they're also afraid you'll get restless if you don't move up fast enough. So you want to say something that covers all bases, like, 'I'd be happy to stay in this job as long as I'm still learning things and making a valuable contribution."
You might also consider turning the question around and asking, "Where do you see me in five years?" Sometimes the answer to that is "we'd expect you to keep doing the same thing we hired you to do.â€ There, you've just spotted a dead-end job.
Job still open?
The second greatest job interview myth is that if the company invites you to an interview that means the job is still open.
If only this were true. Unfortunately, some hiring managers schedule an interview because you have an interesting resume and they just want to meet you. Other times the job may never have existed in the first place.
This is some companies' way of doing market research on the cheap. They ask you about your current or recent duties, your pay scale, and so on, to get information for comparison purposes. Couper says that another possibility is that they may already have a strong internal candidate in mind for the job but just want to see if they come across someone better.
If you get an interview through a networking contact, he adds, "an employer may interview you simply as a courtesy to the person who referred you, if that is someone they don't want to disappoint."
But even if the job opening is phony, it's still worth going. Couper says that sometimes they discover you're a good fit for a different opening that really does exist. You never know where an interview might lead.
And finally, the number one myth about job interviewing is that the most qualified person gets the job. You probably already guessed that one.
In at least one crucial respect, a job interview is like a date: Chemistry counts. Couper says that a candidate who is less qualified, but has the right personality for the organization and hits it off with the interviewer, will almost always get hired over a candidate who merely looks good on paper.
So, what can you do if you suspect you're not knocking an interviewer's socks off? At the end of the discussion, you'll probably be asked if you have any questions. Couper suggests that if you sense the person has reservations about your style ask what the ideal candidate for this job would be like. Then think fast.
Try to talk about how you fit that profile, addressing any concerns the interviewer might have. This could be your last chance to seal the deal. Just keep in mind that there may not be anything you could say that would make a difference if the chemistry isn't there.
Now you know how actors and actresses feel when they audition. Job interviewing is the same thing. It's your audition for the role of candidate. So don't take it personally if you don't get it. It has nothing to do with you or your qualifications.
Thereâ€™s more to the job interviewing process than meets the eye so here are some things you should know before your next interview...