By Martin Yate
Everyone has left an interview feeling they could do the job but that the interviewer didn’t ask the questions that would allow them to showcase their skills. This problem could cost you a job offer.
The clues for a bad, unprepared, inexperienced, or nervous interviewer are many:
The air of distraction is a red flag that helps you recognize the kind of interviewer you are dealing with. You can’t tidy their desk, but you can bring copies of your resume that will help give focus. Use the interruptions to take time to focus on how you will proceed.
When an interruption concludes, you can look down at a note on your pad (always take a note pad -- it shows that you pay attention, and makes you look efficient), and say, “We were talking about….”
The bad interviewer often starts with an explanation of why you are both sitting there, and then wanders into a lengthy lecture about the job and/or the company. When the interviewer is speaking, use the time to observe, to discover clues about who you are facing, and to gain insights into the needs of the job.
With inexperienced or unprepared interviewers, you can guide the conversation and claim opportunities to sell yourself by listening and making appreciative murmurs until there is a pause. When the interviewer pauses, ask a job-related question.
These interviews become ones that you can guide without giving the interviewer the feeling you have taken control of the proceedings (because that might be interpreted as you being "a management problem"). Simply turn a one-sided examination of skills into a two-way conversation between professional colleagues with a common area of interest by asking intelligent job-related questions.
[Read 50 Good Questions to Ask in Interviews for ideas about what to ask and when to ask questions in your interview.]
Good interview preparation requires you identify each of the component parts of the job:
Thinking about your job in depth like this gives you endless questions to ask. As you will see, asking questions is important to handling the nervous or inexperienced interviewer.
With preparation, you can ask questions as they apply to each aspect of the job whenever the rambling interviewer pauses for breath. In the process, you will turn the meeting into a two-way conversation by finishing each answer with a question of your own.
At the beginning of the interview, you might be able to get the to interviewer focus on the skill requirements by asking,
“What do you think are the most important responsibilities and the skills of the job?”
Their answer will allow you to talk about the skills you bring to the table in this area. This will demonstrate your real grasp of what is at the heart of this job, and the interviewer will be impressed.
Use questions like:
“Would it be of value if I described my experience with _______?” or
“Then my experience in ________ should be relevant to you, could I give you some details of my experience and accomplishments in this area?” or
“I recently completed a ______ project just like that. Would it be relevant to tell you about it?”
This approach -- asking questions that allow you to follow-up with your skills and accomplishments in that area -- will give the interviewer information to make a favorable judgment on your candidacy that will likely have evaded your competition.
Poor interviewers make hiring mistakes. If this has happened recently to this interviewer, they may begin with, or quickly break into, the drawbacks of the job. They may even describe the job in totally negative terms.
The interviewer’s answers give you the time to formulate exactly how to sell yourself in that area of responsibility.
Address each of the stated negatives. Illustrate your proficiency in that aspect of the job with an explanation of your experience and how you would handle such problems. Then, share your accomplishments in that area of responsibility.
"Yes, Mr. Smith, successfully managing large federal government contracts without losing money can be extremely challenging. In my nearly six years of experience managing contracts for Federal Contractor, I kept costs below the threshold set by management while complying with the contract. I did this by developing an inventory forecast model that enabled us to successfully..."
If the interviewer keeps asking closed-ended questions -- these are questions that demand no more than a yes-or-no answer, you have little opportunity to showcase your skills.
The trick is to treat each closed-ended question as if the interviewer has added to the end of it, “Please give me a brief yet thorough answer.”
So, give your "Yes" or "No" response, and, then, follow up. Like this:
"Yes, Mr. Smith, I do have experience managing large fixed-price government bids and the resulting contracts. In fact, I have managed bids that had total revenue in excess of $500 million. Determining how to deliver the right parts to the right places at the right times, in compliance with the requirements of the contract, while generating an acceptable profit was very challenging. As the hardware group's team leader, I managed..."
Following up the "Yes" or "No" response with juicy, relevant details about your experience and accomplishments wins you the opportunity to show that you have what it takes to do this aspect of the job successfully. As every other candidate faces the same problem, you will stand out as a good candidate whenever you can finesse the situation in this way.
Closed-ended questions are often mingled with statements followed by pauses. In these instances, agree with the statement in a way that demonstrates both a grasp of your job and the interviewer’s statement.
For example, after the interviewer has made a statement, your response showcases your experience and knowledge:
“That’s an excellent point, Mr. Smith. I couldn’t agree more that the attention to detail you describe naturally affects cost containment, and it’s something many people miss entirely. My track record in this area is . . .”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions during those pauses. Questions show interest and engagement with the job, and interviewers make judgments about candidates based both on the statements they make and the questions they ask. The questions you ask show that you get the job and take it seriously.
In addition to asking job-related questions, show engagement with what the interviewer is saying by giving verbal signals. You do this with occasional short, quiet interjections that don’t interrupt the flow of talk, but let the interviewer know you are paying attention: “uh-huh,” “that’s interesting,” “okay,” “great,” and “yes, yes” all work. But, be careful not to overdo them.
If you don’t fully understand where the interviewer is going with a question or statement, you can win time to think by asking, “Would you run that by me again please?”
When you ask them to repeat the question, it will not only be repeated, but the question will usually be repeated with more detail, giving you additional information to formulate your answer.
Turn a one-sided examination of skills into a two-way conversation between professionals. Demonstrate a good understanding of the job’s deliverables, make it clear that you possess the skills to do the job well, and you will become the top contender.