Ten Interview Strategies You Can Use Right Away
In my interview coaching practice I see many clients come in to my office or on Zoom befuddled beyond measure as to why they are not getting call-backs after interviews. They are baffled, at least, until I give them my feedback about their interview style, their manners, their fidgeting ticks, their vocal fillers and their lack of personal awareness of how to run a successful interview. Once they receive this feedback, they easily adjust what they are doing and stop making needless basic errors that ruin the interview. This article has 10 sets of interview problems, with a quick fix strategy for each one.
Ten Interview Strategies
You Can Use Right Away
Learn These Critical Interview Problems
And Coaching Corrections
Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California
In my interview coaching practice I see many clients come in to my office or on Zoom befuddled beyond measure as to why they are not getting call-backs after interviews. They are baffled, at least, until I give them my feedback about their interview style, their manners, their fidgeting, their vocal fillers and their lack of personal awareness of how to run a successful interview. Once they receive this feedback, they easily adjust what they are doing and stop making needless basic errors that ruin the interview. This article has 10 sets of interview problems, with a quick fix strategy for each one. Here we go.
Problem #1: The interviewer acts unprofessionally, rudely, coldly, or in an egoistic manner.
The Solution: First, don’t take personally anything an interviewer says or does. Always give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and assume their negativity is not about you, until and unless you can prove otherwise, with solid, factual data. For example, if the interviewer seems bored, it’s possible this person may be "thinking out loud" when they say they were stressed or tired about having to do another interview. It may have had nothing to do with you.
Another self-protective angle you can use is empathy. Have empathy for the person. You don't necessarily need to show it, but I recommend you do. That will create rapport with that stressed person. You DO know the person acts unprofessionally, and has poor manners. You hope you won't need to work with them, but you never know. If it takes dealing well with people like this in order to get an offer, you can tolerate ANYTHING for a portion of an interview day, or longer.
Always suspend "final judgment" of your opinion of the company or program while at the interview. Your initial, visceral reaction of a rude interviewer may be valid at that time, but in hindsight, after the dust clears, and you are home or talking with friends later, your opinion of the interviewer may drastically change, and for the better. Always remain professional, hopeful, and be on your very best behavior. The interviewer can act poorly and may get away with it. They probably won't be fired for that. But if you allow your irritation to show, this can ruin your chances of moving forward.
Problem #2: You have trouble figuring out how to solve coding puzzles they give you.
The Solution: Troubles like this are not so unusual in engineering. No one knows everything in engineering. The field changes too quickly. Often the interviewer mainly wants to see your process, how you think, how creative you are and to see how persistent you are. You can “pass” this task even if you don’t get the correct answer. As in math class, you’ll get partial credit as you show your work. Don’t feel or act embarrassed. Just stay with describing how you approach problem solving. Many problems in the real world are not solved on a moment’s notice. They take percolation time, time to think through and even to ask advice from others.
Problem #3: You have never experienced a group interview before.
The Solution: A group interview is a situation where there are multiple candidates in one room at the same time, presenting to a panel. It can feel very competitive and intimidating, and it can be quite challenging to standout in a crowd. Businesses and schools use a group format to observe how people operate in an interactive setting. They want to see who is assertive, shy, a team player, a leader, bossy, smooth, egoistic, etc. To thrive in this format, show interest in your fellow applicants. Look at them as they speak, refer to them in your answers if appropriate, piggy-back on their answers, and be sure to show you are listening to them. If someone else goes ahead of you on an answer and "steals your thunder", just smile and say, "Wow, you're reading my mind. Those are many of my reasons for wanting to be a physician also". Then add your extras.
Problem #4: The interviewer asks you for a story about ____, and you don’t have such a story.
The Solution: Use the conjecture technique. Say, “At this point in my career that hasn’t happened to me. But I’m sure it will. Here is what I would do if it did.” And then create a story of your actions in response to the situation. This is safer than simply pretending that this actually did happen to you and making it up because if the interviewer begins to probe about it, you very likely will be hard-pressed to keep your story straight without sounding like you are then “making stuff up”.
Problem #5: Your answers may be fine in terms of content, but they’re too remote, generic and sterile. They sound like a college professor lecture. The interviewer feels you could be giving your answers to anyone, but not to them in particular.
The Solution: Use personalization and customization. Instead of saying, “I’m looking for a program that has X, Y, Z qualities”, say, “Your program has exactly what I’m seeking, with your X, Y, Z focus, and that matches my interests and style to a “T”. My interests are A, B, C and I really resonate with your collegial, cohort, cooperative, hands-on learning style. Now you just customized your answer to them specifically and personalized it by talking about yourself. Now the interviewer feels you are speaking directly to them. You showed the ideal fit between you and them.
Problem #6: You don’t know how to build rapport. And specifically, you’re afraid of being too personal or coming across as being nosy.
The Solution: At the start of the interview there is often small talk. This is a perfect time to ask a question that allows the interviewer to disclose personal content if they so choose. You can then play off of that content to create deeper rapport. For example, if you ask the interviewer, “How are you and yours doing during this heavy flu season? My family and I just got flu shots.” The interviewer can choose whatever level of disclosure they want, but you at least opened the door by using the phrase “and yours”. This means their loved ones. So then if the interviewer mentions their kids, you can show empathy towards their kids. Obviously, you could never come right out and say, “Do you have any kids?”. But using the phrase “and yours” opens the door to sharing back and forth, and that is a very fast way to deepening rapport.
Problem #7: You ramble, go off on tangents and over-explain your answers. Your answers, even if on-target, are too long. The interviewer gets bored.
The Solution: Use the menu approach. Here you would begin your answer, talk for a few paragraphs and then, knowing this could be a long answer, you’d say to the interviewer, “Now I can tell you more about A or I could tell you more about B. What sounds good to you?” They will choose A or B, or they may say, “You choose”. Now you talk about either A or B and you have just broken up a long answer into two halves. You served up the options for the interviewer on a “menu”. Hence the name.
Problem #8: The interviewer offers no small talk at the outset and instead says something like “Well?”, or Go!”, or “Start talking”, or they say nothing at all and just stare at you.
The Solution: Remain calm and professional, and don’t take it personally. Don’t react at all. Recognize the situation for what it may be. Either this interviewer is playing mind games with you, to see if they can get you off-balance, or they treat everyone this way, or they’re having a really bad day. You will not ask and you may never know why they acted this way. Your job is to make this interview a success. When it’s all over, you can debrief the situation with a trusted advisor. When the interviewer exhibits one of these unwanted behaviors, you’ll use this as a cue to go into your answer of TMAY-Tell Me About Yourself. This is usually the very first question of most interviews. Say, “First I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself” and then see what they do or say after that. If the interviewer remains aloof, simply continue giving your prepared answers to the questions you know they want to hear about. These would be why you are interested in the job or program, what your goals are and why you see yourself as a great fit. Also ask them questions to see if you can engage them that way.
Problem #9: The interviewer asks you for a story about ____, and you don’t have such a story.
The Solution: Use the parallel answer technique. Say, “That hasn’t happened to me, but let me tell you about a similar situation that did.” And then proceed to describe this other story in good detail. Since this story is so close to the one they wanted, they will rarely object. And now you have answered the question rather than being stuck.
Problem #10: You come across as trying to please too much. You say things like “Thank you for that question”, or “That’s a good question”.
The Solution: Don’t editorialize on the interviewer’s questions. Just listen, pause and answer. If you say one question is a good one, how about the others? Are they less good? It’s trite and pointless, so don’t say it. Also, don’t ask the interviewer if you “answered the question” or if they “need to know more”. If they need more they will ask. Asking questions like these can make you seem needy and insecure.
Now you can see that many strategies for being a smart interviewee are so complex, so esoteric and so counterintuitive you could rarely think them up on your own. Now that you’ve seen how a savvy interviewee handles problem by having clever contingencies in place, you have the formulas for being in control. I want you to be highly successful in your interviewing. To do that, plan ahead for anything and everything.
This article is an excerpt from the Interview Success
Guide, an indispensable tool you need to make your interview campaign
a big success. This is a 216-page master blueprint that helps you understand
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To learn more about how interview coaching can help you improve your abilities
in media situations, oral test and exam situations, and job interviews visit
Bill Cole, MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach, at:
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Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority
on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and
CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business,
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and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
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