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Let the Interviewer Talk About the Job

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Of course, not every interview you take will start off with your employer asking you to talk about your background. He could start by asking you any kind of question. The principle remains the same. Spend the least possible time giving him an answer, and get him back on the track of telling you about his needs-the kind of job to be done, and the kind of person needed to do it. Say, for example, he asks one of the toughest questions going-why you want to leave the company you are now with. You don't have to provide him with notes and verse about what is the matter with your current situation. (Unfortunately most interviewees out of a pure heart, or a lack of understanding of strategy in interviewing, do just this.) What can you do instead of spelling out in detail the reasons you want to leave where you are now? Tell your interviewer first that you're really not sure you want to leave. Then tell him that a friend or executive recruiter (or whoever it was) called you and told you briefly about the job, and it sounded too good not to learn more about. Finally, without a pause, add: "So I'm here because I want to know more about the job. Could you tell me what needs to be done, and the kind of person you're looking to do it?"

No matter how your prospective boss starts the interview, get him to talk about his needs before you reveal your experience in depth. If you don't discover the benchmark by which he's judging candidates at the beginning of your meeting, you may never develop the opportunity of finding out later on. And unless you know his needs well, your description of your experience may be far afield-may emphasize things of little interest to him and gloss over the things he's hoping he might hear. Don't think for a moment that controlling your interview toward achievement of your first objective will be easy. It takes practice to answer naturally and briefly and then to move directly into the critical question about the prospective employer's job opening.

To improve your ability to control future interviews, review your previous ones. Determine if there is any one question that seems to come up at the start fairly often. Then practice your answer on a tape recorder. Listen to yourself to see if your answer is short and to the point, and don't delay for a second in asking your interviewer to tell you more about the position he wants filled.



Once you've got your interviewer talking, the next challenge is to keep him talking. Open-ended questions like "Can you tell me more about that?" or "Why is that particular need so important to you?" are your best bet. As a rule of thumb, keep probing until you draw out three key needs or qualities your prospective boss is seeking to fill in hiring someone.

Why three? Because most people have a tendency after they get the interviewer talking to want to chime in as soon as they've uncovered one of the things the interviewer is looking for in his ideal candidate. Resist this temptation! The first need an interviewer reveals may not be the most important one. If you fall prey to temptation and start talking about your background as it relates to the first need the interviewer mentions, you may not get the opportunity later on to uncover other important ones. However, if you can get your prospective boss to talk about three types of experience he seeks, or about three qualities he is looking for in the person he hires, chances are he's zeroed in on the one that's uppermost in mind.

How do you get him to go from one need to the next? Or to move from one personal quality to another? Simple! Summarize each and urge him to carry on. It doesn't take a whole lot of words to do this, but it can keep your prospective boss going until you uncover the real needs that he wants to fill. For example, an office-manager candidate might say to his prospective boss: "So the ability to manage a lot of diverse people is important. Is there any other personal quality that's also a must?"

How long should you let the interviewer keep talking? When should you take over and start telling him about yourself? As long as your interviewer is carrying on an animated description of problems and needs, don't stop him! In fact, encourage him! Keep up your open-ended questions until you feel you fully understand the needs area your interviewer is concerned about. Then move on. A candidate I know spoke with a potential employer from eight one Saturday morning until two in the afternoon. During that entire time the employer dominated the conversation, describing the manufacturing problems his company faced. Finally, the candidate asked to take over because he only had an hour left before his plane was to take off. When he took over he knew precisely what to talk about. He summarized his experiences and discussed worth points that showed his prospective boss he could handle similar manufacturing problems. Obviously, if any interviewer is willing to discuss his problems in depth, he must consider you a serious candidate for the position. It wouldn't make sense for him to go on at length with someone he wasn't interested in. In the instance described above the job-seeker was hired as vice-president of manufacturing.

And what if your prospective boss identifies three needs and you can only fill two of them? Probe until you discover a fourth one. When you run into this situation, don't summarize a need you can't fill prior to asking for another. No need to reinforce something that you are weak in for your interviewer!
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Madison Currin - Greenville, NC
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