Q: For the past 10 years, I've been in data processing with one company. While I'm a loyal employee, I've finally realized that with this firm, my career path is limited. It's obviously time to change jobs
Since my current position is the only one I've ever had, the thought of conducting a job search, especially in the current economy, is pretty scary. I've been reading books on job search techniques and talking to my friends about the best way to interview for a new position. Unfortunately, much of what I hear and read seems to conflict, and it's hard to tell which advice to follow. Can you give me some concrete tips on how to really ace a job interview?
A: When you're researching job interview techniques, it's common to run across a lot of conflicting information, some erroneous and some reliable. Books are sometimes less than accurate because their authors are biased. They present ideas that may work well in specialized situations, but don't hold true in general. So how do you know who to trust? Below are 8 myths that frequently pop up in job interview "research" materials. They aren't true, but our culture seems to perpetuate them anyway:
- Potential employers have all the power
- The individual with the best experience always gets the job
- In any interview, concentrate on selling yourself
- Admit to no weaknesses
- Never negotiate / Always negotiate
- Play a little hard to get. Your mystique will make the employer more eager to hire you
- Assume that if you take the job, any misgivings you have will prove unfounded
- The company will be annoyed if I call to check on the status of the opening after I've been interviewed
Many people assume that because the employer is offering the job, the hiring manager has all the leverage in an interview. Actually, both employer and applicant have advantages. You have skills and experience. Your interviewer has salary and benefits. In any interview, both of you are exploring the viability of making a mutually beneficial exchange.
The hiring manager is looking for someone who will fit in well with the team. Sure, a company needs an experienced staff, but hiring people with complimentary personalities and values is also important. Consequently, a less-experienced person who's easy to work with may be selected over a seasoned candidate who seemingly "should" get the job.
While it's important to tell an interviewer what you can do for their department or company, that isn't your only objective. You also want to be sure that the job opening is a good fit for you. Asking intelligent questions helps you make informed decisions, with the added benefit of demonstrating your research and problem-solving skills. Good questions will sell you as much as good answers – if not more.
No one is perfect. We all have areas we'd like to strengthen. Recognizing the need for change and growth shows maturity and self-knowledge. Any savvy employer is wary of an applicant who hasn't discovered some areas where they can use a little improvement. Answering the "what are your weaknesses" question the wrong way is a risky move.
Depending on who you ask, you usually get told either to be thankful for any job off you get, or that driving a hard bargain will show that you're serious. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. "Sometimes negotiate" make the most sense. If a firm offers you a job, you have some leverage – although less than in the past, since so many qualified candidates are currently looking for work. The company has said, "We want you." Their decision represents a good deal of time and money that's been spent. Usually they'd rather give you what you want (within reason), than risk losing you. If their offer falls short of your expectations, negotiate to increase it. If you're happy with it, accept it with enthusiasm. Negotiating for the sake of negotiating is not a game worth playing.
This technique may work at the bar, but it has no place in interviews. Companies want people who are genuinely interested in being a part of their team. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you show some excitement over the possibility of working with your interviewer, your interviewer is likely to feel the same way about you.
A cardinal rule in choosing a position is to Trust Your Instincts. If something about the job description, compensation, coworkers, training, or opportunities for growth feels wrong to you, it probably is. Don't intellectualize yourself into taking something that doesn't feel right. You'll regret it.
Waiting for that all-important call or email from a potential employer can be extremely nerve-racking and depressing. The tendency is to assume the worst. So to avoid all those sleepless nights, try and discuss how the selection process will proceed before you leave your job interview. Call for an update if you haven't heard anything by the anticipated decision date.