Anatomy of an Interview

The Interviewing Process

One of the keys to a successful interview is to understand the psychology behind the process. A candidate is interested in what the company can do for him/her while companies are interested in what the candidate can do for them – increase sales, reduce labor costs, finish a project ahead of schedule, effectively manage budgets etc. Both of these needs are important. Companies generally want an employee who is interested in furthering their career but don’t want someone who is focused solely on themselves either.

Every interview has an opening, a body and a close.

The Opening 

Your objective in the Opening is to encourage the interviewer to talk about the position as soon as possible. The more you know about the company, the job and the interviewer before the main interview takes place, the more successful your interview will be. (During a telephone interview when the time available may be relatively short, you might need to keep this phase fairly short, but take the lead from the interviewer - if they seem to "want to get on with the interview", bypass some of the following.  Remember, the purpose of the telephone interview is to get a face to face interview).  Some questions for you to ask:

  • “My recruiter has told me a little about your company and the opportunity from his perspective, but, so I can better answer your questions, could you please describe the job from your perspective, the challenges of the job and what needs to be accomplished in the first few months?  How can I best help you with the long-term goals you have set for the group, dept, division and company?”
  • “Why is this position vacant?”
  • “Of all of the people who have held this position, what were the main qualities of the most successful person?”
  • “Can you describe the corporate culture and the type of individual that best fits into this culture?”

What these questions accomplish:  

  • It gives you an idea exactly what the interviewer is looking for.
  • It allows you to interview based on their needs and not go off in areas that do not concern them or to say something that you now know would not be accepted well.
  • 80 percent of getting the interview is based on your qualification, but 80 percent of the hiring decision is based upon the chemistry between you and the people you will meet.  We want to put the interviewer in his/her comfort zone.  From our experience people like to talk about themselves.   Asking them to describe the opportunity will allow them to express their needs.
  • It signals that you are engaged in the process and that you understand that the Company and your potential boss have needs that you must fulfill.  Your potential supervisor wants to feel comfortable that you can help him fulfill the goals of his department and the first step is to be aware of what those goals are.

If the interviewer resists your questions or seem anxious to get on with their own questions, don’t push it.  Take their lead.

If the interviewer is open to answering the above questions and seems agreeable with continuing this dialogue, you can ask more questions if they have not already been covered:

  • Who will I work most closely with? What are their backgrounds and responsibilities?
  • Who will I directly report to? What is their background and responsibilities?
  • Are there any direct reports to this position?

  • Are there any functional reports to this position?

  • What are the department's/company's plans for growth in the future?

  • How do you think the economy will affect company plans in the marketplace?

Use your judgment as to the timing of the above questions.  Sometimes you can ask these questions during the closing stages of the interview.  While you don’t want these questions to tie up the process at the beginning of the interview, you do want them answered at some point, and the earlier the better.

The Body 

The Body of the interview occurs when you are being asked the questions.  The interviewer will be probing your technical abilities and backgrounds and will attempt to validate what you put on your resume.   Your interpersonal skills will be judged to find how you would fit into their organization and to the style of your supervisor and other co-workers.  Your primary goal is to convince the interviewer that your skills will match their needs and your personality will fit with their culture.

  • Give real world examples which illustrate the skills you have. Have real world samples ready and make sure the facts are in order.
  • It is important to work in behavioral based responses versus opinion based responses.   When candidates speak in opinions rather than behavior they tend to fail the interview.  Try to formulate your answers as “Situation, Action, Result.”   For example if they ask if you ever had an employee refuse to follow procedures (just for example purposes – use your own examples, not ours) you might say something like “Yes, one year ago someone refused to follow the formula and used his own method (Situation). I explained to him the consequences of his actions and how it would affect the customers and company.  I asked him why he was not following the procedures. He said he needed more training, so I created a training program for him and closely followed his progress (Action). The person then followed procedures and quality issues virtually disappeared”  (Result).  Referencing the SAR method means you take action and get results.
  • Use numbers whenever possible, such as “My project increased productivity by __percent”, or “scrap was reduced by __percent”, or “The project came in __percent under budget”
  • Draw direct comparison to the challenges mentioned by the Interviewer during the Opening and relate to how they apply to the skill set he/she is looking for when a question leads you there.  
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you do not understand the question.  Better to ask than to answer a question that was not really asked.  
  • Don’t be afraid to take a couple of seconds to think of a good answer if a question is difficult.
  • Don’t invent situations if you have not experienced a situation exactly like the interviewer asked.  Rather, “I haven’t done exactly that before, but let me give you an example of a similar situation…”  Again use real world examples or short stories.  Any time you can describe results in numbers, dollars, and percentages the impact is much greater.

The Close 

The Close is very simple, but critical and begins when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions or other things you want to say?”  (Never, ever, say “No” to this question). Your goal for the Close is to make sure the interviewer is satisfied with what you have to offer, that you have communicated your feelings about the position and want the job (if in fact you do), and for you to ask general questions.  It is acceptable to write your key questions on a piece of paper prior to the interview so you don’t forget them.

  • “Have I answered all your questions? Is there a part of my background you would like to discuss further?”  or “Is there anything that would cause you not to offer me this position?” (This provides an opening for them to discuss any concerns they have that you may and should now address.  It also signals that you are a person who gives and gets results.)
  • At this point you want to benchmark what you feel you can do for the company. For instance, “Now that I’ve had an opportunity to meet with (or talk) with you, I feel I can contribute because… “, or “my experience in the following areas… would allow for a short learning curve, allow me to jump right in and specifically solve some of your problems such as....”  You must evaluate the interviewer and emphasize what you have to offer. “This is really what I’m looking for in my career growth and I would like to take the next step - where do we go from here?”  Or “I want to be a part of your team, what do I need to do to make this happen?” If you like what you have heard, you need to let them know. YOU NEED TO ASK FOR THE JOB – LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE INTERESTED.
  • “Are there any immediate initiatives that I would be responsible for that I can prepare for in advance?”
  • Now you should ask your general questions.  Make sure you have a few solid questions, focusing on job expectations, success criteria and some questions about the company itself.  Not asking any questions makes you look either uninterested, unobservant or not very smart – you must ask some and focus on those described elsewhere in this document.  The following two questions are important for you to understand regarding your career growth and it also signals to them that you are interested in growth rather than “just a job.”
  • “What is the opportunity for growth both within this role and within the company?”
  • “Does the company provide opportunities for continuous learning?”
  • Other questions not yet answered that you might have.

At the conclusion, ALWAYS ask them “what are the next steps?”