Take three extra job interview steps to climb to the top of a job interviewer's ranking: educate yourself thoroughly about the organization; communicate effectively; have a plan for answering key questions. Success is often a byproduct of taking these three actions. Fearless Job Hunting (Knaus, Klarreich, Grieger & Knaus. 2010) delivers additional critical examples, exercises, and guidance to support these three tactics.

Know the Organization

If I were interviewing you for a job you could expect me to ask an open-ended question to find out what you know about XYZ Corporation. If you did your homework, you'd confidently answer questions about the organization's products, people, and processes. You'd know its strengths and challenges. You'd knowledgeably describe how you fit in. Play a role reversal in your mind. If you interviewed a candidate who knew very little about your organization, what would you think about that person's interest in the job?

You have many ways to get information about an organization and its reputation so that you can make a reasoned decision whether the job is a good fit for you, and whether you would be an able and willing contributor in that work setting. Here are three sample sources for information:

1. Find someone with insider information. If you connect with someone close to the organization, this person can be an important primary resource. Does the company have new products coming on line? How are sales? Are there any special problems that you could help solve? Depending on the reliability of the person's information and, and the level of the job you apply for, this information may sufficient.

2. Do sleuthing. Do a hands-on analysis of the organization's products (materials, services). What are its strengths? If you know where company people hang out for lunch, you may pick up information by lunching there one day.

3. Use formal references. If this is a publically held company, you'll find substantial published information. For a start, gather information from firms that rate companies. For example, Standard and Poors provides information about a company, its management, and financial strength. This reference may be available at your local library. Value Line Investment Survey covers most major and second tier organizations. That reference is usually available at libraries. You can obtain company profiles from Hoover.com. Your library may subscribe. The organization's website will normally tell you about the company, its people, products, and processes. Some organizations have informative newsletters. You can also check with the Chamber of Commerce for company information. The Better Business Bureau may have information about how the company ranks in reputation and complaints.

Hone Your Communication Skills

How you communicate in an interview can tip the balance in your favor. Here are two guidelines for managing your part of the communications in a brief 1\2 hour interview:

1. Establish rapport. Rapport is a bridge of mutual understanding between you and the interviewer. It may be based on a mutual interest that the job is right for you and that you are right for the job. If you have an "ice-breaking" opportunity in the beginning, take it. If the interviewer has something like a photo collection of airplanes on the office wall, this is a natural opportunity to make an open-ended statement, such as, "That's quite a variety of airplanes and they appear to be from different eras." If the interviewer says, "yes," and then moves on, your observation may be positively noted. If you get an elaborate answer, you are likely to learn more helpful facts about the interviewer to add to your mutual rapport.  Smile when it is appropriate, but not with a fake smile.A genuine smile is a positive signal that can add to a sense of rapport. All things being equal, rapport may be a tie-breaker when the interviewer has a close call to make.

2. Listen reflectively. About 75% of a surveyed population saw themselves in the top 10% of people with the best communication skills. That, of course, is impossible. This tendency to over-estimate a competency can lead to complacency in a critically important area. Other's complacency presents an opportunity for you. There are communications errors to avoid and communications actions to emphasize. Selective listening is common communication error. People tend to hear what they want to hear. This leads to misunderstandings. Awareness of this possibility is a step in a corrective direction. A reflective listening interviewee stands out from the crowd. This person checks assumptions and seeks clarity to improve understanding. If you check your own perceptions, one to three times during the interview, you show a reflective thinking skill that can help strengthen rapport. You are likely to be positive and straight-forward in your responses. This directness can reduce ambiguity in the mind of an interviewer. Most people are somewhat intolerant of ambiguity. This state of mind is associated with uncertainty, and uncertainty normally doesn't work in your favor.

Make the Most of an Interview

Professional interviewers ordinarily ask stock questions like the following: What interests you about Bluterville Engravers? What do you see yourself doing five years from now? What is your greatest strength when it comes to doing this job?

There is nothing wrong with pausing for a second or so to think before you respond. However, if you have a blank expression on your face, does this mean you can't do the job effectively? Here is the rub. Interviews are a poor way to select the best candidates. Nevertheless, they are common. Can you imagine getting a job without interviewing with someone? Reality is reality.

The decision-maker believes you have the qualifications for the job. It's up to you to demonstrate that the interviewer is right. You can start by educating yourself about stock questions. You can prepare yourself to respond to questions about your qualifications, capabilities, and work values. This preparation influences the quality of the decisions you make during an interview. The better information you have at your fingertips, the better your decisions.

1. Know your strengths. What do you have to offer the organization? This is where your self-study pays dividends. If you are confident about your career track, your problem-solving skills, and your ability to produce results, illustrate these strengths with examples. What were your most significant accomplishments in areas that relate to the job you are applying for? How did you succeed in ways that exceeded expectations?

2. Know where you are vulnerable. It doesn't make sense ducking sticky points with yourself about yourself. This form of procrastination can boomerang back. Prepare to deal with questions, such as problems you may have had in your last job. If an interviewer probes that area, you are less likely to stumble over your answer and more likely to respond effectively in a matter-of-fact manner. If the interviewer doesn't bring up these issues, that's fine. Avoid bring up negatives about yourself. That can prove self-defeating.

The three preparations of organization knowledge, communications, and interview question planning, improve the odds that you'll present in a natural and confident (not arrogant) way. That attitude can help win the day.

Take the interview seriously, but not so seriously that you get yourself uptight. Here is a Monty Python comedy skit for a worst nightmare interview situation that can ease your tension about an interview by promptinga lighter perspective about the situation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP0sqRMzkwo

Dr. Bill Knaus

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