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The questions asked may vary and the interviewer’s style may be different, but all interviews tend to be a logical progression of events.  In fact, you can think of an interview as a four part process; (1) the greeting, (2) the interrogation, (3) ask your questions, and (4) ask for the job.  Each part plays a critical role in how you are perceived, and if you fail at any point the entire interview may be lost.

Part One - The Greeting
The great majority of interviewers will greet you warmly and then engage you in a light chatty exchange before the actual interview gets underway.  Others may offer a halfhearted handshake, skip the amenities, and get right down to business.  Regardless of the interviewer’s style, be assured that you are being judged from the moment you stand up and shake hands.

If the interviewer starts the meeting by mentioning something about the weather, traffic or some other piece of trivia, go with it and get involved with the conversation.  Try to be socially gregarious and aggressive, without being obnoxious.  Adjust your rhythm to match the interviewer and strive for a natural dialogue.  Do not attempt to take control of the interview, but try not to let the interviewer establish a superior-to-subordinate relationship.

Many people will tell you that these first few minutes are as important as all the other minutes combined.  While this premise is certainly overstated, there is a large degree of truth associated with it.  Most interviewers subconsciously make rapid judgments, particularly in support of an initial negative impression, and will then spend the remainder of the meeting trying to find information that supports that opinion.

Just remember that even in the best of situations you may lose, so avoid becoming discouraged by setbacks.  If you foul up an interview, don’t waste time regretting the experience or feeling embarrassed.  You should be too busy exploring other opportunities.

Part Two - The Interrogation
Some interviewers will have a written list of the primary questions they wish to ask every candidate.  Others will ab-lib.  Some take notes during the interview, others don’t.  Some will ask questions in a very direct and precise manner, others will appear to stumble from one impromptu question to another.  Whatever style or technique is used, you must be prepared for the battery of tough questions that is the heart of every interview.

Focus on the interviewer’s face and look for the nonverbal clues.  If the interviewer seems confused by one of your responses or statements, ask if more detail would be helpful.  By paying close attention to the interviewer’s reactions you may also discover that some of your thoughts and opinions seem to make stronger impressions than others.  It is these subtle connections, as much as the right answers, that most interviewers will remember long after the interview is over.

Do not continually refer to your job duties and responsibilities.  Since most other candidates are likely to have the same general responsibilities as you, such an approach can make you appear quite ordinary.  Rather, try to focus on past accomplishments that relate to sales and profit gains, cost reductions, quality improvements and corporate growth.  In other words, make the interviewer understand the benefits you can offer the company.

When discussing an accomplishment, briefly identify what the situation was like prior to your taking action and reinforce your success by providing quantified results.  For example, don’t just say,  “I improved  productivity by 25%.”  A more effective statement might be:  “When I arrived my group was averaging 11 days of unauthorized sick leave a year, but through some effective leadership I was able to reduce absenteeism by 87%.  As a result, group productivity increased by 25% and saved $200,000 in overtime expense.”  Your goal is to set yourself apart from the competition, while conveying your unique set of strengths and abilities.  Be ready, of course, for the natural follow-up questions.  For example:  “What do you mean by effective leadership?”

Do not hesitate to mention one or two laudatory quotes or awards you have received to show what others think of you.  For example, “The CEO told the executive committee that I was the primary reason the company was able to avoid a half a million dollars in litigation expense.”  (NOTE:  “A half a million dollars” sounds better than “five hundred thousand dollars.”)  A quote or award, used at the right spot, can impress on the interviewer what you did and how well you did it.  Conversely, more than two quotes or awards can make you sound like a braggart.

Try to develop a reasonably equal professional relationship with the interviewer, but never attempt to ‘take over’ an interview.  This is likely to antagonize the interviewer and will cast serious doubts about your manageability.  Conduct yourself in a professional manner and display confidence that you expect to be offered the job.  Even if you feel there are some questionable aspects to the job, leave the door open.  Remember, you can always reject an offer at a later date, but it is almost impossible to open a door once you have closed it.

Part Three - Ask Your Questions
At the conclusion of your meeting, the interviewer will usually ask, “Do you have any other questions you’d like to ask?”  Surprisingly, a large number of people simply ask a few meaningless and superficial questions, after which the interviewer concludes the discussion.

Interviewers expect you to ask questions, so if you fail to respond properly when offered the opportunity, you are likely to damage your credibility.  Most of your questions will flow from the content of the interview and represents your best chance to learn some in-depth details about the job, organization and management team.

A few of the questions that you might ask include:

  • Why is the position open (new, promotion, retirement, dismissal, etc.)?  How long was the last person in the position?  What is the previous incumbent’s new position?  Why was the previous incumbent fired?

  • Since this is a new position, can you tell me what factors led to the decision that such a position is needed?  Has any thought been given as to where the position fits in the firm’s future growth plans?

  • What major challenges (never say problems) must be tackled and conquered first?  What major opportunities exist that will have greatest payoff.

  • What will be the limits of my authority?

  • Can you tell me a little about the people with whom I will be working?

  • What are the first projects to be addressed?

  • How would you (the person I will report to) describe your management style?

If properly prepared, you should have little difficulty in developing questions that deal with the company’s mission, objectives, challenges, opportunities,  products, services and management team.  Never inquire about the salary, bonuses, benefits or perks during the first meeting, unless the interviewer mentions them first.

Part Four - Ask for the Job
Many people do well during the first three parts of the interview, but then fail to properly close the meeting by asking for the job.  As the interview draws to a close, you should not miss the opportunity to ‘feel out’ the interviewer’s interest in your candidacy.  For example:

  • Of the other candidates you’ve seen, where do you feel I stand?

  • Given what you know about me now, do you see any reason we couldn’t work together?

  • What would I need to do to convince you to offer me this position?

  • How well do I fit the profile that you have established for the position?

If it does not appear that the interviewer is ‘sold’ on your ability to fill the job, you may still be able to correct any misconceptions that are preventing you from becoming a viable candidate.  If the interviewer seems to feel that you do possess the skills and abilities required, you may then ask for the job.  Do not be one of the great majority of job seekers that close their interviews by saying, “Well, I'll look forward to hearing from you.”  Rather, reinforce your interest in the position by questioning the next step in the process.  This may be accomplished by saying:

  • I really like what I've heard and I am very much interested in pursuing it further.  What is the next step in the process?

  • I have genuinely enjoyed meeting and speaking with you.  And from what you have described, it is exactly the type of atmosphere where I can do my very best work and help you reach the function’s (group’s, division’s, etc.) goals.  When will we meet again?

  • I am very enthusiastic about the position as you described it to me.  Is now a good time to schedule our next meeting?

Do not be pushy or obnoxious in your request, and depart in the same polite and assured manner as you entered.  Do not forget, of course, to follow-up with a targeted thank-you letter within 24 hours of the interview.

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