Do me a favor. Next time you pick up a newspaper, notice the way every item is written:
- The headline sums up the article.
- The first paragraph lays out the entire story.
- The first sentence of every paragraph tells what the whole paragraph is about.
- And the major facts of every story always come earliest.
There's good reason for this "big-picture"-first format. It allows you, the reader, to get what you want out of the paper very quickly and efficiently. You can stop reading any article after a paragraph or two and still know the gist of the story. And when an article really interests you, you can dig deeper and deeper into the details, by reading further.
See the analogy to what you're trying to achieve in an interview? Just like you reading the paper, your interviewer always has the prerogative to dig deeper, or switch to a different topic. You can drop any article after just a headline or a paragraph. And he can divert you to a different subject, just by asking another question.
Therefore, all of your answers must be organized in "newspaper style." You've got to state your main point in the first sentence or two of each answer. You can't wallow in detail, "setting the stage" for your main point. Because if you do, a new question may cut you off before you get to your main point. Then you'll appear petty, illogical, and detail-oriented...even if you're not.
Surprisingly few people-even senior executives - have learned what their newspapers show them every day. Study and master newspaper style. Use it orally and in writing. Every bit of your business communication will improve...not just interviews, but memos and presentations, too.
That's right. The questions you receive will relate to what you want to say, if you know what you want to say. That's because your interviewer really does want to find out how your background and achievements fit his needs, and how they guarantee you'll perform as well for him as you have for others.
Fundamentally, he wants to hear what you want to communicate. Not necessarily, however, in the order you'd like to present it. And, of course, with more attention devoted to your failures and gaps in background than you'd prefer.
So prepare as if you could deliver a salesperson's monologue. If you've figured out what you should present, then you'll hear it asked for. And when each "appropriate" query comes along, you can drop in the right one- or two- minute capsule. Unprepared, you'd have found those same questions "irrelevant," and "not leading anywhere." But knowing where the conversation should be going, you'll more readily see the interviewer's questions as a path to get there.
How often have you been asked a question in an important meeting and given a "so-so" answer, only to realize afterward that you had a perfect opening to say something really favorable? That's an experience we all have almost every day. Prepare yourself. Don't let it happen in a potentially career-making job interview.
What about questions specifically designed to give you trouble? The possibilities are endless...too many to discuss. But almost all such zingers aim for a relatively few slips and wrong answers. Those I can identify for you.
As I said before, your interviewer is on your side. She wants to find out that you are the person she's looking for. If so, her staffing problem is solved. But if you're not as good as you appear to be, hiring you could cause far more difficulty than it resolves.
Therefore, she'll ask lots of questions aimed at revealing your flaws. Even your answers to the most bland and casual queries will be scrutinized for damaging admissions. And chances are, those revelations won't have much to do with your resume-stated background. Instead, they'll relate to your personality and your management techniques...the kinds of shortcomings behavioral psychologists probe. So here are some wrong answers to watch out for...both with the employer, and with the company's psychologist, if you consent to meet him:
WRONG ANSWER: No, I haven't got around to visiting your
Web site yet.
This answer is so wrong that you should kick yourself really hard if you're ever asked any question that could possibly lead to such an answer. Maybe the site is so innovative that the interviewer is merely proud and wants to brag. More likely, she's thinking something like this:
"You seem so pitifully uninformed about us that you must have made absolutely no effort whatsoever to prepare for this interview.
I wonder if you've even gone to our Web site?"
Never ever go to an interview with an employer or a recruiter without knowing everything a competent and intellectually curious executive should have wanted to find out in preparation for such a meeting. What kind of person are you if you haven't done this? Clearly not the sort the company wants to hire.
Today's corporate Web sites make it easier than ever before in the history of the world to find out about a company. There are descriptions of all their businesses, profiles of their senior officers, annual and quarterly reports and proxy statements (most recent and prior years), stock performance tables and charts...and more. Plus a treasure trove of news releases neatly filed from latest to earlier. Those will prompt you to look on the Web for related articles in the media. Today, at the executive level, ignorance has no excuse.
WRONG ANSWER: There's more bad than good.
Of all the "wrong answers," this one fits more questions than any other. So many, in fact, that I can't even begin to think up enough examples to suggest its vast possibilities. However, the minute you're about to list attributes of anyone, anything, or any situation, be sure to ask yourself: