How to Diagnose Where You Might Be Going Wrong
Your resume has earned you interviews with several employers over the past year. That's impressive, especially in this economy.
But none of those interviews has yielded a job offer. You've done the standard interview preparation. You've shown up on time and dressed in appropriate interview attire. But somewhere between the paper credentials and the live performance, you've failed to deliver.
Perhaps yours is a failure of imagination. Have you taken the time and trouble to imagine what your interviewers' needs are, and the specific business problems their companies need you to solve? If you haven't done so in-depth, it's time to start.
But before you face the formidable challenge of thinking like your interviewer and her CEO, try taking on the perspective of a lesser intellect: a fly on the wall.
See What the Camera Sees
If you start by reimagining your interview preparation as a rehearsal for a performance, you're already giving yourself a new chance to succeed.
"The best way for job seekers to improve upon their interviewing skills is through practice," says Laurie Davis, director of counseling and programming at Yeshiva University's Career Development Center. "A mock interview with a career counselor or HR professional will help them learn how they might better their performance."
The next step is to make a video of your mock interview and review it with a professional who will not just tell you what you did wrong, but also give you ideas for improving your performance, whether by making better eye contact and leaning slightly toward the interviewer, speaking more directly and concisely, or putting your story forward more positively.
Seeing and hearing yourself literally from another angle, even if only on a brief video created with a PC or digital camera, will give you a much better sense of the dramatic effect of your responses on the interviewer. For example, "when you get those questions about strengths and weaknesses, answer the weaknesses question first -- maybe including a little humor -- and then finish on a high note with your strengths," says consultant and executive coach Debra Benton.
What Matters to the Interviewer
As you approach an interview, consider how your manner and words will affect the interviewer's state of mind.
"Be socially generous," says Ann Demarais, author of First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You. "Make the interviewer feel smart, talented, accomplished."
Don't make the mistake of letting the interview become a one-way question-and-answer session, which is bound to be too much about you and not enough about the interviewer. "Always get the interviewer talking," says Stephen Balzac, president of management consultancy 7 Steps Ahead. "Ask them about their concerns, issues and goals. Then respond with relevant, brief vignettes about your accomplishments in previous jobs."
And recognize that if you come into the interview with an elephant shackled to your ankle -- namely, unemployment or a long resume gap -- the interviewer will notice and be distracted by it. "The job seeker needs to proactively explain why they've been out of the job market," says John Robak, COO of engineering firm Greeley and Hansen and an HR manager of long experience.
The Employer's Perspective
Finally, keep in mind that your abilities have no absolute value to the employer; they're only worth what they can do for the employer this year. "Sometime candidates don't prepare to talk about the match: how their background and skills align with what the company is looking for," Robak says.
To force yourself into each employer's perspective, come up with good interview questions customized to the challenges the company faces right now. At the same time, remember that your questions show a lot about how you think. "You get hired by the questions you ask," Benton says.
What if the elephant of a job loss or resume gap isn't the only silent distraction in the room? You'll never know unless you ask the interviewer on the spot.
"Close an interview by asking if the interviewer feels there are any gaps left unaddressed, so you can discuss them," says Kim Lockhart, a regional vice president with Spherion Staffing. "If you aren't selected, see if the recruiter or hiring manager will provide feedback," she suggests.