AMY LINDGREN: Controlling the Interview

Amy Lindgren

As a person who loves to be in charge, I sometimes think the concept of control gets a bad rap. Think of the phrase “controlling personality” and you’ll know what I mean. Ah, well. If some people don’t like a commanding presence in the room, I can’t control that.

When it comes down to it, I probably can’t control half of what I think I can. Putting on a raincoat doesn’t guarantee I won’t get wet, any more than wearing good boots ensures I won’t slip on the ice. With weather, as with every other situation in our lives, the most we can hope for is to limit risks while enhancing the opportunity for good outcomes.

In the case of job search, this risk/reward formula is particularly prevalent during the interview. This live performance is the high-stakes event of the search process, with the final outcome being almost entirely based on its success. Do well in your interview and you can overcome the lack of almost any credential or experience – but do poorly, and you can expect to kiss the offer goodbye.

This is why it makes sense to pay extra attention to those things you can control. And yet, I’m frequently surprised by the number of things a candidate will leave to chance when it comes to interviews. In case this gap springs from a lack of awareness, here are some steps I think all job seekers should take in order to be in maximum control during the interview.

1. Find out who the interviewers will be. A job interview may be the only business meeting where it’s common for the main participant not to know who the other participants are, or even how long the meeting will be. Granted, some coordinators do an excellent job of providing this information when scheduling candidates. However, if you don’t get that kind of data regarding your next interview, just ask for it directly. Knowing the names and titles of the interviewers in advance empowers you to conduct better research and prepare your answers from a more realistic context.

2. Do your research. Were you planning to review the company web site before your next interview? That’s good, but hardly comprehensive. Anyone can do that, and the information you dig up will be exactly the information the company placed there. If you want to gather better, more useful data, research the industry to see where this company ranks, and what the sector’s pressing problems are. Then look at competitor companies to see how they’re handling those issues. Remember to look for your target company’s annual reports or other financial data, as well as their marketing and advertising. Don’t forget to look up the interviewers on LinkedIn or other social media sites, so you can better understand their backgrounds and expertise.

3. Use a key message strategy. You can’t control or even predict which questions you’ll be asked, but you can certainly choose how you’ll respond. I recommend identifying three or four key messages that summarize your candidacy well, and relying on those messages as a platform for most of your answers. In this way you’ll be creating consistent and memorable themes that will define your candidacy, while helping you stand out from others being interviewed.

4. Deflect or resist answering some questions. Not every question needs to be answered, at least in the form it was asked. Salary provides a good example. When asked early in the process what your salary requirements are, you are likely facing elimination. Give a number that is too high or too low, and you’ll be screened out. For that reason, provide a range instead, or parry by asking their range. Other questions to treat with kid gloves are those asking for examples of conflicts you’ve been in, and those requesting that you rank former bosses. In a word: Don’t. Work your way around these questions by providing a process instead of a direct answer: “I don’t tend to get into conflicts but were that to happen…” or “I can’t really rank my bosses because they’ve each brought something special that I learned from. I tend to get along well with almost any management style.”

5. Close with confidence. Although it’s not your responsibility to end the interview (that would look awkward), you can still ensure that the ending has impact. As the meeting is winding down, take a moment to summarize your key messages and then state, “I want you to know that I’ve enjoyed our conversation today, and I’d very much like to work for your company (or, I’d very much like to move forward in the process). I’m really looking forward to our next conversation.”

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototype​ or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.