When it comes to the career hunt, few things are as difficult as the job interview, with its protocol, complicated rules, and unique challenges. Here are some ways to make them call you back.
Q: I’ve finally perfected my résumé enough to land an interview, but when I meet with someone face-to-face, I think I blow it. I’ve had six interviews in the last three months, and I haven’t gotten a second interview for any of the jobs. I dress pretty nicely, and I try to be professional, so I don’t know where I’m going wrong.
A: Sometimes I think about how fabulous the world would be if people interacted like they do in the game “The Sims.” There, whenever your character chats with someone else, a menu box tells you how much that person likes you, whether the feeling is mutual, and even whether they loved or hated your jokes. Alas, until such technology is available in the real world, we’ll have to depend on our sputtering, somewhat unreliable perceptions.
As tempting as it may be to call whomever interviewed you and ask them what they thought, this is a dangerous tactic. You’ll be putting that person on the spot, and it’s possible that it could eliminate you from being considered for any future open positions. Instead, concentrate on some of the usual touches that you may have skipped.
First, understand why you’re sitting in that interview chair. Many interview candidates make the mistake of thinking that the interview is a chance to present a laundry list of qualifications and then sit back and see if that’s what the company wants. In actuality, the person interviewing you needs something, and they’re trying to find out if you can fill that need. Perhaps the company is suffering from a lack of good tech support, or their CRM software isn’t working properly, or they want to roll out a wireless network. Maybe they need someone who can do all of these things, and from your résumé, you look like the just the person who can do it.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to find out what the company needs: Ask them. Even if the job description is lengthy, ask what kinds of problems they’ve been having, ask what they want in an IT employee, ask what kind of technology needs to be implemented. It’s standard advice to throw out questions during an interview, but don’t make up irrelevant questions just to look good. Instead, have a real conversation about what’s happening with the company and how you can help. That way, even if the job doesn’t pan out, at the very least you’ll get an idea about what’s happening in the industry and what types of difficulties are cropping up in technology.
This leads to the next point: Are you articulating your experience in the right way? It’s easy to blather on about accomplishments–we’ve all done it–but the risk of losing the interviewer’s attention is pretty high by doing this. The better tactic is to discuss your experience in relation to what the company needs, and reference what the interviewer has just said when doing it. For example, here’s a sentence that will be heard: “You mentioned needing someone who can do database work–in my last position, I designed a database that could be used by all of the company’s 400 sales reps.”
Finally comes the follow-up note, a step that is overlooked far too often. A simple “thank you” is never misdirected, and a longer, one-page note that’s well-focused and useful could bring tears of gratitude to a CTO’s eyes.
Prospective employers appreciate the extra thought and attention to detail of a post-interview message, especially if it isn’t a standard thank-you note. If you want the job, put some work into it by describing your strengths again, and stressing your experience anew. If you walked out of the interview thinking of ways you could help the company, then that’s even better. Reference the conversation and expand on your answers in the follow-up letter, which will show that you not only paid attention to the person across the table, but also thought about what they were saying. It could be that you’ve just stumbled across a profusion of jobs where there were strong internal candidates or you showed up at the end of the hiring cycle, but it certainly can boost your chances in the future to put some more thought into your post-interview routine.
Realistically, interviews are usually dreadful. Almost no one likes doing them (from either side of the table) because truthfully, it’s an artificial situation with constructed conversation and that type of vibe can be pretty unpleasant. But there are many ways to minimize the pain. Learning to turn the interview into a talk rather than a monologue, and following up properly, can mean the difference between a second interview and a silent phone.
Send your career-related questions to Elizabeth Millard.