How To Take Control Of The Interview: Best of reCareered

May 14 2010 in Featured, Interviews, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

How can a candidate take control of an interview and direct the conversation? Find out how directing the conversation gives a candidate a better chance at a successful interview.

Far too many candidates give the interviewer full control of the interview process, believing their job is to respond to questions. Others may fear that taking interview control might upset the interviewer, disqualifying a candidate for a job.

Usually, these approaches are both mistakes. Most companies today want to hire people with initiative – taking control of the interview can not only show initiative, but give the candidate a better chance to relate their accomplishments to the company’s specific issues.

Ever get all excited for an interview, only to be frustrated that it didn’t go as well as planned? Maybe your experience wasn’t portrayed in its best light, or your many accomplishments weren’t valued.

How can you avoid this outcome, and take control of the interview?

It’s really not that hard….partially it’s how you approach the interview and partially how you employ some interview tactics.

Change Your Approach:

So how do you change your approach to gain control of an interview?

  • Research – After you’ve done some research on the company, position and hiring manager, you should have a good idea if strategy will work. For instance, If the job is a customer service job and the company wants an employee to keep their heads down and nose clean – these strategies probably aren’t right for that type of interview.
  • Stop being defensive – most job candidates take a defensive interview stance and answer questions that the interviewer asks.
  • Take the offensive – Take the stance that you are interviewing the company.
  • You ask the questions – In an interview, the person asking the questions controls the conversation.

As a candidate, interview the company to see how the fit is for you. Get a feeling to see will your skills will be valued? Do you see a mentorship relationship with anyone you’ve interviewed with? Does the company “feel” right? Can you succeed here? Does the company’s management style and culture fit your personality comfortably? Is there growth potential for the company, and for your career?

Examples Of Effective Questions:

  • HR questions – “Can you describe the company’s culture?” or “How do you see the company’s culture changing as you capitalize on industry trends that project 25% growth over the next 3 years?”. Other good HR questions are “Can you describe the personality types of people who are successful at your company?”
  • Hiring manager questions – “How does the company’s goal to decrease costs by 20% influence your departments priorities and plans?” or “What does your department need to do to help affect plans of 25% growth?”. Other good Hiring manager questions can focus on implications “What happens if your department is unable to ____ ?”
  • Hiring manager’s boss questions – “If you could change one thing about this department, what would it be?” or “What are your goals for this department and what do you see as possible obstacles to achieving these goals?”
  • Hiring Manager’s peers and team – “What types of projects have earned you recognition?” or “What types of personalities work well with this department?”. Other good peer & team questions are “How did you reach your position with the company?” and “Do you spend more of your time developing new projects or maintaining existing projects processes? (the answer may not be obvious based on title)”

These are just some examples. Other articles in this blog have examined questions in more detail.

Change Your Tactics:

Most candidates rattle off their life story, going through every job they’ve had since they delivered papers in Junior High. Not only does this fail to help you demonstrate subject matter expertise in an interview, it bores the interviewer to death. Worse yet, it wastes valuable time for you to interview the company and make an impression as a leader. If you could take control of the interview, would you try a different tactic?

So how do you interview the company?

  1. Ask questions – Lots of them. Especially ask questions where you already know the answer, based on your research. For instance, let’s say you’re a Director of IT, interviewing with a public company that stated in its last 10Q that they plan on growing 25% per year. Could you ask “If your President predicts 25% annual growth, how does that affect IT systems? Are your internal systems prepared to handle that growth? What implications does that growth have on IT, on IT security?” Alternatively, you could ask “what bottlenecks exist that could prevent or delay 25% growth?”
  2. Know the answers before you ask – Of course, you’ll want to make some advance guesses to the answer, so that you can next comment “Oh that’s interesting, I solved that problem at Company X by doing Y”. Do that 2 or 3 times, and you’ve uncovered a company’s top initiatives, problems, and risks. Better yet, you’ve subtly shown that you’ve been there and done that. All of a sudden, you’re the leading candidate, because you’ve shown foresight to anticipate the companies issues….and, by the way, you’ve already solved their problems for prior employers.
  3. Regain control – If the interviewer tries to gain control of the interview, take it back. Answer the question very quickly, don’t go into details, and quickly ask a related question back to the interviewer.

Let’s say you get a pat interview question (hiring managers use these as filler, HR use these because they don’t always know detailed technical questions to ask) like “What’s your greatest professional challenge?” As long as you’re not going for a job in PR, you could answer something like “Public speaking – I’m taking classes to improve. What are the companies (or department’s) greatest challenges?” Or “I see that industry reports project a downturn in your markets. What is the company doing to prepare? What implications do those plans have on department X? If you aren’t able to pull off this strategy, what’s plan B? What are the implications if this strategy doesn’t work?”

Of course, you’re not going to ask these kinds of detailed questions of HR, unless you’re interviewing for an HR job. So what do you take control of an interview from a HR interviewer who asks “Where do you see your career in 5 years?” Here’s a time when can work to answer a question with a question. Could you try… “It depends … where do you see the company in 5 years?”

In an interview you can own it, and set the tone of your leadership … or let the interviewer own you.

Which do you think will work better for you?


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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