Your Interview Agenda

by Eileen Davis, Director of Career Development

The job interview is where image and substance come together. You must present yourself professionally in how you speak and dress, and even in how you gesture. Tips on creating a great physical image are in the articles What You Wear Can Get You Somewhere…or Nowhere and Looking Cool Isn’t Always Cool When You Interview. You must support a good first impression with a powerful presentation of your talents and experiences. Fortunately, by creating an interview agenda, you can walk into interviews with a clear idea of what you will offer employers – your experiences, talents, and skills – and how you will use your assets to get the job done.

Here are six common problems employers see on interviews, and how building your interview agenda before the interview will help you avoid them.

Lack of interest or enthusiasm
How can you be excited about something if you don’t know anything about it? The cure for a lack of interest is to do your research on the company, its major competitors, and the industry before you go in for the interview.

Start by looking at the company’s web site to discover its products, services, revenue, and structure. Dig deeper by using search engines, trade or business magazines, and the research desk at university or public libraries. Do a “SWOT” analysis with your information, looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats affecting both the company and the industry. Look also at competitors’ web sites so you can demonstrate that you’re educated about the industry as a whole.

Once you understand something about the company’s strengths and weaknesses, determine how you can help in your own small way. Don’t feign interest, but try to find something about the company, position, or industry that intrigues you. If you don’t care either way about whether you get an offer from a company, you probably won’t.

Asks no questions about the job.
Don’t think that you’re fully prepared if the only question you ask is, “What are the job duties?” Instead, use the question period as an opportunity to fill in the information gaps that surfaced during your research. Here are some questions to ask the company about: “What is the company culture like?” ”Why did you decide to work for the company and what do you like best?” ”Why do people succeed – or fail – at this company? One of my favorite questions is, “What one thing do you wish more people knew about this company?” In addition to providing information, questions such as these often give you an opportunity to reiterate your own good qualities.

Indefinite responses to questions.
Two keys to success in any interview are listening and preparation. Listening carefully to what is asked will help you make appropriate responses. Practice active listening by taking time to think before responding and asking for clarification if you’re unsure about a question.

But before you even walk into the interview room, you must be prepared with things to talk about. Build your interview agenda by recalling situations from your past where you solved problems, improved something, or were acknowledged by someone for something you did. Acknowledgements can be in the form of a job promotion, an award, or a nice note from a customer – all of which are evidence that you and your actions were valued. Working at a fast-food restaurant may not seem like a great addition to your resume, but if you received an award for being a great team player, the interviewer should know that.

As each situation or acknowledgment occurs, build a list of the things you did and how your actions made things better in your job, on your team, or for your boss. These situations are the raw material for your interview agenda, so be detailed in your notes as you accumulate this information. You will be asked on interviews to talk about these situations, so the more specific you can be regarding your experiences, the more credible you’ll be during an interview. To facilitate your note-taking as praises and accomplishments occur, make a kudos file where you store favorable comments along with your notes detailing the circumstances surrounding the compliments.

Lack of planning for career; no purpose or goals.
While you won’t be expected to have formed a career plan for the next 15 years, you will be expected to articulate some of the strengths you’d like to use in the near future. Before the interview, make a list of your five top strengths. You might ask family members, friends, and faculty for their perception of your strengths, as well as examples of those strengths in action.

Decide which strengths you think you’d most enjoy using in the next few years. For example, let’s say you see yourself managing a team because you think you’d enjoy helping others develop. With that in mind, select some experiences that demonstrate you can do so. The strengths you’d like to use and experiences that demonstrate them become part of your interview agenda and provide the perfect response to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Lack of confidence.
Every interviewer expects to see evidence of nervousness during interviews. But you MUST be confident in what you have to sell – your strengths, experiences, and education – or you will not be taken seriously. It’s the interviewer’s decision about whether your particular combination of assets is perfect for the position, but you have to present your unique selling points with conviction.

 

Your interview agenda should be built around a focus statement that’s similar to a personal brand – a clear statement of the “professional you.” Ask yourself how you want others to perceive you, and what value you offer to employers. Review your strengths and weaknesses, and concentrate on how you will help employers perform the job for which you’re interviewing.

Inability to express oneself clearly.
Once you have created an interviewing agenda, you must test it to make sure your message is coming through loud and clear. To do so, get a friend to ask you some interview questions. Ask what he or she heard you say, and practice until you get it right. Avoid memorizing answers so you don’t sound like you’re reading from a script.

Being clear about your own abilities, understanding what employers need, and articulating how you will do a job should be part of your interview agenda. Preparing your agenda in advance of an interview will give you a way to focus on an employer’s needs, thereby helping you avoid these common interview mistakes.

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