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Guide on the Side - Preparing for Your Next Job Interview

By Marie Wallace, Published on October 1, 2002
Previous articles by Marie Wallace

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.

 

Laurie Boon was a Recruiter/Staffing Manager for two years at an Internationally recognized staffing firm. She has a B.A. from Edward R. Murrow School of Communications, Washington State University and spent 10 years in Dairy 4-H in Mount Vernon, WA. She was the Vice President, American Business Women’s Association - SE Sapphires. Laurie is currently a member of Central Library Toastmasters, Los Angeles.

I met Laurie Boon when she joined Central Library Toastmasters Club in downtown Los Angeles. When she gave a speech on how to ace a job interview, I realized that interviewing is an essential part of workplace communication.

She also confirmed that Toastmasters International (TI) is an excellent venue to become comfortable with impromptu questions of the kind encountered in interviews, such as “Tell me why you want this job?” A feature of TI clubs throughout the world is Table Topics. Members are called on without notice to talk on a topic for roughly two minutes. Through practice, they learn “to think on their feet,” quickly organize their thoughts and respond with conviction. Table Topics resemble job interviews in many ways and prepare people for what can be a milestone career event.

Interview by Marie Wallace (MW) with Laurie Boon (LB):

Marie Wallace (MW):Do you think Toastmasters helps people control anxiety and nervousness during interviews?

Laurie Boon (LB): Absolutely! Join Toastmasters! Perfect practice makes perfect performance. At TI you can learn to be comfortable sharing your strengths with others. You can tell stories in front of a group and that helps get rid of the nervous edges plus you learn to let your personality come through. You discover talents you never knew you had.

MW: How do you think TI prepares people for interviews?

LB: TI teaches the basics, from a simple handshake and eye contact at the initial introduction to forming the structure of a speech or interview.  TI advances its members to comfortably deliver a polished message swaying the room to a decision--to get the job!

TI teaches leadership. A true leader speaks to motivate the group to achieve the vision. A good interviewee will take the skills learned in TI to paint strong mental pictures showing the interviewer the gifts and ideas they can bring to the company, and how those talents impact the company’s bottom-line.

Finally, TI teaches you how to listen not only to the words spoken but also to interpret body language and voice intonations.

MW: In your capacity as Recruiter/Staffing Manager, do you pre-interview job candidates?

LB:  Absolutely!  The interview process disqualifies more than it qualifies.  As a service to the clients who look to me to provide them with their employees, it is imperative that I send THE highest-qualified candidates to the open position. 

MW: What kinds of questions do you ask to draw people out and learn their strengths?

LB:  Simple questions such as  “Where have you been?”  “What have you done?” and most importantly  “Where do you want to go?”  I also enjoy asking candidates to come prepared with a 20-second commercial in the “STAR Format” (Situation, Task, Action, Result).  I ask the candidate to tell me about  a time when they were a part of a successful project so that when I tell a client about that result it produces a dropped-jaw effect.  A simple example is a candidate who told me the following story:  “I was just a receptionist.  I also opened up the mail.  I found that the company was using three sources for their mailing.  So I took it upon myself to do some research and find a better alternative.  I set up a new account with a single provider that gave better service at a more cost-effective rate, saving the company over $7,000 in mailing the first year.”

MW:  Do you consider yourself to be an interview coach?

LB:  A true coach encourages people to help themselves, by giving them the tools necessary to achieve greatness.  I have countless stories of candidates getting the job they interviewed for by following a simple guideline, so yes, I guess you could say I’m somewhat of a coach.  The trick is to think of an interview the same way you would a speech, with an introduction, body and conclusion. And, a good speaker delivers an effective speech by PRACTICING.

MW: Can you briefly describe good interviewing skills?

LB: My four-part suggestion is as follows:

1. Ask the first question. This sets the tone of the interview, lets everyone know why you’re there and puts you in a form of control. Example: “My name is Susie Jones, and I’m here to interview for the Executive Assistant position. You must be Bob, correct?”

2. Stick to the facts. Only talk about your experiences relative to the position to which you are applying. (Many people talk themselves OUT of a job because they talk of the over-qualifications or unrelated qualifications.)

3. Ask questions with the words “Me, My or I”. Just about every interviewer leads toward the finish with the following familiar phrase. “Well, that’s enough about you, do you have any questions for me about the company or the job?” Always says “yes.” At this point, pull out a prepared list of questions that are worded to make the interviewer envision you sitting in the position, as if you already work there. Accomplish this by asking questions such as “What tasks have gone undone that you would like me to focus on in my first couple of weeks?” “What impact will my position have on your project in the first few months?” “If you had a wish list of projects that I could attend to, what would those be?”

4. Ask for the job. (You don’t get what you don’t ask for.) “I like what we’ve talked about. I’d like to become a part of it. How do you see the fit?” By asking the client how they see the “fit”, you are making the client focus you your skills, rather than you personally.

That’s it. A simple introduction, body, pre-calculated audience participation and a close. Just like a speech. Don’t forget to practice the interview out loud and to smile.

MW: An actor once told me that the important thing for auditions is to “have a presence”--to be totally there--to bring every bit of yourself into the room. I think this applies to interviews as well. Let’s face it, not every job you interview for is a “fit” for you. Only when you are totally honest with yourself and the interviewer are you going to find this out.

LB: Yes. Leave your baggage at the door but do be honest in letting your interviewer know who you are and what you goals are. Don’t discuss horrible past employers and the situation surrounding your departure. Again, analyze yourself so you know why the past job wasn’t a good fit for you.

This internal critiquing can be learned in a very positive way through public speaking groups like Toastmasters. Every speech is given and evaluated, praising the speaker on gifts they may not even know they have and providing suggestions for improvement of future speeches. How I wish there were more supervisors who provided this kind of immediate feedback to foster growth among employees in their departments!

MW: Many people either as the interviewee and interviewer find salary negotiation the most uncomfortable part of the interviewing process. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle money questions?

LB: Prepare an inventory of your skills, achievements and talents. Place a value on each item. Aim to talk about your unique attributes as if you are a valuable catch - far above market value.

For your position, find a current salary survey or make inquiries to learn the “going” range in the specific geographical location. Use your inventory to determine a salary range for your profile. Think salary negotiation rather than asking for money. Go into the interview knowing your value and how you arrived at your figure. Be prepared with high and low salary options. Don’t forget to include benefits in calculating your range of salary options. Do your homework. Find out how badly the position needs to be filled. Is it a new position? Why is the position vacant? And don’t forget to start a couple thousand dollars higher than what you’d like to settle at.

Wait for an offer to be specific about your salary requirements. Some people say that the first person to mention a dollar figure is usually the loser. Talk about salary needs in win-win terms. Keep the discussion friendly. Practice salary negotiation with a friend or a member of Toastmasters before the interview. Take time to reflect making a decision on an offer until you are certain the job is for you.

Be prepared to walk away from a low offer if need be but take into consideration that today’s market, in most industries, is incredibly different than the market a few years ago. The .com movement produced a Candidate-Driven marketplace. Today’s job seeker must realize the job market is Client-Driven. Many clients are cutting positions, combining duties and offering one position at one allocated salary. There is no negotiating. Either take if or leave it, because either way, the position will be filled.

MW: I recently read an article in the Chicago Tribune by columnist T. Shawn Taylor with a headline “Most managers have no idea how to hire the right person for the job.” The article goes on to say “Most interviewers are nervous. They hate interviewing.” With the cost of hiring someone between $12,000 and $20,000, what advice do you have for interviewers on the hiring side of the table to enable them to make sound staff choices?

LB: Get some coaching in interviewing techniques. Your Human Resources Department is a place to start. PREPARE for the interview. Read the resumes and check facts and credentials before the interview. Throw out resumes with spelling errors. View the interview as a dialog consisting of four distinct phases:

1. Socialize with the candidate to put them at ease and let them know the structure of the interview, how long it will last and the decision-making process.

2. Prepare two lists before the interview:

3. Listen to, respond to and note the candidate’s queries and concerns.

4. Conclude by letting the candidate know if they are in consideration and when a final decision will be made.

Design a Candidate Assessment Worksheet in grid format. List the attributes required for the job in rows along one side and prepare a column for each candidate across the top. This allows you to summarize, spreadsheet style, the comparative attributes of all candidates at once. Complete the information for each candidate immediately after the interview. A summary of this sort helps you compare skills required for the job, flush out strengths and weaknesses, and determine whether the personality type required for the organizational culture is a good fit.

MW: Do you have any final suggestions for people interviewing for a job?

LB: Nothing beats face-to-face contact.  Try to give your resume a memorable face by dropping it off in person.  People hire people, not paper.  And don’t forget to send a hand-written Thank You note, even if the position is not granted to you.  You never know how a favorable impression will be remembered in the context of a future opportunity.

MW: Laurie, thank you so much sharing your experience andexpertise with LLRX readers.