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Career Talk, Part 4: The interview process

In my three previous columns, we discussed how to identify the warning signs on your career path, how to start your search for a new position and tips that will help your performance in an assessment center. This column discusses the interview process and offers some pointers for you to consider.

Your upcoming interview could be with a single person, like an HR director or supervisor, or with a group of people. Many organizations now use peer groups to help evaluate candidates in a pre-employment interview. Your approach is the same in both cases; you should be confident and eager to answer any and all questions. You re presenting yourself, selling your experience and background and letting them know you ll be an important part of their organization.

It s important to make a good first impression during an initial interview. You should take the process seriously and prepare to express yourself fully. This preparation includes taking time to practice your interviewing skills prior to the actual interview. Most people only interview for a new job a few times in their life, so taking time to prepare and practice can make the difference in being offered a new job. Get a friend or family member to help you prepare.

Your preparation should start with a review of the information you submitted on your resume. You should be completely familiar with your work and education background and able to answer questions about the duties and responsibilities of your previous jobs. Be prepared to give an oral resume that is as detailed and accurate as your written one.

Research the organization and know as much about it as you can. If they have a Web site, it probably offers a great deal of information about the group, such as their mission statement, services offered and important achievements. Don t be surprised if you re asked what you know about the organization or some of the activities they re involved in. Knowing this kind of information indicates your level of interest in becoming a member of the organization.

Show confidence in your answers during your interview. Try to answer each question as concisely as possible. A long answer isn t usually what an interviewer is expecting. Cover all your points in as short of an answer as possible.

Be prepared to answer behavior-based interview questions. These are often situational questions that relate to past experiences and attempt to focus on potential performance in similar situations in the future. Some interviewers will ask you about your experiences and want to know some specifics about how you handled conflicts or mistakes. Be prepared to give specific examples of how and why you performed the way you did and how the situation was resolved. Your answers are an indication of how you perform in different circumstances and how you approach difficult situations.

It s important to be honest when answering interview questions. Don t try to give an answer you think they want to hear. If you ve had a bad work experience, don t cover it up or make excuses for what happened. People learn from mistakes made in previous jobs, and you should demonstrate how your learning experiences will help you fit into the organization. If you don t know the answer to a question, it s better to indicate that, than to try to give an answer that may seem false or illogical.

Interviews are less about answering technical questions related to the job and more about whether you re the right person to fit into the organization with the other members who work there. An interview is also the time to gather more information you ll need to make your decision about working for the organization. Prepare a list of three to seven questions to help you determine if this organization seems like a good fit for you and show your interest in learning more about the group.

In my next column, I ll provide examples of some tough, common interview questions and general guidelines to help answer them.

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