Improving how you play the job interview game


If you're not happy with the way your job hunt's going, maybe you're doing something wrong during interviews -- consistently.

One college instructor -- call her "Sally Sincero" -- realized she couldn't blame the job market for her many rejections. On her first attempt to switch careers, Ms. Sincero landed an impressive 16 interviews. But, she only had one callback. That led to a one-year teaching position, and another job search.

Ms. Sincero called several of the people she had interviewed with. "Now that the interview process is over, I'd like to see if you have any advice for next year," she said.

To her surprise, several people hinted that she hadn't talked enough about the things the hiring committees had wanted to hear, namely, teaching and publishing.

Confused, Ms. Sincero decided to get some professional help. Within three hours, she and her counselor figured out what had gone wrong. It seems Ms. Sincero's interesting background tempted interviewers to go off on tangents about some things on her resume, but that weren't relevant to the jobs at hand. Ms. Sincero left the interviewers entertained but with no reason to hire her.

Too often, applicants spend time asking what the company can do for them, not what they can do for the company. This attitude shows up in excessive queries about money, benefits, vacations and workloads. Better to ask questions that show a desire to understand the company's concerns.

Other common mistakes: talking too much (and not seeming interested in what the interviewer has to say) or sounding too independent (rather than like a team player). Some people volunteer personal information that winds up leaving a negative impression. Talking about how involved you are at your children's school might make the interviewer wonder if you can help during busy periods.

If you can't afford an expensive career coach, find a trusted friend or family member to work with you. What's important is to get feedback.

Prepare a list of questions that interviewers typically ask. Then run through your answers three or four times with your coach. Your first impulse will probably be to respond the way you normally do in interviews. By playing the role of the interviewer, your coach can offer valuable insights about how you come across.

With that knowledge, you'll be able to construct better answers together. Rehearse them several times without notes until you can capture the essential points in your own words. By the time you go on the next interview, you'll be ready to shine.

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