To be effective in interviewing you not only need to know what to do, but also what not to do. The following tips will make you more effective.


Avoid saying, as if it is all one word, I’veneverdoneitbut. Rarely will you need to confess, “I’ve never done it, but . . . .” Instead, concentrate on what you’ve done that is similar. For instance, if the company uses FileMaker for a database manager, and you’ve only used Access, you would not say “I’ve never used it, but I’m sure I could learn.” Instead you would say, “I do have excellent experience with relational data bases (which FileMaker is), primarily using Access. I became highly proficient with Access in about four weeks. Having four years of heavy experience with databases, I’m sure I could master FileMaker in two or three weeks.”

Both FileMaker and Access are known as relational databases. That means that while the commands they use may be different, the way they operate is quite similar. Knowing one will make it easier to learn the other. In fact, you could even say that they are similar in more ways than they are different. In this case, the person should go on to describe some of the uses that were made of Access so the interviewer can see how closely the skills really match those he is looking for.

If the interviewer wants someone who has done grant writing, a job candidate might sell the fact that she publishes a newsletter for her professional association and has raised money for the Boy Scouts. By combining her writing and fund-raising experience, she may still have a shot at the job.

Always start with the assumption that you have done something similar to what the employer is looking for. If you assume it, you will usually find it. Don’t apologize for the fact that it is not a perfect fit. Just go with what you do have and sell your experience the best you can. Even if the interviewer concludes that the skills or experience don’t match what she needs, she will at least respect you for your effort and will have enjoyed a good story.

Do Not Let The Interviewer Feel Threatened By You

Occasionally you’ll get a sense that an employer feels threatened by you. This most often occurs if the person is not competent, has less knowledge than you have in your specialty, or has not been in the job long enough to have gained the full confidence of upper management. Books on management typically discuss the importance of hiring the best person possible, even if that person knows more than you. The idea is that you can’t be promoted until your replacement has been trained. People who are secure seek the best because those employees will make them look good and help them get promoted. In spite of this management premise, some managers will consciously or unconsciously not want to hire someone who is more knowledgeable or capable than they are.

On your part, don’t do or say anything that might cause the person to feel threatened. Giving the impression that you intend to come in and shake things up immediately (assuming that would not be your mandate) will ingratiate you to very few. No matter how talented you are, it is expected that you will survey the situation adequately before you start changing things. A statement like, “I certainly think we should be able to get this department shaped up very quickly,” will come across as threatening and egotistical to nearly anyone, especially a manager who has given a great deal of thought to the existing problems but has not yet solved them. A nonthreatening, yet positive statement might be, “I believe I can certainly play a key role in tackling some of these issues. At Datacom we faced some similar issues and I think we came up with some good solutions. Some of them may be appropriate here as well.”

If you sense that your interviewer feels threatened by you, tone down your experience and results a bit. This is the only circumstance in which you might intentionally undersell yourself. If you determine that you are more knowledgeable than the interviewer, do nothing to give an impression that you feel superior. Avoid discussing things the interviewer may know little about. Do not correct him if you detect an error in something he has said. Of course, you should always be careful about correcting anyone during an interview.

As always, do your best to sell yourself into the position. Once you get the offer, determine whether you want to work for this person. Try to talk to people who have worked for him before. Incompetent people rarely make good managers and often seek to sabotage those around them. If you find, upon further investigation, that this person is incompetent, you must take this into account as you decide whether to accept a position in the organization. If such a person is entrenched in the organization, he may make it difficult for you to get promoted because such people will rarely get further promotions.

Avoid Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

To prevent saying something you might regret, practice telling your stories and giving answers to the common interviewing questions. This will give you a clear sense of how your stories will be received. I once interviewed for a claims adjuster position with an insurance company. In the middle of the interview, I was asked why I wanted to leave my present claims position. Taken by surprise, I stated, “Mainly because they give us too many assignments.” As soon as I said it, I knew it didn’t sound right; the look on the faces of both interviewers confirmed this suspicion. I’d stuck my foot in my mouth, and I spent the next five minutes extricating it. (I must have done a pretty good job since I did get an offer.) I quickly explained that my company gave us so many claims that we were unable to thoroughly investigate each one. I told them how many claims I handled each week and they determined it was about three times more than their adjusters handled. I came out of it all right, but I certainly learned a valuable lesson. Preparation is the best way to avoid foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Don’t Reveal Company Secrets

Don’t offer proprietary information even if asked. Employers have been known to interview people for the sole purpose of gaining proprietary information or trade secrets. If an interviewer keeps pestering you for inside information from your current or most recent employer you’ll need to clear things up by saying you simply cannot divulge that type of information. “I can’t reveal that type of information, just as I wouldn’t reveal inside information about this company if I were working for you.”

If the interviewer inadvertently touched on a sensitive area he or she will actually gain greater respect for you because you have just demonstrated a high degree of integrity. This indicates that the organization will benefit from your integrity in various ways. It is always better to demonstrate a quality than to simply state that you have it. Demonstrating integrity will score many points for you.

Don’t Assume The Interviewer Sees Your Qualifications As Clearly As You Do

When you describe accomplishments, most interviewers can discern additional skills even if you don’t label each one. They may not discern all of your skills, however, so don’t be too subtle. One method which can ensure that your interviewers get a clear picture of your skills is to state which skills you demonstrated in a particular accomplishment. For example, you might say: “I think my greatest strength is my ability to get people excited and motivated about projects. For example . . .” Then, tell a two-minute story which illustrates your point. Go on to say, “So I really do think I can get people excited about projects and really motivate them. At the same time, I can keep people focused and bring out the best in them.” Notice that two additional skills were identified and demonstrated in the accomplishment, even though the person started to describe only one skill, the ability to motivate people.

Interviewees often assume and act as though interviewers should be able to magically see what wonderful qualities they possess. While some interviewers are very perceptive, many are not. Unperceptive interviewers will only pick up on your most obvious strengths. Thus, it’s your responsibility at every opportunity to reveal your strengths and demonstrate why you are the right person for the job.

Avoid Self-Centeredness

One of the biggest turnoffs for employers is the candidate who seems self-centered and cares only about what the company can do for him or her. Employment is certainly a two-way street and there must be give and take, but during the interview the emphasis must be on how you can benefit the organization.

To rephrase John Kennedy’s famous challenge, “Ask not what your company can do for you, but ask what you can do for your company.” After the offer is made, there is plenty of time to talk money and benefits. Until then, emphasize what you can do for the organization.

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