Master the In-Person Job Interview

Master the In-Person InterviewIn conducting their job search, the in-person, face-to-face interview is something most job seekers will ultimately encounter.  While working with clients I have generally found that of all job search activities the interview is the most stressful event.  Therefore, I encourage those who are going to a job interview to become familiar with the following strategies, which can help alleviate stress, result in a better interview, and enhance the chances of receiving a job offer.

Advance Preparation

The Initial Call – Try to ask these questions in order to gather important information.

  1. How long will the interview take?  If it runs over the allotted time this generally indicates you are a candidate.
  2. How many people will be interviewing me?  You will know how many copies of resumes/ references to bring and that you will be talking to various people representing a diversity of interests.
  3. What is time table for selecting a candidate?  You will know when to contact the potential employer if you haven’t heard from them.

Conduct Research – Online, with people working for the potential employer, or with customers.


  • Key products/services provided/sold
  • Corporate culture/workplace environment
  • Type of people generally hired
  • Competitors/chief suppliers /customers
  • Recent changes and their impact
  • Current challenges/problems faced

Mentally Prepare – Don’t be intimidated, as very few people are professional interviewers.

  • The interview is a two-way conversation, not an interrogation.  Both parties decide if the job is a good fit.
  • Be a buyer and a seller. You are selling yourself but also want to determine if you are going to like working there
  • Act warm, keep cool.  Whatever demeanor they exhibit, display both warmth and confidence.
  • Be aware of surprises.  Questions may be intended to keep you on the defensive or test your self-confidence.   Also, interviewers may behave in a friendly, easy going manner in order to learn information you don’t necessarily want to divulge.
  • The manner in which you answer a question is just as important as the words you say.

Behavioral Interviews – Are now popular and often merged into a traditional interview format.

  • An employer has decided what skills they are seeking and want to find out if you have these.
  • They want to know how you handled a situation, instead of what you might do in the future; the logic is that how you behaved in the past will predict future behavior.
  • Questions can be open ended (for example, “Tell me about…” or “Give an example of…”).
  • To help answer these review your resume, prepare a few career success stories, and practice them.

Going to the Interview

Bring – Copies of your resume and references, a notepad and pen, and evidence of your skills (e.g., a portfolio).

Questions -Don’t try to memorize answers to possible questions, but do become familiar with some of the more common ones by searching online or referencing a book.

Know you will probably be asked:

  • Tell me about yourself?  (communicate your key messages)
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? (communicate your skills and success stories)
  • Why should we hire you? (communicate your uniqueness)

Know you may be asked:

  • What salary are you seeking?
  • Do you have any questions?

Salary is a sensitive subject and responses are often used to eliminate candidates.

  • Know typical salaries and salary range for your position/field/organization
  • State the salary range and where you stand (e.g., given your experience you believe you are in the high end of this range).
  • Or, indicate discussion of salary is premature at this point and you will be happy to discuss all matters like salary and benefits once you both feel there’s a good fit.
  • Or, indicate that asking your desired salary is a reasonable question.  But, since they must have a salary range budgeted for this position, could they tell what that is?

Always ask questions, because they a) get the interviewer to envision you in the job, and b) provide some insight into your chances of being hired.

  • Know those questions you want to ask in advance and don’t ask too many.
  • Rank questions from #1 (most important) to #10 (least important).
  • Ask your top five and if time and circumstances allow, your next five.

Conducting the Interview

Your Objective – Focus on employer needs and sell the benefits they will receive by hiring you.

  • Interviewers form an immediate impression of you and the first 2-3 minutes are critical. Use small talk to develop a quick rapport and create a positive impression.
  • Have an actual dialogue and conversation with the interviewer.
  • Observe the 50-50 rule (you each talk about half the time).
  • Observe the 2 minute rule.   In general responses shouldn’t be more than 2 minutes.
  • Before speaking, sort out the information you want to communicate.  Organize it like a good paragraph, with a topic sentence, some support, and a logical end.
  • Listen, clarify, and gather feedback.
  • Make answers clear, concise, and avoid over sharing.
  • In answering many of the questions use a PAR format (describe the Problem-Action-Result) and provide success stories that support your qualifications

Before Leaving – State you are interested in the job, feel it would be challenging and exciting, given your experience and qualifications you are a good fit, and that you would make a valuable contribution.

  • Focus on key questions or things discussed in the interview that match your talents and emphasize these as being your strengths.
  • Ask what the next step is and when you can expect to hear from them.

Subsequent Interviews – Treat every interview separately and as if it was the first one.  Don’t assume subsequent interviewers have been briefed by the initial interviewer or that you will be asked the same questions.

Post Interview

  • Send a thank-you to each person with whom you interviewed as soon as possible.
  • Send an email.  Also send a personal note (if you have good hand writing) or typed note.
  • Make it short and sweet (you enjoyed meeting them, discussing the job and hearing about their organization, appreciate their time and consideration in talking with you, and feel your skills and experience make you a good fit for the position).
  • If you haven’t heard from the potential employer by the date they were to contact you, contact them.
  • If you are told another candidate has been selected, don’t take it personally.  Send another thank you note.  This demonstrates your professionalism and leaves the door open (things can and do happen in the hiring process).

With job interviews be persistent and don’t get discouraged.  Most likely you will have a number of in person interviews before finding the best fit.  These are really opportunities to learn about what employers want and to refine and practice your interviewing skills. Strive to maintain a positive mental attitude and know that eventually an interview will be followed by a job offer and work opportunity that you can only say yes to.

Guest Expert:

Tim Lutenski is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College, Port Huron, MI., and is Director of TMLconsulting, providing career and employment services. He teaches career based courses, workshops, and seminars, provides career services for individuals, groups, and organizations, and is a volunteer who assists those with special vocational needs, including the homeless, ex-offenders, and those ages 50 and up. Tim conducts professional seminars at conferences and for associations, writes articles for various professional and academic publications, and has recently produced his first CD, Seek and you will find: Your complete job search guide. He can be reached at or

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