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Successful Interviewing: Part 3 – How to Take Ownership and Use Your Checklist

How to Take Ownership and Use Your Checklist

The reoccurring theme in this series revolves around your responsibility for sharing all the best information you have.  Although the interviewer is asking the questions, you are providing the answers.  How you do this dictates how much “ownership” you have in the process.  Your goal is to get as many of the items on your checklist (from Part 2) shared as possible.  This requires some quick thinking during the interview.  The different kinds of questions you are asked allow you to cover a lot of ground.  Here are some examples of questions and how to answer, while leveraging your checklist along the way.

The Direct Question:  This is one where the interviewer asks you a very specific question that you have a very specific example/answer from your checklist.  Example:  How much experience do you have in sales?  You should not only have those facts on your checklist, but also a few key achievements in this area.

The Indirect or Generic Question: Some interviewers ask questions like “tell me about yourself or your experiences?”  They do not want to hear where you grew up or what high school you attended. They want to hear examples of work and skills that pertain to the job.  Use your checklist!  If the interviewer really does want more on your personal background, they will probably ask a slightly more direct question in that direction. Another generic question is “what is your favorite work experience or position held?”  Again, your checklist has the answers—you certainly listed some of your best work.  The key to this type of question is to talk about experiences that are relevant to the job for which you are interviewing, not just anything that comes to mind (that’s why you have a checklist to reference throughout the interview).

The “Classic” Question:  These are the ones that you know they are going to ask or you have heard many times in interviews.  Examples include “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “what is one of your pet peeves?”  Even these questions can be links to your checklist.  For these types of questions, don’t be shy about practicing the answers with a friend first.  The test is to see if what you wanted to convey in your answer is what is perceived by your friend.  Sometimes answers are so convoluted that the true essence of your answer is lost in a long-winded, multi-faceted answer. 

One of my favorite Classic Questions is “why should I hire you?”  Instead of telling the interviewer why you want the job (which tells them little about why they should hire you), tell them more from your checklist, specifically: (1) your skill set; (2) your knowledge about the company, industry, processes they use, challenges they face, clients, and their learning curve; (3) your manageability (you are not a “problem child,” but low maintenance); (4) your value and their return-on-investment (you bring more to the table then they requested for the same salary); (5) your tendency to go above and beyond a job description (you work hard and contribute in unique ways).

Bridge Bridging:  Sometimes you’ll be asked a direct question where you’ll want to “bridge” to a secondary answer to the question.  There are two scenarios to do this:  (1) when you have a good answer, but also have a second answer that is on your checklist; (2) when you have a weak answer, but have a related experience or skill that will improve the overall impression.  Here are truncated examples of both.

Question:  What is your experience in using Tool XYZ?

Strength to Strength Bridged Answer:  I have used Tool XYZ for several years on five different projects and consider myself an expert user.  During those projects, I also used Tool ABC which I consider to be equally useful and sometimes faster to use.

Weakness to Strength Bridged Answer:  I have used Tool XYZ sparingly during the last year.  Typically, I use Tool ABC for the same purpose and have found both easy to use.  I’m sure I could become an expert in XYZ, too, if I was to use it as often in the future.

The key to bridging is the two topics should be related somehow so it is a natural connection between the two items.  Also, it is essential to answer your first part of the question concisely.  If you take up too much time with the first part of the question, it’s probably not wise to bridge to another time-consuming topic. 

Another aspect of taking ownership of the interview is to control the flow of information.  Good interviewers are trained to let interviewees talk and talk and talk.  There’s no harm in this as long as the right information is shared.  How does one gauge this?  It’s essential to stop for clarification or watch your interviewer. While answering questions, see if they are taking notes or checking boxes on their list.  As they say in sales, once you get your “yes,” stop talking.  You’ve done enough.  If there is no note taking, is your interviewer still paying attention or is he/she glassy eyed?  If you’re not sure if you’ve answered the question, then ask.  Simply asking, “does that answer your question?” or “is that the kind of information you were looking for?” helps verify you are ready to move to the next question.

Keep in mind that many interviews are on a timetable.  You only get so much time to answer questions.  You want to answer as many as possible—taking too much time with one can be a time waster.

This series of articles on Successful Interviewing is also available as an eBook on the A-List Solutions web site.  Click this link for a free download:  get eBook now.

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March 15, 2009 - Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search

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