Job Interview Tips

The Most Important Talking Points for Your Upcoming Interview

interview-skills-that-win-the-job
Written by Kate Lopaze

Say there are three candidates coming in to interview for an open position.

Candidate #1 has a great resume, lots of experience. But she starts out nervous, fidgets, and tells rambling stories that get far away from the original question. About halfway through, she gets rather quiet (despair at the fizzling interview or just not knowing enough about the topics at hand?). She uses phrases like I guess I’m looking to leverage my experience, and the word uh pops up a lot.

Candidate #2 has a solid resume, maybe a little light on experience. He starts out a little nervous, but makes it a point to tell specific, targeted stories about his experience, and uses a lot of good words: high-performing, solving problems, uniquely suited.

Candidate #3 has an admittedly weak resume with little experience, but comes in with a bang. Strong handshake, eye contact that would make a bear stand down, and a slick, rehearsed answer for every question. In fact, it’s so rehearsed you can’t even tell what’s real from what might be fudged. She uses words like: phenomenal and no weaknesses. You’d probably buy a used car from her, but is she right for this job?

So which one takes it? It could very well be #2, even without a perfect resume–because candidate #2 gives good interview. From this brief outline, it’s clear that candidate #1 squanders her good resume (which likely got her in the door) with a weak verbal performance in the interview. It’s possible the strength of her resume could get her another crack via a second interview, but you can’t count on a second chance. Candidate #3 comes off as too much. Too slick, too glib, too many bells and whistles that could be covering up serious deficiencies. Candidate #2 comes in just right, Goldilocks-style. Even if his resume may not have been as accomplished as #1’s, he uses his verbal skills to sell himself (without overselling like #3).

Bottom line: your words matter, as does how you present them. You can spend all the time in the world fine-tuning your resume so that you look amazing on paper, but if you can’t back that up when it comes time to meet the hiring manager and perform, then you might well have talked your way out of a job you could have had. It’s so important to make sure that your interview persona includes strong, appropriate language, and that you’re expressing things clearly and professionally.

Let’s walk through some of the most important talking points of an interview, and how to approach them.

Be Honest—or At Least SEEM Honest

Everyone has “tells” when they’re lying. Maybe you get an ever-so-subtle tic at the corner of your eyelid. Maybe you suddenly feel the need to fiddle with your watch. Whatever it is, if you’re less than truthful in a job interview, there’s a good chance that you’ve also tipped off your interviewer. A lot of tics and nervous reactions can be passed off as nerves, but once there’s a whiff of dishonesty, that’s very hard to shake in an interview. Before the interview, try to get a handle on your verbal mannerisms, and practice giving interview-style answers without them.

Part of this is making sure you appear genuine. If you agree with everything the interviewer says, or gloss over specifics with phrases like “I totally got this,” it comes off as glib—and maybe covering for other issues.

If you claim expertise in something, be prepared to back it up with specifics. And if you’re going to exaggerate, make sure it’s in something that isn’t going to be apparent right away.

If you put on your resume that you’re fluent in German, be prepared to make small talk with someone who just happened to spend a semester in Berlin.

If you have something on your resume that you’re really trying to get around (read: a firing or performance issue), try not to outright lie about it. Even if you successfully sell a lie to the interviewer, you risk being tripped up numerous other ways, like a background check or the interviewer just happening to know someone at your old company. If you’re asked directly about something unpleasant, don’t come up with excuses—those always sound hollow. Explain that things didn’t work out, and what you learned from the experience.

Dishonesty or general dodginess will almost always be a dealbreaker, so it’s important to do everything you can to come across as an honest, forthright candidate who’s just right for this role.

Like, Y’know, Mannerisms

The biggest problem with verbal tics and mannerisms (like, y’know, uh, umm) is that we don’t always realize we’re doing it. So how to fix it? Practicing your repertoire of interview stories helps, as does slowing your speech down a bit.

Knowing your conversational mannerisms helps too. Sit down with a trusted friend, and ask about whether they’ve noticed any of these verbal issues. Or give your interview spiel, and ask for feedback. Once you know, you can work on addressing them. In an interview, these can come across as you being nervous or you not feeling comfortable with what you’re saying, so you want to do everything you can to limit those unintentional habits.

This applies to other bad habits, too, like apologizing for everything. Or using words like totally that express very little.

interview skills that win the job

[via Rymax Inc.]

Taboo Topics

Some topics are just not appropriate for a job interview, and likely never will be. These are the conversational areas you should definitely avoid:

Controversial Topics

Religion and politics are a no-go. Think Drumpf is going to Make Donald Drumpf Again? Enjoy shouting from the rooftops, “I’m with her” while wearing your best Hillary t-shirt? Doesn’t matter. Your party affiliation, and your political opinions stay checked at the door (or in your private Twitter feed). Plus, you don’t want to pull the interviewer into a legal danger zone by discussing religion or other topics that they’re legally not allowed to ask you about.

Personal Life

You may well be going through a rough time, but telling the interviewer about your concerns about Fluffy McWhiskerton’s digestive issues is not only inappropriate, it’s a waste of the interviewer’s time. He or she is there to evaluate you as a potential employee, not as a concerned cat parent. If you see a picture of a cat on the interviewer’s desk, feel free to make a brief small talk comment about how you have your own furball at home, but then shift right back into go-get-‘em interview mode.

Similarly, you won’t get any pity points by sharing your personal woes during the interview. In addition to being distracting, it can raise red flags about whether you’re equipped to give all of your attention to the (potential) job at hand.

Complaints about Your Last Job

If you left your last job under less-than-great circumstances, or are interviewing at this new place because you just can’t stand to be in your current job anymore, none of that matters when you show up for the interview. It’s a fine line, because you’ll definitely be asked about your current or last job. You don’t have to sugarcoat anything, but don’t fall into the trap of complaining. It’s best to leave things a diplomatic and a little vague whenever possible, especially if you feel a rant coming on. And it’s best practice to never personally criticize someone, whether it’s a boss or a colleague. Remember: the interviewer is also evaluating you as a potential colleague…you don’t want to seem like a whiner, or worse, a behind-the-back-complainer.

Questions Not to Ask

You’ve heard the advice of “always go into an interview prepared with questions to ask,” right? That’s always going to be valid, but not all questions are created equally.

“Are you going to do a background check?”

You may or may not have shifty eyes while you’re saying this, but it’s always going to sound shady. If you’re asking about a background check, it’s probably because you’re concerned about a background check. And if you’re concerned about a background check, that’s a red flag. Even if it’s an idle question about the interview process, it will still raise an eyebrow. It’s better not to ask.

“Do you monitor internet usage?”

This one basically tells the interviewer that you’re looking for a cushy place to mess around, with an accessible water cooler. Sure, we all stray from our duties and find our way to Facebook during the day sometimes. But asking about it up front suggests that it’s your priority, when your priority should be the job opportunity right in front of you.

“What does this job pay?”

He who brings up money first, loses. (It’s an old proverb. Probably. If not, it should be.) Being the first to bring up salary makes it a lose-lose for you. Either you get a number that could have been higher later, after negotiation, or the interviewer thinks you’re too mercenary and not concentrating on how well you could do the job. Neither one is going to endear you to the interviewer. Save the money questions for the next step, when ideally you’ll be negotiating your new job offer like a pro.

“What are the grounds for termination here?”

Again, if you have to ask, you’re concerned about it. Think of the interview as the beginning—why would you want to talk about the end? You don’t want to raise even the smallest concern that you would be a fire-able employee.

How you present yourself is such a major part of the interview process. The hiring manager already knows you look good on paper—hence the invitation to come in. It’s the same reason you dress your best and practice your handshake. Why not make sure you’re choosing and using your words and content to your best advantage? It can make you the “just right” candidate and get you to that next step: the job offer.

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