The First Interview: Boiling it down to five items

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This is the time of year that everyone seems to have a forecast of job prospects for graduating college students. Amazon.com alone offers 828 book selections when you type in the phrase “job interview.” Everyone seems to be an expert in the job interview process. Among the titles are books that address topics like 101 of the toughest interview questions, 250 questions you’ll most likely be asked, 24 crucial interview questions, as well as secrets, tips, strategies and advice on how to ace the interview. There’s even a book for learning everything you need to know about the job interview the night before.

The truth is most of these so-called strategies seem to have worked best at selling books. But that first job interview can be tricky. Ford Myers, author of The Ultimate Career Guide, and president of Career Potential, a Haverford, Pa., career consulting firm, offers some simple, sound advice for anyone seeking that first job. You have to congratulate a guy who doesn’t want to give you 100,001 Answers to the Absolutely Toughest Job Interview Questions You’ll Ever Face.

“When you boil it all down, job interviews are made up of only five basic statements: four questions, one sentence,” he says. “Each of these has to be ‘nailed’ in a job interview. Each requires a different strategy to answer it. Winging it won’t do.”

No. 1: Tell me about yourself. This is the open-ended question that on the surface seems harmless, yet how you answer it may well spell the difference between landing a job, or heading out the door to seek another job interview. You have to know yourself first. Know your strengths, your weaknesses, your likes, your talents and your goals. Then come up with some concrete examples from your life that display these things. You don’t have to talk about work accomplishments (remember, you’ve never had a job), but you had success in Girl Scouts, the sixth grade, on your family vacation or in virtually any other part of your past. The key is to provide meaningful, real-life examples of who you are.

No. 2: Why do you want to work here? Again, this is a thorny question. It basically seeks to determine if you know anything at all about the job and the company and if you understand how to connect your talents to them. Be creative in your answer, but also zero in on the company mission, the job goals and how you share those.

No. 3: What’s wrong with you? Go ahead and tell the interviewer you are a loser and you will be! But tell the interviewer you lack experience, need that opportunity to show your talent and understand that everyone has had to take that first step into the business world, and you’ll be just fine. Just don’t paint yourself as a picture of perfection.

No. 4: What are your salary expectations? This is the quick-draw question of the real-life Western movie: You want the other guy to make the first move. That’s always preferable, but not always possible. Do some research in advance to figure out what a likely salary range is and then announce that the job is not all about pay. Tell the interviewer that you want the opportunity, the challenge of the job and expect that the company will make you a fair salary offer. That doesn’t mean you have to take that offer, but it means they will have to draw first.

No. 5: Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Insist on getting a date when you can get back to them. Display your excitement for the job and the challenge that lies ahead. Interviewers like people who are optimistic about the future. Be enthusiastic and let them know you’ll be back in touch. Simple and concise!

The more focused and articulate you are in answering these questions, the better chance you’ll have of landing that first job. If you don’t get it, though, you’ve practiced well for Interview No. 2.