Staying Focused in an Interview

The Insider's Guide To Job Search

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Staying Focused in an Interview
by Kevin T. Buckley, CPC

One of the biggest ways to reduce your chances of making it to the next stage in the hiring process is to be unfocused in the initial interview.

An interview is not a casual chat, it is a stage and you are the main performer, under the lights and with the eyes of the audience upon you. You need to know your script and be alert to the cues given to you by the person directing the interview. An interview is a meeting held with the purpose of determining if you have the skills, experience, character and motivation that the interviewer is looking for. Recall the scout motto: “Be prepared”. Get there early.

From the minute you walk into the employer’s lobby or reception area consider that every move you make and every comment made will be noted. It starts with the interviewer’s secretary or assistant. Don’t make the mistake of being condescending or aloof with this person. How you treat him or her will be communicated to the interviewer. This person is the interviewer’s first screen. If you do not establish the proper relations with the door keeper, this itself may hurt your chances for a successful meeting. Social etiquette is important.

Your mission is to make a lasting positive impression with everyone you meet at the company. A smile or friendly greeting is a universally accepted method of introducing yourself. While you wait for the interviewer, go over your personal presentation in your mind. See yourself confidently expressing who you are and what you can do. If you have prepared yourself properly, you will be able to present yourself effectively:

The Greeting and some useful starting phrases:

“ Hello Mr./MS. _______ , thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today. “

“ Good morning/Good afternoon, Mr./Ms. _________, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“ Hello ___________, thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

This acknowledges that you are using this person’s valuable business time and the inference is that you will not take advantage of this. Offer a warm handshake.

Setting the Tone:

“ I’m looking forward to discussing this position and answering any questions you may have. How would you like to begin? “ 

“ I’m ready to answer any questions you may have about my experience and qualifications, what would you like to know first? “

“ I’ve read the position description/advertisement and I’m confident that I have the skills and experience that you are looking for. “

These and similar phrases indicate that you are ready to answer questions, have familiarized yourself with the requirements and are willing to provide information.

The Greeting and Setting of the Tone should be given with good eye contact and with an attitude of mature enthusiasm and interest. Don’t go overboard but don’t appear bored either.

The Discussion:

At this point, the interviewer will likely mention that they have reviewed your resume or application and would like to clarify certain points, or they may ask you why you are interested in the position and why you feel you should be considered.

If your resume has been prepared as mentioned in previous articles as a talking-points document, your resume will provide the interviewer with your agenda for the meeting. You will have noted 3-5 accomplishments or areas of major contribution that you made in each position that you held. You will have noted your promotions and achievements and how you created value for your employers. You will have illustrated to the interviewer how you increased sales, improved processes, lead teams, created new programs and achieved corporate and personal goals.

From this point in the interview onwards you have the opportunity to build on the positive impression made so far or to diminish it according to what you say and how you say it. This is where being focused is vital to a successful meeting. It doesn’t mean you have to be tense and coiled like a spring, it means knowing beforehand what you are going to say.

Avoid being long winded. Keep your answers directly related to the specific question asked. Do not ramble. Remember that a long answer to a short question may be interpreted as having an unfocused mind or even weak intelligence. Minimal answers or being abrupt may be interpreted as a lack of confidence, interest or arrogance.

 Have at your fingertips the facts and figures of your achievements. How was your performance measured? What did you achieve in new sales development? What percentage of growth of revenues was achieved? How did you win or keep those customers? What steps did you take to solve the problems? What procedures did you need to create to achieve the goals? How did you create value for your past employer and how does that experience translate to creating value for this employer? What problems will you be able to solve for this employer? How will you make this employer’s company/department better?

To be or not to be… (invited back)

Express your philosophy about life, your values and what motivates you to succeed in ways that support and address the needs and expectations of the employer. Speak from a personal perspective about the importance of integrity, honesty, dedication and perseverance. Don’t assume that because it is obvious to you that your ex employer had the wrong motives or intentions that it will be obvious to the interviewer. Cynical attitudes, bitterness or hidden resentments can cast a negative light on discussing why you left past employers. The interviewer may wonder if you are carrying emotional baggage with you. Your grievances real or imagined are not an appropriate topic. This is one of the easiest ways to derail the meeting: indulging in philosophizing about why certain decisions that affected you were made and how you or others may have resisted them and could have made better ones. If you are viewed as a whiner, complainer or political player you will likely not be invited back. An interview is often lost because personal feelings and attitudes are perceived as not being in tune with the corporate culture. What is important to this employer? What qualities of character do they look for? Do you see yourself reflected in these expectations? 

Ask some questions of your own

One of the chief reasons that people don’t survive to the next level is that they don’t ask the right questions when given the opportunity to do so. This is not the time to ask about compensation and benefits. This is the time to ask about expectations and problems that require solving. Show the interviewer that you have researched them on the internet, that you have taken the interest to learn about their products, service and mission. Bring up their corporate mission statement and ask about how the interviewer sees you fitting into the corporate culture. How will your performance be measured? What internal advancement can you work towards in the future? What are the key problems that this position will address? What does the employer want to achieve in the first 6 months, and then the next 6 months? What tools will you have to work with? How did this position become open? What is the training program and what does it entail? Who will you work with in the company? These and similar questions show an analytical and focused mind looking for common ground and mutual benefit and aware of the employer’s concerns and needs.

Stay focused at the end of the meeting also. If you have interest in this position, express it and leave the interviewer with either a list of references or a performance appraisal or a business card, something given to the interviewer that reinforces your name in his/her mind. If you want the job, ask for it: “ I really want this job, ______ and I’ll be happy to meet with you again to discuss how I can make my contribution. “


-          Greet everyone in a friendly and professional manner

-          Keep good eye contact and offer a warm handshake

-          Acknowledge that you are using the interviewer’s time

-          Display mature enthusiasm and interest

-          State that you are ready to answer questions

-          Confirm that you are familiar with the position’s requirements

-          Express your confidence in being able to meet their expectations

-          Provide a resume that creates talking-points, your agenda

-          Have the facts and figures of your achievements at your finger tips

-          Avoid being long-winded, keep your responses clear and concise

-          Avoid extended philosophizing about  and criticism of past employers

-          Determine what the corporate culture and expectations are

-          Avoid discussing compensation/benefits in the first meeting

-          Ask how your performance will be measured

-          Ask about the training program

-          Ask about who you will work with

-          Ask about the potential for future advancement

-          Leave references or a performance appraisal (if interested)

-          Offer to make yourself available for a second meeting

-     Indicate your interest in the job


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