The Business of Interviews

What makes for a successful interview? Isn’t that the million dollar question. There are plenty of resources for job seekers these days outlining how to look and what to say to increase the odds of a positive outcome. I agree with much of the advice; however, much of it stops short of driving home the most important concept when it comes to interviews.

Before I reveal what is being overlooked, I’m going to clarify what a successful interview is in my mind. Most job seekers would say a successful interview is one where you are eventually invited back or offered a job. True, but it’s more than that. A successful interview is one where both parties have learned enough about one another to make a good decision. So, what is this earth shattering nugget of knowledge job seekers are missing? Prepare yourself. Job interviews are a business meeting. It’s as simple as that. You knew that already, right? What have you done with that knowledge?

Over the years very few of the interviews I’ve conducted have felt like business meetings. That’s not to say they weren’t professional or productive. More to the point, they were one sided. I was clearly the one doing the evaluating. I was the one asking the questions, taking notes and gauging how good of a choice the person being interviewed would turn out to be. Most candidates didn’t seem to be in the mindset to ask questions of me that would help them better understand the strength of the company, the leadership style of the manager, what events influenced the demands of the position, why people haven’t worked out previously and how the company hoped the person they hire would contribute to the company in the present and future. When candidates did have questions they were more along the lines of what the benefits or hours would be. There wasn’t a lot of meat to what they wanted to know.

Good interview etiquette dictates potential employers be given more opportunity to evaluate than those being interviewed. A candidate taking over the interview and grilling the interviewer would be a bad move. The best approach is to insert a few strategic questions throughout the interview or at its close. Craft the questions around the points made above in a polite and professional way. Listen to and note the answers. Not only will the answers shed light on the job, they will reveal additional opportunities to reinforce to an employer why you’d be the best choice for the job. If the interviewer shares previous employees didn’t work out because they weren’t able to manage the overtime, you have a chance to reassure the person they would not have that issue with you. If overtime is something you really can’t do, then you put that bit of knowledge in the con column for the job and take it into consideration if an offer is made.

Getting into the habit of making the interview as two-sided as possible is crucial. It solves several problems for the job seeker. First, it gets you more engaged in the process. Employers notice and appreciate the applicant who is doing his homework in a thoughtful and professional way. They have a vested interest in you making sure the job is a fit on your end and knowing you are doing your part to make the decision a good one is reassuring. Turnover hurts companies. Second, just as turnover hurts companies, it hurts job seekers too. Explaining a trail of jobs is difficult. Why not do what you can to reduce the potential for surprise developments in a job? Asking better questions prior to taking a job could very well help applicants avoid opportunities they’d eventually be fired from or would want to quit. Third, it gives the job seeker more to weigh when a job offer comes in. It’s not uncommon to hear candidates say they don’t know what to do once an offer is made. That is usually a result of not having enough information to consider. How can one know if the compensation is fair or how good of an opportunity the job will be in the long term without fully understanding the responsibilities, culture and future potential?

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Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.

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