The question now is, what separates the good from the excellent?

On-site interview success: The question now is, what separates the good from the excellent?

Vertreace, Walter

The Question Now is, What Separates the Good from the Excellent?

When it comes to the onsite second interview, good enough is simply not good enough. Everyone the company has invited to the site for evaluation has passed the initial screening: their resumes are impeccable; their dress and grooming are immaculate; they are proper and articulate in their speech and demeanor; they possess the required skills and abilities to be successful in the corporation. The question now is, what separates the good from the excellent?

You can expect to have either a series of individual interviews by both management and professional personnel, or one or more group interviews. Although your skills and abilities are important, the evaluators are now looking to see if you will fit into the corporate culture and way of doing business. They want to know if they should make an investment in your training and development, or whether they should look for another candidate.

Interest: Do You Really Want This Job?

Some of your peers are interviewing with a particular employer merely for practice – they have no real intent of accepting a position, whether it is because of location, job content, or some other reason. For others, this employer may be their second or third choice, and they are taking this interview for “insurance” purposes, in case their preferred company doesn’t come through. In both cases, their lack of interest will become obvious to a skilled interviewer and will reduce the chance of their receiving an offer. Other candidates may be interested, but their demeanor or interviewing technique will cause them to appear unmotivated. You don’t want to be seen as part of any of those groups.

The biggest mistake candidates make on site is resting on their initial research about the employer and therefore not knowing much about the company or the industry. Antoinette Malveaux, president of the National Black MBA Association, advises that this lack of research and usable information may not only lead to bad career decisions, but gives the impression that the search is merely for a job, and not for a career. With the proper information and preparation, you can clearly communicate your intention to make a commitment to the employer, its goals and objectives.

Your initial review of the employer for the campus interview may have consisted of a reading of the firm’s literature on campus, and a look at their Web site. Now you should get the details, from in-depth library research, business journals and publications, and reviews of the company’s diversity and equal opportunity policies. Relate the company’s goals, objectives and priorities to your own; if they don’t mesh, perhaps you should look elsewhere.

Having already researched the company, you should now research its people. Malveaux counsels that the candidate should “find individuals in the company who are willing to talk to them about the company’s culture, career growth opportunities, and company strategies.” This information, in addition to firming up your decision to pursue this particular employer, will aid you in preparing to ask good questions during the interview. Even during the interview, solicit the names of other individuals you can talk to, thereby broadening your understanding of the company and its relationship to its employees.

Early in the game, preferably before arriving on the scene, find out who will be on your interviewing schedule, and where they fit in the company hierarchy. This will help you to tailor your “sales pitch” to the interests of the managers and executives to whom you will be presenting yourself. Your interest – and your courtesy as well – will be further shown by your prompt letter of thanks, citing individuals and incidents that will jog the recipient’s memory of who you are and why you are the best person for the job. Wait no more than two days; your letter may just set you apart from an equally qualified candidate who neglected to write one.

Confidence: Are You Really the Best One for the Job?

Sweaty palms, pacing in anticipation, nervous fidgeting – these are all indications that the interviewing process is one of the most stressful activities to which you will voluntarily subject yourself. As a result of management critiques after countless interviews, Aretha Preston, Human Resources manager for the BP Amoco Yorktown Refinery in Virginia, has found that such nervousness, although normal, can be a problem for students trying to impress a prospective employer. You can effectively deal with these uncomfortable feelings by practicing your interview in front of peers and instructors. Not only will they tell you what you are doing correctly and incorrectly, but the practice sessions themselves will make you more comfortable with the interviewing process, and chase away some of the butterflies in your stomach.

Preston advises, “Speak up, sell yourself, and demonstrate that you are in control.” Industry generally looks for a take-charge personality, and interviewers are seeking clues to your forcefulness during the interview. You have already shown that you meet the basic criteria–now you have to clearly articulate your ability to hit the ground running. You have to exude confidence, while fighting nervousness at the same time. This is not a matter of bragging about your abilities; it is a function of your presentation. Your confidence can also be bolstered by an understanding of your abilities and experiences as compared to the qualities required for the job for which you are applying. Stephanie Calhoun, Diversity and College Relations manager for J. C. Penney Co., Inc., suggests questioning the position just as you will be questioned later. Does the job require leadership? Individual initiative? Communications skills? If you know the interviewers’ priorities, you will be able to build them into your answers to their questions. Also, expect a number of open-ended questions such as, “If faced with this situation, how would you handle it?” “Tell me about a time when you were responsible for a project. What did you do? How did it turn out?” “How do you structure your schedule when you have a number of things to do in a limited amount of time?” Review and recall those traits that you possess which set you apart from the other candidates, and demonstrate that you can handle the challenges the interviewers are describing. Your clear and concise responses will give the interviewer a sense of your ability to “think on your feet,” and to speak with sincerity and conviction. The winning candidate is the one who can confidently convey the ability to walk on water, without being obnoxious or overconfident.

Style: Are You a Team Player?

Rare is the individual who got anywhere on his or her own. Accomplishments are usually the result of the efforts of a number of people.

Preston advises that one key to selling yourself as a team player is to answer accomplishment questions with a “we” rather than an “I” Use statements like: “We were able to increase production by 37%, using the goal-setting and workforce monitoring software we had developed in-house. I coordinated the exercise, but it was a team effort.” At the same time, Calhoun says you should make sure not to sell yourself short. The employer should come away from the interview with the clear sense that you can do this job, and higher jobs also. Your ability to work as a productive member of a team, as well as your leadership and individual contributor capabilities, will be best demonstrated by your relating them to the company’s needs and focus.

When answering questions about your prior employer or assignments, remember to always be positive. Even less-than-ideal experiences can be phrased in a manner that is not degrading to prior employers or co-workers. Remember – chances are, sooner or later the company you are interviewing today will be a former employer in a few years, and would like to be treated with respect and dignity; demonstrate this in your references to prior associates. If you identify with the prior team and its members, you will speak of them in the same manner, as you would like to be spoken of.

Courtesy extends beyond the content of the interview. You should extend it to anyone you encounter on the telephone, the security personnel in the lobby, the receptionist, the interviewer’s assistant who offers you a beverage. These people may have more influence on the decisionmaking process than you realize, and an unkind word to one of them can be the kiss of death.

Be The One They Can’t Let Get Away!

Once you have been invited for a second interview, it is clear that the company considers you a possible player– you and everyone else on the interview schedule. Your task now is to show that you stand out in the crowd; that you are head and shoulders above the rest. This you can do by demonstrating a positive, confident attitude, looking the interviewer in the eye and selling, not only your abilities, but your commitment to the company and its goals. Show that you are good for the company and the industry, and know what you are talking about. By dress and demeanor, look the part you wish to play. Emphasize your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. Be positive and you will succeed.

Walter Vertreace is the manager of Corporate Equal Employment Opportunity at the Amerada Hess Corporation in Woodbridge, N.J.

Copyright Black Collegian Feb 2001

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