How to Make Your Interviews More Productive

Adapting to the Rough Environment Can Help Make the Most of Meetings

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Paul Gumbinner
Paul Gumbinner

Things are tough out there. There are lots of good people looking for jobs -- many are working and, of course, many are not. The competition is fierce, even just to get an interview. Virtually everyone looking for a job wants to meet people who might influence their being hired. The number of people networking is overwhelming for recruiters, corporate executives and human-resources professionals.

There are few jobs, and that's something that you have to keep in mind when trying to set up an appointment. The people you are trying to meet are really busy. Today, everyone is being asked to do more for less. This means that their time is limited. It also means that if you get an appointment, there is a good chance it will get canceled or postponed several times. Don't be discouraged or disappointed, just persevere. But you have to be aware that when people do see you, the interview, more often than not, will be shorter than usual.

Being totally aware of this environment will help you to make your meetings more productive. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. There is no such thing as a courtesy or informational interview.
All interviews are real. Please remember that if the person you are seeing likes you enough, they can always pass you on to someone who can influence your being hired. If you keep this in mind, you will approach it as an interview and not as merely a chance to meet someone and chat. There is a subtle but immensely important distinction between an interview and a conversation. You want it to be an interview. You want them to ask you real interview questions so that you can show off your good points.

2. Learn how to sell yourself in only a few minutes.
Pacing yourself is critical. It never hurts at the beginning of a meeting to ask how long you have so you know how to respond. Know that the person you are seeing is undoubtedly busy dealing with layoffs, client budget problems and their own day-to-day business. They may not want to see you at all, or they may be doing someone a favor by seeing you. So you have to be able to tell them who you are and how you might fit in and make the case for your candidacy in just a few minutes. And this isn't easy.

Paul Gumbinner is president of the Gumbinner Co., New York. Before starting his executive-search firm in 1985, he spent 20 years in advertising, as an account person in categories including package goods, cosmetics, broadcasting, financial services, publishing, retail and fast food.

3. Learn to be specific about yourself and your accomplishments.
Most people talk in generalities. They answer questions by making statements such as, "I am smart" or "I am passionate" or "I like the business." And truthful as those answers may be, they do not give any tangible information. It is much better to describe how you are passionate, give examples of your smarts, and let your words and enthusiasm communicate how you like the business. Talk in case histories about yourself with background, solutions and results; this will go a long way toward showing your uniqueness. It also helps if you can position yourself as to what makes you unique and why you should be hired. Telling the interviewer what you did and how you did it also shows your thought process and leadership ability. Being results-oriented in your interview is an indication of your potential. Specifically describing your past successes gives a strong indication of your future potential.

4. When there is a specific job, you will be interviewed differently.
When there is a specific job, you will be interviewed with the specs of that job in mind. When they are seeing you as a courtesy, the tendency is to chat, ask a few relevant questions and be done with it. So when you are networking, it is important that you keep your interviewer focused on your candidacy.

5. Be careful not to overexpose yourself.
There is a danger in networking. You can become overexposed. Seeing too many people can actually hurt. I know of job hunters who have actually used contacts to see three and four people at the same company. If each of those people sends your résumé down to human resources, they can and will become annoyed that you are seeing so many people. Most companies keep good records, especially if you are seeing someone in human resources. And if, as has happened so often in this economy, you are still unemployed in a couple of months, you can easily be seen as damaged merchandise. People are only human. They may naively believe that the best people get hired quickly, which of course isn't true, but perception is reality. Target the companies you talk to carefully and interview only where your personality and skills may work best.

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