You get the jitters before an interview. Who doesn't? You're in your best outfit, you're well prepared and you just really want this job.
Or do you?
We assume the interview is all about selling ourselves to the interviewer to land the job, but it's much more than that. It's your chance to get to know the organization and the people who work there. Even if a company gives you a job offer, if you didn't get a good feeling from the interviewers or if you have second guesses, you need to put a lot of thought into your decision before accepting.
An interview is your chance to assess them. Here's how:
1. Be yourself. You should be looking for the right fit during an interview just as companies are when they look at us as candidates. That's why it's vital to be yourself at the interview, within limits, of course. You don't need to talk about how much you partied last night, but it's OK to show your sense of humor or discuss hobbies.
2. Get the scoop on the job. A job description does not tell all. In fact, many times people who do not work in the same department or field write the descriptions, which may be inaccurate. You may wind up interviewing for a role completely different than the one advertised -- and it may be something you're not interested in. During the interview, make sure you get a clear picture of your daily responsibilities and the skills required to be successful in the job.
3. Understand the culture. Look around the office, and observe what is going on. Is it an open office space with cubicles? Is there a lot of chatter, or is it completely silent? Think about what environment you perform best in. Perhaps you work better with background noise and are an outgoing person who likes a lively office. Or you might prefer quiet.
You may receive strong signals during an interview about the culture or people who work there. A candidate was once put in a difficult position when two interviewers suddenly made a joke about her current employer out of the blue. This turned her off from the organization.
4. Ask powerful questions. One of the most telling questions you can ask is: "How did this position come to be open?" If the interviewer is honest, you will find out if the role is new, or if someone left or was fired. It should give you some insight into what you're up against and what kinds of expectations the employer may have of you if you are hired.
Another useful question is: "What is the most positive part of working here, and what would you change if you could?" The answer to this should help you decide whether you'd be happy there or not.
5. Evaluate the interview overall. You might have a great experience talking to your interviewers and feel like there was good chemistry. Then they may surprise you with an awkward question or request. One candidate was unexpectedly given a timed test of 30 items to demonstrate his Excel expertise. He was disappointed, because he felt it was unrealistic to assume a candidate knew uncommon Excel functions.
Maybe you interview at your dream company, and do not like any of the people you meet with. While it may be worth searching your contacts to find people to talk to about the company, pay attention to your gut. We spend countless hours a week at work, and you want to spend that time with people you like to be around and can work with. It has a substantial effect on the quality of your life.
Perhaps you get an offer, and you feel you need more information to make an informed decision. Don't be afraid to reach out to your point of contact and ask additional questions. It shows your genuine interest and tells the employer that you want to find the right match just like they do. You want to spend your working hours at a place that respects and values you, so make sure you conduct your own thorough evaluation of your interviewers and the company. Ask yourself: Would you hire your interviewers to work with you?
Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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