If this is to be a year for personal advancement, there may be an interview in your future as you seek the job of your dreams.
To avoid blowing that interview, you may want to listen to Michelle Riklan, a New Jersey-based consultant who has seen human resources – and the interview table – from both sides.
There are five formats you could face in your job interview, all of which can provoke anxiety. Not only will a lot be at stake, but interviews are also rare in our lives, and so we are not as practised as we would like to be. That is particularly true, she notes, for the most senior executives, who often came up through the ranks, promoted on their ability, and when they decide to seek greener pastures outside their organization – or are forced to, through a downsizing – can be faced with an unsettling challenge.
Whatever the format, one thing remains constant: You.
"You control your reactions, answers and behaviour during the interview. Practise and prepare for what you can control, and don't mind the rest," she writes on the Lead Change Group blog, where she outlines strategies for dealing with each of the five formats.
The presentation interview
For some jobs, the hiring team and future colleagues will want to see you in action. This is common in sales and education, where you might be asked to make a sales pitch or offer a sample lesson. Can you make your arguments and engage with others?
Get there early to make sure whatever you need is on hand and working, whether flip charts or Power Point projection screens. Beforehand, you will need to prepare the talk and slides. Don't jazz them up too much, since you don't want to distract the hiring team. This is about you. "They are looking at how you read your audience, are you prepared, do you command the room, do you make a compelling argument, and are you confident and engaged," she said in an interview.
The group interview
This might involve a group discussion during which one person interviews multiple candidates. It saves time for the hiring company – all the main candidates being assessed at one time – and it allows for easy comparison. The key to remember is that it's not a contest, even if it feels like one; don't try to one-up the other candidates, as that will backfire. At the same time, don't blindly agree with what everyone says. Stand up for your beliefs, letting your personality and expertise shine out. She compares these to political debates: "Donald Trump is the king of trying to one-up the other candidates. He's not listening carefully to others but thinking about what he wants to say next."
You will be booked for a full day of interviews with different executives, as they gauge how you fare in a gruelling, stressful day and how consistent your responses are. Do some research beforehand – LinkedIn can be particularly helpful – so you know something about the interviewers and can comment on their past projects or make connections to your own life.
Try to anticipate the questions they'll ask, and compile a list of stories and examples you can insert. While you want to be consistent, you also want some variety in your anecdotes from session to session.
Try to begin and end each interview on a high note. You can sketch out some ideas beforehand but it's best if you end by referring to something in the discussion. And bring some snacks – high-energy items, rather than food that might make you sleepy – so you can control this aspect of the day.
The panel interview
Here you face more than one interviewer, which she says can be uncomfortable for both sides, since it doesn't feel personal. You need to make it personal by including everyone in your comments: Don't just respond to the person who asked you a question but try to offer ideas that apply to everyone and continually make eye contact with everyone.
It's easy to get caught up with the friendliest panelist but remember the quiet, aloof fellow is also on the hiring committee. Try to remember their names, and use them. "Eye contact and body language will be important as you are being put on the spot. You will want to show you can hold your own," she said.
The lunch interview
This is anything but casual, so don't let the setting fool you. They may have deliberately decided on this format to throw you off your guard. Don't be so concerned with the corporate heavies that you treat the restaurant staff dismissively, which can end your chances to ever represent the organization. If you know the restaurant name beforehand, check out the menu so you don't become preoccupied with it on arrival. Ideally, don't drink alcohol; at most, have what the interviewer orders, but only a few sips. Don't order anything messy or smelly. And have a small snack beforehand so you don't seem ravenous during the meal.
Five formats. Many ways to go wrong. But her advice will help you avoid some of the traps before you.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter.