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The Interview

Congratulations!  You’ve passed the hardest part of the job hunt; getting the employer’s attention!  You are part of a select group of five to ten people they want to interview for the position.  Now come the crucial moment and you have only a few days to prepare if you are lucky!

Overview -

1. Prepare

  • Research the company.
  • Prepare PARS stories for every skill on the job posting.
  • Make every attempt to use your network to learn more about the business.
  • Get a list of common interview questions and have a positive answer for each one.
  • Dress for success.

2. Practice

  • Rehearse your responses to interview questions.
  • Participate in mock interviewers.

3. Perform

  • De-stress and cheer-up.
  • Be on-stage from the moment you hit the parking lot.
  • Use your success stories.  Display calm, confidence, and respect.
  • Follow-up with a thank-you.



Preparation –

   Because you may only get a day or two of notice in advance of the first interview you don’t have time to research, prepare stories, and activate your network.  This is why we advise to pick companies you want to go after and thoroughly prepare for interviews with them.  You can exhaust yourself preparing in-depth for every possible interview if you apply to everything on the internet.  You can still take a shot at those, but invest your time in preparing for your ideal employers.

   Company research, PARS stories, and networking are all discussed in other documents.  All that research will enable you to demonstrate you resourcefulness and self-directedness.  If they can see you took care of educating yourself they will infer that you will require a minimum of supervision.  Also, the less time spent on their telling you the basics, the more time you have to build a relationship with the interviewer.

  It is also crucial to get your interview wardrobe in order.  You won’t have time to get clothes tailored or cleaned when the call comes.  If you need to save money there is a great service in Marin called www.imageforsuccess.orgthat will help you put together a professional wardrobe for a tiny donation.  Also know that it is OK to ask interviewers how they like their candidates to dress.  Always error on the side of more formal, but in some organizations a business suit may not be appreciated.  

Basic Questions - You must prepare sharp, confident, responses to the six basic interview questions:

Tell me about yourself.

No they aren’t interested in your childhood, family, or hobbies. What they are asking you for is your self-marketing catch phrase.  Tomorrow when they get together and debate the candidates how are they going to describe you?  Do you want them to say ‘the one with the yellow hair’ or ‘the project management professional that specializes in x?’  This is why you have to come up with a rehearsed power statement. You have about 30 seconds to cement their opinion of you.  Make it count.

Why do you want to work for this company?

What they are really asking is ‘Do you really want to work here, or are you going to jump jobs as soon as you get a better offer?’  This is where you get to demonstrate you are resourceful and did research. Talk about how things this company does interest you personally and fit with your career.  Share any good feedback about the work environment when you used your network.  It all demonstrates how you will use your skills to research and network on the job.

What drew you to this job?

They will ask some question to try and determine if you grasp what this job is about.  Not all project management jobs are alike and company cultures vary.  Look for key descriptive words in the job posting. They usually start with phrases like ‘the right candidate…’ or ‘we looking for someone who…’ Have a statement ready that responds to everything they bothered to point out in the job posting.

Why do you think you are a good fit for this position?

Interviewers usually don’t have the time or skills to ask you about how you fit everything that they listed in the job description.  They also want to get a read on how confident you are that you can do what they listed.  They are also testing your ability to be brief and hit the key points.  Have a statement prepared that says you are interested in the industry, have the professional skills they need, and the personality that will allow you to be successful.  Don’t go on to long, but you must hit every one of their ‘must haves…’   

Tell me about your greatest success

Everyone has successes, so what could they be after here?  They are really asking about what turns you on, what do you consider a challenge, and do you hog the credit or appreciate the team?  Find a story that shows you got motivated by some opportunity and rallied a team to achieve it.

Tell me about your biggest failure

Do not tell them about a time where you completely blew it, got fired, and still resent it.  What they are really asking is how you deal disappointment and if you own up to mistakes.  You can craft a failure story to show your character by describing how you stepped up and took responsibility.  Talk about how you took the heat, didn’t panic, didn’t throw people under the bus, and eventually resolved the situation.  You need to practice this because you have an opportunity to make it a positive story, and you can’t afford to go overboard on the negative.  Use the PARS format.  Make the problem a simple one-line statement of fact that doesn’t blame, or only blames you.  State how you broke the bad news and gave management alternatives on how to respond.  If the Result was unfavorable just state how the company moved on and how you support the decision.

See the difficult questions sheet to see other kinds of questions you should think about.

Practice –

   You will only sound authentic and articulate if you actually practice saying stuff out loud to someone who can give you feedback on how it sounds.  Don’t trust your ability to improvise on everything.  You are almost throwing away your first interviews if you are trying out your responses for the first time on a real hiring manager.  Friends can give you valuable feedback on how things can be miss-interpreted or responses that are too long.

  At least once put on your interview clothes and go through an mock interview with someone so you think about how your clothes pucker, where to hold your hands, and what your body language communicates.  Sit at table, an office chair, and a low couch.  You don’t know what environment you will interview in and getting up and down from a low couch may convince you to use a different outfit.

Perform –

   Eighty percent of what you communicate in an interview is with body language.  Hopefully your preparation and practice sessions will allow you to relax a little and have confidence in your ability to communicate your value.  You need to shake off any jitters you have before getting on-site.  It sounds silly but stop a few blocks away, get out of the car, take a wide stance, and raise your arms and shoulders, twist your torso.  That little exercise loosens tensions and sends endorphins through your system that will come across as confidence.  Oddly enough you should do this before phone interviews too because your voice will betray your physical and emotional state.  Remember to smile a lot in both in person and phone interviews.  It affects how you think and how you sound.

   There is a really good 20 minute video on how this works at interviews and why it works especially good for interviews (Amy Cuddy at TED -  Also, remember you are on stage from the moment you show up on the site.  People can look out windows and see you arrive.  Receptionists can influence decision makers, and CEOs can be walking through the lobby. 

  You can’t prepare for every question and you will have to improvise.  You will also need to show you basic social skills and discuss the weather, commutes, etc.  Your preparation just means you have some material fresh in your mind and that you can focus on taking advantage of opportunities instead of stammering in surprise.  When you need to stop and think smile, be quiet, and take your time coming up with a response.  You will have been quick with your practiced PARS and taking a few heartbeats to answer is fine.  In fact silence (without saying ‘um’) appears very intelligent.

  Be appreciative.  Thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview.  Compliment the office and the people you’ve talked with getting this far.  Remember you need to ask questions as well.  At least ask ‘What makes someone successful in this role?’ and ‘What kinds of decisions will I be making?’  You don’t want to accept a job you wouldn’t like.  Interviews are two-way conversations.

  Close the interview.  Salespeople are told to ask for the job right there and close the deal, but that isn’t our kind of gig.  Project Managers need to demonstrate that they plan, schedule, and set the expectation that they will follow up.  Ask what the next steps are and let the interviewer know you are still excited about pursuing the opportunity.  You shouldn’t decide during the interview if you want the job or not during the interview. 

Follow-up. Get an email address for everyone that you interview with.  Send each one an individual note that evening thanking them for their time and hospitality.  Do not continue to sell yourself in your thank-you note because it then becomes pushy sales behavior and not a genuine show of appreciation.  Two or three lines is all it takes to demonstrate you are a people-person and make sure you will be discussed as one of the finalists.