How to Prepare for an
On-Site Job Interview
Q: Last week I answered an ad for
a management position with a large manufacturer in the Northeast.
Today, the plant manager’s office called asking me to fly there for
an interview in two weeks.
While it feels good to get a quick
reply on my resume. I’m concerned that I know so little about the
company, the job description, and the salary and benefits package
for the position. I pride myself on never being caught without
necessary information to discuss salient issues and make good
decisions. I’m not comfortable with jumping on the plane, hoping to
find out what I need to know at the interview. In the next two
weeks, what can I do to prepare myself to ask the right questions
and give the right answers?
A: While giving you specifics
on the “right” questions and answers is risky business (since right
is a relative word), you can take the following steps to gain
confidence for your interview.
Find Out About the Job
It’s difficult to sell yourself when
you don’t understand what a potential employer is looking for. Ads
are sketchy in their discussion of appropriate experience, skills,
and credentials. To gain an advantage over the competition,
remember the old cliché, “Knowledge is power.” If you didn’t ask
for a more complete job description during your interview call, do
it now. Contact the company recruiter, production manager, or
whoever called you and request more information about the job, its
compensation package, and the qualifications needed to be hired.
Most mid- to large-sized companies
already have written job descriptions and salary ranges that are
easy to mail or read over the phone. Even if this company doesn’t,
talking to the recruiter or manager should give you the facts that
Check Out the Company
During your call, ask the company to
send you its recruiting literature, an annual report and its
internal newsletter. If the company is large, you may find these
resources at the library, along with magazine articles about the
organization’s philosophy and strategy, its products and
competition. Larger libraries also have newspaper clipping files,
10K reports, Dun & Bradstreet listings, and other resources that
detail the firm’s financial position.
Why do you need all this stuff? Ask
any employee whose job was eliminated without warning because of a
corporate downsizing, hostile takeover, merger, change in company
strategy, or the dropping of an unprofitable product line. While
research won’t guarantee ultimate insight into a company’s direction
and problems, it will help you ask incisive questions and identify
Learn About the City
You’ll also want to know about
housing, likely commuting time and distance, and recreational and
cultural opportunities in your new location. Chamber of Commerce
literature, the local newspaper, and a realtor’s relocation packet
are several resources available to job candidates. You might also
call friends (or friends of friends) who live in the area, or the
president or membership chair of your local professional or civic
Before your interview, discuss the
city’s attributes with your family to find out their concerns.
There’s no point in moving if the community doesn’t offer what you
(and your family) need.
Your List of Questions
As you gather and digest information
on the job, company, and community, formulate questions to ask your
interviewer. Issues to discuss include:
The Job Description. See if
it matches your expectations. Ask probing questions to showcase
your grasp of its intricacies, challenges, and problems.
Potential Career Paths. If
you excel in the position, what will be your potential career
options within the department and company?
The Organization’s Mission,
Philosophy, Goals, and Structure. What drives this company?
Where does it want to go? How will it get there?
Your Department’s Mission,
Structure, Goals, and Clout. Will you be comfortable and
motivated in this environment? Does the organization respect and
listen to your department’s ideas? Does it have authority equal to
Your Manager’s Style. Is he
authoritarian, democratic, or laissez faire? Can you live with his
Other Key Colleagues. Will
you be working on a team with others or alone? Who are your
coworkers? What do they do? What will you be doing together? Can
you meet them before accepting a job offer?
The Boss’s Boss. That person
has the real power over your career. Can you meet her? How
accessible is she? How flexible is the chain of command?
Delicate Subjects. Toward the
end of the interview, after you’ve built some rapport, you might ask
why the position is open. This can tell you volumes. Is it newly
created or was the last person in it fired or promoted?
Compensation questions, especially involving benefits and perks, are
best left until the end as well. Be sure to ask about how the
interview process will continue. Will there be multiple interviews?
What’s the time frame? When can you expect to hear from them?
Their List of Questions
While spontaneity has its advantages,
most people are more comfortable when they’ve developed their
answers to key interview questions before they’re asked. Below are
some seasoned interviewers’ favorites, guaranteed to unnerve an
Tell me more about yourself.
Why should we hire you?
Why do you want this job?
What are your greatest strengths?
What are your proudest achievements?
Most dismal failures?
How would you go about attaining
success in this position?
What’s your definition of success?
How do you deal with a crisis?
Usually you’ll be given a scenario to discuss.
What are your career goals?
What salary do you want? Not knowing
the right answer to this may be disastrous.
Why do you want to leave your
current job? Why did you leave previous positions?
How do you (and your family) feel
Tell me about your family. (This is
none of their business but they may ask you anyway.)
As you can see, preparing for an
interview involves a major research effort, but the results are well
worth it. Few people do any more than superficial homework before
jumping on the plane. The more you do, the chances of getting the
job rise exponentially. Even more important, the likelihood that
you will identify a good career match for your skill and goals
increases because your investigation has sprawled the right