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Interviewing is an issue fraught with myth, controversy and sweaty palms. There are a myriad of books and articles on the subject, many of which conflict with one another. One expert will tell you to be yourself while another will intone with a flourish, "Job search is theater!"

As with many of life's more sophisticated processes, hunting for a job is both an art and a science. Science will tell you there is only one right answer. Art, on the other hand, leaves itself open to many interpretations.

Below is a short quiz on some major issues involved in interviewing. Decide whether you think the statements are true of false, then read the rationales for the "correct" answers. If the answer makes sense to you, use it. If it doesn't, develop your own course of action, recognizing that sometimes the artful route can be a grand success (or a dismal failure).

Interview Quiz

1. T F The main purpose of an interview is convincing an employer he should hire you.
2. T F Job search is theater!
3. T F Learn as much as you can about the job, the company and its products/services before you go to an interview.
4. T F Good questions impress an interviewer as much as good answers.
5. T F The way a manager behaves in an interview is a good indicator of how he will act once you're on the job.
6. T F Acknowledging your weaknesses can make a powerful, positive impression if handled properly.
7. T F Even if the potential employer doesn't ask, it's your responsibility to tell him/her how your skills and background pertain to the position being discussed.
8. T F Never accept a job unless you've talked at length with your potential manager.
9. T F Be completely candid about why you left or plan to leave your last position.
10. T F Don't convey too much enthusiasm. Play it cool and keep the employer guessing about your intentions.
11. T F Don't ask your interviewer about his schedule for filling the position. If he wants you to know, he'll tell you.
12. T F Write a thank you note after every interview.
13. T F Trust your gut in deciding whether a job is right for you or not.

Correct Answers

1. False Interviewing should be an investigative process. Its main purpose is finding a good match between employer and employee.

Consider the parallels between marriage and employment. Both are relatively permanent, require large amounts of time and energy, and thrive on a mutual respect and trust. While most people spend months getting to know their potential spouses, they have only a few hours to size up their employer. Consequently, they can't afford to squander precious moments concentrating exclusively on selling themselves. They must use some of their time to decide if the employer will be a good mate as well. Approach any interview as a prelude to a potential professional marriage and the likelihood for an untimely divorce will decrease dramatically.

2. False In a method similar to preparing for an interview, an actor learns his lines, examines his character's personality and tries to understand the context of his script. Yet, he is only playing a role. In an interview, you are taking part in a real life event. Real life events require real life people. As Robin Williams found out in "Mrs. Doubtfire", posing as someone you are not, is very hard work and can lead to nasty complications.

3. True Interviewing can be unnerving, especially when you don't know much about the job opening, the company or its management. Fortunately, with some research and fore-thought you can replace potential panic with quiet confidence.

If possible, uncover the job opportunity through networking. In an information interview, you can ask about position descriptions, company goals and philosophy and profiles of ideal employees. Then when you approach your employment interview, you'll already know what the organization wants.

Library research can also be very helpful. Annual reports, general business and trade journal articles, clipping files, 10K reports and a host of other resources await you at large public or university libraries. If you don't know where to start, ask a librarian. They live for sophisticated information searches.

4. True Two old clichés point to the veracity of this statement:

  • I don't know enough to ask a good question.
  • People appreciate good listeners more than good talkers.
When you ask a well-conceived question, you demonstrate your understanding of the subject and give your interviewer a chance to showcase his/her expertise. Interviewers like this.

Good questions elicit revealing answers, which tell you about the firm's philosophy, structure, goals, problems and strengths. You'll also find out how your potential manager deals with open ended queries, which require more than pat replies. If your questions easily intimidate him, or he gives you the standard reply, use these observations in evaluating if he's the right boss for you.

5. True and False Many managers are on their best behavior in an interview. You may not discover the real person until you actually start working with her. This is another good reason to ask probing questions about management style, reaction to stress, problem solving techniques, etc.

On the other hand, if someone is rude, distant, incompetent, indecisive, disorganized, etc. in the interview, you've probably captured a glimpse of your future relationship. If this behavior is her best, imagine her "business as usual" demeanor.

6. True Individuals who know themselves, know both their strengths and their weaknesses. A savvy interviewer will hoist a red flag when a candidate either says he/she has no achilles heel or can't think of a response. Everyone has some traits he would like to improve. Be prepared to discuss yours.

7. True If you have been reading any business magazines lately, you've probably noticed the stories about how corporations are trying to "empower" their employees and encourage them to be more "self directed." If your interviewer hasn't asked how your background and skills match his needs, then it's your responsibility to tell him. He needs to know this to consider you as a serious candidate.

If he is nervous, gently guide him in the direction you want to go. If he monopolizes the conversation, don't leave until you've delivered your personal commercial. Good employees need and want proactive professionals who will take care of themselves.

8. True Your boss can make or break your career. While his manager usually has the final decision on your raises, promotions, transfers, etc, your immediate superior recommends and supports you (or not). Consequently, you must be sure you and he will make a good team, or you shouldn't accept the position. Most people have worked for the boss from hell at one time or another and have been injured by either his incompetent style or by the disdain other managers have for him. In most cases, his career success or failure will have a direct impact on yours. Pulling away from his circle of influence will be difficult, perhaps impossible, unless you leave the company altogether. On the other hand, if you work for a great boss, you will bask in the light of his reflected glory, and he will be secure enough to let you shine on your own as well.

9. True and False While it is never wise to lie about why you left your last position, sometimes picking the least offensive truth is your best option. For instance, if your manager was a real jerk, it's not wise to tell this to a prospective employer who will naturally take his side. Instead, focus on how you want a new opportunity to learn and expand your expertise. If you've been fired, explain what happened quickly and move on. Most employers have had some negative job experiences. They usually sympathize with your position, if you don't bludgeon them with it.

10. False Teenagers think it's cool to be aloof. Employers don't. Most people want to be wanted. Your enthusiasm will be refreshing in a world full of negative feedback. If you want the job, ask for it. Real enthusiasm will not be misconstrued as desperation.

11. False Find out the interview schedule if you can. Ask how and when you will be notified if you are still a candidate. If you haven't heard from the interviewer by the designated time, give him a call. Following up keeps you abreast of the process and reinforces your interest in the position. Waiting by the phone makes you a victim of "Don't call us. We'll call you."

12. True Thank you notes both reflect your knowledge of professional etiquette and put your name in front of the employer in a positive light. Like a good cover letter, they give you the opportunity to confirm in writing:

  • Why you are interested in the position
  • What you have to offer the employer
  • Your desire in getting together for another interview or to discuss accepting an offer.

13. True In our left-brained culture, we often ignore our feelings and rely on rationalized analysis. This is a mistake. If for any reason, specific or intangible, the position doesn't feel right, don't take it. Many job searchers have ignored this advice and suffered the consequences.

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