The great interview

Recruiting expert Brad Karsh unlocks the keys to a successful meeting with a potential employer.

Recruiting expert Brad Karsh unlocks the keys to a successful meeting with a potential employer.

Kimberly Maul: What are some common mistakes that people, particularly those new to the professional ranks, make during interviews?

Brad Karsh: Especially among students and young pros, the single biggest mistake is having the wrong mindset going in. In their minds, they say, "[The interviewer] has asked me this question and clearly this is some kind of trick question." They think that every query has some type of hidden meaning.

A lot of people don't realize that this is just a conversation between two people. Typically, the purpose is simply to find out if there is a connection and whether or not you're the right fit or the right person for the job.

Maul: What should entry-level candidates do to best prepare themselves for an interview?

Karsh: Go in there more relaxed than you normally would be. Think about it more like a conversation. The best way to do that is to practice.

If you are a student, definitely go to the career center at your school a couple of times and ask them to videotape you. The more you put on the suit, get behind a desk, and have somebody talk to you for a half hour, the better and more comfortable you are going to feel during the real interview.

The second thing, as simple as it seems, is to know what you've done. When you're interviewing, they want to know what's beneath the surface, what makes you tick. Know what you've accomplished - from your academic achievements, to why you chose your major, to the clubs, extracurricular activities, jobs, and internships you've had - and be prepared to speak about those things eloquently. You need to know and articulate both what you've done and the reasons behind the decisions you've made.

Maul: What signs should an interviewee look for to determine how well things are going?

Karsh: Trying to read too much into an interview can be very dangerous. I sometimes have conducted incredibly short interviews with people that I absolutely loved, but I've also had short interviews with people I didn't like at all.

That said, there are still some things you can read into during the proceeding. When you're asked a question and you babble for 10 minutes and see the interviewer try to jump in or say something, that most likely means you're speaking for too long.

Also, if you answer a question and the interviewer says, "Tell me more about that," it's a sign that your answers aren't on point or long enough.

Maul: How has the rise of social media changed the interviewing dynamic?

Karsh: As far as the in-person interviewing stage, I don't think social media has changed the dynamic that much. However, companies are certainly looking at candidates online, determining whether or not they've got appropriate [information] posted, and making decisions based on that before they get to the interview stage. So if you have a really questionable Facebook or MySpace page, I have a strong feeling that you're not going to be getting a lot of job offers or interviews.

Students need to understand that employers are checking out this kind of stuff. Once you get to the interview stage, however, I don't think social media is impacting it from an interviewer's viewpoint.
From a candidate's perspective, I've heard that some college students these days aren't as good in person because they are so used to communicating with friends over the Internet, via texting, e-mailing, and social networks. They simply aren't as comfortable [in person] as they should be.

Maul: What do you suggest as proper follow-up steps after an interview?

Karsh: Fewer than 25% of people send thank-you notes after an interview. That is a huge missed opportunity. I recommend the night that you interview, you e-mail a thank-you note. I love the hand-written cards, but some companies and interviewers make their decisions very quickly. So send that thank-you note via e-mail.

For me, content is more important than form. It should be personal, it should be interesting, it should reference something that you discussed in the interview, and it should reinforce your interest and strengths.

Maul: What are some tips for interviewing at the more senior levels?

Karsh: At these levels, it's more about fit and less about skills. If I see that you're a director at one of my competitors, working on something very similar, I probably have a strong sense for your ability to effectively lead a team, to write press releases, and to lead a strategic PR campaign.

Now I want to know more about the soft skills. I want to find out a little more specifically about how you deal with clients. I want to learn more about how you are as a manager. If our company is laid back, how will the person fit in with that culture? Will this person work well with the CEO? Will he or she work well with the team of four people working immediately below?

My advice to a more seasoned person is to think about some of those soft skills in advance and be ready to give examples.

Maul: What are some key things to keep in mind for a second-round interview?

Karsh: The second-round interview is now truly focused on finding the right fit for the organization. If there's one piece of advice, it's this: You must not change who you are in hopes of getting a job. If you get the position based on a changed you, once you start working, it's just not going to work. If you find that you're not meshing with the people you're meeting in the second-round interview, that's a good signal that maybe it's not the right fit or team.

As president of JobBound and JB-Training Solutions, Brad Karsh travels across the US delivering presentations and workshops to job seekers. In addition, Karsh works with corporations conducting training programs on workplace issues. He is author of Confessions of a Recruiting Director (Prentice Hall Press, April 2006). Prior to JobBound, Karsh spent 15 years at Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, where he was VP/ director of talent acquisition.

Key points to make sure your interview goes well:

1. Go in with the right attitude

2. Be professional, dress appropriately, and be on time

3. Be prepared

4. Take a 360-degree perspective of all the things you have done

5. Practice being interviewed

6. Have a handful of questions ready

7. Make sure your body language is sending the right message

8. Be yourself

9. Think about how you would fit in with team

10. Follow up with a thank-you note

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