AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- surviving a job interview!
RS: Here's the first bit of advice from human resources consultant Sharon Armstrong: It's not just words you have to think about, but also how you express them. Avoid, she says, a flat monotone voice that people sometimes get when they are nervous.
ARMSTRONG: "It loses something. And I think that it can add so much if you show your excitement and your eagerness to work for that company."
AA: Next: Be prepared for a common approach known as behavioral-based interviewing.
ARMSTRONG: "And that is where past performance will indicate future performance. So good interviewers will ask you very detailed questions where they'll put you on the spot and they'll want to know specifically your role in what you did for a particular project.
"And so the key to giving a good answer to a behavioral interview question is to do what I call a STAR, S-T-A-R. The S and the T stand for explaining a situation or a task that you were given, the A is the action you took and the R is the results."
RS: "So what you're saying is that you need to be prepared before you walk in the door."
ARMSTRONG: "Go through some mock interviews, if you can have friends ask you questions. Practice in the mirror, answering questions. Go in with three or four things you really want to stress about yourself. And then you can bring those out no matter what the question is asked."
RS: "How do you follow up after the interview?"
ARMSTRONG: "Please send a thank you letter. I'm begging you. And you can do it by e-mail. And in that thank you letter you do a couple of things. You make sure that you express sincere appreciation for the time that they spent interviewing you. You have an opportunity to re-emphasize some of your strongest qualities. You have another chance to make that case as to how your skills match their needs.
"If there was something that you wish you had said a little more about, again an opportunity to do it here. Now that sounds like a lot to cover, but you do it very briefly, in a short couple of paragraphs and get it out right away."
RS: "Keep it short, keep it simple?"
ARMSTRONG: "Absolutely. Again, they're business people; they don't have a lot of time. Just getting it is going to make a big difference. I talk to recruiters all the time. They never get thank you letters. It's such a simple business etiquette that people just don't take the time to do it."
AA: These days, Sharon Armstrong says interviewers ask tougher questions than they used to.
ARMSTRONG: "It's no longer 'what do you see yourself doing in five years?' Those are old questions. They're asking questions that are going to get at more specific things. For example: 'Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?' They're trying to get at your communication skills.
"'Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result?' That's your assertiveness. So be ready for these kinds of questions, and if you have this experience in your background, just be able to communicate it effectively. You don't have to use the proper language all the time, just get across your results and your accomplishments."
RS: "And you probably shouldn't be afraid to say 'well, I don't understand that question.'"
ARMSTRONG: "Absolutely. And don't feel like you have to answer immediately. Take a moment. Pausing is a comfortable -- if you're comfortable with it, it will seem comfortable. But if you sometimes launch into an answer right away, you might head down a road you don't want to go. Say 'what an interesting question. May I think about that for a moment?' No one would say 'no, you can't.'
AA: "What kind of answer would you give to that first one?"
ARMSTRONG: "'Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticized your work in front others? How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?' I think it's a hard question and you've got to be careful that you're answering it honestly but effectively. They don't want to know that you flew off the handle and you have a very negative response.
"They're going to want to know that you have some teamwork skills and you tried to engage that person and question them a little more about what they found negative perhaps about your idea, and how they might add to it and make it more workable."
AA: "What if that's not the truth. What if the last time someone criticized you, you -- as you say -- flew off the handle, got angry?"
ARMSTRONG: "I would say that honestly, say that 'I've learned from that and I don't do it anymore.' The secret is to take a weakness and make it into a positive. So say 'I used to have a very bad habit of not being able to handle that well, but I recognized that that wasn't getting me anywhere in the business world.'"
RS: And finally, at the end, Sharon Armstrong says be sure to ask some of your own questions, questions like: "What are some of the objectives you would like accomplished in this job?" "What would you like to have done within the next two or three months?"
ARMSTRONG: "Remember that you are assessing the company as much as they are assessing you, and if you fail to ask questions at the end of the interview, they might interpret that as you not being interested."
AA: Sharon Armstrong runs a consulting business in Washington called Human Resources 9-1-1, a name that plays off the emergency telephone number in America.
RS: You can find today's program at our Web site -- voanews.com/wordmaster. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.
MUSIC: "Get a Job"/The Silhouettes
(First broadcast in July 2002)