Learner Therapist (48) …Power and Influence in Job Interviews (tools)
September 20, 2014
Interview Preparation Process
Your main thought about interviews may be that 'they' have all the power ... and you have none. If you feel powerless, you will act less convincing than you are; you will be less influential than you need and want to be.
The purpose of preparation is to increase your influence on the panel. In these notes you will find some ways to build your influence.
So, what if …
• you aren't comfortable telling others your strengths
• you think you don't meet all the criteria
• the job seems written for someone else
• your hands get sweaty when you're nervous
• there are questions you don't have a clear answer for?
Remember that ....
• telling about strengths doesn't have to be yelling
• you're being interviewed because you meet the criteria
• nerves aren't a sign of weakness; they're a sign of concern & interest
• dead certs often end up just that ... without the job
• hiding your uncertainty is difficult …it's easier to admit it and get on
with what you do know.
For openers ... what these notes are for:
One thing will make your preparation weaker. That is treating the interview like 'business as usual' because you may know some of the panel well. But it is not business as usual. This is a special relationship for a short period of time. Treat it that way.
Think of the interview as a formal activity: you're 'dressing up for it; you're getting anxious about it - so it must be different from normal. As a formal event, different behaviour is appropriate - which you won't notice if you're in 'business as usual' mode.
The following notes are designed to give you a thorough preparation for an interview - if you work through them from start to finish. They can be recycled if you use separate sheets to answer the questions and record other ideas and facts as you go.
The notes attempt to provide you with some alternative approaches to a variety of interview problems. You may find some of the suggestions quite different from your normal practice; give them a moment to see if they could fit for you.
For example, a general principle here is that you not try to hide your real feelings, thoughts and responses. Most interviewers will notice when you are doing this, though they probably won't tell you directly. You'll notice that they notice by the way they ask the next question, and so on.
So, many of the strategies for managing the interview are designed to increase your influence by being direct - including about weaknesses of many types!
The first step is to bring the job interview to mind that you want to prepare for.
• what is the name of the job?
• what part(s) of the interview do you expect to be difficult? (the opening, unexpected
questions .... ? )
• are there things you have trouble with generally in interviews, or similar public
situations? (nerves, talking too fast, tongue-tied, muddled .... ?)
• who will be the interviewers? are they difficult for you to deal with? do you have
personal experience with them which may inhibit/enhance your performance?
• how important is getting the job to you? does your immediate future depend on it?
Now you are ready to set a few preparation goals for yourself, so ......
Interview Preparation Goals
Having done the short analysis of the job, you can identify a number of factors which may be critical to improving your performance in the interview. These will be the focus of your preparation. They will be the cutting edge of your interview performance. Having them in hand will increase your sense of power and capacity to influence.
They may be things like:
1- feeling confident that you've done your 'homework' thoroughly;
2- having a strategy for clarifying questions you're unsure of;
3- knowing what you'll try to do when surprised; or,
4- having a technique to give yourself thinking space.
It is best to have quite specific goals like' knowing the 7 most critical questions I'm likely to be asked' or 'building a strategy for managing the opening minutes of the interview: what I want to say to them.'
General goals like' being clear in answering questions' or 'feeling confident' won't actually be achievable. That's why your self-assessment on page 2 is so important. So, if you're having trouble setting specific goals now, go back there and make some more specific statements about the interview. Then you can decide that your principal preparation goals are:
Objectives of Interviewing
What's an interview supposed to do anyway? There are a number of things – and they may not be the same for both interviewee and for the organization. If you have a feel for what an interview is for, then you can set your expectations at the right level.
For example, if you think the interview will be the time to show detailed evidence of your suitability, you are wrong (though a single example could be a sign of interest). The detailed evidence should be in your CV and Expression of Interest, or attached to them. If you want paperwork to form part of your case, it needs to be sent beforehand.
A few examples of the objectives of interviewing from both points of view are:
Objectives of the organization
Objectives of the candidate
1) Make a choice among options
2) Get the 'facts' about work skill,
experience, aptitude from different sources
3) See if the candidate will 'fit in'
4) Confirm previous judgments
5) Discover new approaches to work
6) Be seen to be fair in the process
7) Find features which will allow clear choice among relatively equal candidates
1) Be the one chosen!
2) Present 'facts' about work skill, experience, aptitude from different sources
3) Try to look like you'll fit in to their way of doing things without faking it
4) Confirm/disconfirm judgments
5) Appear inventive
6) Assure fairness
7) Present self as special, distinctive
There may be some objectives which apply to you that don't appear above; add them.
You may want to check which of these apply to your situation; where there are conflicts between your objectives and the organization's, you may have trouble; this will be an area where your interview preparation might focus.
An example is objective #4 - 'Fitting in' - when you don't feel that you want to 'fit in' exactly, and believe that the existing way of doing things is partly off the rails. How to raise this? Can you get away with pretending that you 'fit in'??
Also, there may be conflict between some of yours and some of theirs! For example, they may want to get a 'real' picture of you, and you may not be sure you want them to - you may have some weaknesses you don't feel comfortable about.
A Word on Power & Influence
Power is in the eye of the beholder, so what's possible is a matter of assessing your capabilities and the risks.
These notes are about increasing your power in the interview. But being more powerful and influential may require risks - doing some things you haven't done before. Some things you should think of in calculating the risk of an action are:
· What could you lose by getting it wrong?
· Will the risk challenge the panel's authority, self-esteem, etc. too much for them to bear or for you?
· Can you carry it off without a major increase in personal anxiety?
· Would it be suitable for you - that is, would it 'fit' your style, personality .... ?
Process power can overcome role or expert power - being able to shift the direction of the interview (see Strategies) or counter a shift from the panel helps you feel in control. So, where can you get power from; what are some influence levers you can pull??
Sources of your power and influence may include:
1- How you appear: a rule for dress would be to dress up one level from your normal workplace level; so if you don't wear a tie, then do; if you wear a tie, but not a jacket, add the jacket; and so on.
2 - Body language - the way you move: think of stepping straight forward at the first introduction, shaking hands cleanly and firmly with all panel members; establishing eye-contact with the hand-shake; how you sound: this includes the tone, rhythm, speed, volume;
3- Expertise - you know the job, the techniques, the issues much better than managers do; that's why they want someone else to do it! You have the qualifications and experience and attitude - they are looking for someone to do the job; they want you (if you can do the job).
4- Interest - your level of motivation for the job: this should be evident in the overall way you present, and in explicit statements of your interest ('I find this kind of work really exciting ... ') or motivation ('This is exactly the position I'm looking for to expand my experience and challenge my capacities ... ').
5 - Articulation - being clear, concise, relevant: the ability to present relevant evidence at the right level and in the n right language for the interviewers'; eg - using the right mix of detail and generalities, of experience and hopes.
6- Intervention skill - gaining or regaining control of the direction of the interview: being able to ask a question or interrupt to clarify what's happening when you are confused (or before you get confused, anxious, defensive, etc.). (see Strategies below)
7- Personal expectations - not being desperate for the job: this leaves you free to be more experimental in your approach (see Strategies).
8- Nerves - theirs and yours: to a degree being anxious is a good thing; it keeps you focussed with high energy on the business at hand. No anxiety is a sign of low interest or avoidance of the challenges.
9 - Conflict-free discussion - they want you to present well; it makes it easier for them; so they are on your side.
Six Step Preparation
The most important thing to do is thorough preparation. If you have done your homework, the interview will be manageable because you will know you are as ready as you can be. Think of the preparation as taking 10 to 20 times the length of the interview; it will to do all six steps. And leaving any step(s) out will reduce your power and influence.
1- Research the job:
• what are the Critical Success Factors for it?
• what is its future in the business unit?
• how does it contribute to the business unit's results?
• has it been done well before?
2 - Research the job context:
• who else is in the contest for the job?
• what are the key issues for the business unit?
• how does the business unit fit into the organization's work
(Note: the major expected questions for the interview should come from these two research steps).
Do not just read the job description; go talk to others concerned with the job, including other prospective candidates and the panel; collect other publications, documents, etc, which provide information on where the organization is heading .....
3 - Research the decision-makers:
• what are the real business needs of the interview panel? (they may not be in the job description; for example, the real need for the short term may be someone who can stand constant change).
• which of them can you meet?
• are there personal characteristics which must be managed?
• what are the decision styles of the panel? do some handle details better, while others handle the big picture more easily?
• are there likely prejudices about your performance which you should challenge? (see 'Strategies')
4 - Research your capacity to meet the requirements above - (some of which will be set out in the job description) :
• what evidence is there of your performance?
• what skills can you draw on from outside the workplace?
• how will you answer the difficult questions?
5 - Prepare interview notes to take to the interview: these should be two pages of key points set out as below (a sample page layout is found at the end of these notes on page 12).
• how you will open the interview: the introduction and Opening statement
• the 7 or 8 critical questions you expect, (see Typical Questions, pg. 11)
• the evidence for the critical questions
• your critical questions for them
• your sue-e-estions for how the job should be structured, shaped, etc.
• a Closing statement highlighting your suitability for the job
6 - Rehearse your strategies for managing your Entry, controlling the Action and making the Closure - try them out if they are new; get someone to ask you the critical questions; tryout your first words and moves.
Now, what are you preparing for? What does a typical interview look like? What happens from beginning to end? Here's a picture of that process:
Interview Process Framework
There are three major stages in an interview: this is a way of thinking about the interview process which may help preparation; some of the most important impressions are made in the Entry and Close of interviews, when our interpersonal attitudes become very apparent. These are special opportunities to influence the panel that occur once only.
Other opportunities to influence may occur repeatedly - that's why there are different kinds of strategies: to do different things at different times in the interview.
Your preparation will be more effective if you decide on a few influence points which you really want to improve (you should review them after each interview, as well).
Another way of choosing key improvements for your interviewing is provided below.
( ) Entry - warm-up (about 5-8% of the total time)
- entering the room
- politeness, introductions, panel members' status on the panel (representing who or what?).
- agenda setting for the session: its structure, duration, roles of each panel member, etc.
( ) Action - the 'business' of the interview (about 90% of the total time)
- key questions from panel
- interviewee questions to panel
- interviewee statements/questions about special aspects, etc.
( ) Close - cool-down (about 2-5 % of the total time)
- signal close coming
- where to from here
Learning needs check:
A chance to review your interview effectiveness from another perspective.
• Order the three stages above from most  to least difficult [3) for you by numbering the items in the brackets provided.
• Then, order the steps within each stage from most to least difficult for you.
• Now, check these against the learning needs you have just written on page 3; change your learning needs if necessary.
Strategies for increasing your power in the interviewA range of strategies is available to increase your influence in the interview. Some are presented relating to each of the three major stages of the interview.
1) - Network - be seen to be talking to people involved in this job; talk to people you don't normally talk to - for example, higher level managers than usual; or, managers in sections which depend on this job's performance for some of their own output.
2) - Prepare: (see six preparation steps) and especially, rehearse entry strategies which are important and new to you!!
• Opening words and actions at introduction
- to shake hands with the panel or not? (recommended that you do, even though you know them)
- direct eye contact with each member
- say their name (and write them down on your preparation notes if you are likely to forget - you can ask them for them again when you sit down, especially the unknown person on the panel)
Note: after the initial formalities, the panel chair should say something like:
"This interview will run like this - each of us will ask a few questions and then there will be space for you to ask questions of yours, raise other issues not covered so far or make a statement summarizing your points. This will take _ minutes altogether."
If he/she fails to do so then you will want to ask about these points in your opening statement. Otherwise the process will be cloudy and your anxiety may increase.
• Opening statement: this is something strongly recommended. The purpose is to get you started talking from your point of view and making an impression that you choose, not just a response to their direction! Actually having an excuse to start talk yourself gets you into action, makes you feel you have some initiative, gets the motor running. Following are a number of approaches you could take in an opening statement.
As part of your opening statement about how the interview is going to go, consider advising that you will check out your understanding of their questions and responses to your answers because you want to avoid misunderstanding (which you know is very easy in these circumstances); so you may "jump in" at points (see Action strategies below for an example of how to do this).
Or, you may want to mention some factor(s) beyond your control which are likely to influence your performance - such as the fact that all your children were sick last night and you've only slept 2 hours.
Or, at least, you may want to say how interested you are in this position and that you're looking forward to the interview!
Intervention Steps: these are needed for moments when you lose sight of what's intended by others or are shocked or distracted by your own thoughts, or wonder what an interviewer's expression means as they are listening to your response .... and so on. All are points at which you may 'lose the plot' or be thrown off guard.
Each strategy is presented with some possible words you could use to implement it. You certainly won't find them all comfortable, so some rehearsal will be particularly appropriate for these.
1) - Evidence: how do you know they accept what you provided as evidence of the
case you are making?
· " Some evidence for this is ....... does that sound to you like a relevant example?"
Note - an area in which this may be important is with questions about things like "proven ability to work as a member of a team".
2- Clarifying the question: when you don't understand what they're getting at, like:
· " ... .I'm not too clear what you're asking: could you say that in another way, or give me an example of what you mean ... ?"
· Restate their question to them in slightly different words to test your understanding of it.
3- Managing nerves: at the moment you are feeling nervous, say so if it is obviously going to get in the way; they will know it's happening anyway, so pretending it isn't doesn't work; saying something like the following may help:
· I’m a bit nervous about this and one of the things I do when I'm nervous is ................. ; so it's nothing personal.
Note: this can be usefully included in an Opening statement.
4- Distraction: when you've lost the plot for a moment and can't find it.
• "Sorry, I got sidetracked for a minute ..could you repeat that for me please ?"
5- Puzzlement at interviewer's expression: you are distracted by one interviewer's non-verbal response to something you're saying.
• "You look a little surprised (shocked, put off, etc. ) by what I'm saying ...what's striking you that way?"
6- Strengths and weaknesses: one of the most difficult and unavoidable parts of every interview –
(a) How to raise a question of weaknesses which may be seen to be the difference between success and failure in this application??
• "I think I have a couple of weaknesses: x and y; I am in the process of doing something to reduce them - for example: ...... "
Note - this can be used in an Opening statement when you have a potential weakness like a quiet voice: invite the panel to signal non-verbally if they can't hear you clearly.
(b) How to raise strengths which are competitively critical: that is, which are reasons why you are the candidate of choice.
• "I think there are a number of strengths I have which make me particularly suitable for this position - for example: ........... "
7- Suggestions for how the job ought to be done which go beyond the requirements of the job description or advertisement; you should have a t least one of these .
• " There's some other things I think are important for anyone doing this job; they're not in the description, but.. ..... "
8- 'Jumping in ' - how to interrupt a process or remark to suggest re-direction, ask for clarification (see #2 above), etc.
• "Excuse me a moment, but I would like to check out something you've just said before you go on, namely, ....... "
9- Pre-empting - if you believe there is a common perception of a weakness in your performance which is likely not to be mentioned, but would be a major negative hidden influence on your chances, then ....... raise it yourself!
• " One thing I'd like to raise is a weakness that people often say I've got ....... I do (don't) think this is true because ..... "
10- Pause speech - acknowledging your surprise at a question -
• "I'm not too sure about that: I'll have to give it some thought for a second ... "
Note - this is another way of giving yourself thinking space; your brain works at about three times the speed of your mouth; so you can construct a hundred-word response in the time it takes to say this.
11- Deflection - to another point in the interview when you think one issue belongs with another; or one question links to another for you.
• "Yes, I'd like to talk about that in a few minutes in connection with .... "
12- Defending - Your legal rights in an interview: certain questions may not be asked, for instance: to do with your race, religion, nationality, age, unless there are special reasons why these matter. Usually there are none!
This also covers moments when you think you are about to be discriminated against because of an unclear decision criterion. For example, if tertiary qualifications are "recommended" or "desirable" and you don't have them (or not completely), then ask precisely what the state of the requirement is; if they are unclear point out that it leaves the door open to unfair treatment of those like yourself who fall on the fuzzy boundary of the requirement.
These last few minutes are critical to confirm your suitability in the panel's mind; so a firm conclusion is essential.
• Closing statement: your chance to wrap up the interview. The last (and first) things you say and do will be the most memorable for the interviewers. Pick the three or four most important arguments fur your selection to the position. These should address the most critical selection criteria.
• Feedback request - at the end of the interview invite feedback on the results and your performance from the panel; ask who you can contact to check out how you went if you are unsuccessful. (The panel chair should tell you this anyway, but if they don't ... then ask).
• Closing strategy - how you will leave the room - shake hands again, if you did on entry; thank the panel for their time, etc.
Typical Types of Questions
There is a range of types of questions you can be expected to be asked. Some examples are provided; you will need to adjust them to your own circumstances – and add others that may be more appropriate. Strictly technical questions have been omitted. You can create them yourself.
If not, maybe you are applying for the wrong job.
They won't appear in this order in the interview.
1 -Why do you want this job?
2- What are your principal strengths for this job?
3- What do you think are the most critical tasks to be undertaken in the near future?
4- How would you manage a difficult colleague or staff member in a situation like .... ?
5- If you could change one thing about this job, what would it be?
6- Describe one event where you failed to meet objectives and how you handled the failure.
7- Where do you expect/want to be in 3 to 5 years, and what are you doing about getting there?
Session Notes Proforma
Nb- these might be set out on A4 sheets which can be carried taped in a folder that you lay down in front of you at the start of the interview; tick off issues, questions, and proposals as they occur.
1(lo) – 5(hi)
Expected questions from Panel (and 3 or 4 evidence dot points for each)
Questions you want to ask
Your suggestions for extending the job or reshaping it.
Closing statement (3 or 4 highlights of your suitability for the job)