Prepare for interview by learning about job, company

By Eve Nicholas Herald Columnist

Question: Today, I received an e-mail from a company about scheduling a phone interview. It’s for a project manager position, but since the interview came through a referral, I don’t know anything about the organization and I have no idea what the job would entail.

Would it be appropriate to request a copy of the job description?

C.D., Baton Rouge

Answer: Absolutely! You have been invited to a business meeting that could change your entire career. The more information you have, the better chance you have of landing the position. Also, you need to know about the organization’s culture and values in order to determine if the job is right for you.

Call or email the recruiter or hiring manager directly. Tell her you’re excited about the opportunity and hoping that she can provide some basic insights to help you prepare for the interview. If she works for the hiring company, she will probably give you the company name, Web site and official job description or overview of the position. However, if your contact person is an outside recruiter, she may withhold some details. Either way, the person who invited you to the meeting should be able to give you relevant information about the industry, size of the business and job responsibilities.

Once you understand the role, you can prepare for the interview in earnest. Think about how your unique attributes would benefit the business. Pick a few examples from your background that demonstrate your ability to boost efficiency, cut costs or drive innovation. What problems can you solve for the company? Why are you the best person for the job? Present yourself clearly and confidently so that the employer can easily match up your skills with the needs of the organization.

Follow-up: I just had the phone interview an hour ago. I really have no idea how it went. The interviewer spent a long time talking about the company. Then he asked me one question, “Explain what you did in some of your past work experiences that would compare to the job description I just explained.” I had 15 minutes of open time to discuss my projects. I don’t know if I provided enough detail or if I should have put a different slant on things.


Reply: I find this all-too-common interview style to be ineffective and a bit baffling. Rather than engaging in a give-and-take discussion, the hiring manager expects you to fill the silence with stories from your past. In an ideal situation, the hiring process is about exploring opportunities and building professional relationships. This is impossible when the employer creates a big, gaping hole in the conversation and then sits back to see how you handle it.

Take a few days. If you find yourself wishing you had said (or not said) something during the phone call, bring up the topic in a carefully written follow-up letter. Mention that you tend to thrive in busy, team-oriented environments, which is why you find telephone interviews to be particularly challenging. Remind the employer about your valuable, stand-out talents and request a face-to-face meeting.

Of course, if you’re put off by the interview, consider looking elsewhere for a more people-friendly employer.

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