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July 31, 2013
Staying Out of the Interview ‘Hot Seat’
While I sat suffering through the most recent heat wave plaguing New York City, and the hot, oppressive, uncomfortable feeling of 7th Avenue, I heard someone mutter, “Could it be any hotter?”

The statement actually got me thinking of the interview process, because interviews can be pretty uncomfortable sometimes. They tend to put a candidate in the “hot seat,” where he/she might be “grilled” with a myriad of inquiries we hope determine whether the prospect is an ideal fit for the respective role. Questions might be difficult, might be fast-paced; interviewers may be abrasive, stone-faced. So yes, sometimes it can be hotter.  Well, proverbially, anyway.

If you can’t keep your cool in an interview, you may miss your chance at securing a fantastic new role. As an interviewee, there are eight simple ways to keep you off the ‘hot seat.’ 

Get Ready: If you don’t prepare for your interview, it suggests that either you don’t care or you’re not resourceful. Either of those is an easy way to get yourself tossed out of consideration. Go to the company’s website; read it. Search for recent news regarding the company and its principal players. Review the job description, highlighting points you’ve achieved and skills you possess (and be realistic about those you don’t). Find the people who will be interviewing you on LinkedIn and peruse their profiles. Make certain you know exactly where you’re going and who you’re asking for, and turn your phone to mute. Now you’re ready.

Go beyond “just answering questions”: One- or two-sentence responses typically don’t help an employer learn more about you. Be prepared to back up any response with an example of what you’ve done in relation to the question, or how you’ve done it. Specific examples also reinforce your honest involvement in projects and further enable you to clearly articulate a process, both of which go a long way with a prospective employer.

Dwelling on the past should be history: Most of us have experienced conflict while working with people. Some have worked at organizations we’ve resented. Refrain from badmouthing past employers, bosses, coworkers. If you must go down that road, make certain to present your response constructively and fairly. Any good recruiter is weary of hiring someone that lacks discretion or tact, because we certainly don’t want our organization spoken of in such a way in future circumstances.

Don’t ask “easy” questions: This one goes back to the preparation stage. If the response to a question can be found on the company website or a LinkedIn profile, don’t ask it. Instead, build probing questions from the knowledge you’ve gained, or ask the recruiter or Hiring Manager to tell you about something that’s not common knowledge.

Avoid asking about money: Wait until the recruiter engages in dialogue about compensation to approach this subject. Otherwise you risk being seen as a candidate who is solely about money versus the opportunity, putting your loyalty to and longevity with a company in question.

Send a thank you, quickly: Why would I need to include this tip?  Because you’d be surprised at the amount of notes/emails I don’t receive from prospective candidates. Often, my colleagues are quite turned off when that lack of follow-through is shown on the part of a candidate. I’m not asking for a fruit basket, but with today’s technology, there’s no excuse for shooting over a quick “thank you” email after you’ve interviewed.

Don’t get too personal: Aside from the legal implications associated with this point, getting caught up in talk of weekend plans and stories of rough commutes can derail a conversation, leaving less time for you to discuss your skills and experience.

Know yourself: Think clearly and objectively about what you do well, where you need development, and what will make you happy. Going into an interview with no goal, saying you’ll do anything, might be admirable for some, but is nebulous and unfocused. It also suggests you’re not being honest with yourself or the recruiter. Some of my most successful interviews have ended with the candidate and me agreeing that this role isn’t an ideal fit for either of us, and parting ways for the moment. Honesty breeds trust and ensures positive future relationships (and future hires, at times).

The ultimate way to keep yourself out of that “hot seat”? Be happy. Yes, the job search process can be frustrating. Do your best to remain positive. Interviewing presents a learning experience with each conversation you have, and these experiences — if you prepare, listen, and take away — can aid in landing you an ideal role.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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