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Thread: How to avoid tanking in the interview

  1. #1
    Cyburbian fructa's avatar
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    How to avoid tanking in the interview

    So I'm fresh out of grad school -- where *fresh* = out for 4 months and no job in sight -- and I've had two interviews so far, neither of which went anywhere good. I know that I always tank in the interview - in one past interview, the person interviewing me told me 1) that talking to me was like talking to a giant elipse (true - I sit there frantically thinking through my responses and what the interviewer will think of me because of them, and second-guess myself), and 2) that he could not imagine a worse job for me than the one at stake (not a planning job - a receptionist position, and he was totally right, apart from salesperson, receptionist is the anti-me - but still, not a good interview situation). So far the planning interviews have been going better, but they're still bad compared to a good interview. Here's where I fall apart:

    1) answering vague or redundant questions. For this last job, I got through the phone interview despite being incredibly nervous and having to deal with a ton of canned / generic questions that clearly came out of some kind of interviewer's handbook and/or had been asked a thousand times before (strengths/weaknesses, working style, time management, how do you deal with conflict between politically feasible outcomes and what you see as ideal outcomes, etc) - and landed the in-person interview... where I tanked. The person who had interviewed me (the ED) over the phone was there and silent, sitting way off to my right, while the person who would be my direct manager was sitting way off to my left, asking me questions. First mistake, I didn't manage to include them both in my answers, *and* I neglected to pass my portfolio / work samples to the ED. But then, DM (direct manager) asked me not one but *five* questions in a row about what my working style is like, i.e. do I like to be self-directed or do I need a lot of supervision. Five questions. In a row. I got the feeling he was fishing, VERY HARD, for specific responses - and to this day I have no idea what he wanted, so I was just consistent, and tried to phrase my answers slightly differently. What do you do when you've clearly answered a question and they just keep asking it?

    2) asking questions about the organization. I really do try to prepare for this. I prepare for these interviews extensively, reading everything on their websites, making lists of things that seem interesting... but at the end of the interview, they ask if I have any questions about the job .... and I don't. I mean, it's the end of the second interview, and they've described the position to me - exhaustively - twice. They've told me what projects I'd be working on. They've told me what the changeover in projects is like. They've told me about the internal structure of the organization, how many people are working in each area, etc. They've emailed me a comprehensive document outlining benefits. What do I do? I tried to engage the interviewers in (after a more generic, what specific projects would the person in this position likely be working on question) a sort of fun, local-interest question about some novel street signs in the street *oustide their building*, they had no idea what I was talking about. And then they asked *again* if I had more questions for them. Seriously, I am out of questions. What sorts of things are you supposed to ask at this point?

    I've read through the other posts on interviews / interviewing, and I see repsonses by veterans who interview lots of candidates desperately asking us to just say anything, and I just... I guess I don't really understand. I'm very goal-focused, and if I'm interviewing for a job, I'm there to provide all the information you could want about me in relation to the job, and to get more information for myself about the job - and when I'm confident that these goals have been met, I do not know where to go next conversationally. Help? Tips? Other people have the same frustrations?

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    What do you do when you've clearly answered a question and they just keep asking it?

    I would say that from my experience you answer the question once. You don't need to keep trying to grab for the right answer. You are who you are. If you think you have answered the question to its fullest, ask the interviewer, "did that answer your question, and if not, how better can I answer it?" At that point you will at least get a direction. Many times I find that they are looking for a specific answer, but want you to find your way to it.

    What sorts of things are you supposed to ask at this point?
    I always try to get in a question about something that is not work related. I am sure that many people will say this is wrong, but it has worked out pretty well for me. Ask all the normal questions that you need to know, and try and find a question that might be more off topic in terms of regular questions they hear. For me I usually ask about the community. I look up if their high school sports are any good and make a comment about that, or talk about the growth of the local mall. Something that shows I am not only interested in the job but also the community.

    I also don't think it is a bad thing to say I believe you have answered all my questions, do you have anymore questions for me? I think trying to make yourself seem like a million question person doesn't look good either.

    Good luck!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    You should always ask questions when its your turn, even if they fall into the light weight category. Your turn to ask questions gives the interviewer a chance to see how much you prepared, your interests and how much do you want the job. By passing you are saying the base level of information is all you want or need.

    I always ask them to describe their management style, their view of continuing education, what is the work environment like. If they have already covered it then ask them to expand a point they made...it shows you listen. Think about what you like and don't like in a work environment and use that as a base.

    Other questions are giving example of projects you would like to work on that were not discussed or an idea that you have and how it would fit into the office.

    Don't ask questions about benefits, pay, time off etc. unless they make you an offer.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Sounds to me like part of your problem is one of confidence. You gotta believe in yourself and know that you are there to kick ass. That's not arrogance, but you need to be pumped before you get in there. If you look like you don't believe in yourself when you are on the spot, then they aren't going to either.

    It's rough out there right now, but just keep at it. I sent out over 30 resumes and had several in-person and phone interviews before I got my current job. This was in the good old days of Summer 2007. I'd advise you to also learn how to be more brief in your prose, because your post was really wordy and kind of tough to read.

    BTW, who and where have you interviewed with? PM me, maybe I can help somehow.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    First of all whoever said that talking to you is like talking to an ellipse is an *&^hole, but I guess it's useful as constructive criticism. I always want to give one-word answers and have to force myself to be more of a salesman. I find it helps to lock myself away and write down answers to possible questions and think of what to say if they ask for more detail. You can't think of everything (or remember everything) but it helps you get into that interview frame of mind.

    My first interview was at a fast food restaurant when I was 16 and I got the same responses you did because I couldn't get over how stupid the questions were and could barely speak audibly. I thought if I can't hack an interview at a fast food restaurant how will I ever get an adult job. I'm no master orator now, but at least I'm more used to the "acting" that goes into interviews.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    it is all a game. you need to play the part to get the role, while accurately representing yourself. sell yourself. why would they think you can do the job if you think you can't?

    if you've exhausted all your questions, you can always pull the, "Are there any questions that you think I should be asking you?"
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Are you very verbose in your answers? I picked up on that vibe in your original post. Keep your answers short and to the point, and don't go off on tangents. It is okay to take a deep breath and think about how you are going to answer the question. I, too, agree that the signage discussion is a little odd (especially if signage has little or nothing to do with the position you are applying for).

    Maintain eye contact with everyone (and speak to everyone in the room). Personally, I keep all props off the table (including notepads) and try to remember everything during the interview and right it down afterwords. Using a portfolio in an interview can be an art in itself: if it is a design position, you will use it as your tool throughout the meeting. If it is a collection of writing samples for a more technical position, you should use good judgement when introducing the portfolio during the meeting (it is a tool and should not take people's focus away from you).

    Bottom line, I think you need to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse your questions ahead of time. Don't just think about what the answers will be. Sit down and answer them as if you were in an interview. Pay attention to your speaking style (inflections, pronunications, body language, eye contact, etc.). I searched the entire archive for cyburbia and put together a list of 30-40 planning related interview questions (in addition to the 100-200 questions that are covered in most interview prep books). Be prepared to have an answer for any of them (and make sure that your answers target back to THEIR community, THEIR needs, etc.). Yes, this is an ardous task. Planning is growing profession, but it is still very small. You need to know more about them than they do to make the cut.

    Hope this helps-

  8. #8
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    When they ask you at the end of the interview if you have any questions, ask one. Always. Best thing to ask them if you are stumped for a question is to ask them to expand more one something they told you about the organization ("You said your office is seeing a lot more major subdivisions, why do you think that is happening?) Or ask them what is the biggest challenge they are facing. They at least know you were paying attention and are interested.

    It has been my experience (applying for planning jobs) that employers ask about the same questions. Why should we hire you? How do you get your work done efficiently when assigned multiple tasks? Explain your oral and written communication skills? How do you handle difficult clients and coworkers? How do you handle stress in the workplace? They might also ask you to explain subdivision review, comp plans, etc. After you have done it a few times, you will have these answers down.

    Relax. They expect you to be a little nervous. They don't want to see the deer-in-the-headlights look.

    Keep your answers short and on-point. Ask for clarification if you are not sure what they are looking for in the question.

    I have sat in on a lot of job interviews. On both sides of the table. On the hiring side, I want an applicant who is pleasant, professional and non-evasive. Rambling answers turn me off. If you are nervous, that is okay. I am a little nervous too. I might be working with you and I want the best person I can find. But I am also looking for someone who is a good fit for the organization.

    Relax. You will get better.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  9. #9
    Cyburbian fructa's avatar
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    Thanks everyone for all the advice. I've got a phone interview this afternoon and I'll try to put it in practice... ramble less, be more prepared, fake confidence... I'm trying to come up with some concise answers beforehand, esp. to questions like "So tell me about yourself!" I always start rambling there, trying to tie in an entirely unrelated background in theater to my desire to get a planning job... and then I feel like an unprepared imposter for the rest of the interview. But no more! ...maybe.

    Thanks again for all the helpful thoughts!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    DO NOT FAKE CONFIDENCE. You HAVE to be confident in an interview, otherwise you will reveal it through your speaking, inflections, tonations, body language, and eye contact. HR is trained to read people, and can tell early on who is confident and who isn't.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fructa View post
    ...and landed the in-person interview... where I tanked.
    Is it possible you just think you "tanked" and they just haven't contacted you yet? I thought that a few times when I was interviewing for the first job. One in particular was a phone interview with a city in Arizona where I totally blanked out on the first question and almost ended the interview. However, I pressed on and did much better as we were talking and apparently the panel thought a lot of me for that, because I got a personal interview. I didn't get the job, but after I got another job, the AZ people actually sought me out and called me to interview for the job again after it came open a few months later. That blew me away!

    I've always found that if I try to rehearse the answers, it seems like they ask different questions that I didn't think of. Then I was really screwed - it caused more rambling. Be more natural! Although, there should be some standard questions for which you can have predetermined answers.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  12. #12
    Cyburbian fructa's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    DO NOT FAKE CONFIDENCE.
    You're kidding, right? Come on. 90% of the time confidence is faked. People do it all the time. And judging by the fact that the HR person in the room laughed out loud when I claimed "being shy" as one of my weaknesses, I'm thinking that faking it went just fine. Of course, it was a phone interview, which makes it easier. As does being a trained actor, I imagine.

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