In person interviews can be a challenge, particularly if you have not been in job search mode for some time. As I have said in my previous blog posts, nailing the interview takes practice, homework and some sales ability. Selling yourself can be a difficult task, especially if your background is not sales, as is the case with the vast majority of job applicants.

Different companies use different interview techniques. Some will give you personality tests, some will use case studies, group interviews, while others will allow an interviewer to ask whatever questions they want.  You, as the applicant, have no idea as to which approach a hiring organization may use. Even if you were to ask about their approach in a phone call before the interview you probably would not get an answer. If you had some idea as to their interview structure that would be helpful information and put you at ease, assuming you prepared accordingly. One way to get an inside track is to communicate with your network. Talk to someone that has interviewed with the company before, even if it was for a very different position. Their point of view can be insightful. Larger companies tend to follow formats that are defined by the human resource department and that could be helpful in your preparation.

One technique that seems to unnerve many applicants is the standardized scripted interview.  It goes like this; you interview with the second person and they ask the very same questions as the first. On to the third interviewer and it’s again the same six questions.  Now your mind is spinning because you are trying to remember what you said to the first interviewer for fear that if you contradict yourself they’ll count that against you.  Or maybe you think that the first interviewer didn’t like your answer to question three, so on the fly you desperately try to revise your answer. Companies use scripted standard interviews to make it easier to score a candidate across multiple interviewers. They believe it is a good way to try to eliminate personal bias and emotion in rating and comparing candidates.

There are three things you need to do to win at a standardized interview.

  1. Be prepared – do your home work:
    You can never over prepare for an interview and you can never do too much homework. You need to go into the interview with at least three or four value statements that relate to the problems /challenges /issues that that organization faces.

  2. Remember SARs (Situation, Action, Result) and have good transition statements ready:
    At CareerPlace value statements are called SARs. What was the problem situation? What was the action you took? What was the result of your action. Something like: Supplier contract costs were out of control and going over budget. I renegotiated three contracts, and the result was a savings of $310,000A typical scripted question you will hear in a standardized interview will be: “Tell me about a difficult situation you faced and how you dealt with it”. This is a classic open-ended question and all open-ended questions should be answered with a SAR – but you must have a good transition lead in. A response like: “Well, when I worked for Atlas construction I was faced with having to reduce costs of contracts in a very short period of time. Some of my peers were not supportive of my approach fearing that the contractors would cut quality, but we were under the gun. I convinced my supervisor and peers that we should approach one contractor at a time and see what the response would be. They agreed, it worked then I reviewed all service contracts and was able to renegotiate three contracts and save over $310,000 while maintaining quality levels.” Remember the SAR must relate to an issue they are facing. Working with others and controlling costs is usually an issue for all organizations. Others might be dealing with regulations or increasing revenues.

  3. Take a break:
    Another tactic to employ when you realize you are in a scripted interview is to call for a ‘time-out’. After the second interview ask for a bathroom break. During the break make a note of the questions and sketch out a relevant SAR or two. On subsequent interviews, transition the same question to a SAR and you will be hitting home runs. Even better, go into every interview with three SARs and do not leave until you have delivered all of them. Remember every open question is an opportunity to deliver one of your value statements!