Interview strategy tips

My name is Terita Smith, and I am from Chicago, Illinois. I am currently in the final year of my Ph.D. studies at Cardinal Stritch University, which is located in Milwaukee, WI. I received my Master’s Degree from DePaul University in Chicago, and I earned my Bachelor’s Degree from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago as well. I think it would be fair to consider myself a life-long learner, but in reality I was a returning adult student who returned to the university at age 36 after one year of college at age 18. At that time I just was not ready to be a serious student, and I certainly did not have academics on my mind.

Because I was such a great writer as an undergraduate, it occurred to me that perhaps I could teach writing, and I then decided to pursue my Master’s Degree in pursuit of becoming an English professor. As it turned out, I did and am an English professor at various institutions of higher education within the Chicago area. My passion and love for words and how they do what they do is the motivation behind this particular writing as it relates to the job search and careers. Obviously search for work can be daunting, but I wanted to offer some tips with respect to my area of expertise – English and words.

As social beings, verbal communication is something we generally take for granted; we just do it. For many it is simply a natural and non-strategic process of voiced give and take, which works perfectly well in the most casual of circumstances. When nothing is at stake, who really cares whether we speak in active or passive voice? If one is not trained in the language arts, does she even know what is or care about active or passive voice anyway? When we are just enjoying a nice conversation with someone, if we are being authentic, we are not concerned with word placement or saying something one way rather than another. Yet, these are all the things we actually should concern ourselves with to give us an advantage during job interviews.

During job interviews, we are doing the equivalent of selling. Inasmuch as a person who sells insurance, cars, houses, etc., must be verbally persuasive to close the deal, during job interviews, the verbal persuasion requirement is no less essential. So what does all this mean, and how is all this done? Begin by understanding that a potential employer’s primary concern is – WIIFM (what’s in it for me) –, which is to say, what skills do you possess and how will they increase our company’s bottom line (profits)? Understanding that fact is at the core of how you must use language in a particular way to not only answer that question, but answer questions at a deeper level than the interviewer has even asked you about. Yet, what you say during this interview process can be compelling to the interviewer beyond his or her conscious level.

First, it is very important during job interviews to avoid simply stating all your skills. Your skills alone are useless unless you present them in ways that interviewers can visualize as producing positive outcomes for the company. Therefore, use action words that clearly help interviewers make a connection between your skills being the best skills to make more money for the company or help the company do a particular job more efficiently. For example, make sure the interviewer knows that you know – no matter what your role – it has either a direct or indirect relationship to the customer/client. Inform interviewers you are a customer-focused individual who will use your skills to accomplish tasks with that objective in mind. You may in some way communicate that you understand that the company cannot offer you job security; only satisfied customers are in that position.

Next, generally speak in active voice. In active voice, the subject (you) performs the action while in passive voice; the subject is the receiver of the action. With active voice, because the subject performs the action, this has a different effect on the listener. A good way to think of this is, when using active voice in interviews, think of yourself as the subject of the conversation, and choose verbs (action words) that will help interviewers visualize what you and your skills are capable of doing to enhance the organization.

Finally, it is always a good thing to remember that a person tasked with hiring always maintains an internal fear about the person they are interviewing and ultimately ends up hiring. They are always worried about whether or not they will be making the right choice. While your communication skills won’t totally put them at ease, they will go a long way to incorporate a dimension of comfort within the interview process because how well you communicate, to some degree, says something about your level of professionalism and sophistication.

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