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Interview Tips for Your Midlife Career Change

Job Interview Tips

Be irresistible to your new employers/customers

Here are a few interview tips that I have refined over the last 20 years. I have had fourteen jobs, most of which required more than one interview to get selected. I have also either not been selected, or have turned down the job offer I did receive, for many other potential jobs after going through the interview process. These interview tips often helped me to make the right decision in not accepting a position that would have been a bad fit for my career aspirations at the time. I have also interviewed dozens of job applicants for temporary and permanent job positions in the IT industry, many of whom would have benefited from these interview tips and techniques. Both my own and their successes and failures have contributed to this body of information. Although these interview tips were acquired mostly during my IT career, they are very general and can be applied to your personal career choice.

Know the terrain before you enter the fray

Have a good look at their website before you go to the interview. Go down to the local bookshop and have a free flick through a couple of the latest books on the subject, as well as googling it on the web, so that at least the jargon will be familiar. Think of a couple of intelligent questions to ask at the interview about how they are using the latest technology/technique/funding.

Feel that you are the person for the job

This may entail dressing the part. Most “authorities” will advise that you have your hair neat, not too long or short, dress in a suit, be clean shaved or trim your facial hair (if you are a male!). I’d suggest that you dress in the way you feel will make you most comfortable during the interview. Believe that you look the part, and this will boost your own confidence and be evident to the interviewers.

Personally, when I have interviewed people, their appearance and dress code were the last things I cared about, but this was probably due to the fairly lax “standards” in the IT industry through the 1990’s due mainly to the severe shortage of qualified and experienced applicants! Suits, dressing smart casual, “neat” hair and being clean shaved were therefore considered optional. So most IT staff dispensed with these niceties and were comfortable just being themselves. I’ve chosen an equally dress-codeless second career in science.

Start right

Make a great first impression by smiling warmly and genuinely. Practice your friendly handshake and make sure it is sending the message you intend. Be sincere in your interest in both the interviewer and the organization.

Lead the conversation

When they ask a question, answer at length, and try to ask a few questions for every one they ask you. If you can control the interview, they will have less chance to find your weaknesses, and you will have more opportunity to expand on your strengths.

Tell them if you are looking for a long term career company, and whether you see this job as a foot in the door for your long term career plans.

Don’t be shy about your abilities or achievements. Emphasise your experience in terms of years, range of technologies, working in a multicultural multinational environment, working on your own and working in teams. Show your versatility, but emphasize your enthusiasm, if not expertise in the particular area they are interviewing you for. Be assertive and show that you are confident you will be able to do the job, even if you require some training.

Questions to ask at your job interview:

Who is the perfect person for this job? What knowledge, skills, personality traits would you require or expect them to have?

Once the interviewer(s) have descrbed this hypothetical person, demonstrate how you fit the requirements, where you can offer more, and in the cases where you are not a perfect fit, why your skills and abilities may be more useful (if you still want the job, of course).

“How long have you worked here? What is the average length of time people stay here?” (The staff turnover rate)

A good employer will not find it offensive to answer this – it tells you whether this is a career opportunity or a stopover on the way to your destination. Unless you like hanging around airports, or genuinely want to spend some time exploring a destination along the way, try to get a direct flight!

“How many jobs have you had here?”

This will give you an idea of how good the organization is at facilitating your career growth.

“How many people in your department have been promoted on your recommendation to management levels/salary scales above yours?”

This will help you to understand how well your potential boss facilitates the career advancement of his team.

“May I speak to each of the other team members, individually, one-to-one?”

This will help you get a feel for the team members and how they feel about their manager/supervisor and each other, what their career aspirations are and how you will fit in to the team (or not!). A good manager will have no problem with this request, and you will quickly be warned off if you detect a negative bias in the team towards the company, the boss, or other team members.

Alternatively, this may offer an opportunity if you feel you have strong people skills and would like the challenge of motivating a team, bridging broken relationships and facilitating positive, constructive, open and honest communication that empower each member of the team, including the manager/supervisor with that “win-win” positive glow. Good luck if this is you!

Referees

You may be asked to provide your referees at this point. I’d suggest that you delay providing your referees contact details until the following day. This will give you a chance to sleep on and analyze the information you have gained in the interview. You may decide that this is not the job for you, not the right team or company, in which case you will not want to waste your referees time.

If they will be contacting referees, make sure you know which ones they will contact, so that you can advise them in advance. If you are attending multiple interviews with several potential employers you will not want to overload your referees.

Be positive, smile, and agree to a timetable

When the interview is concluded, thank them for their time and the opportunity to meet them and learn about them, the career, their team and organization. Agree on a protocol and timetable for the rest of the selection process. Will they be contacting you or vice versa? Via the employment agency if one is involved, via snail mail, email or telephone? Within a week, a month? If there is anything you will be providing them before they are able to process your job application further, make sure you know in what format it is expected, to whom it should be addressed and by when it should be received. Preferably deliver it personally if possible. Will they confirm receipt of any extra required paperwork you send?

Analyze your performance

What did you do well? Where could you have improved? What did you not do that you should have done? Take note and learn. What will you do and think to ensure that next time you are better prepared, more confident and capable?

Follow up

Write a thank you letter. Address it to the individual who interviewed you. If you were interviewed by a panel, then write a separate, customised letter to each interviewer. Show that you were alert to the specific questions they asked, and thank them for any questions of yours that they answered. Just like you, they want to be recognized for their individual contribution. They will be getting very few thank you letters – most job applicants seem to wildly underestimate or overestimate the success of the interview, and so neglect to say thanks. Most interviewers will not be thanked by their boss. Say thanks – it will get you remembered, and it is good manners.

If you want to work here, ask for the job in the thank you letter – restate your interest in the job, and why you are a good fit. Add anything pertinent that you forgot to mention in the job interview, or that you feel you did not communicate well enough.

If you are not interested in the job, then say so. Thank the interviewer for their time and effort. If the job was not a good fit, explain how you decided on this – explain and clarify anything that was not already clear by the end of the interview. Try to keep the relationship open to future possibilities. If the interviewer was a pleasant person you’d like to work with, or if the company is still attractive to you as a place to work, but in a different job, then say this. Communicate your hopes and leave the door open.

Never burn your bridges, as you’ll often be surprised a year down the line how your perception of a person or place can change. Even in the worst case, where you feel that the job was not as advertised, that the interviewer was awful, and the company would be hell to work for. Even if everything about them is against your values and principles, say “thank you”, and leave the door open for future communication. Why? Making friends with your enemy is the best way of understanding him. You never know when it may be useful to you to have a friendly ear or source of information inside the “evil empire”.

Remember, the interviewer is a person, and can have a bad day and make a bad first impression. But that doesn’t mean they are nasty and meant to hurt your feelings, or make you feel inadequate. Give them the benefit of the doubt, forgive, and say thanks.

Follow up the thank you letter with a phone call a week or two later if you have not heard anything back. Ask how the selection process is progressing. Restate your interest in the job, and ask when you can expect to hear that you have the job, or not.

Continue your job search

Do not put all your eggs in one basket. If you are actively seeking and considering all your job options, you will not be desperate to take the first offer that you get, or be terribly disappointed if it does not materialize.

Golden rule: Radiate enthusiasm.


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