The First Question You Should Ask in Any Interview

There is one powerful question I always recommend job hunters ask an employer before any other. In fact this question should be asked when you are scheduling an interview. This is a simple easy to ask query that can give you an edge when preparing to answer interview questions: "How long do you expect the interview to be?" While some employers will not have a definite amount of time allowed and others might not tell you, this information is valuable when you can get the answer.

When you are practicing your answers to anticipated job interview questions, you should keep in mind the length of the interview. The amount of time that you and the recruiter or hiring manager have scheduled should influence you to adjust your personal sales strategy accordingly. However, you can only make the correct adjustments if you understand the differences between a short interview of 30 minutes or less and an hour or more session. Note: A lunch or dinner interview is considered a long interview because the duration is usually not controlled by the employer and will often last more than 30 minutes.

The Short Interview

The short session interview is most always an initial meeting. The employer often has many candidates scheduled and is working with the process of elimination. In a shorter session, you will not have time for elaborate responses to the questions. In fact, in the average half-hour session, you will probably be asked no more than 10 - 12 job interview questions, requiring quick thinking and concise answers. A typical time line might look something like this: 

  • 1 - 3 Introductory queries (5 minutes): How are you? Tell me about yourself. What interests you in this position?
  • 3 - 5 Behavioral or Competency based inquiries (15 minutes): Tell me about a time when you managed others. Give me a specific example of a time you handled a setback. Describe your usual day in your last job. Do you have experience with...?
  • 1 - 2 Opinion/Case Studies (5 minutes): What would you do if XYZ? What do you see as your strengths? Why should we hire you?
  • Closing: Candidate Questions (5 minutes)

Do not feel like you had a bad interview based on the interviewer cutting the meeting off at the allotted time deadline. They might have candidates coming in back to back and need to stay on schedule.

Years ago my parents took me to a circus. There were elephant acts, tigers, clowns, and death defying trapeze artists. After the show upon our exit one of the juggling performers that I had barely noticed walked up and asked how I liked the circus and autographed my program. I do not remember the specifics of any of the acts or other performers but I can remember that juggler's face to this day. The point is one of the most powerful tactics for interviews is following up.

I used to keep thank you notes in my pocket or brief case. Immediately after the interview I would retreat to my car and personally write one to the interviewer and anyone else I was introduced to by name. I then immediately returned to the receptionist and gave him or her the envelopes with the names on the front and asked her to please make sure they were delivered. I also handed one over addressed to the receptionist. By the way, I keep a notepad and pen in my hand or front shirt pocket at all times while visiting an employer. When I don't get a business card from someone I ask for the spelling of their name and write that down on the spot.

The Long Interview

The long interview is often your second or third interview with a company after you have made the first round of cuts. In longer sessions, more elaborate and creative answers will be encouraged. The recruiter is generally working from an extensive list of interview questions, which may or may not be divided into competencies. A typical time line and plan might look something like this: 

  • 3 - 5 Introductory queries (10 minutes): Tell me about where you went to school. Tell me about your past work experience. Why are you seeking a new job?
  • 5 - 10 Behavioral or Competency based job interview questions (15 - 20 minutes): Give me an example of a time you displayed leadership. When deadlines are missed, what do you do?
  • 5 - 10 Opinion or Case Studies (15 - 20 minutes): Our team is organized by regions, but should we stay that way? Given 5 clients and $2,000, how would you entertain them?
  • Closing: Candidate Questions (5 - 10 minutes)

In addition the interviewer might seemingly wander off the interview question grid at any time and begin telling and selling you on the company or the position. Sit back and listen. This is a good sign. Follow up is just as important after the long interview. Even if you used the same thank you note tactics after a previous interview at the same employer you can repeat the process.

Find out how to walk into any interview with complete confidence and have the right answer to all their interview questions. Copyright 2011 by Phil Baker "The Hire Authority."