We’ve all heard advice on how to prepare for a job interview. Show up on time (if not a few minutes early).

Offer a firm handshake. Look the interviewer in the eye. Think through likely questions and practice your answers in advance. In short, make a good impression and tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear.

But what do YOU want to hear? In today’s tight labor market, with unemployment near historic lows, job candidates are the ones in the driver’s seat. Many employers are desperate to fill open roles, and that provides prospective employees with considerable control. In addition to preparing to be interviewed, job seekers should be just as prepared to do the interviewing. In other words, ask as many questions as you are asked, if not more. Force the interviewer to make the case for why you should work for them.

“Interviewing should really be a reciprocal process,” explains John DiBenedetto, DBA, a faculty member with the School of Business and Technology at Capella University. “Smart job seekers will approach an interview as a true conversation. They will go into it not only to make a good impression but to find out if they really want to work for the organization. So many people leave an organization because it’s not a good cultural fit. What better time to find that out than in a job interview?”

DiBenedetto offers the following advice to take control of an interview to help make sure the job is right for you.

Prepare as an Interviewer

Just as with any job interview, you need to come prepared. But that preparation is not only for questions that might be asked of you. It’s for questions you will ask of the interviewer. According to DiBenedetto, that includes everything from questions about the company culture, to what professional development is offered, to what the company position is on social responsibility.

“If it matters to you, ask it,” DiBenedetto says. “Today with the Internet, you can find out virtually anything about an organization. From Glassdoor and LinkedIn pages to corporate blogs and annual reports, there are so many ways to get a good sense for what an organization is all about. The more you know about what you are walking into, the happier and more successful you are likely to be there. But if the interviewer doesn’t back up what you’ve researched, that’s a red flag. Be sure to find out.”

Pre-interview

Another beautiful thing about the Internet is the ability to connect with people who already work at your prospective employer. Through a simple search of your connections on LinkedIn (if you are not on LinkedIn, you should be), you can identify first-, second-, or third-degree connections who may work for the company. Then, it’s a simple matter of reaching out asking for a call or coffee to learn about their experiences with the organization.

“You can get the real, unvarnished perspective you are looking for through a pre-interview with someone who works or has worked, for a company,” DiBenedetto explains. “This is the time to ask the really hard, pointed questions. If there is any dirt, you want to uncover it now.”


Take Control of the Interview

Finally, the day of the interview arrives. According to DiBenedetto, your primary objective is to take control of the interview as opposed to being controlled. Go into it with that mindset.

“Drive the dialogue,” DiBenedetto advises. “Don’t just sit there and wait for questions to be asked. Assert yourself and take the interview where you want to take it. That will show the person interviewing not only your confidence but also a deep level of interest in the organization. That’s attractive.”

Another attractive move is to offer up new ideas for the business based on your research and pre-interviewing.

“It’s bold to do so, but it shows you have a depth of knowledge about the business, and not just the job itself,” DiBenedetto says. “Truly, this is how you stand out and hopefully get the job … if you want it.”

Don’t Overdo It

For all this talk of taking control, don’t overdo it. Whether you are driving the conversation or not, you must still be friendly, polite, and respectful.

“You can’t be domineering or arrogant,” DiBenedetto says. “Know where to draw the line from being assertive to being boorish. You need to answer their questions, yet do it as a conversation. Come across as engaging and friendly, not obnoxious.”

DiBenedetto also cautions not to overplay your hand. In other words, show interest in the job if you genuinely are, but be careful not to sound desperate.

“You want to be somewhat coy, but still let them know you are interested if you indeed are,” DiBenedetto offers. “Be engaged throughout the process. That means through the quality of your voice, how you smile, and your body posture. Make them like you. But ultimately, if you want the job, you have to let that be known. I’ve never hired anyone who didn’t ask for the job.”

Thanks, but No Thanks

So what about when you know the job isn’t for you? How and when do you make that determination and how do you let it be known?

“Remember, you are in control,” DiBenedetto says. “The whole purpose of taking control of the interview is to determine if a job is a good fit. You need to know what you want and where you want your career to go. If the job you are interviewing for won’t deliver on that, don’t take it.”

DiBenedetto recommends always to send either an email or mailed thank you note, even if you don’t want the job.

“If the person who interviewed you doesn’t respond promptly, or at all, that itself provides a glimpse into the organization culture,” DiBenedetto says. “It may make you feel better about not taking the job. The way you are treated in the interview process is often a good indicator of how you would be treated as an employee.”

Go Above and Beyond With Your Thank Yous

So how about if you DO want the job? How do you further set yourself apart from the pack to secure that next interview or a job offer?

“Your follow up needs to go beyond just saying, ‘Thanks for your time,’” DiBenedetto advises. “Yes, thank them for sure, but also summarize your thoughts and ideas about how you could further advance the organization’s mission or build the business. It is yet another chance to demonstrate your critical thinking and ability to generate thoughtful ideas.” 

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