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Succeeding in Interviews Often Means Being Likable

By Perri Capell

Question: How long should answers be during interviews? When responding, should I say, "When I become vice president of your company" or "as vice president of your company"? How much should I try to control the interview?

Answer: Here's one of the most important things to know about interviewing: By the time you're invited to meet company representatives, the employer usually believes you're qualified to do the job. Now, the company wants to know if you'll fit in and work well in its environment.

In other words, the interviewer is hoping to learn you're someone who should be invited to the party, says Mike Lorelli, chief executive officer of Latex International, a Shelton, Conn., mattress-foam company. "At this point, cultural fit is more important than talking a long time about your degree," he cautions.

(As an aside, you can see why it's so important to network and be referred for a job by someone the company trusts. This way, the interviewer is already predisposed to like you.)

There isn't a specific formula for interview success. The best sessions are typically conversational give-and-takes where the interviewer and candidate form a personal connection. Talking too much won't allow for that.

"There is nothing more painful than someone giving an answer that is seemingly endless," says Mr. Lorelli, whose career includes the presidencies of large consumer products companies.

Take your cues from interviewers, he suggests. If they speak in shorter sentences, respond in kind. One way to know if your answers are too long is if the interviewer interrupts you to ask another question, says Joshua Burgin, senior manager, IT projects, for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"For me, the best answers are those when you appear to have listened to the question and answered it directly and also gotten behind it and said something so I can follow up," he says.

Try to gauge how you're doing with such queries as "Would you like a short or long answer to that?" or "Is that what you wanted to know?" Mr. Burgin suggests. "I like candidates who can recover from stumbles over those who don't seem to read the question correctly," he says.

It's important to be comfortable with yourself during interviews, which means doing what's natural to you – which isn't likely to include saying: "when I am vice president of your company." Often, using that sort of phrase can backfire and make you seem arrogant or presumptuous.

If an interviewer is on the fence about you, it's best not to take that chance. "It isn't horrible to say something like that, but when I'm not completely sure about someone, it probably wouldn't work for me," says Mr. Burgin.

Controlling an interview is wise in the sense that you should try to get a few important points across during the meeting, says Mr. Lorelli. For instance, if you learn from your research that you and the interviewer have something in common, such as a hobby, try to work it into an answer. Mr. Lorelli plays golf and is a private pilot, "so if a golfer or pilot were interviewing me, I would work those things into the conversation," he says.

Or, if the opening has international responsibilities, let the interviewer know you have traveled or worked globally in the past.

Asking thoughtful questions can help turn the interview into a conversation, says Mr. Burgin. "I worry about a person's fit when I'm only asked simple things like about the health benefits," he says.

Everyone loves to talk about themselves and their interests. Look for clues about an interviewer when you enter the person's office and comment on them, Mr. Lorelli suggests. If the office is bare, ask the interviewer how long he or she has worked at the organization and how they like it. Remarks like this make you seem friendly and likable – and very possibly someone the company may want to hire.

Article from CareerJournal Online January 2007