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Sun Tzu and The Art of Interviewing

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In the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu wrote that every battle is won before it is fought. Interviewing is not a battle, but there are certain principles, such as preparation, that need to be considered in both.The first interview with any company is a screening interview, and may be with the line manager or human resources. The interview is a little like a first date, with both parties interviewing one another to determine whether there is enough interest to proceed further.Most first interviews follow a pretty standard pattern. Candidates must understand what they are going to be asked and be prepared to answer if they are to be given a second meeting. However, the best candidates do not interview all that often, as they are often busy succeeding in their current roles. Therefore, when the best candidates do interview, they can sometimes be underprepared for even the most standard questions. The following are four questions that may be asked during a first meeting. Preparing for these will ensure that you are invited back to a second meeting.

1. Why are you interested in us?

Companies love to ask why you are interested in their company or the role that they are offering. We all like people who are like us, and are attracted to people with the same interests or goals. It is important to do your homework on the company and if possible interviewer, and ask yourself why you are interested in the company. What is it about the company’s products or culture that has attracted you to participate in this first interview? When answering this question, be enthusiastic and passionate. Enthusiasm is infectious and we communicate our passion with smiles and positive body language. Sit straight, lean forward, and smile. This sounds like common sense, but all too often candidates forget that we all only have one chance to make a great first impression. When explaining why you are interested in the position, it is also important to link your past experience to the role at hand.

2. Why are you looking for a new job?

Some companies think that if you are interviewing, you have decided to leave your company. Companies ask this question in the hope that candidates will trip themselves up and say something negative about their present company or management. The best candidates are happy and satisfied with their current roles, but are willing to consider superior opportunities. It is important to communicate that you are happy in your current role and speak favorably of your company and management, but describe what you like about the new role and company as well. Interviewers also ask this question to determine if there are any red flags related to your departure. They may be wondering whether you would be leaving on good terms or bad, and whether your goal is to escape from your current job or grow within a new one. Take this opportunity to speak positively of your current employer but communicate that you’re looking at the new position as the next step in your career. By framing your answer positively, you’re making the interviewer focus on your potential contributions rather than any red flags.

3. What do you know about us?

If a candidate does not do sufficient homework, this question can be a deal-breaker. A strong answer here is essential. The best candidates do not “wing it” or think that their winning résumés or charm will be enough. They have prepared thoroughly, and they understand the company’s history, its key milestones, and its current developments. In this day and age, failure to do so is inexcusable. Doing research on a company prior to an interview is not optional. It’s a necessity.

4. What questions do you have for me?

The best candidates listen intently in interviews and have a host of questions for interviewers. They show their interest in a position and company with the questions that they ask. Candidates should certainly prepare questions before interviews, and should think of additional questions to ask during interviews as well.

It is important to always have questions for the interviewer. The strongest candidates show their enthusiasm, and position themselves as potentially valuable team members by asking smart, strategic questions that benefit both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Sun Tzu said, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” If you practice what Sun Tzu preached and learn the art of interviewing, a multitude of opportunities will be open to you.

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