The introduction stage in a job Interview

The start of the interview is often a vital stage. The basic introduction is a synopsis of your information, but it's also an opportunity to add some effective techniques to your interview.

It's also the time to start getting things right. There are some important basic rules to all interviews, so let's get them clear from the start.

Basic rules:

Never lie at an interview.
Never assume information won't be checked.
Stick to facts.
Don't guess about your answers.
If you don't understand a question, ask for clarification.
Don't, ever, assume interviewers can be fooled by babble.

One of the absolute basics of interviews is good communication.

A lot of people simply do not communicate well at interviews, and it costs them job after job. Some babble, some literally dry up after a few words. Others try to bluff their way through questions when they don't have a clue, and it's obvious. They blow their chances in the interview instantly.

The introduction is supposed to be the icebreaker, but it's a lot more than that, and you can start to establish your credentials with the interviewers from the very start.

Interviews are designed to find the best candidate. They're a filtering process. They work on the basis of weeding out less effective candidates as well as picking good candidates. That means every aspect of the performance is potentially important. Many candidates become virtually anonymous, because they just don't stand out. The interviewers may not even remember their names.

That is the situation you need to avoid at all costs. Sometimes choosing a successful applicant simply boils down to a preference for one person over another, and that's almost entirely based on perceptions of the person.

First impressions may not be as shallow as many books claim. The interviewers have to form opinions of everyone, so they're not necessarily looking at a nice suit and tie. They're not there to run a fashion parade, they're there to get facts and make assessments of people as part of a formal process.

The first question after the introduction to the panel sounds innocuous:

Tell us a bit about yourself

They're not after a biography. This is information they have, in theory, in your application. This is about presentation, and it's also where you can prove your communication skills quickly, and add some value to your personal perception.

The basic answer:

  • I'm so and so
  • I work as such and such, at… wherever (useful to confirm what you do in the industry)
  • I live locally (relevant if you do, because it means you're not affected by long commutes, etc.)
  • I'm studying… (very useful if it helps show your current career path in relation to the job and the industry)

You see how this works. Clear communication. It's actually quite a lot of relevant information, in an average of about 30 seconds. This is 'who you are', as far as the panel knows.

Some people, however, can do a lot more with the introduction. They're so good they can practically direct the interview. Their interview skills are excellent, and they can pack in a lot more information.

The advanced answer:

  • I'm a member of an industry/professional association
  • I'm involved in a local organization with a business relationship with the company
  • I work for/used to work for a competitor
  • I have added qualifications relevant to the business

As you can see this sort of answer is guaranteed to get interest. The additional information also creates a personal identity for the applicant. The advanced answer stands out instantly.

In many cases it's a job getter. The usual result of any interview conducted by competent people is that the person with the best result from all the questions is the successful applicant. Most people forget the introductory questions. Even against someone with equal skills and experience, the advanced answer will score some points.

Anyone with these added attributes is going to be remembered and instantly raised above other candidates. This is value adding, in its most fundamental form, and it works.

The introduction phase is also a learning phase. People have to learn how to listen to others. Both you and the panel will be learning, and to learn you have to be communicating effectively.

Don't be standoffish or overly formal. That just irritates people. Be civil, friendly to a reasonable degree, and above all listen.

Follow up questions to the introduction answer

At the introductory stage, the basic answer probably won't generate any additional questions, but the advanced answer definitely will.

These follow up questions will ask for further information about whatever points you added, and you need to reply very clearly, just answer the basic questions, without using up too much time.

The time factor in interviews

The time factor in communication, and in interviews is very relevant. Interviews are usually scheduled, and these questions are fitted in to a period of time, usually about half an hour.

If there are 8 questions in thirty minutes, you can see that you have a bit less than 3 minutes to answer each question, allowing time for the interviewers to ask them.

That's a very good indication of the expected length of reply. More isn't better, unless you really can add something good to the answer. If necessary, practice getting your replies to basic questions down to a few minutes at most. If the panel really needs to know more they'll ask.

Unless you're doing a particularly complex interview, you won't really need to wallow in detail. You'll also find the interviewers don't appreciate excessive use of their time.

Stick to the letter of the questions you're asked.

Further introduction questions

There won't be more than one or two intro questions, but they're equally important in establishing your identity to the panel.

Another intro question may well be about your current work or experience.

Tell us about your current job

This question has several purposes:

  • To find out your depth of experience
  • To check out your current knowledge
  • To rank you relative to other candidates in terms of skills

The first two can be real issues if you've been out of the workforce, or are entering a new career path.

The third point is where you need to supply information which puts you on a par or better with anyone.

You've already told them what you do, so you now need to expand on that information, and add some dimensions to it.

The basic answer

(If you don't have current experience, refer to your prior work)

  • I've been working there for… years as (explain your roles, simply, not in detail).
  • I'm part of a team, and we often back each other up in our work, so I've got a lot of experience in the section/department's work over that period.

That makes the point that you have current experience, and you have the broad general knowledge of how the job functions as part of the organization. It doesn't quite address making your experience and knowledge better than others, unless you can tell the panel you have superior skills in the process.

The advanced answer

If you have additional material regarding your work, now's the time to tell the panel about that, and reinforce your information with examples. If you can add related work, showing relevance to the position, and better experience in the roles, you can again gain some ground against competitors. In addition to the above, you add:

  • I've also worked in… (an area closely related to the organizational structure of the role, but requiring more skills)
  • I'm actually doing some extra work as ( higher duties, or other higher value work)
  • I'm studying… as I mentioned, so I've been helping out with ( explain role)

Note the reminder about your studies, and that these extra skills are quite often things you do every day, so regularly you may even forget you do them. The added value often simply reflects your depth of experience.

The advanced answer will always beat the basic answer, and you can see why.

Never waste an opportunity to improve your position and advertise your extra skills, because job interviews are ultimately competitive things.

At the introduction phase, you're trying to make a strong impression, and really show your skills from the word go.

This is what interview performance and techniques are all about, and they're what will get you the job.