How do I get from 4th-on-the-list to 'Hired!'?
July 22, 2008 2:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm #4 on the eligibility list for a job that I want, and have a 2nd interview in a week. This is the final step in the application process. What can I do to vault myself to the top of the list and land the job?

It is a facilities/staff supervisor position for local government. The application process has been long, involving an initial screening, a multiple choice test, a panel interview, and now a 2nd interview. So far every step has been very deliberate and on the impersonal side. For instance the panel interview was conducted from a set list of questions, and my answers were scored. Last week they sent me an email with my score and told me that my place on the eligibility list was 4, out of the remaining 16 applicants (initially there were hundreds). Today they called to set up the interview—it will be less 'formal' and with only 2 interviewers this time—and said that they were only interviewing 4 people from the list. So presumably I'm the underdog.

Like I said, this is a facilities management and staff supervision job, with a public relations facet. Conflict resolution has been stressed as one of the most important issues related to the position, I believe in reference to the public relations/customer service aspect. So I'm prepared for that. I am confident in my qualifications and ability to excel in the position. However, I don't exactly have the strongest resume on the planet*, and although I'm fairly smooth answering questions I can get rather nervous at the 'Questions for us?' stage of an interview. Any special tips for that? (I have recognized this as a problem though, have two books on the subject, and am preparing. I feel better about it already.)

But what I'm really looking for are ways to appeal to the "Best of the Best" mindset bannered around the HR department. This is a 'famous' community with a high standard of excellence, and they're not hesitant to assert that fact. How can I impress, coming from #4-on-paper? What are my interviewers looking for? For this type of job (entry-level city government), what will set me apart? What can I use to trebuchet to the top of that list? I want this job. I need this job. Help me get it, AskMe!

* No college degree. Meet but do not exceed minimum experience requirements. Plenty of training though, and I was at my last job for 7 years. I'm told that's a big plus, but at interviews so far I've found it means I'm 7 years out of practice.
posted by saguaro to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In a classic two-step interview.. the first interview is really about qualifications and job suitability. The second might be a little more nebulous.

Think medium-long term.. do you have plans or initiatives you might want to implement?

This shows two things. One, you are passionate about working in this field (ie it is not something that you leave at the office when you punch out), and secondly it shows you are committed to self improvement.

I work in a completely different field (research/academia), but my old PhD supervisor's first question to a newly minted prospective post-doc in his lab was 'where do you see yourself in 5 years?'. Its a time frame many people don't think about, but I think it is a good test to judge the quality and character of the candidate.

When it comes time for me to do the hiring and firing, I think that might be my first question to ask as well ;)
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:43 AM on July 22, 2008

You need to display confidence, the type the communicates (without actually saying it) that you're more than well qualified for the position, and as such, you're not even entirely sure the position is good enough for *you* (not vice versa). Being prepared with a smart list of questions for them, that shows them that you're both interested in the position and healthily skeptical of its fit for you is key. I wrote about this in more detail previously.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:29 AM on July 22, 2008

Take your time answering questions, and don't be reluctant to probe for additional information before answering. When you've asked for additional information, or clarification, let your question stand (if necessary), in silence, until it is answered or deferred; being comfortable with silence, until your interviewer either provides clarification, or defers, shows respect for their thinking process. Nervous people too often betray their nervousness with their need to fill silence, at any cost.

One classic test of how well a person in a job with media exposure will do, is how they field questions. You want to appear thoughtful and deliberate, and give yourself time to think, and to compose a reasonable answer. Also, probing for additional information demonstrates you listen actively, which is an important technique in conflict resolution and problem solving. Restate questions to be sure you've understood them completely before answering; because you confirm questions before answering, and get clarification, neither you nor your interviewers should ever have to wonder if you've answered the question they've asked, so never end an answer on anything other than a declarative or a concluding summary of what you've just offered - never ask, in closing, "Does that answer your question?"

Speak clearly, and a little louder and slower than you generally would in conversation. Remember to breathe evenly, and support your voice. This helps to overcome nervous behaviors such as laughter, coughing, and clearing your throat. Divide your attention between your interviewers, and if possible, try to make your points alternately, to each of them. Look for signs from them that they are engaging you, such as head nodding, and smiling, and respond likewise. Also note negative mannerisms like eye contact avoidance, frowning, or nervous tics like doodling, and take direct action to immediately re-engage any interviewer you see these from.

It's far less important to try to demonstrate that you have all the answers (which nobody, ever, does), than that you demonstrate that you are cool under questioning, confident in handling follow up questions and objections, and deliberate in your fact finding and response. Use body language to show that you are relaxed; sit with good posture, and don't fidget. Lean back slightly and smile when a question is poised, while maintaining eye contact.
posted by paulsc at 5:37 AM on July 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

You could arrange for three "accidents."

Seriously, however, you are not the 4th most likely person to get the job. I'm a civil service lawyer and its likely they do a variant of what the federal government does. In governmental hiring, Human Resources will do the initial screening and then rank the candidates according to a set of criteria.

You've gotten to the final stage where the actual bosses will interview people on the list. At that point, the list is only a suggestion for these people, one that is often ignored. These people could care less what H R thinks.

Word of warning: sometimes they are looking to promote someone from within and have to hold the interviews anyway. However, this is less likely in your case as they are advertising outside the government.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:41 AM on July 22, 2008

The panel interviews used structured questions so that people could be eliminated in a fair manner. Their were probably multiple people conducting the interviews. Consistent questions control for one candidate who gets the "easy interviewers" while another candidate gets the meanies.

You aren't 4th choice; you're one of 4 candidates qualified for the position. Now you need to establish rapport with the final interviewer (probably your boss). Be confident of you're ability to contribute. Make you new boss feel confident in you.

Good luck!
posted by 26.2 at 8:40 AM on July 22, 2008

When you get to the second interview, the employer already knows you're qualified. The one who gets hired will therefore be the one the supervisor gets along with best.

I got lucky in an interview where my potential supervisor had a broken tooth filling, which kept drawing blood. She worried about a presentation she had to make the day after her dentist's appointment. I said "Don't worry. The inside of your mouth heals faster than any other part of your body. Remember the last time you bit your tongue and drew blood. It was fine the next day. This will be just the same."

This got me the job.

What you need is to find a mutual interest and make the person-to-person connection.
posted by KRS at 11:44 AM on July 22, 2008

I recently did poorly in an interview. As it was an internal application, I was fortunate enough to get some really good, constructive feedback. The key was how you answer your questions, not necessarily what your answer is.

If the interview is a targeted selection criteria type, then you'll get questions like "tell me about a time when you did x y z and what were the outcomes". I suggest that you answer in a manner that concisely describes the situation leading to the example, factually outlines the actions that you took and then close with a description of the results.

Very best of luck.
posted by dantodd at 4:35 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all of you. I'll report back Monday on how the interview went.
posted by saguaro at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2008

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