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The Successful Interview
by Michael J. Lom, CPA


The success of any job interview will depend on your ability to discern the employer's needs and empathize with the interviewer. Ask questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer says to you, without expressing an opinion.

Besides empathy, there are four other requirements for a successful interview:

  • Enthusiasm - Leave no doubt as to your interest in the job. Given a two-way tie, employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate.
  • Technical Interest - Since employers look for people who love what they do, show your excitement for the nitty-gritty of the job.
  • Confidence - Nobody likes a braggart, but the candidate who's sure of his or her abilities will certainly be more favorably received.
  • Intensity - The last thing you want to do is come across "flat" in your interview. There's nothing wrong with being inherently laid back, but sleepwalkers rarely get employers excited. On the other hand, don't talk too much.
Since interviewing involves the exchange of information, present your background in a thorough and accurate manner. Practice your delivery. If you can, early in the interview, try to maneuver yourself into learning what the company and the interviewer are looking for: What kind of person are they seeking? What are the most important personal qualities and characteristics? What are the major responsibilities? What are the major problems and challenges of the job? Which challenges are immediate? Your conversation with the interviewer should naturally spawn a number of these questions. Make sure however, that you touch on the following areas, gathering data, then linking your abilities with what you believe are the company's needs:

  • Company - the organization, direction, stability, growth, market share, new products or services.
  • Industry - the health, growth, change, technological advancement and personnel of the industry as a whole.
  • Position - the scope, responsibilities, travel and reporting structure.
  • Opportunity - your potential for growth or advancement within the company and its divisions, and the likely timetable for promotion.
Your goal should be to build a strong case for why the company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make from building a rapport with the interviewer and asking the right questions.


Gather as much information about the company as you can. Make sure you know something about each of the following company categories:

  • Personnel - who are the major players, who was recently hired or let go.
  • Structure - what products or services, what are the various divisions, public or private.
  • Vital signs - how the company is doing financially, takeover or merger candidate, how the stock is faring.


Review these before your interview.

  • What has been the single most important event of your career?
  • Describe two major accomplishments.
  • What types of individuals are difficult for you to get along with?
  • Tell me about your last company.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What makes you think you are ready for more responsibility?
  • What is the most important aspect about your job?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?
  • Give me an example of how you make decisions.
  • What jobs have you liked the most? The least?
  • What are your goals in life?
  • What do you know about this job or company?
  • What interests you most about this job? The least?
  • What was the last book you read? Movie you saw?
  • What are your major strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Have you ever fired anyone? Why?
  • How have you contributed to your company's bottom line?
  • What are your interests outside of work?
  • Tell me how your work has been criticized in the past.
  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • What was your worst mistake?
  • Why were you ever fired? Why did you leave your last job?
  • What are you doing to overcome or compensate for your weaknesses?
  • How much overtime are you willing to work?
  • Why is it taking you so long to find a job?
  • How would you evaluate me as an interviewer?


Interviewers will invariably probe into areas they perceive to be your weaknesses. They formulate questions and opinions based on your resume and the first impression. They will ask questions, for example, surrounding the number of jobs you have had, the absence of an advanced degree or certification, the reason it is taking you so long to find employment, the reason your pay is so low (or high) and so forth. Interviewers will also ask questions they believe will provide insight into your personality such as your ability to cope with pressure, get along with others, accept criticism and learn from mistakes. They will seek to uncover character flaws which could affect your performance. Each interviewer has a different style and level of investigative enthusiasm.

Your answers to questions that make you vulnerable need to be honest, brief and upbeat. Answer the question truthfully in one or two sentences. Imagine the conclusion an interviewer would draw if you took several minutes to discuss your weaknesses. Mold your responses to these questions to produce an optimistic image and outlook.

    Link the perceived weakness to a solution and means of overcoming it. "You are absolutely correct, I have never used Excel. But, given my extensive knowledge of Lotus, I will learn it quickly."
    Construct your answer so the negative is ultimately a positive characteristic. "What frustrates me the most is when I don't feel others are pulling their weight. I am aware of this weakness, and in those situations I try to overcome it with a positive attitude and hope that it catches on."
    Put your defective areas in the past. "When I first started out, I had problems with leaving an adequate audit trail. I messed up a couple of times. My manager gave me a few pointers which were very helpful. I learned from him. I think you'll find my workpaper techniques to be among the best around."
You will successfully survive a series of tough questions once you realize that all they really want to know is if you can do the job and whether you can take the pressure or not. The interviewer is trying to sort out the corporate warrior from the walking wounded. Stay calm. Remember that no one can intimidate you without your permission.


Interviewers ask a lot of questions and can phrase them in many ways. But they all boil down to these basic five:

    1."Why are you here?" They are wondering why you picked their company to seek employment.
    2."What can you do for us?" They are asking if you can do the job. Do you have the skill and knowledge? Can you handle the pressure?
    3."What kind of person are you?" They are wondering if you will complement or disrupt the department. Are you manageable?
    4.Assuming you can do the job, "what distinguishes you from the other twenty-five people who can also do the job?"
    5."Can we afford you?"


Salary discussions can be tricky. Simplify the process by letting the interviewer do most of the talking. DO NOT bring up the topic of salary or benefits. When asked, tell the interviewer your current or last salary. Simply state it and be quiet. Add nothing. When asked, tell the interviewer "If you feel like I'm a good fit for your company, I'm sure you will extend me a fair offer." Should the interviewer continue to ask for your desired compensation level, ask them to defer to your recruiter. NEVER name a number - your answer, be it too high or too low - could kill your candidacy.


  • Attempting to interview without preparation.
  • Failing to listen to a question.
  • Answering a question that was not asked.
  • Providing superfluous information.
  • Answering a question, when you don't know the answer.
  • Bad-mouthing any employer.


Thank the interviewer for his time and the opportunity to learn more about the company and the position. Tell the interviewer you are very interested in the career opportunity and are ready for the next step. Ask for the next interview. Send a follow-up letter.


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