Cool Off the Hot Seat! Tips for 'Acing' Your Job Interview

Cool Off the Hot Seat! Tips for 'Acing' Your Job Interview

by Rebecca Rothman McCoy

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You're sitting across the desk from an interviewer and the butterflies in your stomach feel like hummingbirds. Your palms are sweating, your heart is racing. You want this job. You need this job! You wonder if the interviewer notices your discomfort. And what can you say to set you apart from all the others? Yes, you're certainly in the hot seat now, but careful… See more details below


You're sitting across the desk from an interviewer and the butterflies in your stomach feel like hummingbirds. Your palms are sweating, your heart is racing. You want this job. You need this job! You wonder if the interviewer notices your discomfort. And what can you say to set you apart from all the others? Yes, you're certainly in the hot seat now, but careful preparation can help you stay cool, calm, and collected. Is there some hidden magical secret which will help you to land this job? Not really, but if you are unsure of what to say or do and don't know the tricks that can set you apart from your competition, then this book is for you! Written by a staffing industry professional with more than twelve years of interviewing experience, Cool Off the Hot Seat! answers all your questions about job interviewing, from obtaining the interview to the follow-up afterwards. Here are just a few topics you will read about: * Tips on how to research companies you are interested in * Making a great first impression * Appropriate clothing and accessories * Answers for those tough questions * What the interviewer is looking for * The most effective ways to do assertive follow-ups * Working with recruiters In addition, there is a special bonus section on how to do media interviews like a pro! This guerilla guide to interviewing gives you all of the substance you need, with none of the fluff you don't. You won't be bored with theory or have to wade through obscure statistics in this book. Everything is designed to get you up and running as fast as possible, while covering all the important areas you'll need for a successful job interview. You can read the book start to finish, or use it as areference book, flipping to the chapter dealing with your particular situation. Either way, you're bound to find many helpful hints that you can use immediately to boost your interviewing confidence and presence!

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Chapter One: Why Am I Here? And What Do I Do Now?

Knowing how to confidently be interviewed is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life. It applies in numerous areas, but is perhaps the best known in connection with the job interview. While the majority of this book assumes that you have already obtained an interview, you don't need to have an interview lined up in order to learn more about the process. It is important to review a few of the steps which lead up to getting that interview in the first place, because how you obtained the interview can have an affect on the interview itself. There is a lot of information to cover here before we can get to the interviewing portion, so let's get started, shall we?

1) What Do I Want?

This may sound like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people overlook it. Ask yourself, "Why do I want a job?"

Are you unhappy with your current employment situation? Are you a homemaker returning to the work force? A student looking for additional income while in school? Do you just want to have something to do to occupy your time? Do you want to contribute to the family finances?

Ask yourself what your purpose for job hunting really is. This information is crucial to determining the right job for you, and will aid you during your interview.

2) Is It Me?

Now that you know exactly why you are seeking employment, consider your strengths and weaknesses. What do you think would enable you to meet your objective, as set forth in the first step, and at the same time simply make you happy? If you are an artist, you probably won't be happy doing assembly-line work, no matterhow much it pays. If you are mechanically-inclined, it's unlikely that editing or writing will give you job satisfaction. Match up your talents and interests with potential jobs. See if there are any which will leave you satisfied AND meet your goals. If you're stuck, try imagining yourself actually doing that work, in that sort of working environment. Many times your gut will tell you whether or not that job is acceptable, long before your brain does.

Don't get bogged down in titles and terminology. In many cases, especially for newspaper want ads or short job postings, you may need to contact the employer for a description of duties and responsibilities. Pay attention to these carefully, as they will tell you what you will actually be doing if hired. A title of "Customer Service Liaison" may sound impressive, but if the job duties are primarily taking orders and serving customers, you may find yourself working in fast food...albeit with a nifty-sounding title. In effect, you want to be concerned with what the job does, not the title. You may find that your interests and ideal duties have a completely different job title from one company to another, even entirely different industries. Be open to a myriad of possibilities!

3) About That Resume...

A common misconception I have encountered more times than I can count is that a resume (C.V.) has to include your life story. It most assuredly does NOT. Here are a few facts about resumes:

A resume should be tailored to the specific job you are seeking. Generic resumes may cover a lot of ground, but they don't tell the interviewer why you feel THIS job is right for you and your talents/experience.

Resumes do not have to include your entire work history, nor even your entire recent work history. You should list the jobs you have held which directly pertain to the job for which you are applying. You may also list jobs which have indirect relevance to your ideal job. For those who are uneasy about this, the solution is simple: Use the heading "Relevant Work History" and include a small section afterwards that includes your other employment. Always include months and years of your employment, not just years.

There are many different styles of resumes which are commonly used. The two most common are chronological and functional. Chronological resumes are best for people who have remained in a single career field and have progressively moved upwards in position and responsibility. The majority of people would do best with functional resumes or a mix of functional and chronological, either of which can be modified according to qualifications or skills. Functional resumes focus on the applicant's abilities and skills, rather than work history. They're also great for the job hopper, people returning to the work force after an extended absence, or for military families who are uprooted frequently. KNOW WHICH STYLE SUITS BOTH YOUR NEEDS AND THE TARGETED JOB BEST.

A resume is supposed to get your foot in the door. Its primary objective is to obtain an interview. It may then be placed in your employee file (if you are hired), but the main purpose is to get that all-important interview. It is not forbidden to tease the reader somewhat, and in fact, this often helps your resume stand out in a reader's memory. Include enough material to show that you are indeed a qualified candidate, but be brief enough that the reader feels the need to call you for an interview just to add detail to some of your resume material. Be professional, but keep in mind that you are trying to "seduce" the reader into calling you in for a personal meeting (interview). I sometimes think of the resume as a professional personals ad.

In general, you should have a resume tailored to the target job. If you have to create or modify your resume for every single job you want, so be it. It's worth the time and effort. Know which style of resume works best for you. Use action words as often as possible, and tempt the reader with qualifications and hints at other experience that will benefit the company at which you are applying.


If you need assistance in creating a resume, there are a lot of books out there and other resource materials that can assist you in creating a knock-out resume. You may also wish to check out your word processor program; many have resume templates. Also, there are resume-preparation services which can be used. A word of caution on this, however: Only you know your own experience and skills. The best resume preparers will sit down with you for a one-on-one and ask you many questions about yourself. It's a lengthy interview in and of itself, but the end result is a personalized resume. The downside is that you may or may not feel comfortable modifying the resume yourself when a slightly different job opening comes along. Your best bet is to learn how to do your own resume, but how you choose to develop your resume is completely your choice.

4) Where and How Do I Send My Resume?

In this day and age, you can submit resumes via email, fax, mail, or in person. Pay attention to the application directions provided by the company. For example, if they ask for email submissions only, do so. Don't send it via fax. Respect the company's wishes, and show from the start that you pay attention to detail and can follow instructions.

Always include a cover letter with your resume. I won't go into cover letters here, as there are again many valuable resources which delve into this topic in more detail. Suffice it to say though, a cover letter serves as your personal introduction and is often the first impression a prospective employer will have of you. Take your time to do a good, thorough job with your cover letter!

I will mention that in your cover letter, which should be no longer than a single page, you should state that you will be following up your submission with a phone call. Specify the day you will be calling, and be sure to do so. This will help the hiring staff to learn your name before you even walk in the door for your interview.


At this point, you should have a very clear idea of what you want to do, what you CAN do, and what will be most likely to keep you happy in the workplace. Remember these things. Write them down if you must. You will need to use these things in your interview, even if nobody comes right out and asks you about them.

You should also have a good idea of what a resume is and is not intended to do. Remember to use action words and brag about yourself! If you don't, who will? How else will a potential employer know what you have done before and may do for the company? Be sure to modify your resume according to the position you desire, and always follow the directions you are provided regarding means and method of submitting your resume. Take the time to find out the name (and spell it correctly!) of the Human Resources director or whomever will be conducting the interview. This shows you have done your homework and are not just mass-applying for work.

Chapter Two: Researching the Company

I cannot stress this enough: DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST!!!

If you're going to be interviewed, be sure to do some research on the company before you go in and sit in that chair. Although this is far more important in the corporate world or in a large company setting, even small "Mom and Pop" businesses appreciate the time you've taken to do the necessary research. During the interview, you may be asked about the company. Common questions include:

; Why do you want to work here?

; How did you find out about us?

; What do you think has been this company's major achievement in the last year?

; How can you contribute to improving the company?

; What talents will you bring to the company?

; What do you see as the biggest issues facing those in this field/industry?

...and so forth.

Now, you could probably bluff your way through them, and many do, but just imagine how much more favorably you will be viewed if you have intelligent answers that actually pertain specifically to the company!

As far as researching techniques, there are a few basic tips (in no particular order):

1) Research the company's record with the Better Business Bureau and the local Chamber of Commerce. You can do this by phone, in person, or through the Internet.

2) Write to the company and request a copy of their annual report (if they have one).

3) Ask people who work there what the experience is like, if it is what they thought it would be when they were hired, working conditions, schedule flexibility, career advancement, family emergencies...anything that is of importance to you. This might include a dress code (business wear, casual, bare feet allowed, etc.) and/or use of music while on the job. It may be helpful for you to make a list of the important issues in your desired working environment before you go talking to current employees or visiting prospective employers. That way, you won't inadvertently overlook a critical subject.

If the company is in the retail industry, or an establishment which has walk-in customers, go to the company and pretend to be a customer. Check out the dress code, working environment, how the employees appear to get along, whether the mood is tense or relaxed, how busy the place is, and so on. You may wish to repeat this visit a few other times at different times of day and week to get a better picture of the overall operation.

Read industry magazines/newspapers to find out the current trends, issues, and concerns. If you wanted to work at a video store, for example, you might read entertainment magazines or watch entertainment-oriented news programs. It might help you in the interview to know what items are shoplifted most, when new releases come out on video from the time movies were in the theater, and who starred in recent popular movies.

I once worked at a video store, and one of the interview questions I had was to name ten of my favorite movies, who starred in them, and to make sure that I included at least three or four different categories of film in my response. (Action, Fantasy, Romance, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Drama, etc.) Having done some research, I knew that certain movies were often misclassified on shelves, so I was careful not to include those films (even though one was an all-time favorite of mine) to avoid any confusion on the interviewer's part.

6) Look at who the company's competitors are and do some research on them as well. Again, it's good to know walking into an interview that if you are asked a question on the company's performance and/or goals, you can answer honestly and ALSO bring up how the company's actions have been in relation to other companies in the same field. This works especially well if you are interviewing at a company viewed as an industry leader.

7) Use the library. Don't be afraid to ask the librarians for help; that's their job, and many enjoy the hands-on experience of helping patrons locate materials. They know the library better than you time and effort by asking for assistance from the start.

Almost any method you can imagine to learn about the company will be helpful. You may not be asked about the company itself, but your self-confidence will be boosted with your information and that will shine through to the interviewer. Being prepared, even over-prepared, is never a bad thing.

Chapter Three: Some Notes on Psychology

You might be wondering what psychology has to do with interviewing. It has EVERYTHING to do with interviewing, really. While I was earning my psychology degree, I did a specialized class in the science and art of influence and persuasion. Tactics, strategies, and a great deal more were all a part of this course. What I found out was pretty amazing, and pretty obvious once told.... Unconscious and subconscious observations can play a direct and very potent role in how a person acts consciously.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of all the psychological studies, there are two main things for you to know.

1) How you influence the interviewer.

2) How the interviewer influences you.

An interviewer often has a pretty clear idea of what s/he is looking for in an applicant. Your goal is to figure out what that might be, and act accordingly if you want the job. You already know about researching the company, as discussed in chapter two. Part of that research involves looking at how employees dress, attitudes, and other interpersonal relationships, while also observing the workplace itself.

You can put together a snapshot of the "typical" employee through your research, and decide from the job description if that snapshot would include your desired job. If it does, then you should consider attempting to mimic that "typical" employee in your interview. If the uniform is a blue company shirt with khaki pants, you may want to wear a blue top and light brown or khaki pants or a skirt. If the interviewer can SEE you as an employee, s/he is unconsciously influenced in your favor. Just don't overdo it.

Likewise, your actions can go a long way in influencing an interviewer. Body language is very powerful, yet very subtle. In later chapters, I will be discussing some of the body language you should use and some you should watch out for when you're in the process of the interview itself.


Many times an interviewer will be influenced by things that s/he is not even aware of at the time. Scent, the sound of your voice, how you look, even your name can all be factors. If you doubt that, think of all the times you have had a gut reaction to someone (positive or negative) and didn't know why, only to realize later that the individual reminded you of someone you already knew. You know nothing about the new person, yet you've already made assumptions about him or her based on prior experience. Your interviewer, being human too, is quite likely to do the same thing. That's why it's important to know your material and present yourself professionally...and that includes appropriate body language, appearance, and courtesies.

You can have a tremendous impact upon your interviewer without ever having met face to face. Impressions are being formed from the moment you consider applying for a position. That much is fairly well-known, but not as many people stop to think about how an interviewer or even the interview itself can have an effect upon YOU and your performance.

Many textbooks on influence and persuasion talk about the importance of authority and the role it plays in a person's attitudes. Studies have repeatedly shown that if a person in uniform asks a passer-by to do something, it's more likely to be done than if a person in street clothes asks the same question of a passer-by. Why is this? We are "programmed" from birth, if you will, to accept authority with a minimum of questioning. Authority comes in many flavors, from a particular or prestigious title, to a uniform like a police officer, military personnel, or even a business suit. We assume that people with one or more of these qualities are people in positions of authority and responsibility, so we accept them as such far more readily.

For many, authority figures invoke a certain amount of trepidation. They make us nervous. Who knows what these people are doing, what they know, what they could ask us to do? We think they must be terribly busy doing important things, or that they have the power to uncover personal secrets we'd prefer remain private. There is an element of fear and power in authority figures, and it's important that you know this going into an interview. Be prepared for it. We are often nervous about an interview because there is an element of authority there--this person holds our future in his or her hands--and there is an element of uncertainty as well. We have no idea what will be asked of us. It's like a pop quiz on a subject we're not studying. However, if you've researched the company beforehand, you'll have some solid information to work with during your interview.

The power and fear of authority is a major reason so many people choke during interviews. They are not prepared to sit across a sometimes imposing desk and discuss their reasons for wanting to work at this particular place. They get nervous. They see the interviewer as being "out to get them" instead of simply trying to learn more about them.

As a person about to be interviewed, you need to realize that self-confidence and the display of self-confidence is very welcome and positive for you. The interviewer will be put more at ease, and so will you. Try not to think of the interviewer as an authority figure, if you can. Instead, imagine that you are being interviewed by a friend who wants your opinions on various topics relating to this company they heard of. In your mind, you can prepare yourself for the interview by running the following scenario, or one like it:

Your friend: Say, I just heard about this company, ABC. Seems they're looking for some new people to work there. I know you were looking for a job; maybe you should think about applying there?

You: Oh, I know a lot about them already. They seem like a (your choice of adjective) place to work.

Your friend: Really? I have this friend who's also interested in working there. Could you talk to him/her a bit about what you have learned and why you might want to work there?

You: Sure. How's (your appointment time) sound?

Your friend: Great! I'll have them meet you at (place) and you can talk about it!

In this scenario, the person you're going to meet is your interviewer. By thinking of them in this way, it suddenly becomes a lot less intimidating. You will be more relaxed and confident. Remember, too, that you are not expected to know everything there is to know about the company. "Reasonably well-informed" is what you're shooting for, as it will tell the interviewer that you know why you're there.

I've used the scenario outlined above myself, and I can say that it's helped me be much calmer and more focused in my interviews. In turn, that influences the interviewer. I've had interviews where the interviewer is rushed and terse, but my attitude (considering the interviewer a friend in need of information rather than an interrogator) has calmed the interviewer down and we've gone on to have a very nice, productive chat. You may use the described scenario or something similar throughout the week of your interview and then run it again as you're waiting to go in. It's the same principle as in sports psychology...repetition and positive visualization can help you a great deal.


To review:

Your actions and appearance can play a major role in the interviewer's attitude towards you before the interview even gets started. Many times the interviewer will not be aware of this, but you should be and plan to use your knowledge to influence the interviewer in your favor. This could be through courteous behavior, dress, confidence, and body language.

The interviewer's very role can be intimidating to some people. Know how you react to authority and power figures. Increase your odds of success by preparing for the interview as best you can, with company information, your goals, and what you expect to do for the company. If you have the information portion of the interview nailed, you can feel free to concentrate on the interpersonal issues you may have regarding the interview itself. As said in the dating game, "Confidence is a turn-on", and the same is true for interviewers. Think of the interviewer as a friend in need of information, not a goblin out to get you. You will relax and things will progress more smoothly for both of you.

The rest of this book will assume psychological undercurrents for many of the actions and suggestions given. Psychology plays a major role in all aspects of life, and interviewing is no exception. If something strikes you as a little odd, ask yourself if there might not be a reason behind it, something that might potentially influence an interviewer. Many times you'll find that with a little thought, you can turn just about anything to your advantage by considering the psychological effects upon others.

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