Once you’ve made it through an interview, your initial job-applicant fears (What questions will they ask? How long will it take to get there?) are typically replaced by a new set: Did they like you? Are you better than the other candidates? Will you get called back for the second round? And of course it doesn’t help when well-meaning friends bombard you with questions trying to figure out how the big day went. If only you knew!
Well, good news: Richard Bolles of What Color is Your Parachute? fame is here to help. In his recently published book, Guide to Rethinking Interviews, he offers advice for the entire interview process. One part of the book of particular interest to me (and likely you) covers how to tell if your interview is going well. The signal, he explains, is rather simple:
The more the time frame of the interviewer’s questions moves from the past toward the future, the more favorably you may assume the interview is going for you. On the other hand, if the interviewer’s questions always stay firmly in the past, this is a bad sign.
He advises that you make a quick and quiet note of the time frame of the questions you’re asked as the interview progresses. If the interview is going swimmingly (and assuming the hiring manager isn’t sticking to a script of predetermined questions), the questions should go through five predictable stages.
- The Distant Past
- The Immediate Past
- The Present
- The Immediate Future
- The Distant Future
A “distant past” question might sound something like, “How did you get started in this field?” and an “immediate past” question would be a more along the lines of, “Tell me about a major project you lead at your most recent position.” A “present” question focuses more on your current interests and skills such as, “What kind of projects would you like to work on?” And finally, “immediate future” questions might be about scheduling the next interview, while “distant future” questions are likely some variation of the standard, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” (Here are 31 more questions you might be asked.)
Of course, not all interviews will follow this structure (so no need to panic), but it doesn’t hurt to try paying attention to this at your next interview. If your meeting does indeed follow this structure, it could give you a much-needed confidence boost. Or, if you notice that it’s half an hour in and your interviewer’s questions are still squarely stuck in the past, consider it your cue to really start impressing. Try telling stories in your interview answers to show off your skills in a more memorable way, or take a shot at these five ways to show the interviewer you’d be a great hire.
Whatever the case might be, consider this little trick another tool to interviewing success.
Photo of thumbs up courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author