Interview with Mary Greenwood, J.D., LL.M.
How to Interview Like a Pro: Forty-Three Rules for Getting Your Next Job
Mary Greenwood, J.D., LL.M.
Reviewed by Vicki Landes for Reader Views (12/10)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar is pleased to interview Mary Greenwood, who is here to talk about her new book “How to Interview Like a Pro: 43 Rules for Getting the Job You Want.”
Mary Greenwood is an attorney, mediator, and author of the award-winning books, “How to Negotiate like a Pro: 41 Rules for Resolving Disputes,” which has won six book awards and “How to Mediate Like a Pro: 42 Rules for Mediating Disputes,” which has won twelve book awards. She has a BA and MA in English, a Law Degree, and an LL.M. in Labor Law. Greenwood lives in Orlando, Florida. Her newest book, “How to Interview Like a Pro: 43 Rules for Getting the Job You Want” has been designated Editor’s Choice and Rising Star by iUniverse.
Tyler: Welcome, Mary. I’m excited to talk to you today. I know with the downturn in the economy a lot of people have been trying to find new employment and getting an interview is difficult enough. So to start out, Mary, why is this book a must if you are looking for a job?
Mary: What is unique about my book, “How to Interview Like a Pro,” is that it is based on my own experience as an applicant as well as my experience as a human resources director, attorney, and headhunter interviewer. At last count, I have had over twenty-five different jobs and I use personal anecdotes from these interviews to illustrate many of my rules.
Tyler: I understand the book has 43 Rules. Can you tell us a little about how it is organized and give us one or two examples of such rules?
Mary: The chapters are chronological. The first three chapters are how to get started and prepare for the interview. The fourth and fifth chapters give model answers for typical questions and show which questions are illegal to ask. The sixth and seventh chapters explain what to do after the interview and after a job offer is made. The first rule is “Getting a job is a full-time job.” If you already have a job, then you have two full-time jobs. My favorite rule is Rule 37. “Get the employer to make the first offer, but never accept the employer’s first offer.” You don’t want to leave any money on the table and as good as the offer may be, you generally want to sleep on it and discuss with your family before making a decision. Then you can ask for more money, which will either be accepted or you may get a counter offer.
Tyler: Mary, I would think that perhaps the most difficult part is actually getting the interview. Do you cover the pre-interview process at all, such as resumes and applicant letters?
Mary: It is very important that your resume look professional and have no typos. In addition, I believe a cover letter is more important than a resume since you can take the individual requirements of the job description and point out why you are the best candidate in your cover letter. As noted above, finding a job is a full-time job. That means that one must put in at least eight hours. Get up early, get dressed, and get going. Make luncheon dates with people who can help you. Of course, you will be sending out resumes on your computer, but you must also get out and about. Make a list of all your contacts and see who they know and what they know about upcoming positions. Many jobs are not even posted, so if you can find out about one, you may have a chance to get it.
Tyler: I understand you’ve been a longtime human resources director. Will you tell us a little about your role in human resources, which I assume included interviewing potential candidates, or deciding who would be interviewed based on resumes?
Mary: Yes, I have conducted many interviews and looked at many resumes. The biggest turnoff is seeing grammatical or spelling errors in the cover letter or the resume itself. It is true that one makes a snap judgment about a resume in a few seconds. The resume and letter should stand out, but not be too quirky. I have found it amazing what people wear when they pick up an application. I have seen short shorts and bedroom slippers. Do the applicants not know that it is the same people giving out the applications that may do the interviewing? The one thing applicants should know is that the whole process is the interview, not just the formal “interview” with questions.
Tyler: Mary, how common is it today that machines actually scan resumes for keywords to narrow down the number of applicants and do you have any suggestions for that type of situation? How can you know what the keywords are, or are there ways to make an impression so your resume is looked at without being scanned?
Mary: If you are applying to a major corporation, chances are the computer will be making the first cut. The computer is checking for keywords as you mention. It is important that your resume and cover letter include all the keywords that are in the job announcement or listing. It may seem simplistic to echo the same language as the job posting, but that can help you get by the first cut.
Tyler: Mary, how does your law degree tie in with human resources and your interest in interviewing strategies?
Mary: I have always been involved in employment and labor law. I have worked as in-house attorney for over twenty-five years and have taught employment law as a law school professor. Several years ago, I took a job as Director of Human Resources and have been involved in every facet of the hiring process. As an attorney, I wanted to include a chapter on interviewing and the law and gave a list of illegal questions.
Tyler: Beyond the resume, the interview really starts with the employer calling to invite the applicant for the interview. Do you have any tips for that initial phone call?
Mary: Usually these calls come out of the blue. Try to compose yourself and say how interested you are in the position. Be sure to write down all the information about the interview in case you may not remember the details. You may want to call back later with more questions after you have digested the fact that you have an interview.
Tyler: Mary, I used to be in management and interviewed many people, usually younger ones looking for their first jobs in an office environment. I was always amazed by how some of the candidates dressed, as if they were going out to work in the yard rather than apply for an office job. While it may be common sense to “dress up” or dress professionally for an interview, can a person overdo it? What would you recommend?
Mary: Yes, I agree. First the applicant needs to have an idea about the dress code. For example, we all know that working for Google or Facebook is going to be more casual than most other jobs. You can check the employer’s website to see how people are dressed. I recommend that a man wear a nice suit with a tie that is not too distracting or too wide. For women, I also recommend a nice suit or a jacket. It should fit properly and not be too tight or revealing. If one thinks an outfit might be too bright or loud, it probably is. Don’t wear anything distracting like clunky jewelry.
Tyler: Of course, there are certain questions people can expect to be asked, but what are some common questions you think people are typically asked that they may not expect?
Mary: One of my rules says to expect the question you do not want to answer. You know what it is. If you were fired, you need to know in advance what you are going to say about it. You need to explain the circumstances in the best light without lying. It is good to say what you learned about any uncomfortable situation like being fired or being suspended. Another tricky question is “Why do you want to leave your current job?” This is sort of a chicken and egg question. If the new job is a natural progression from the old job and in fact like a promotion, this is easy to explain. If you have been at the old job for less than a year, you could have a job-hopping problem. If you are having problems at the old job, you need to be very diplomatic. I give several answers in the book. For example, you could say, “I am ready for a challenge and I think this job provides this.” Also be wary about saying anything bad about previous bosses. If there was a personality conflict, be careful how you phrase the issue.
Tyler: Nervousness is of course a factor during an interview. What can a person who is typically nervous do to prepare for the interview and not to appear nervous when interviewed?
Mary: Preparation, preparation, preparation. The more one prepares, the less nervous one is. Do your research and then practice or rehearse your answers to the various questions. I have listed 26 questions and that covers most issues. My intent is not that you memorize the answers, but that the applicant prepares his or her own answer to the questions provided. They are food for thought. The applicant needs to do a lot of research about the company so that when the employer asks what you know about the company or the position, you don’t say you don’t know anything about it.
Tyler: What do you recommend if you’re thrown a question you completely don’t know how to answer. For example, I once was asked “What kinds of things do you find funny?” I think the employer wanted to know that I had a sense of humor and would get along with the other employees, but I remember my mind going blank as I tried to think of examples. What would you recommend in a situation like this?
Mary: That is a good question. When my mind goes blank, and everyone’s does at one time or other, I usually say something like, “I know it is an easy question, but my mind has gone blank. Can we go on to another question and maybe I will think of something later on. Usually they won’t bring it up again and if you do think of something, you can add it to the end.
Tyler: How important are things like posture and body language during an interview?
Mary: They are very important. Studies have shown that body language and tone are more important than the words themselves. The applicant should be engaged throughout the interview process. That shows in the body language. You need to be alert and ask good questions. An applicant needs to project confidence, so sitting hunched over with your arms crossed is not going to get you a callback.
Tyler: Mary, one thing your book also covers is illegal interview questions. Will you give us a few examples of what would qualify as illegal questions?
Mary: Basically every question should be job-related. Here are some examples of illegal questions:
- What kind of accent is that? This is an illegal way to determine someone’s national origin.
- Where were your grandparents born? Questions about ancestry or national origin are prohibited.
- Are you an American Indian? What tribe? Questions about race are prohibited.
- Are you pregnant? Questions about pregnancy are sex discrimination and are prohibited.
- Do you believe in God? This is religious discrimination and prohibited.
- When are you planning on retiring? This is age discrimination and prohibited.
- When were you born? This is an attempt to find out age and is prohibited.
Tyler: What should an interviewee do if he or she is asked an illegal question? Should the person call the interviewer on it; won’t people risk not getting the job if they do so?
Mary: This is an excellent question. The answer to this depends on how much you want the job. If you really want the job, you may want to give a light-hearted answer and say something like this: I am sure that you know you cannot ask that question, but I have nothing to hide. I have two children, ages three and four, and they go to daycare. If you are personally affronted by the questions, you can tell the employer that you know your rights under the discrimination laws and that even though you are very interested in the position, you are going to refuse to answer the question. I have included a lot of resources in appendices C and D concerning federal and state fair employment agencies.
Tyler: I’ve also found that many interviewers may be new at interviewing or simply too busy to prepare for the interview—what can an interviewee do when the interviewer is clueless about how to interview?
Mary: I always recommend that any applicant have a list of questions ready so that when the interview is over, he or she can ask some good questions and also appear engaged in the process. This might also help when the interviewer has not been responsive. Sometimes turning the tables gives the candidate some of the information he or she needs to determine whether to take the job or not.
Tyler: Mary, I’m sure a lot of people out interviewing for jobs now have lost jobs they had for many years. What significant differences do you think there are for such people being interviewed today compared to when they went through the interview process twenty or even just five or ten years ago?
Mary: The Internet is much more important in the job search now. A resume can be sent into cyberspace at a click of the mouse. Everyone can google now so that if you did something embarrassing or illegal, it is much easier to find out about it. There is a lot more competition now with so many applicants for a job. We had a position at City of Winter Park last year and we had over 500 applications for one position. Candidates have to figure out a way to stand out from the other employees.
Tyler: Mary, are there any other rules of etiquette for interviewing. For example, aren’t there polite and practical reasons for sending a follow-up thank you letter after the interview, or is that seen as pushy? I have always sent them myself, but found maybe only one in twenty people I interviewed ever sent them.
Mary: Sending a thank you note is one of my rules. I don’t think it is pushy; I think it is smart. It does give the candidate a chance to say he or she is still interested and to ask any questions that may have occurred since the interview.
Tyler: Mary, “How to Interview Like a Pro” is the third of your “Like a Pro” books. Do you have plans for any more?
Mary: I plan to write more books. I am thinking about “How to Arbitrate Like a Pro” or “How to Negotiate With Your Dog Like a Pro.”
Tyler: Can I ask what is one of the strangest interview stories you have, either as the interviewer or the interviewee?
Mary: My son who is an attorney called an applicant to try to schedule an interview. Since he is busy and was doing other things that day, he suggested having lunch. She said that she was looking for a job and did not have time for lunch. My son was shocked and asked her whether she was really looking for a job. She somehow did not get that he was asking her for an interview and the lunch was a convenience. After she did understand, it was too late. He was never going to hire her after she made that comment.
Tyler: Mary, besides the awards from iUniverse, what responses have you received so far for “How to Interview Like a Pro”? What have people told you they found most helpful about the book?
Mary: I have been told they especially like the anecdotes from my personal experience and that the book is relevant for job applicants in today’s struggling economy. They like the model answers for the various interview questions and the lists of illegal questions. One review said it was THE book for the “down and dirty” for learning how to interview in the most professional and prepared way possible.
Tyler: Thank you, Mary, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before you go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information our readers can find there about “How to Interview Like a Pro: 43 Rules for Getting the Job You Want”?
Mary: As mentioned above, I have a lot of information in the appendices; the do’s and don’ts of interviewing, a glossary, and state and federal laws and resources. My website is www.MaryGreenwood.org and it has a lot of information about all my books as well as reviews and articles.