"We'd like you to come in for an interview." These are both the most exciting (next to "You've got the job!") and most terrifying words you can hear during the job search process. Getting the interview is a critical step in the job hunt, but performing well during the interview is THE most important thing you need to accomplish in order to get the position.
The key to a good interview is preparation. Ask anyone who has acted, given a sales presentation or presented to an audience and they'll tell you that you win or lose the moment during the preparation phase.
Preparing for an interview involves four activities:
- - Research
- - Learning what to expect
- - Practice
- - Logistics
Being prepared for an interview will help to build your confidence and make you comfortable. These in turn will help you relax and this is when your performance will improve.
Knowing as much as you can about the company you're interviewing with, the interviewer and the interview process is critical to success during the interview. Research and asking questions prior to the interview will help you prepare properly.
The research you should do is similar to the research you did to find the company in the first place, but should be more detailed and focused on activities specific to the job you're interviewing for and the people you'll be meeting with. Research tools you can use to gather this information include:
- - General Search Engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc... )
- - Social Media (Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter)
- - Industry Associations
- - Better Business Bureau
- - Chamber of Commerce
- - Data.com (Contact Information)
- - EDGAR (Financials)
The information you obtain from your research can be used to:
- - Help you develop talking points
- - Prepare you to frame your answers to the interviewer's questions in terms relevant to the company's activities, objectives and initiatives,
- - Know some details about the interviewer
- - Develop the questions you will ask during the interview.
Asking questions prior to the interview will eliminate any surprises and help you to prepare for each aspect of the interview. Information you need to collect includes;
- - Who you will be meeting with, their title and what their role in the interview process and the job you are interviewing for is.
- - The schedule for the interview and if there will be any breaks (in the case of multiple interviews during the process.)
- - Who will act as your sponsor to ensure the interview process proceeds as scheduled
- - Any logistical items you need to be aware of (i.e., parking, sign-in and security procedures, what the company dress code is (more on this later) and what they are expecting you to bring to the interview.
What to Expect
In addition to knowing as much as you can about the company, the interviewer(s) and the logistics, you should be prepared to answer the questions you'll be asked. It's not possible to know every question and the appropriate answer, but most interviewers ask a standard set to questions common to the specific position you're applying for. Knowing the subject matter is obvious and you probably wouldn't have gotten the interview unless you were qualified in this area. Knowing the type of questions the interviewer will ask in order to learn more about you is something you can prepare for. This will build your confidence and help you to relax during the interview and when you're relaxed you perform better. There are generally three types of questions you can expect:
The first set of questions you can expect are general and open-ended. They are meant to solicit background information about you and to elaborate on items in your resume'. The first question usually can be answered with your Positioning Statement. Other ones you should know from your knowledge and experience.
Behavioral questions are designed to determine how you have or will react to common scenarios which occur in the workplace. These require you to discuss specific situations, your actions and why you responded in this manner. Typical behavioral questions involve employee interactions, responses to business related items and other issues found in the workplace. A good way to respond to these is the STAR method: Describe the Situation, discuss the Tactics you used and the Action you took then describe the Results.
Just about every interviewer has been taught to ask a question similar to "Tell me about a weakness of yours?" This is meant to elicit what you're not confident about. It's also meant to make you a little uncomfortable to see how you react. Responding to this question is easy if you're prepared. Three strategies are:
- - Respond with an issue which isn't directly related to the job ("I'm not very mechanically inclined, so fixing equipment is not my strength").
- - Respond with a weakness which was an issue, but has since been resolved ("It used to be hard to give corrective feedback to people who work for me. However, when I realized it improves performance, it became easier.")
- - Respond with a strength, but tell it as a weakness ("I require absolute accuracy in financial reports").
Being prepared to answer the "Toughest" question and addressing it directly will make an impression on the person interviewing you and set you apart from the candidates who stumble on this.
Questions You Need To Ask
One study showed that 82% of employers feel it's very important for a candidate to ask questions at the interview. Easier said than done! What do you ask when, at the end of the interview, the hiring manager says, "So - do you have any questions for me?" here are a few you could use. Write them down in a little notebook, and if necessary, refer to them during the interview. You won't look foolish - you'll look prepared. Some sample questions include:
- - Can you tell me more about what duties this position will involve?
- - Will there be a training period?
- - What is the average tenure of your employees?
- - What do you like about the corporate culture here?
- - How long have you worked here? How would you compare this to your former positions?
- - What relationship does your department have with other organizations within the company?
- - When do you think you'll be making a decision?
- - What are our next steps?
Being prepared and interviewing the interviewer will set you apart from other applicants.
An old joke goes that a young man stopped an older gentleman on the streets of New York and asked "Excuse me sir, can you tell me how I can get to Carnegie Hall?" The older man thought about it for a minute and said "Practice son, practice."
Top performers in the arts, sports, business and other endeavors all have one thing in common; they tend to practice more than their peers and competitors. That's why they make what they do look so easy. They've done it many times before and they are confident with their ability to perform.
No other component of the interview preparation process is more important than to practice. If you've done your research properly you know everything you can about the company, the position and the people you'll be talking to. You should have collected lists of both general and behavioral based questions you can expect. You already have a response to the "Toughest" question prepared. You have a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer. However, being armed with all this information will not help if you've never used it before.
You should spend some time each day prior to the interview reviewing the information and practicing your answers to the anticipated questions. You can either do this yourself in front of a mirror or enlist a family member or friend to help you. The more you do this the better prepared you'll be. As the interview progresses and you're comfortable with how it's going you'll start to relax and perform better. You've reached interview nirvana!
The last item you need to address when preparing for an interview is the logistics. These the list of things you should ask the interview coordinator and some additional items. Being prepared for these will help to calm you down and ensure that you arrive at the interview on time and ready for your meeting.
Knowing a little about the corporate culture and company dress code is important. You should always dress one level above the dress code. If the standard is business casual (open collared shirts, casual pants, etc... ) you should wear a jacket and tie (men) or business suit with pants or skirt (women). If the norm is casual (jeans & t-shirt) show up in a button down shirt and casual pants (but not jeans).
Know how long it will take you to park and go through the security procedures. Add ten minutes to this estimate and plan to arrive at the interview with time to accomplish this.
Drive to the interview location at the same time as the scheduled interview several days before to determine how long it will take and to see if there are any traffic issues you need to be prepared for. Add another ten minutes to this to ensure that you arrive promptly. If you're early you can use the time to review your preparation materials or listen to music to relax you (classical) or get you pumped up (arena rock!) If you take public transportation or use another manner to get to the interview, go through the same process but add thirty minutes to the estimated travel time.
Another tactic you can add to your interview preparation procedure is to bring along several Thank You cards with your return address, postage and the company name and address already on the envelopes. After the interview, add the names of the people you spoke with. Then write a brief note thanking each one of them for their time and expressing your opinion of the job, the company or some aspect of the interview process. Mail the cards as soon as possible after the interview and use a mailbox or post office near the company location. This will ensure that they get your card as soon as possible. It's unlikely that any of the other candidates will do this so you'll stand out.
Proper preparation for an interview (or any other activity in life) will not ensure success, but it will give you a better chance and make you feel more comfortable and confident which generally results in a better outcome.
Best of luck with your job search!