Face it: the job market sucks. Interviewing and not getting the job sucks, too. The good news? There are a few simple things you can do to make yourself stand out from other applicants and greatly increase your odds of landing the job. Doing these things will require a little bit of effort and time, but they’re well worth it.
Why does anyone get hired?
When you cut through all the noise, there are only a few reasons why anyone gets hired:
- You possess the technical skills – you can do the job
- You seem likable and a “good fit” – you can get along with others
- You display energy and initiative – you have passion and energy
I can’t help you with the first at all. Hopefully you have the requisite skill set for the job. If not, go back to school or look for another job. If you can’t do it, you aren’t going to get the job. And you do somehow manage to bullshit your way into a job you’re unqualified for, you may very well be headed to an unhappy place.
As for fit and people skills, I would simply encourage you to be upbeat and friendly with everyone you meet at the interviewing company without going overboard and seeming phony. Basically, if ya got it, ya got it. If you don’t, it’s hard to fake. If you’re by nature an introvert, you’ll have to do the best you can; with time and a bit more perspective and maturity, this will get easier, and you’ll get better.
What one thing will set you apart from every other applicant?
This leaves us with the third factor listed above. A simple truth, from someone who’s interviewed people for 30+ years: most people – sorry, there’s no more effective way to express it – do a really shitty job of preparing for interviews.
For you, that’s fantastic news. The bar is set pretty low.
I’ve interviewed executive level candidates who’ve done little more than spend a few minutes on our website prior to their interview. To me, that conveys that they don’t care about the job, they’re lazy or complacent, and aren’t the kind of people I want to have working at our company. If they don’t care enough to do a thorough job of prepping for an interview, how will they approach their job?
The very same principle applies to you, even if you’re applying for your first or second job.
What can you do? What’s that one thing which will set you apart? One word: research.
If you immediately have visions of slaving away in a dark corner in a library, surrounded by piles of books and scholarly journals, relax. It’s not nearly as terrifying as that. It may even be a little fun.
A practical example
A young relative, 26, is seeking a job as a management trainee with a large, well known chain of sporting goods stores. Prior to his initial interview, he gave me a call.
We talked about the position, and some of the basics – dress appropriately, bring some resumes, be able to clearly convey why you want the job and what you believe you’d bring to the company, how it relates to your education, and so forth. Pretty much standard stuff.
“What else can I do? Anything?,” he asked.
“Absolutely”, I replied. I suggested he visit another store in the chain – not the one he’d be interviewing at, and approach several employees. “They’ll all be about your age, and they’ll all have gone through the interview process. Tell them who you are, and that you’ll be interviewing for a job at the “X” store. Ask them about the interview process, how the company approached it, what sort of questions they asked, how many people interviewed them, and what they feel the company is looking for. That’ll help you prepare, and feel more prepared when you interview.”
“Hmm. Yeah, good idea. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Tell the interviewer that you did this.”
“What?! Tell him??”
“Yes. Without a doubt. Tell him. No one else he interviews will have done this. Subtly mention that you spoke to a few people at the “Z” location, that you wanted to get a sense of the company, and how it approaches interviews. What you’ll really be communicating is this: you care, you want the job and are motivated, and you took the initiative to do something extra.”
My logic is simple: if you display energy and initiative when it comes to the interview and preparing for it, it’s only natural for the interviewer to conclude that you’ll be energetic on the job. (By the way: you need to deliver on this promise, should you get the job!)
A second interview
As it turns out, the initial interview went well; his second interview is this week.
He called over the holiday weekend. We chatted about the first interview, what he learned, how many are being called back for a second time (four), and when he was interviewing. Eventually the conversation turned to any extras he could do to prepare.
I thought for a few seconds… “What other major sporting goods stores are there in your area?” He listed a few. “Take your day off, and get yourself a little notebook. Visit every one of those stores. Take notes on how the products are merchandised, the staff, how the store is laid out, how attractive the displays are, how broad the product selection is – anything that’s important from a consumer’s standpoint.” I thought for a few more seconds, “And then go back to the the interviewing company’s store, and do the very same thing. See if you can pick out two or three things that the company does better than the competition. And… see if you notice anything where they’re not doing as good a job.”
“And find a way to tell the interviewer during the interview, right?” he ventured.
“Of course. No one else will have done this. I can practically guarantee it. Doing this will set you apart from every other candidate.”
“Uh, I don’t know if I want to tell him something negative about their store.”
“Then don’t. But… if he asks if you saw anything that could use some improvement, mention it as diplomatically as you can. You don’t need to be negative, and you can temper it a bit, but if he asks, it’s ok to mention it.”
By now you know my reasoning. Anything that distinguishes you from the other interviewees, that conveys your passion, interest, and initiative, is priceless when it comes to interviewing.
Applicable to any type of position
I’ve used a retail example, but this same approach is valid for nearly any position.
If interviewing at a manufacturing firm, check out its products and competitive products at retail stores. If the interviewing firm’s products are sold at distributors, visit a few; ask some questions; visit distributors who carry competing lines. If applying for a job at a bank, visit a couple of branches; do some online research in trends in banking; talk to someone who works at that bank.
It’s simple. You want to convey passion, energy, and initiative. The simplest way to do this is to do some basic pre-interview research, field or otherwise, and then mention that fact when you interview. It works.
If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to Practical Hacks.
…and if you have some surefire interview techniques you’d like to share, please comment.