Here’s a sad truth: you are just one of many, many people looking for a job today.
Here’s another: If your job interview prep involves Doritos, beer, and G4tv or MTV, you’re going to be looking for a long time.
There are some basic things you need to understand about the process and if you don’t, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
The good news? None of this is particularly difficult. It just requires some thought and yes, work.
Even better? Make these basic things part of your job interview routine, and you’ll be more confident and better prepared as you approach each interview…
1. Timing is everything
Simply put: interview later in the process. I’d liken this to American Idol – the contestants who perform later in the show will be fresher in the viewers’ memory, and as a result will have an advantage. Same thing applies here. Plus, as companies interview to fill a position, as the process wears on, the hiring manager will become more and more eager to make a decision. Being later gives you an advantage.
How to do this? When an HR rep calls and asks if you could come in “early next week”, say you’re tied up and can’t make it, even if the only thing you have to do is play video games and inventory your collection of exotic beer bottles. Before she has a chance to respond, casually ask, “Where are you guys/folks in the process?” She’ll likely tell you. Try to be one of the last interviewees.
2. Do your homework
I’ve written about this elsewhere on Practical Hacks. Please take an hour or so to do some basic research on the company and its competitors; you’ll be better equipped for the interview and more confident. Better yet: see this post and put this practice to work. With a little bit of effort you can put yourself head and shoulders above all the other candidates. Under no circumstances should you simply show up, knowing nothing other than the company is hiring and you think you might be a fit for the position. Anyone can do that. Set yourself apart from the other applicants!!
3. Conduct a personal inventory
Hey, face it: the interviewing company wants to buy something (a capable employee), and you’re selling something (you). If you were selling a used car, you’d probably give some thought to what’s good about the car and why someone would want to buy it. Do the same for this sales job!
Sit down, take a piece of paper and a pen, and list your best attributes. Add a list of your biggest achievements. (If you’re a recent graduate, use examples from school.) Also, if something went sideways in the past (a project which failed, etc.) think about it and how you responded and learned from the experience. Showing personal growth and having an interest in improving your performance is a good thing. If you blew up the chem lab at college, probably best to not mention it, however.
Most important: think about what characteristics would be desirable for this job. If an accountant, attention to detail and an understanding of accounting principles and practices. If a retail sales person, an ability to establish rapport with people, some sense of human behavior and why people buy stuff, and a reasonable degree of assertiveness. You get the idea. Write up a list for the job in question. Then think about your background and make a list of specific cases where you’ve demonstrated these qualities. And be prepared to sell the interviewers with these examples!
4. Ask questions
An interview is a two way conversation. Go to the interview prepared with a list of questions you’d like answered. DO NOT ask about benefits, salary, and the like; save that for when the company makes it clear they’re interested in you. Instead, consider asking about some of the following things, depending upon the job and the type of company:
- What would someone have to do in their first 6 months in this job to be a success? (A GREAT question, ask it early, and tailor your pitch accordingly)
- What’s a big decision the company made recently, and what was the process like? (You want to get a sense of the company’s management style)
- What’s the company’s strategy? (Ask everyone who interviews you. See if the answers are consistent. If not, a small red flag should pop up.)
- What’s the company’s culture? What’s it like to work here? (You want to gain some insight into how the hiring manager feels about the company.)
5. Be unfailingly polite
Be polite and friendly with everyone you meet. The administrative assistant may have way more influence than you’d ever imagine. One of your interviewers or an HR rep may ask the receptionist about your behavior while you waited in the reception area. Everyone you encounter is important, not just the interviewers.
6. Understand the job
If at all possible, get a copy of the Position Description emailed to you when you’re first contacted. You’ll want to read it carefully and understand the key responsibilities. Go back and read #3 above.
Obviously, you want to go to the interview equipped to show how you’re a good fit with the position. Pointing to accomplishments, positive internship experiences, and initiative you’ve displayed that’s relevant to what they’re seeking, is huge. Be prepared to do just that.
7. Nervous on interview day? Keep things in perspective
25 years ago, I was very interested in working for a certain company. I finally landed an interview, but when I showed up, the hiring manager wasn’t there yet. So I was handed off to someone else for a brief interview which lasted about 20 minutes. I didn’t get the job. About three years later, I interviewed with the same company, was hired and went on to work there for 15 years, with a good deal of success. The guy I’d been handed off to? He became one of my best friends; although we’ve both left the firm and have both made several moves, we’re still great friends, talk often, and get together at least once a year. What’s the point? When I started with the company, he had no recollection whatsoever of our 15-20 minute interview a few years earlier.
Keep things in perspective. Five years after your interview, no one will remember it, with the possible exception of yourself. So, as much as possible, relax. Life goes on. You’ll change jobs at least several times during your career. Think of your interviewer as a potential coworker, not some sort of monster who’s going to waterboard you. Your interview is ultimately a conversation which gives both parties a chance to figure out if they want to dance with one another, and nothing else. Sometimes the girl says “yes,” and sometimes she says “no.” Life will go on. Relax, keep things in perspective, and try to enjoy the process.
8 . Ask for feedback
Not everyone is comfortable with this, and whether you are or not depends upon a lot of factors. I’ll mention it because it’s worked for me and in the right situation, it’s a powerful tool.
Toward the end of the interview, consider asking the hiring manager for some feedback. Ask, “I wonder if you could give me a little feedback – do my education and qualifications fit this position?” or, a bit more direct: “What do you think about my candidacy for this position?”
What’s powerful about this is not the question itself, but the fact that you’d ask it. You are conveying that you’re an open and honest communicator, and would be that type of employee and coworker. I don’t see a lot of downside to asking this, but you need to feel completely comfortable asking it. Also, it provides you an opportunity to restate why you are qualified for the job.
9 . Send a thank you note
You’d think this is a no-brainer, but not everyone has been told to do this or understands that this is a good idea. Get a business card from each person you meet. When you get home, or later that evening, send an email thanking the interviewer for her time, and restating very briefly why you think you’re a good fit for the position. Conveying some excitement is a good thing as well.
Cardinal rule: send this within 24 hours of your interview. It’s a thoughtful, common sense thing to do, but not everyone who interviews will bother doing it. Do it and you’ll stand apart from some of the other applicants.
10. If you don’t get the job…
- Whether the hiring manager or an HR rep delivers the news, it doesn’t matter: thank him for the opportunity, and ask if there was anything that hurt your candidacy or that you might have handled a bit better. Try to be as positive as you can. Mumbling “thanks” and hanging up gets you nothing. Try this approach; you may get some feedback that’ll help you in the future.
- Send a follow-up note. Thank the hiring manager for the opportunity to interview, express your disappointment as you were genuinely excited about the opportunity, and mention that you’d like to be considered if any similar opportunities open up in the future. Who knows? – maybe the person hired won’t work out – if so, you very well may end up on the top of their short list.
A few don’ts…
- Don’t chew gum; it’s way too informal and inappropriate
- Don’t bring up oddball subjects or politics, religion, sex, etc.
- Don’t lie about your experience
- Don’t lie on your resume
- Don’t get overly chummy or familiar with an interviewer who seems way down to earth and accessible; a little humor is fine, – just don’t overdo it
Don’t ignore the advice here. I’ve been interviewing – as a candidate and hiring manager – for decades. Prepare thoroughly, keep things in perspective, and do a good job of selling your skills and fit for the job. And please don’t mention the beer bottle collection. Good luck!
Email me or comment if you have questions or have some other “basics” you feel are important.
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