1. Be selective. If you apply to “every” company in the world, you’ll either drive yourself crazy or prepare so superficially that you’ll fall on your face. An employer can tell if you’re serious about a job interview or just going through the motions. The key is to be selective enough that you’re willing to make the investment to succeed. If you’re not excited about the opportunity, odds are they won’t be excited about you.
2. Do your homework. An interview starts well before the actual meeting takes place.
- Do you know anyone who works for the employer — even if they work in a different area than the one you’re applying to?
- What can they tell you about the company? Can they provide you with an introduction or say something on your behalf?
- Who will be conducting the interview? What’s his or her background? Is the interviewer in human resources or in a line position? (The questions may differ depending on their role.)
- What do you know about the company? Did you visit their website and read the annual report? Do they discuss key initiatives for this year and next? Do they discuss company values and their culture? Has the company been in the news lately? What do analysts or investment research companies (i.e., Morningstar) say about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization? What differentiates the organization from others in their industry? What does their recruiting information say about the people who work there?
You don’t have to have answers to all these questions. The key is to know enough so that you’re not operating in the dark.
3. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were conducting the interview, what qualities and skills would you be looking for in a candidate? What qualities and must-haves set someone apart? What factors are most important in the decision-making process? What things might disqualify a candidate?
4. Practice, practice, practice. What makes you a good fit for the organization? What will excite the interviewer or pose potential problems for you? Try to anticipate questions and prepare your responses. Run your answers past a friend and get their reaction. The key is to think through your answers before the interview rather than shooting from the hip when it counts most.
Remember, real-life stories and hard facts will bring your responses to life. Some of the most common questions may include: Why do you want to work for this company? Why do you think this job is a good fit for you? Why should we hire you? What do you like most and least about your current job? What are your weaknesses? What characteristics are you looking for in an ideal job? What compensation are you looking for?
You’ll also be asked if you have any questions of the employer. Some questions worth consideration include: What are you looking for in an ideal candidate? What are the opportunities for growth?
5. You’re always onstage. Some people believe that an applicant is evaluated based solely on the interview. The truth is, you will be judged on everything that takes place before, during, and after the actual interview. Remember when you thought you were only talking to friends when you posted that message or picture on Facebook? Well, how will that go over when the potential employer catches a glimpse? (They often do.) Employers will also note whether your resume was sent with a customized cover letter; whether you were responsive in answering phone calls and e-mails; whether you were courteous to the person confirming the interview; and whether you followed up in a timely manner after the interview.
6. Be focused. What are three key points that you want to make during your interview? Are you sure these points address key factors in the selection criteria? Will these points set you apart from other applicants? How can you incorporate the points in answers that you’ll be providing? How can you reinforce these messages in all your correspondence?
7. Differentiate yourself. What can you do or say that’ll differentiate you from other applicants? What qualifications or experiences make you uniquely qualified for the position? Did you earn awards for superior performance or achieve great results in a similar position?
8. Be yourself. Enjoy yourself during the interview. If you’re comfortable, you’ll make the interviewer feel at ease. It is important to note that preparing answers ahead of time does NOT mean being dishonest. It means that you took care to think through your responses before the interview took place. If you try to fake your way through the interview, believe me, it will show!
9. Remain confident. Confidence comes with practice. Did you research the company? Have you identified possible interview questions and prepared responses? Did you determine how you’re going to differentiate yourself? What three points are you going to drive home? Most of all, remember: If you don’t know why you’d hire you, neither will they.
10. Stand out. What can you do to make yourself stand out from the crowd? Do you have any personal interests that’ll make you memorable? If you speak three languages, studied in Alaska, studied cooking at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), played girls’ Rugby or surfed 43 percent of the world’s oceans, your personal interests could serve as an excellent icebreaker during the interview.
11. No-no’s. There are several things that are almost guaranteed to knock you out of the running. Here are a few: Spell-check all correspondence, including e-mails as well as your resume. Then READ through everything again to catch those “misused” words that spell-check overlooked. Typos say you don’t care (or can’t spell). Make sure that you dress properly and are appropriately groomed. When in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than too casual. Show up for the interview five or ten minutes early — being late doesn’t cut it. Make sure you can answer basic questions, such as why you want the job or why you chose their company. If there are time gaps or other issues in your resume, be prepared to address them. Don’t use foul language or bad-mouth your previous employer. Don’t bring up controversial subjects such as politics or religion, and don’t disclose confidential information about your company. Last, don’t try to do an end-run around someone during the application process. (Ouch.)
12. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some people fall in love with one job opportunity and stop all other activity. The truth is, even if the opportunity looks like a shoo-in, it could dry up for no apparent reason.
13. Look in the mirror. After every interview, ask yourself what you would do differently if you had the opportunity to go through the interview again. Were you prepared for the interview and knowledgeable about the organization? Did you develop a good rapport with the interviewer? Were you comfortable with your responses? Were you blindsided by any questions?
14. May the “luck” be with you. Sometimes you can do everything perfectly, but the job is offered to someone else. When this happens, don’t spend time beating yourself up. Move forward. The interview process takes determination, persistence, and a touch of luck. If you follow these tips, you’ll be one step ahead of the others so luck won’t be required. But, good luck anyway!
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Look in the mirror ~ important aspect many people miss in the process. Excellent article
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks DK I’m glad that you picked up on that step. I’m a strong believer in lifetime learning. So, asking myself, “How can I do it better next time?” often follows things that I do.
Very well written. As someone who sat at both sides of the interviewing desk, I believe that preparation and practice are key to success, while being yourself and being confident help ensure the best outcomes.
It’s always surprising to me that such a large percentage of applicants are ill prepared, and especially how few of them realize that they’re always onstage. A surprising number let their guard down before or after the interview, and let some of their bad habits show.
Your ‘look in the mirror’ advice is especially important to job applicants because you learn something from each interview you take, e.g.- shortcomings in your own experience, how to more clearly present yourself, whether you even like the type of job you’re interviewing for.
In a nutshell, be prepared and stay confident.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Very wise counsel George. It always helps to hear from subject matter experts, like yourself. As an HR executive, I’m sure you’ve seen many applicants in your career. Thank’s much for advancing the conversation.