This post wins the ‘obvious, much?’ award for this entire blog and yes flies in the face of my vision to provide the insight you can’t find elsewhere. Oh well. I’m talking about it anyway because it’s an absolute mandatory component of interviewing; sadly, it is overlooked by too many, especially those who haven’t interviewed a ton in their lives.
Looking back at my own history, I’d say that there was a solid correlation between my interview performance and level of prep. Even if you’re interviewing to sharpen your skills for the job you really want whenever it comes along, take the time to get ready. Will make such a difference in your ability to show up for game time because the stories will become more natural and roll of your tongue in convincing style.
Now that I made my point, let’s talk about what exactly you need to prepare:
Three things you want the interviewer to remember.
Business gurus regularly cite the power of three, or the optimum number of powerful points to communicate and expect the audience to retain. Ensure you have three key attributes or offerings that represent the perfect marriage between the DNA of your personal brand and what the company wants.
In my post on resumes, I discuss the importance of taking time to audit yourself and your greatest strengths. Although your resume should point to these, the interview is your moment to truly showcase the goods. Be committed to delivering these points – separately or together – come hell or high water. The often structured nature of interviews doesn’t always afford the chance to serve up your points in a neat package. The best interviewees are both crafty and seamless in how they segue to their three things. Here are some natural opportunities for you to make your move:
- As a part of the answer to any open-ended question
- As a tight and prepared answer to a more direct question such as “why should we hire you?”
- As a (believable) segue from another answer (“…and that’s also why I think I’m a great fit here based on my track record of being selected for those types of leadership roles.”)
- As a summary / closing statement, during which you reiterate your interest in the position
- As a question when the moment is right (e.g. “To what extent does this company value strong team players?”…then follow with support)
Research the company.
Be familiar with their web site, social media activity, product launches and other corporate news. Be ready to discuss them intelligently and perhaps give diplomatic but value-added critique (just not a lot).
Know why you want to work in the selected industry and company.
Be insightful as this is your chance to demonstrate fit.
I literally would close my eyes sometimes when I asked candidates why they wanted to work for Warner Bros. during my time there. I would say to myself “please, please, pleeeeeease say something other than because I LOVE movies!!”. I was usually disappointed. What I took away was that applicants were intoxicated by the thought of watching movies all day and getting them for free. I rarely got any indication that they knew what they were getting themselves into…which didn’t help my confidence in them. There’s more to fit than just liking the product, in other words.
Create a table of your best leadership examples.
Leadership and teamwork are the big two qualification topics, typically, but I recommend you go deeper into some of the behaviors I listed here. Create two examples for each (being mindful of being able to speak to the result) and study them. Most of us don’t flag and catalogue the great things we do, so you’d be well served to take the time. If you do, you’ll be ready to fire off great answers to all the “tell me about a time when…” questions.
Be ready for the other standard questions.
- What you did in past roles
- Why you make the career and education choices you made
- Goals, ambitions, within the advertised role and/or beyond
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Greatest accomplishment
- Hobbies, interests
Be ready with questions of your own.
The best questions show your drive and otherwise create opportunities to sell yourself:
- “What three attributes would you be looking for in a member of your team?”
- “After hearing more about the role I’m very interested. What are next steps?”
- “How does the company reward outstanding performance?”
The worst questions – in the early stages – focus on your needs and wants:
- “What time do people usually get out of here at night?”
- “What kind of training do you provide?”
Be ready for “GO!”
Yes, that’s right. “GO!”
No joke. One of my buddies was not long ago interviewed by a company president, although it was for a more senior role. They shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and then sat down. The prez flipped open his laptop, opened what I assume was a Word document, looked at my friend and said “ok…go.” And that’s how the interview started. When my bud told me the story my reaction was “wow, that’s awesome!”. Would you be similarly stoked…and ready??
Point is, be ready to direct the show if the interviewer seems open to it. Your interview style doesn’t always need to be defensive with a strict ‘Q&A’ cadence of questions. Be ready at the right time to seize control. That’s a necessary aspect of selling, so you should be ready to ask the right questions while delivering your selling points, thereby taking some of the pressure off your interviewer to lead the discussion. Many times, they will appreciate that and also walk away with the feeling that you’re the type of person to seize opportunities in business discussions.
I would estimate that somewhere north or south of 50 percent of candidates do not advance because they are ill-prepared. If your resume has the right qualifications, you can usually get to final rounds through your preparation. Your ultimate fit and likability will finish off the rest.