The road to giving exceptional interviews has been unnecessarily long for me.  I got TOO much advice, I think.  Although I still managed to get jobs thanks to my resume and sparkling personality (!!!), I have to admit I didn’t hit my stride interviewing until grad school.  Up until then interviews felt like heated psychological warfare fueled by all the tips and watch outs.

Before you sit down to prepare answers for the 150 potential questions, I just want you to take a moment and step back.  I’m a huge proponent of thinking at a high level then drilling down.  A framework can always help get your thoughts under control….and I don’t know about you, but mine need a lot of control.

Regardless of the level of ingoing preparation on the part of the interviewer, each will ultimately (subconsciously?) seek to answer three questions relative to your candidacy.  The methods to gather the data vary considerably, but the questions are almost always the same:

What is my reason to believe you can exceed in this role?

This is the game of accomplishments and skill match.  In multiple articles I get on my soap box over the importance of achieving business results and it’s no different here.  There is no better indicator of future success than a track record.  Ensure your preparation results in a list of key accomplishments.  In addition, think about how you achieved, because therein lies the key skills you demonstrate.  To the extent these are a match for what the company wants, you will be a fit candidate.

It’s not necessarily about hard core, numerical business results. ‘Impact’ is they key word here and you will need to somehow dimensionalize the impact you had on your past roles. This is the dark side of having experience. While experience + impact = future potential, experience + no tangible impact = pfffft. Nothing. You risk proving, with all your experience, that you just occupied a seat.  Companies are much likely to risk bringing in fresh talent because there is at least a reasonable chance of something great happening.

Conversely, be mindful of where you have skill or experience gaps.  Prepare to address those because you are likely to be asked.  One way to do this is to highlight methods or rate of learning in areas you have already developed.  If you can quickly master other skills with demonstrated success, you can assert your promise to fill holes in your background quickly.  Bonus points go to those who can even propose an action plan!

Lastly, employers have a bias towards busy people, who they feel accomplish more.  For this reason, discussions about interests and hobbies (and related achievements) usually find their way into interviews.  The broader theme is your pre-disposition to going above and beyond the basics of work and life.  The extent to which you do can only be a point in your favor.

Net net, make sure you walk into the interview knowing what three kickass skills and abilities you have that are relevant to the job. Know what the backup is (from school, work, hobbies, doesn’t matter) and make sure you make those points somewhere in the interview. That’s YOUR agenda.

Is this the job you want?

I have interviewed and then passed on a number of exceptional, likeable candidates with spectacular resumes.  Why?  I didn’t think they’d be happy in the role…or even stick around.  Some candidates just need a job or a certain level of pay.  The dangerous candidate is running from something…and not to something, if you get me.  Lots of those out there, and we have probably even caught ourselves heading down that disastrous path in our minds.

As you plan for an interview, become insightful about what you want, and specifically ready yourself to explain your interest in:

  • The industry
  • The company
  • The role and how it fits into your goals
  • The brand
  • The management/work style
  • The culture and values

At least be able to nail those.

Interviewers will note other verbal and non-verbal cues.  Body language that conveys attentiveness and interest is one; the way you open and close are others.  An enthusiastic first impression and firm handshake is imperative.  A strong closing with demonstrated interest in next steps is invaluable.

Make sure you are able to convince the hiring manager that you are interested in the job and it’s the right next step in your career.  Failure in this area can take even the best candidates out of the running.

Can I see myself / my peers working with you?

I have recently read articles that bemoan the emphasis on preparing.  I say ‘hooey’ (I actually say other things, but I’m choosing to keep his blog professional).  The downside of over-preparing is that you can become robotic and appear canned in your presentation.  This is why you need to prepare in advance to allow some time to just chill out before the session.

Only your authentic self can make the deepest connection with the interviewer.  Let your personality strengths come out (energy, sense of humor) but everything in moderation.  You can also take your cues from the interviewer to keep yourself calibrated.  Moreover, if there is the opportunity at the beginning or during the interview, seek to establish rapport.  Look for benign places to find common ground such as home town, alma mater, movies, sports, current events…tons of things.  If you are in the interviewer’s office, notice and comment on items such as a book or pictures on the desk.  People love to talk about themselves.   Show an interest, but don’t derail the interview with a lengthy conversation.  I provide a few more tips in another post.

It’s only human nature for most of us to want to associate with like types.  Sure, we all value diversity but for many – sigh – it comes in baby steps.   My buddy recently got a great job with Emirates Airlines by ‘over-preparing’.  He looked up staff uniform colors on the internet and dressed in corporate colors so they could see how well he looked in their style. Learn from that approach.  Packaging means a lot.  Dress, body language and communication ability all factor heavily and must be consistent with company norms and expectations.   To be at your best, you may need to ‘over-prepare’; but I call that having ‘attention to detail’, thankyouverymuch.

After you have completed your interview preparation, reflect back on these three essential questions.  If you are able to provide enough facts and impressions to populate a robust answer in the mind of your interviewer, you’ll be no doubt moving forward.