On Job Interviews
When I get a request to prepare my friends and colleagues for a job interview, I usually recommend preparations in three different categories:
Research consists of
- Reviewing the posted job description, noting key responsibilities and specific words they chose to describe that position (and remember to describe them the same way when you speak with them)
- Looking through the company websites, and reading their annual report (if available)
- Looking through your Linkedin account to see if anyone in your network is directly connected to that company (or if you have second degree connections), and contacting them to get information about the company’s corporate culture, if they know the interviewer, etc.
Interview preparation consists of
- Jotting down main points for obvious interview questions. It’s best if you can show rather than tell (i.e., “I am an excellent communicator” vs. providing an example where your communication skills made a difference), and specific rather than general (i.e., “I was in charge of several large-scale initiatives” vs. “In the last 2 years, I led 3 projects with the budget of over $3 million in total.”) Here are some common ones:
- What is your motivation for looking for a job right now?
- Tell me a little about yourself (think about key points that will differentiate you from others, and aspects that would give the interviewer a feeling that they got to know you)
- How did you learn about the company and the position? What do you know about the company and the position?
- Why do you want this job? Why should we hire you? (They will probably ask one of these questions, but regardless of which way they choose to ask, you should be crafting your answer as if they asked it in the second way, so it is obvious what the benefit to them is.)
- What drives/motivates you?
- What challenge or conflict did you have, and how did you resolve it? (There are variations on this question, e.g., when was the time your leadership was questioned, what examples can you give where you had to make a tough decision, etc.) Because there are many variations (and you can easily search for “common interview questions”), it is best to prepare ahead of time for those by thinking about the most appropriate example for that particular job description (e.g., if the job looks like there are many fiscal issues, the conflict you had should be about fiscal issues, or somehow tie it back to how you can relate to fiscal challenges). Make a table of keywords in a possible question on one side (e.g., conflict, leadership, etc.), and jot the appropriate examples, again using key words, and also noting why you thought they are good examples for the interview (so you will remember to frame your delivery from that perspective rather than telling the whole story blow by blow)
- What are your salary requirements? (They may not ask you at the first interview, but it will come up eventually, and knowing the requirements for yourself is a good exercise, too, so might as well think about it now. Discuss with your spouse, etc.)
- What is your management/learning/work style? Including What environment do you thrive in most, type questions.
- How would others describe you?
- How do you deal with stress?
- What are your weaknesses/what do you think you can do better/do differently?
- Where else are you applying? (A sensitive question they may not ask. What they might be interested in is where their job lies in your priority, so if you don’t want to give specifics, you can choose to tell them or affirm that their job is the top/one of the top on your list.) For these questions, it’s more important you have some idea of how you would state your answer so that you aren’t derailed or lose your poise by them.
- For people who have gaps in their employment timeline or show irregularities (e.g., gone from for-profit to non-profit and back, or jumped between various industries, less than a year tenure), be prepared to explain any career moves and employment timeline, including why you left each of the positions. There is no right or wrong answer. What’s important is that you have a narrative that makes sense.
- What is your hobby? (What you do in your own time is none of their business but many ask to get a feel for who you are, so they can establish a common ground.)
- Have questions for them ready. Good to have at least one question handy, to show that you are engaged and thought through about this employer and the employment situation.
- Note the location of the interview (or the communication method and contact information if not a face-to-face interview), the route, parking, etc.
- Note who will be interviewing you (ok to ask ahead of time), and read up on them using LinkedIn and other social media sources as well as the company staff bio.
Delivery is just as important as the content you are providing at the interview and beyond, because it sets the tone for what kind of person you are. Note your:
- Attire: Does it reflect the company culture? It’s better to be more conservatively and formally dressed than not, especially for the first interview. Pick friends that dress sharp (or at least, professional), and ask them for their opinion. It’s best to have the ensemble picked up several days in advance (so you don’t find out that there was a big stain last minute, or they don’t fit you well anymore). I had a coworker who purchased a new shirt on his way to the interview, and proud that he was able to change in the parking lot. I’m glad I caught him before he got to the interview site: I jokingly said, “Don’t forget to take off the price tag!” and there was some silence while he ripped off the price tag.
- Posture: Imagine a confident person before the interview. Mimic their posture. You can also try a victory pose before the interview, because body language shapes who you are.
- Speech: You are expected to talk but it’s easier for others to keep their focus if you don’t adopt a lecture-style in your answers. Listen to your own voice to make sure you are clearly pronouncing your words, not too loud (tends to happen to us when we get excited) or soft (due to nervousness), too fast (again, nervousness) and watch out for filling silence with “um”s, use full sentences if you need a moment, like “thank you for that question” or “let me think about that” or take the opportunity to clarify their questions, like “did you mean like conflict in priorities or conflict with staff?” Incorporate their words and phrases as much as possible to show that you understood what they are saying and you are building this conversation together. Knowing the answer in your head isn’t enough. Have someone ask you common questions they can find on the Internet and practice answering them. It’s best to form set phrases that are clear for the kinds of questions they will be asking, and that clarity and succinctness can only come from actually speaking out the words.
Research has shown that one’s performance in a job interview isn’t a terrific indicator for one’s success in a job, because it is an artificial situation at best. Because it is artificial, it feels strange, which is why it’s best to be prepared.