Maybe you have recently graduated college and are looking to land your first big break in your chosen field. Maybe you’ve been breaking your back in an industry for 25 years, but the shift toward the knowledge economy has forced you to retool and reengage the marketplace in a new way.
Whatever your situation, it’s vital that you stand out during the interview process and make an ironclad case for why you are the best candidate. The following guidelines can help you dazzle your interviewer and get you called back in for a second interview, or even land you the job right then and there.
To start off, it is crucial to know the details about the company that you are planning to interview with. A few minutes of research online or a phone call or two to an acquaintance in the industry will go a long way. You should know about the company’s mission statement, ownership structure, and long-term goals. Take note of any big projects they have done in the past or are currently working on and familiarize yourself with some of their key components. Try to find out any important clients that the company has had or are working with at the moment and what their involvement is with the company. Above all, learn about the culture of the team and what constitutes the ideal team player.
Try to keep in mind at least three great examples that are relevant to the business, such as the year it was founded, important players within the company and their vision for the future. Knowing this information will also help when the interviewer asks you specific questions concerning their business needs. It also shows that you have done your homework about the company and truly care about the position you are applying for.
While it may sound obvious, it is important to learn what may make your expertise different at the particular company you are considering. In a competitive job market, differentiation may count more than competence. If you know ahead of time exactly what will be asked of you then you will be able to tailor your interview questions to what the interviewer wants to see from you. Once you have identified the desired traits, consider which “hero stories” from previous jobs you can leverage to demonstrate that you are in possession of these attributes. Hero stories should be short (30 seconds is the Goldilocks zone) and should follow this format: problem, action, results. For example, if an interviewer asks me a time I’ve shown initiative, I might tell my hero story like this:
“I had to stock shelves at one job, and I was frequently doing that lone after hours. One night, a pipe burst in the ceiling, and the stock room became a veritable waterfall [Problem]. I had no idea where the water main was, so I called the fire department. While they were en route, I pulled all the expensive or easily-damaged equipment up off the floor before it flooded [Action]. I was able to rescue about $13,000 worth of equipment and inventory [Results].”
While it is OK to lean heavily on the positive aspects of your experience, don’t exaggerate or lie. Be prepared to answer questions concerning the duties that your new position will entail if you land the job. The best way to do this is to learn as much as you can about the position you desire. Study the job description so that you can tailor your answers accordingly.
In ancient Delphi, the Temple of Apollo was inscribed with the phrase, “????? ?????O?” – know thyself. Socrates was convinced that unless one could know himself or herself, nothing externally could be known or gained.
An interviewer will generally want to know not just what your strengths are, but your weaknesses as well. Don’t walk into an interview acting like you know exactly how to do everything at all times; interviewers will see through this right away and it could easily cost you an opportunity. Instead, consider your positive strengths and how you can focus your answers on them. When asked about weaknesses, don’t say “I work too hard.” You’re lying, and 102% of employers know it. Be frank about your personal shortcomings, but always end your answer with evidence about what you are doing to smooth out the rough edges or build new competencies.
If you truly enjoy working with people and get along well within your current circle of coworkers, make sure you let it be known. While you are prepping for the interview, think about what you do best and what you are known for delivering consistently. Be prepared so that you don’t stumble over this question, as it is generally one that interviewers ask a lot. When it comes to your weaknesses, you can always put a positive spin on them. If there is an area that you don’t have any experience in, be honest if asked, but add that you have been hoping to learn more about it. Make it sound like it is an area that you have been considering on your own because you want to better yourself in order to provide quality service to your company.
This is usually advice that is taken for granted, but often younger applicants may not realize it. Take the time to go over your resume and update it, if need be, before bringing it into an employer or uploading it to their company. Make sure everything on it is correct and see if you can tweak it at all concerning the position you are applying for. You may be able to add on responsibilities that you didn’t think of after you learn more about your potential job and their company policy. Also, remember that your resume will be scrutinized by your potential employer, so study it carefully beforehand. You’ll want to be able to speak confidently about all of your previous positions and why they can relate to the job you are looking for now. Even if you have already sent your resume to the company before the interview, make sure you come prepared with your own copy, just in case. You don’t want a glitch on the computer to occur and your interviewer not be able to pull up your resume. If you have one in hand, they will also see that you come prepared.
It’s easy to say you are a hard-working go-getter and eager to please. Anyone can say this, but a confident applicant will have the examples to back up their claims. You don’t want to leave it up to your interviewer to figure out whether you are telling the truth about your skills or just trying to please. When the interviewer asks you about your strengths, give examples after you list each one. You might explain how well you worked under pressure when your previous company only had a day to prepare an important presentation and you stepped up to the job. Or, you could explain that you always get your work done ahead of time by giving an example of when you turned in a report three days early and your boss raved about it. Once again, the hero story format here is your friend.
We’ve talked about why you should show up with your own copy of your resume to any potential job interview. You will also want to be prepared with other tools before you head out. Keep a work folder with you that has directions to the place your interview is being held at, a copy of the job description, information on the company itself and a pen and notepad. I like to use a leather padfolio for this task. You can use this to freshen your memory before the interview begins, an especially helpful strategy if you happen to be interviewing at multiple companies around the same time.
Make sure your information is updated and avoid anything that could be perceived as negative about the company. You want to dress as nicely as possible for the interview. Look for the best undershirts to put under your interview outfit, or find a classy dress to show up in. A clean, neat appearance is always important in an interview setting, no matter what job you are applying for. Typically, you want to dress just slightly more formally than the employees of that team. See Brooke Chaplan’s article on How to Dress for an Interview.
Don’t try and become what you think the company wants. Your interviewer is more than likely used to questioning dozens of applicants and are trained at catching falsehoods and misrepresentations. While you may think that your greatest weaknesses are going to cause you to lose out on a job, this isn’t always the case. You may not be a huge people-person, but that doesn’t mean the company can’t use your other valuable skills for a position more suited for your personality. Remember, first impressions do count. The old advice of holding eye contact, smiling, and starting off the interview with a firm handshake still rings true today. Interviewers will always appreciate talking to an applicant that is friendly and personable.
These tips can really help you nail an interview when you are on the search for a new job or a different position at another company. Don’t let nervousness and fear stop you from acing the interview at the job of your dreams- take these to heart and you’ll breeze through the process!
Rachael Murphey is an entrepreneur and writer on business, finance, economics, and personal success. She currently lives in her native Colorado with her dog Charlie.