So you wrote a resume (or paid someone to write it for you), submitted it and the company has set up an interview. The good news is that you have taken a big step forward. The bad is that the next step is a doozy and critical to getting an offer.
Many people think they’ve done all the hard work, but it’s actually just beginning. We are not all naturally charming smooth talkers who are comfortable selling ourselves in interview situations, so most of us have to prepare thoroughly to have success in interviews and get offers.
The interview is the opportunity to convince the hiring manager and interview team that you are the right person for the job. Interestingly, more people ask for resume advice, but preparing for the interview is far more important. Resumes should be a clear and easy-to-read summary that describes job responsibilities and accomplishments. Once you have started the interview process, your resume may never come up again. Interview preparation requires far more thought and preparation, and contrary to popular belief, there is no “magic formula” to getting an offer, but there are many tried-and-true preparation techniques that go a long way to getting you there. For most people, these suggestions will seem obvious and basic “common sense,” but in reality most people who interview do not prepare enough.
Here are five keys to doing well on the interview (that anyone can do):
•Know your own resume and professional experience in detail: We have introduced this idea thousands of times over the years preparing candidates for interviews and more often than not, the reply is “no kidding” because of how obvious this seems. But we have also heard many people say on an interview, “That was a long time ago. I don’t remember.” Unfortunately this answer always elicits a negative response from the interviewer. Even though it was a long time ago, if it is on your resume, you should be prepared to talk about it. We are always amazed when someone stumbles on discussing their resume. Sometimes people are nervous, but most of the time, they are not prepared.
•Research company and research interviewers. Research company: It’s really important to know the company very well. You should know what they do, make, what their brands are, different lines of business and (you should definitely be familiar with) the current state of company. You don’t want to be that person who thinks they are interviewing with “Cisco” but really are interviewing with “Sysco,” or interview with Coke and ask for a Pepsi. Those people did not get the job. We are often surprised at how many people go into an interview with little knowledge of the company. “Winging it” is a bad strategy and a waste of time. Interviewees should spend at least 1-2 hours researching the company. Every interview will require discussion of the company in question and the more someone knows, the more insightful they seem. Interviewers are always impressed when a person has done their homework. Research interviewers: Best ways to do this is to talk to your recruiter, personal/professional contacts, and use Linkedin (most business professionals maintain a profile on Linkedin). If you don’t have a Linkedin profile these days, then you basically don’t exist professionally. (*Be aware that Linkedin has become a common tool for resume screeners and hiring managers to research potential candidates. It’s important to make sure that information is accurate and correctly aligned with your resume and looks professional.) Insight you should be looking for includes: the kind of experience the company likes to hire, whether everyone is from within the industry, functional areas the interviewers have experience with, and specific topics they will focus on. Once again, this seems obvious, but most people don’t take this extra step.
•Prepare interview answers: This is actually the hardest part and requires practice, especially if you have not interviewed in a while. The Internet, talking to recruiters, colleagues, personal contacts, sales professionals are all effective resources for developing an overview of what companies are likely to ask or the format of the questions. Answers should provide relevant detail and demonstrate data-driven decisions. It’s always a good idea to provide examples that demonstrate your accomplishments (or learning moments – we don’t like to call them “failures.” Some of the greatest insights come from situations that did not work and figuring out why.) and you should be able to discuss work scenarios without consulting a resume, although it’s a good idea to bring several with you.
•Dress appropriately: Most companies will expect standard interview attire, but the style of attire is often different, industry to industry. For example, If you work at a bank and are interviewing with a cosmetics or apparel company, you should know that cosmetics and apparel company employees are usually more stylish and trendy, and bankers are typically and intentionally conservative. We supported a division of a leading cosmetics company and the candidate they ultimately hired was told to wear black when they returned, because that was the “culture.” Many technology companies and start-ups tend to dress more casually, and if you show up in a conservative suit, you may stand out for the wrong reasons. These days “dressing for success” does not always mean wearing a suit, but it is always a good idea to present yourself professionally and neatly. “Scruffy” is not the same as stylish.
•Have your game face on: This is the mental preparation necessary to do well and is a huge part of success or failure in an interview, especially if you have not interviewed in a while. It is critical to be able to relax, smile, and answer questions in a coherent way. Being well prepared helps many people feel confident for success. Breathing techniques, lucky charms and relaxation exercises are all a good idea if that’s what it takes to feel confident. People always respond well to someone who is prepared, engaging, asks good questions, and is calm, cool and collected. Desperation scares people and aggressive, arrogant, non-responsive and evasive answers usually knock someone out of the running. If you have been unemployed for a while, it’s especially important that you take some time to prepare your mental approach. When you go to the interview, it is important to project calmness, positivity and be able to focus on why you are the right person for the job in a convincing way.
If you are an experienced interviewer, many or all of these points should be familiar and part of the preparation process. For inexperienced interviewers, I cannot emphasize enough how important preparation is to getting an offer. Following these steps will ensure a greater return on your interviewing time investment and your biggest dilemma will be deciding which job offer to take.