Five Pro Tips for Acing the Interview Or Things I Wish My Candidates Knew
I conduct a lot of interviews. Like, soooo many interviews. And when I’m in the middle of a string of back to back interview days, with a new face and a new story in front of me every hour, I frequently find myself wanting to just hit pause. Over and over, I fight the urge to stop the interview, usher the candidate right back out the door, and ask them to… Start. Over. Try again. Come back later. When you’ve done your research, when you know what you want, when you aren’t so nervous you can’t think, when you’re prepared and ready and excited.
Of course, I would never actually do that! Can you imagine?!?
Look, while I might go through a hundred interviews in a month, I do in fact know that for the person in front of me, this is not a normal, every day activity. Of course they’re nervous. Interviews are important. They represent opportunity and possibilities and security for our future and our families. Interviews are a big deal! And that’s without adding in all our personal feelings surrounding acceptance and rejection!
So instead of scaring the bejesus out of my next interview, let me share five things that I wish I could tell every candidate before they sit down in front of me.
Be prepared. Take a few moments before your interview to review the job description or posting and any information you have gathered about the position, the company or the industry. (Hint, Hint. RESEARCH for the win!) Job searching can be mentally exhausting and it’s easy to confuse one job or company with another. Taking time to review what you know puts you in a better position to answer questions purposefully as well as proving your interest in the company and the job. Bonus points if you have well thought out questions based on what you’ve learned!
Know your career ‘stories’. I know that there are people out there who will tell you that to prepare for an interview you need to download a list of interview questions and memorize all the ‘correct’ answers. News flash! Every interviewer is going to ask you different questions, in different contexts, while looking for different information. There will always be a question (or 20) that you don’t expect and if all you do is memorize a string of ‘correct’ answers…. you’re up a creek!
Instead of practicing your answers to popular interview questions you find online, take the time to practice your career stories. Be able to share, in detail, a handful of situations in your professional career that you are most proud of. Moments where you excelled. Problems you overcame. Crisis you managed. Improvements you made (and the results!). Lessons you learned. Situations that defined you and represent who you are and will be as an employee. If you have those firmly in your mind, you can draw from them at any time and you will come across as thoughtful, self-aware, and confident.
Brag. If there is ever a time in your life to pat yourself on the back, toot your own horn and sing your own praises – it’s in an interview! Remember those career stories? Why were YOU successful? What is it that YOU bring to the table that no one else can? Why are YOU the answer to their problem? An interviewer is looking to make a choice – help them choose you by telling them all the reasons you are uniquely and amazingly qualified to fill their need. Just, please, be honest.
Take notes. If your interviewer is giving you information about the company, the position, the boss, your potential coworkers… take notes! If you are invited back for further interviews, your interviewer shouldn’t have to repeat the same information. Assume the information you are being given is important and is being shared for a reason! And use those notes to do more research and be even more prepared for that second interview!
Speaking of questions…Ask them! I find myself stopping frequently throughout interviews to ask candidates if they have any questions for me and, more often than not, candidates have none. Zero. Blank face. No questions. I’ve been told (so often that it’s becoming a joke) that I’ve ‘already explained everything’ or I’ve ‘answered all the questions’. That can’t be true! Interviewing is a two-way street. Both parties have a choice to make in the end. And your choice is just as, if not more, important than mine. This is your life! Ask the questions.
Bonus tip: Know what you want to ‘do’. Know what it is you’re looking for in a job and a company and a boss. Even it’s just a short-term plan. Even if it’s a placeholder until you get to that big dream down the road! Know what you want to ‘do’ and where you want to be. Have a plan. Be able to articulate that to your interviewer. You. Will. Be. Asked. In some way, form or manner. And, if for some reason, that thing you want to ‘do’ is in no way related to the job or company you are interviewing for… Then remember this, life is short, and time is precious. Do us both a favor and cancel the interview!
Now go out and rock your next interview!