Going through the job interview process can be nerve racking. It’s a stressful situation for the candidate, but it is also a challenging process for the hiring manager as well since they have finite information to decide. Sadly, most candidates struggle during the interview — not because they are not qualified but, most of the time, it is simply because they are not prepared.
Here are some key steps that will get you better prepared:
1. Adjust Your Perspective
This works wonders. Most candidates have a perspective of treating an interview like an interrogation room, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. The better way is to think of this as a session with two goals: (1) educate — and I use that word purposely — the interviewer about yourself, (2) determine if this is the right company for you.
2. Dress Appropriately
If you’re applying for a corporate job, for example, where a suit and/or tie. Some corporations take note of these things. At a minimum, make sure you’re neatly presented.
3. Remember Their Name(s)
When you get introduced, make it a point to remember the name of the person and address them by name during the interview (not too often as you may sound condescending). If you’re in a panel interview and you won’t remember, take a piece of paper and write it down.
4. Eye Contact
This is obvious, but can be difficult to do. Especially in a panel interview context. If you struggle to do this, practice as much as possible. Practice with the cashier at the supermarket, when you’re getting on the bus, when you’re interacting with reception.
5. Do Your Research on the Company
Some interviewers really care about this to see how interested you are in the job. Check resources such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn, see what other job ads they have, check their annual report, check the news, talk to anyone you know who works there, and certainly check their website!
6. Know Yourself
This is one of the most crucial steps. Prior to the interview, search Google for top-x interview questions (e.g. “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a conflict?”). Then, spend some time and prepare not just answers for these, but actual examples where you have experienced this. Go through your previous emails, go through your resume to jog your memory, ask people that know you.
7. Answer with Structure
This is building on top of #6 above. Often candidates give answers which are rather confusing, go off track, take too long to answer, or simply miss the whole point of the question. One structure is to answer with the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Consider the question “What do you do if you have an unhappy stakeholder?”. A good answer would be: “[Situation] Back in my previous job, I heard from another party that the Head of Sales was unhappy that my project was late.
What I realized was that he had a dependency on the project. [Task] So I needed to explain to him the background. [Action] I put together a short slide-deck to explain the latest schedule, what the issue and mitigation was. I went through this with him so that he was aware and I could understand what his concerns were. [Result] The Head of Sales was still unhappy about the delay, but then appreciated the situation and had a better understanding of what was going on.
Pay attention to not only what the interviewer is asking, but also what is the intent of the question. This may also help provide an answer with a related narrative when you don’t directly have that experience.
9. It’s about “I” Not “We”
Some candidates are embarrassed to talk about themselves. Hence, they naturally refer to “we” throughout their explanation “We did this… then we went to do that… then we…”. It is a big warning sign and puts into question what exactly your role was. Be clear.
10. Have Questions Prepared
If you don’t have questions it may convey that you’re not really that interested. However, don’t ask obvious questions that you can find out through basic research. Use this as a time to also really discover if the company is the right fit for you. One of my go-to questions is usually: ‘What would you expect of me in the first 90 days’.
11. The Career Question
Most interviewers ask the career question: where do you want to be in 5 years. I have yet to hear a great answer to this. There are multiple intents to this question: is the candidate a fit, where else could they rotate to, will they stay or leave right away. If you don’t have a clear answer, at least try to explain why you feel this job is a good match for both you and the employer in terms of your more short term goals.
The final step is certainly to follow-up if you feel this is the right company for you. Best way to follow-up is to do so with purpose — refer to a point in the conversation or a useful reference. If it is something that you had developed personally (a website, an article), even better.
In some respect, it may seem rather unfair that you’re being judged on things like clothing, and whether you followed-up, rather than the merits of your abilities. In some ways it is. However, the reality is from the hiring managers perspective it is a very crucial decision that they also have to make and they have very limited information to go on. Hence, the tendency is to fall on to other heuristics as a supporting mechanism to help manage that complexity.
Next time you do go for an interview, take at least an extra 1–2 hours to prepare. It can be a painful exercise, but you have a duty to educate the interview about yourself, and more importantly a duty to yourself to establish if this is the right place for you.