Looking back on my career so far, I like to think I have a pretty good interviewing track record. I’ve interviewed for seven different positions, and I landed all but one of them. I’m not saying this to claim that I’m some sort of interviewing guru, but I do seem to have a knack for it.
(Note: This assumes that my resume made it past HR and to a hiring manager. I didn’t bother to count the number of jobs I applied to and never heard back about. More on that in a later post, “Your Parents Were Right: It’s not always what you know, but who you know…”).
After working in sales for much of my career, I approach an interview as a sale. You’re selling the hiring manager on your transferable skills, your experience, your ability to lead, collaborate, and to help him or her achieve the greater vision they have for their team. With that in mind, there are really only 3 simple steps you need to follow to have a successful interview: Prepare, Interview, and Follow Up.
Step #1 – Prepare
- Learn about the company and industry you’re interviewing for. The hiring manager will likely ask you why you want to work for the company, and you need to have a compelling, genuine answer. As job search and employment expert Alison Doyle notes, “Knowing as much as possible about the company’s past performance and future plans can make your interview more interactive and could be just the leg up you need in a competitive job market.”
- Make a list of all of your past job experiences and projects. What transferable skills have you gained? What exposure have you had? What stories can you share about how you work with coworkers and teammates? Once you’ve documented all of this information and are comfortable with telling the stories – the best stories start with a situation, feature an action you took, and then highlight the result – now it’s time to practice sharing that information in the context of interview questions!
- Practice your answers to interview questions. Seriously. Do NOT underestimate the power of practicing the answers to interview questions, especially out loud. When it comes to interviews, they say that practice makes perfect; however, I’d argue that practice gets the jitters out and lessens the chances of you being stumped or suddenly contracting a severe case of verbal diarrhea (sorry for that visual, but if you think that image is painful, imagine how the interviewer feels seeing it in action…)
- Get a good nights sleep the night before, eat breakfast in the morning, dress professionally (a suit is preferable for most traditional companies) and leave EARLY for the interview. I know these are pretty common sense steps, but if you’re like me and need to check things off of lists, I want to make sure these aren’t forgotten!
Step #2 – During the Interview
- If the interviewer reaches out for a hand shake, PLEASE shake it firmly. None of that limp wristed business. A hand shake is the first step towards creating a relationship with your interviewer, and you don’t want to make what might be interpreted as a weak and uninterested first impression.
- Ask questions of your own! It shows that you take initiative and are genuinely interested in the position you’re vying for. There are plenty of recommendations out there, but some of my favorites are:
What are the biggest problems or challenges that your group or department are facing?
I’ve used this to great effect in some of my job interviews lately, and it did two things for me: it gave me insight into what each key stake holder saw as the key challenges for the group, and offered me an opportunity to offer thoughts or ideas I have from previous experience that show I am equipped to tackle this problem.
Do you have any concerns about my qualifications for this position?
I love this question because, if the interviewer or hiring manager has any concerns about your ability to handle a situation, it gives you a chance to address it head on. During a previous interview, I had an interviewer make an off handed remark about how a girl in my similar situation did not fit well in the role I was applying for. I took that as an opportunity to ask him if I could address how my situation and career goals made me very different from the job’s previous owner. I did just that, and I really think it helped me overcome any objections they had to hiring me.
But don’t forget there are also questions you shouldn’t ask because they will make you look like you didn’t do your homework or like you’re only in it for the money. Bone up on those too so you don’t accidentally walk into this territory.
Step #3 – The Follow -Up
This step can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Minimally you should just send a nice e-mail or hand written note (even better!) to thank the interviewer for their time and say how much you appreciated talking with them.
But in the highly competitive job market we live in, some folks will go to extremes to stand out after the interview. Based on some of the elaborate stories I’ve heard, I may or may not have left Mickey Mouse ears for everyone I interviewed with when I applied for my first job outside of the Walt Disney Company. I was setting myself up as a Disney trained sales rep, and that thank you gesture, along with thank you notes, was how I chose to reemphasize that point.
Now go forth and interview with confidence! Applying for jobs and making career changes can be stressful as it is, but if you Prepare, Interview and Follow Up, I can promise you you’ll feel a lot more confident and relaxed than if you didn’t.