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Job Search Process: Preparing For the Interview

Proving you are the invaluable prospect means more than a glance at the firm's website.

You’ve landed an interview and you know in your heart, you’re right for this job. In fact, you really want this job.  If that’s the case, then it’s time to get to work. There’s serious preparation that comes before an interview. If you do this work throughout your job search, you will greatly increase the likelihood of success and reduce the possibility for making mistakes.

In particular, how you prepare can quickly trip you up. While not a job interview, as a young marketing professional, I'd prepared carefully for my first big sales presentation. I was ready.  I’d rehearsed everything. I was going to be telling a big consumer product firm how my firm could help them. The fatal mistake happened with a simple question before the meeting even began, “would I like coffee?” Had I thought for even one second about the firm’s product instead of my firm's capabilities, I could have saved the day. Instead, I told the folks at Hills Brother Coffee,  “No, thank you, I prefer tea.”

Find out everything about your prospective employer.

Do spend time on their website reading everything on the site.  What do they do, how do they do it, what do they value, who is management, what is their management style, even what other job opportunities are open – read it all.

As you review their site, think about how your prospective employer presents itself. What do the visuals tell you? What do the tag lines tell you? What words do they use to describe their business and values?  Are they a serious firm or is there a relaxed style? Are they traditional? Are they inventive? Develop several lists - a list of the words used, a list of the goals and objectives, a list of the values expressed by the firm.   

Next, research their competitors.  How are they different?  How are they the same?  Do their competitors hold the same values? Do they offer the same job opportunities? 

Next, think about the customers of your prospective employer.  What can you learn about them?  Google them, learn about them.

Now it’s time to narrow your focus to the specific job category for which you will interview.  How does this job contribute to the firm?  Does this job directly impact the firm’s product or service? In what ways?  Does this job impact the revenue for the firm? How?

What can you learn about the department in which you’d work.  What’s the size of the department? What’s the hierarchy of the department? What’s the turnover in the department? Can you find out about department management?  Have they won any internal awards? 

Finally, carefully review the job description, it can speak volumes if you look closely.  What does it tell you about the firm? What does it tell you about the specific job for which you will be interviewing?  How is it like or different from the information you gained from the website?

Lists of information about your prospective employer.

Using the research described above, develop the following lists about your prospective employer.  You’ll use these lists as you craft your list of assets and reasons your prospective employer should hire you over any other candidate.

  1. A list of the firm's goals, objectives and values.
  2. A list of what makes them unique including how they differ from their competitors.
  3. A list of key words used by the organization to describe their purpose, their goals, their values.  Consider finding ways to use those words during your interview.  
  4. With the job description, develop a list of each key point in the summary, responsibilities, and qualifications sections.
Your assets, your benefits, your features.

It's now time to construct your rationale for being hired.  You'll go into the interview armed with not just a roster of all you bring to the opportunity; you’ll also bring examples and anecdotes that demonstrate your qualifications.  We’re now about to answer these basic interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.  
  • Why should I hire you?  
  • What can you bring to our organization that any other candidate for this job can’t?

To begin, put your resume, the job description and the lists you’ve developed from your research in front of you. Start with the list you developed from the job description.  For every point on the list, in other words for every detail in the job description, make a list of each unique experience or skill from every job you’ve held that relates directly to that point.  Add an account of the steps you took to accomplish key points on the job description.  For those accomplishments you believe set you apart from other candidates, recall the methods or means you employed to reach the outcome. Be sure to highlight ways you've been inventive; prepare anecdotes showing your leadership style and working commitment.

Augment your lists with other professional experiences including involvement with associations, speeches you’ve made, articles you’ve written.  Do the same thing for any related personal accomplishments, whether coaching Little League, taking a group on a helping mission or fundraising for a cause.

Next, with your list of the firm’s goals, objectives and values, develop an inventory of specific examples that demonstrate their importance in your working life.

Review your research on how your prospective employer expresses their benefits to customers. Also review the ways your prospective employer differentiates itself from their competitors.  Ask yourself how this information might relate to the work for which you are applying.  If appropriate, prepare to show the correlation.  Otherwise, the information may prove useful during the interview.

If your job category doesn’t impact the firm's product or service, your research will prepare you for the inevitable question, why are you interested in our organization?

This process arms you with a great deal of information.  Its purpose is to enable you to be reasonably knowledgeable about the firm so that you can best present your personal set of skills.  This is not a know-it-all process.  From the outside, there is no way we can learn everything.  Rather, information prepared ahead of an interview allows your mind to focus on fine-tuning your responses in ways that best respond to different interview styles.

While you don’t want to burden the interviewer with excessive detail, the depth of preparation in this process demonstrates your interest in employment with the organization, it attests to strong work habits and it validates your self-confidence.

If, during the interview, an important attribute is not addressed, find a suitable moment to raise the subject.  You could make it an especially powerful moment by linking the strength not yet mentioned with a point in the job description or with something you learned about the company during your research.

Your Questions.

Always prepare questions.  Serious questions, not questions about hours or the holiday schedule.  Ask questions about the firm that show your deep interest. “I read on your website that the company plans an expansion, could you tell me more about that?” “I was interested to learn that the firm has a video competition, how are the videos used?” “In this world of change, what changes can you foresee in the department? What about changes for the firm?”

In addition, be sure to have a mental list of all the things you need to know to be sure this is the job you want. Your questions are important.

Their questions.

Seriously consider each of the following questions.  Answer them ahead of the interview.  Prepare your answers so you won’t stumble in the midst of an otherwise terrific interview.   These are some of the most-asked questions along with a few surprise questions that are used more often than you might expect. 

Interviewers ask these questions every day.  They ask them in all seriousness.  Be prepared with serious responses that convey your unique value.  Don’t use glib responses to these questions.  And, be careful with some of these questions, they are intended to dig deeply into your thoughts and thought process.  Consider the answers you prepare with your prospective employer in mind.  Does your response satisfy the goals and objectives of your prospective employer?

            Tell me about yourself.

            Why should we hire you?

            Why do you want to work here?

            What can you bring that other candidate’s can’t?

            What is your greatest success? your greatest accomplishment?

            What is your greatest failure?

            What is your biggest mistake?

            What do you see yourself doing in five years? in ten years?

            What do you see as the perfect world?

            What’s the one thing you wish you’d done but didn’t?

            What are your goals? 

            Tell me about your last boss.

            Tell me about a conflict or challenge in your last job and how you handled it.

            Why did you leave your last job?

            How do you make decisions?

            Have you ever managed anyone?  What would they tell us?

            Do you have budget experience?

            Are you a leader?

            Who is your role model?  Why?

            Whom do you most admire?  Why?

            What would you change about this company?

            What would you change about this specific job type?

            What is the one thing you’d like to change about our world? 

            What would you change about working? 

Rehearse, practice.

Review and learn your lists about your company and yourself.  Rehearse how you’ll tell the stories and examples that demonstrate your specific skills.  Rehearse how you’ll speak about the company.  For example, as you are first meeting the interviewer, you might include an appropriate but brief comment about the firm. It might relate to the history of the firm, it might relate to a recent event. If you do, make it natural and conversational.

Attire and body language.

In the 21st century, there is no one kind of appropriate attire for an interview.  It depends on the company, on the job category, even on the region.  However, there are a few things that never change, whether for the interview or for your daily employment.  Cleanliness, in body and attire is imperative – that even includes shoes.  Neatness is equally important – it’s a statement of your self-confidence, of how you value yourself.

Body language is interesting and can be useful – judiciously.  It’s often been said that to use body language similar to that of your interviewer has a positive outcome.  If your interviewer is very serious then follow that general lead.  If your interviewer leans a bit forward, you might consider doing the same.  Let your intuition be your guide and by no means should you ape their mannerisms.  As your interviewer speaks, you might want to nod your understanding or visually indicate your interest in what they are saying.  Visual cues tell the speaker that they are providing the kinds of information you seek.

In the end.

At the end of the day, with this much preparation, you are prepared for success. The question that also remains, is it the right employer for you, is it the right job for?