In a fast-moving world, where competition is fierce, with more educated, qualified job applicants than ever, it can be a daunting task to find a great opportunity.
How do you stand out from others?
There are numerous articles and books on the art of the interview. Over the course of my career thus far, I’ve interviewed over ten thousand candidates, hired more than five thousand employees, created and trained managers on the art of interview and selection. What I’m about to share may make common sense; however, it’s the application behind the philosophy that truly sets a standout interview.
This article will focus on the actual event of the interview in three stages, mainly in a face to face format.
- Have you done your homework? This means a thorough look at the nature of the job as well as the organization. Those who know what they’re looking for, tend to get it. The same rule applies here. An interview is a short audition as to how you may perform on the job. Make sure that you are prepared for the hiring managers.
- Have your documents, including a 30/60/90 day plan and have copies ready. It’s always impressive to a hiring manager to see a candidate who’s organized and thinking strategically with actionable items at ready. Hiring managers may not be interested in seeing your product but the mere fact that you’ve done this will make you stand out.
- Write down both strengths and weaknesses along with examples. This document is purely for your eyes only as it is meant to create a safety net in the event that you’re completely thrown off during the interview (It happens to the best of us). It can be a useful tool at your disposal to buy time and to remember important items during the interview. Weaknesses can be areas where you’ve grown and had the greatest moments of learning.
- Have questions ready for hiring managers and write it down. This is the only opportunity you have to ask and interview the hiring managers to see if there’s a good match. Make it count so that you don’t forget your questions. Remember that an interview is a two-way street and you have something that they want as well. Evaluate their culture, the intricacies of the job, and especially their leadership philosophy and approach.
- Eat, hydrate, sleep, and dress well. This may sound obvious but I’ve seen numerous interviews where an interviewee looked too tired, seemed unfocused, and didn’t look the part despite their great answers. Do you want to be remembered as the tired, unprofessional candidate? Please watch your perfume and cologne!
- Catch 22 (Humility) — It’s a fine balance to be prepared and ready while coming across as inquisitive and prepared versus arrogant or cocky through preparation. There have been numerous instances when an interviewee was clearly prepared but presented him/herself as all-knowing and arrogant, ultimately offending a hiring manager.
- Arrive early. This seems so obvious but so many people arrive late to an interview, often killing the interview before it even starts. Getting there early can help you relax and observe the environment. That person who’s wandering around the halls yelling stressed out, and acting unprofessional may just well be the hiring manager in the interview. Wouldn’t you like to know what you’re committing to?
- Be yourself and professional. Be confident in who you are and don’t be afraid to show your personality. Are they going to accept you for you or some made-up version of you? Professionalism is of utmost importance, of course.
- Watch your body language and tone. Did you know that the majority of communication is not the actual words that you say but how you say them? Smile, shake hands and keep good eye contact with others. For people who have social anxiety, please practice with others. This can be a learned skill.
- Answer the question and observe. Too many candidates make up an answer or try to fake it when they’re thrown off. Who would you hire? Someone who actually answers the question and is honest or someone who rambles and tries to cover up their faults? There’s tact in how you can address this well. How about? “I don’t have experience with that; however, here’s what I would do in that situation. I had a situation that was similar and this is what I did. It actually led to this.” Remember that an interview is a two-way street. Watch the interviewers, especially the direct hiring manager. Is his/her body language changing? Are they smiling and seem at ease? If you observe that the response isn’t positive, ask, “Have I addressed what you’re asking for?” Sometimes, there just isn’t a good cultural fit, and that’s okay. Better know now than later.
- Ask questions and observe. Now that the questioning has been completed, it’s your turn to ask away and observe. Much like the way that the hiring managers were asking questions to evaluate you as a potential hire, you want to spend thoughtful time to evaluate them as an employer and hiring manager. Are they open to your questions? Is the conversation exactly that? A conversation rather than a dictated and controlled one-way monologue?
- Catch 22 (Buying time and a deep breath) — You could be the most prepared person for the interview, yet there may be one question during the interview which could completely throw you off, and make you panic. This is a critical moment. Some interviewers will do this purposefully to see how you react to get a sense of how you may work. Remember that document from the Pre-Interview? This is where it can be very helpful. How would you like to react? “Wow! I can’t think of an example right now. May I come back to that so that I can think of an example?” or just simply have a meltdown in front of others. Take nice, deep, and controlled breaths to loosen that cortisol from your bloodstream.
- Ask for a time frame on decisions and next steps. It’s very important to know what and where you are in the process. Just as the employer may be wondering if you’re interviewing with others (and you should be), you want to know where you stand and how long the process may take. A Recruiter and hiring manager can smell desperation from a mile away and this will come back to haunt you in the negotiation process as well.
- Send individual, personalized thank you letters to all interview panel members. I’ve seen people go as far as hand-craft a personal thank you card from scratch, although nice, a bit too time-consuming. You’re interviewing with others. Remember? An email will more than suffice. It’s also a great opportunity to remind them of the parts that they liked about you during the interview as well as address any potential areas of concern.
- Follow-up but don’t stalk. Respect the timeline that the hiring manager or Recruiter may have presented to you during the interview. Follow-up in a respectable timeframe if you haven’t heard back. There may be all kinds of change in decisions behind closed doors which you may not be aware of.
- Catch 22 (Don’t take it personal and move-on graciously) — Now at this point, assuming that there was a mutually good fit, you’ve accepted your new job and are looking forward to meeting your new co-workers. However, you may also be on the rejection side of a decision. Some Recruiters and hiring managers will share reasons behind why you weren’t selected. Most won’t. Take this “No” as momentum into your next interview and fine-tuning your interviewing skills. Moving on graciously and professionally is best as you may never know when you’ll run into the same hiring managers or Recruiters again.
I hope this article is helpful in landing your next dream opportunity, and please remember, practice makes perfect. Sometimes, you may be well prepared and a great candidate but it may not be a good cultural fit. Don’t take it personal and happy job hunting!