Three Steps to Acing a Job Interview

Here at Tradecraft, we spend our time helping students hone their sales, marketing, and product skills. That said, we recognize that giving Tradecrafters the tools to do the job is not enough; they also have to be able to get the job.

And job applicants have all kinds of worries about the interview process:

Will I say the wrong thing?
Will I play the hiring game correctly?
How do I deal with the information asymmetry between me and the company?

To address these concerns, we invited world-class HR pro Kara Yarnot from Meritage Talent Solutions to come by and share her thoughts on the interview process. Below is her 3-step process to acing a job interview.

Step 1: Do the Research

Before heading off to your interview, do some deep research. Understand the company and its products. What is the history of the company? What pivots have they made along the way? Who are their competitors?

Understand the big picture of the company. Draw on public information and then use your network to talk to people who work there. What are trends in the space? What are the company’s leaders doing and thinking about? Read both personal and company blogs. What are their competitors saying? What is the press saying?

By doing great research, you increase your chance of hitting your answer to this question out of the park: “Why do you want to work at this company, specifically?”

There’s another important reason to do research: you’re evaluating the company as much as they’re evaluating you. Doing research reminds you of this fact. You’re on equal footing during a job interview. The company wants to make the right decision about you, and you want to make the right decision about the company.

As part of the research process, ask every employee you meet to describe the culture. Answers will vary (if everyone says the exact same thing, that is a warning sign), but look for the common themes and threads.
Know your interviewers. Study them. Who is the hiring manager? What was her path to joining the company, and what has her path within the company been? Who are the key influencers beyond the hiring manager?

The more deeply you understand the company, the stronger your position.

Step 2: Be the Solution

The job description is a starting point, but it is often short on detail about what the position really entails and what the company actually needs. Read the job rec, then move it to the side.

Your research should help you identify the problem the company has; you need to be the solution to that problem.
During an interview, you want to be able to say, “Here is a problem that I’ve identified. Here’s an example of how I’d solve it, and here are examples of how I’ve done similar things in the past.”

It’s really that straightforward:

  • here is a problem
  • this is my proposed solution (or even better, here are a few potential solutions and the process by which I’d generate and test more)
  • here are examples of how I’ve down similar things in the past

If you haven’t figured out what problem the company faces, then ask. “What’s the biggest problem I could tackle when I come onboard?”

This approach applies regardless of the level at which you’re entering. If you’re an entry-level hire, you may not be able to solve the company’s Big Problem. That’s ok. Break down the Big Problem into component pieces, and then figure out how you can be a great solution to a piece of that problem.

To be a solution, you need an inventory of your strengths.

To build this inventory, set aside time for self-reflection. Ask yourself, “What are my technical strengths, and what are my soft-skill & functional strengths?”

Once you’ve got that list, take it to your mentors, former bosses, and colleagues. Ask them what you should add to or subtract from this list. Find people you trust. Tell them that you want honest feedback.

Then bucket your strengths and make sure you can give 3–4 examples of how you’ve used that strength in past situations. These examples can come from work, school, or volunteer experiences. Put together a collection of these examples, and actually write them down so you’ll remember them. You can and should reference this collection of stories during the interview process.

Also remember that when selling yourself as a solution, you should not be afraid to own the interview. Your interviewers are not deeply experienced interviewers. You can drive the conversation.

Step 3: Make the Connection

You’ve researched the company deeply, and you have positioned yourself as a solution to a problem that the company has. But in the end, you’re not going to be hired by a company. You’re going to be hired by a person.

It’s easy to lose sight of the human beings that you’re talking to during the hiring process. Don’t let yourself. The people you’re interviewing with may be rockstar founders or deeply experienced hiring managers, but they are all still ultimately people.

Make a connection with these people.

They’ve got hobbies, significant others, kids and pets. Check their Pinterest / Twitter / Facebook profiles. Unearth human things. Talk about these human things. People love to talk about things they’re passionate about; find the opportunity to move the conversation into a more relaxed mode.
Also remember that, especially at early-stage companies, hiring is terrifying. Founders view companies as extensions of themselves. That means you are an extension of them, so they will have to get very comfortable with you, and they will need to trust you tremendously. The trust piece is huge.
Importantly, and back to the equal footing piece, be genuine and be yourself. That’s who is going to work there. You.

Bonus: The ATS Black Hole

When you applied to a job through an online posting and never heard back, what happened? A hypothetical (but typical) situation demonstrates:

  • job rec opens
  • a few days later, there are 100+ applicants
  • the recruiter orders the list. typical ordering: internal, referrals, boolean search for resume keywords, timestamp
  • recruiter skims the top 20 candidates (skim == ~15 seconds, potentially less)
  • recruiter picks 10 to look at in more detail, pass along to hiring manager

Key takeaways from this process

  • getting in via social recruiting (via referral) is key. if you have a friend or contact at the company, ask them if they have a referral program. it will get your application to the top of the pile, plus your friend will likely get some reward if you’re hired.
  • have your resume match the keywords in the job rec. this is an open book test. don’t fail it.
  • set up job post alerts and apply the moment you see the opening. every day you wait, you fall farther behind in the queue to be reviewed. many of the resumes will never be reviewed.
  • the most qualified / talented people aren’t always the ones who get hired (nothing to do about this one, other than the tips above)

A final important note: the key metric for recruiters is “time to fill,” not how long the hire stays / how the hire performs. Think through those incentives to better understand the motivations of a recruiter.

Thanks for your time and insights Kara, we really appreciate you sharing them with us.

Reader: If you are an HR practitioner and have additional tips to share with us — or are looking for great traction talent — drop me a line:

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