Ah, the dreaded job interview! Never was there such an even mixture of fear and anticipation. You’ve done the research, brushed up your resume, gathered your portfolio and updated your website and now…here it is, time to seal the deal. Most interviews follow a bit of a format and a good interviewer should have their questions prepared ahead of time.The same is said of a good interviewee. By taking some time to do a little extra prep work, you can increase your chances of a successful interview, exponentially. To have a better interview…
Hopefully, you looked into the business that you are hoping to work at before applying for the position, but how closely did you look at them? Most applicants never get past the “open positions” page of a company website and this is where you can give yourself a big advantage during the interview process.
Once you identify a business that you’d really like to work for, do some serious research. Check their entire website, especially the blog section if they have one. What a business chooses to write about will give you a good insight into the direction they are looking to take. Plus, it’s a great way to engage your interviewer in conversation with “You know, I saw your recent blog post about X,Y,Z and I couldn’t help but think that maybe you should look into Q,R,S…” Now you are demonstrating a genuine interest in what the business is all about and separating yourself from the competition.
Think of it in terms of dating. If someone wanted to hop right into a long-term relationship with you and didn’t take the time to look past your relationship status, they likely wouldn’t advance past the first date, would they?
This may seem like common sense, but one of the most important things that you can do during a job interview is to listen carefully. Don’t just smile and nod politely with a vacant look in your eye. A good interviewer will know when you’ve tuned out and are busy planning the ways to spend your first paycheck while they are explaining the details of the position. Don’t forget that an interview is just as much of an opportunity for you to decide if the company and position are a good fit for you as it is a chance for them to see if you are the right pick for them. The only way to truly know this is to truly listen.
Active listening can lead you to ask questions that will not only give you great insight into the position and company culture but will also show that you are an engaged, critical thinker; qualities that most companies are looking for in an ideal candidate.
I’ve seen really interesting stories go completely missed during an editorial interview simply because the interviewer wasn’t actually listening, they were busy planning their next question or taking notes. Sit up straight, look your interviewer in the eye and open your ears— follow those three steps and you are well on your way to a successful interview.
Tell Your Story
The very first question that most interviewers ask often throws most interviewees for a loop: “Tell me about yourself.“
I hate that question.
It’s very difficult to explain yourself in a few sentences and most people hate talking about themselves directly. There are two good ways to prep yourself for this cold open:
#1. Remember that they want to see if you are a good fit for their company. You’re not vying for the title of Interviewer’s BFF.
#2. Write your story out beforehand.
Instead of the stock answer that goes something like this:
“Well, I went to X school, where I studied Y. My first job was Z and I liked it for these 3 reasons.” An interviewer has likely already read your resume. They don’t need you to repeat it back to them. Instead, try an approach that provides a little more insight into you as a person, such as:
“I was born and raised in Honduras, with my parents and six siblings. When I was seven years old, my father took me to the beach where we stumbled upon a nest of sea turtle eggs on the verge of hatching out. We sat in the hot sun for hours waiting for the new turtles to break through their shells. While we waited, my father told me stories of his adventures exploring the ocean near his childhood home while we sipped warm Coca-Cola. That’s when I first fell in love with marine biology.”
Assuming that you are applying for a position as a marine biologist and that those things actually happened, this approach helps to foster a personal connection and also invites follow up questions and resulting conversation.
Remember to point your story towards the position that you are applying for. So, if you want to be the newest stylist in your town’s swankiest salon, a story about cutting your own hair in kindergarten would be a great pick. Keep it short, keep it interesting and practice it beforehand.
Prep a PAR (or three)
An interview is a chance for the company to which you are applying to assess whether or not you are a good fit for the position, not a popularity contest. Part of any job requires conflict resolution skills, which is why by preparing a few Problem, Action, Resolution (or PAR) anecdotes beforehand can give you a definite leg up.
The stories you choose to share should relate in some way to the position for which you are currently applying and show your conflict resolution skills in a clearly positive light. Did you deal with an unhappy customer who you magicked into becoming the most loyal client in your previous employer’s history? Use it. Did you increase revenue in a down year? Develop a new product or service in answer to new competition? Have a hand in restructuring marketing strategies or communications? These are all skills that can apply to most jobs and answer the foremost question of any business: Can you help us make more money?
Seal The Deal
At the end of the day, an interview is basically a sales pitch, even if you know nothing about sales. You’ve likely heard the infamous line from Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always be closing.”
As much as you want to start off the interview making a great impression, you want to close the deal on your way out. The best way to do that? Ask for the job. Believe it or not, most people skip this super simple and important step. If you don’t feel comfortable outright asking to be hired (a lot of people feel like this approach is too pushy) you can end with a question that will not only show your interest but also provide you some valuable feedback:
“Is there anything that I’ve said today that would prevent you from hiring me for this position?”
Chances are your interviewer will be caught a little off guard and say something along the lines of, “Well, we need to take a few days to consider all applicants,” but you will have stopped them in their tracks and made them think while demonstrating that you are serious about getting the position.