Job Interviews

 

Job Interview Preparation


Prepartion is the key to a sucessful interview. On the day of the interview, there should be no surprises. You know know the company, know yourself, and know your goals. Interviews are just an opportunity to share what you already know. The more that you prepare, the more comfortable you will be when you actually interview. To help you prepare, we've divided interview preparation into 5 steps:

Step 1: Know Your Goals

It is critical to go into each interview knowing what you want to accomplish. Want some examples of goals? Whatever the interview – for a job, internship, project, or school – your goals will include:


Throughout the interviewing process,
make sure you stay organized. Be sure
to write down times, locations,
phone numbers, and interviewer names.
  1. Differentiating yourself from the crowd
  2. Communicating your value
  3. Communicating past accomplishments (as example of what you will contribute in the future)
  4. Communicating important qualities (e.g. problem-solving skills, creativity)
  5. Establishing rapport and fit (make sure you know the style and culture of the environment)
  6. Gathering additional information about the job, the organization’s priorities, and so on.

In order to help you prepare, here is a more detailed breakdown of these goals, and some example interview answers to think about. Always remember - “show, don’t tell.” Giving examples is much more powerful than just saying you have a skill.

  • Differentiate / convey something important about yourself:
    • You are collaborative
      • Example: “Working on a team allows me to contribute in a dynamic and collaborative environment. I am at my best encouraging contributions from a diverse group. While Creative Director at ZZZ Agency, my team included two graphic designers, one writer, and a production specialist, all with outstanding skills. Their efforts won our agency three awards in three years straight.”
    • You are a leader
      • Example: “In the three years I ran New Accounts for Acme International Company, our division increased revenues by 250%, and client satisfaction ratings were the highest in company history. I believe we accomplished this by focusing on staff development and communication processes that encouraged each member of the team to do his best work.”
    • You are creative
      • Example: demonstrate with portfolio or other means
    • You are an achiever
      • Examples of proudest achievements: special subject matter scholarships or awards in school, a rigorous work project brought in on time and under budget, helping a student with special challenges achieve honor roll, and go on to college.
  • Communicate your value and relevance to the job and organization
    • If the company is looking to broaden into South American markets, point out that you speak Spanish and Portuguese fluently
    • If the position requires counseling skills, give examples that show how you resolve conflict, are a natural negotiator, are empathetic toward people, etc.
  • Understand the reason for job opening, if you can
    • New position, for a new line of business
    • Replacement of someone who didn’t work out
    • Replacement of someone who relocated or was promoted
  • Reiterate your strengths and contributions in different ways
    • Problem solver, and here’s an example . . .
    • Creative leader, and here’s an example. . .
  • Communicate the specifics of why you are qualified for the job
    • Cite specific examples in your personal background, prior work experience, education, and training that show you have what the employer needs 
  • Explain any anomalies in your background
    • Always put things in a positive light, but don’t lie!
      • Example, “During the three years following the plant closing, I was keeping my eye open for just the right opportunity with a company where I could really contribute. During that time, I did a variety of things to take care of my family, but I also honed my computer skills by getting certified in X, Y, and Z.”
  • Give your 90-second elevator speech
    • The thumbnail sketch of your goals, background, qualifications, and accomplishments.
  • Tell the 5-minute life story
    • Some interviewers ask for the broad “tell me about your life” - but they want the 5-minute version. Be sure you can encapsulate key (interesting and relevant) aspects in a way that is concise, and comprehensive.
    • This open-ended question may allow you to talk about your family situation. Do so only if it is appropriate. There is no need to mention marital status, children, health, or other personal information that is, in theory, irrelevant to your ability to perform the job.

Step 2: Assess Your Skills

Are you prepared to talk about your skills?

Sit down and make a list if you need to. Get as specific as you can. Use categories if that will help you. For example:

General Category Specifics
Communication Skills Presentation
Written
Listening
Interviewing
Interpersonal Skills Listening
Negotiating
Resolving Conflict
Putting Others at Ease
Motivating
Collaborating
Technology Skills Windows XP Operating System
Windows NT Operating System
XML
JavaScript
HTML
CSS

 

When talking about your skills, be sure to demonstrate them, or have clear examples. And be sure your skills are consistent with what is on your resume, and what is needed for that organization.

Do some of your skills look like personal qualities? They may be. Often the things we do best have a lot to do with what comes naturally.

Feel like the tangible skills list is a little skimpy? Have you been out of the workplace for awhile? Look again at those personal qualities as well as how you’ve been spending your time.

Do you have a lot of friends? Are you always the one who is conciliatory when there’s a conflict? Then you’re a collaborator, a problem-solver, and a negotiator.

Are you great with young children, or older relatives? Your nurturing nature is indicative of care-giving skills – patience, good listening, recognizing others’ needs whether verbalized or not, and putting people at ease.

Mine these qualities for what they are - essential skills in the workplace, depending upon the profession. 

Step 3: Find the The Flip Side of the ‘Challenge’ Areas

What about the not-so-great stuff? You get impatient or frustrated when you can’t understand something. Or you’re just not good with numbers. Perhaps you’re a loner – you prefer the company of a tough technology problem and your computer to interacting with people.

Know your weaknesses, but see the upside. Here are some examples of how to do that.

Challenge / Perceived Weakness In a Positive Light...
Not good with details
  • I’m an idea person. I’m great with creative concepts. I collaborate well, lead brainstorming and strategy sessions, and help get the ball rolling. I work well with other teams who take these concepts and then execute on the detail.
Emotional
  • I have gotten emotionally involved with patients in the past. I believe my empathetic nature is an important part of their recovery process.
  • I am by nature an emotional person. As a drama teacher, this comes in handy, giving me much to draw from as I work with the students on playing a variety of roles.
Perfectionist
  • I am a perfectionist. I love to get the details right. But I also see the big picture. I think this is the best of both worlds.
  • I am a perfectionist. I demand excellence from myself, but know when to balance that with effective use of time.
Loner 
  • I am most effective as an individual contributor, or in a role where I can research in depth.
  • I am persistent in the face of technical problems. I am a self-starter, and self-motivated. I don’t require much of my managers – just give me the task, and I’ll run with it.

 

If one of your areas of weakness can benefit from practice, then opportunities for training as well as experience will assist you. This includes classes, being mentored, on-the-job training, and industry seminars. You also have innumerable resources on the Internet to acquire and hone skills.

Positioning Strategies When You Don’t “Officially” Have the Skills:

  1. Have a plan for how you will acquire the skills and experience you need.
  2. Be prepared to articulate that plan.

Use continuing education and volunteer work to highlight your commitment to a career area and acquisition of skills. Here are two sample scenarios.

Looking for a job that requires an MBA, and you don’t have one? Here’s an example of how to handle that. Point out: “I am currently enrolled in night classes in finance. I’ve also spent the past two years managing my own portfolio, and have seen a 20% growth rate in what is a very volatile market. I plan to continue studying on my own and working to hone these skills.”

Or, for a marketing communications position that requires technology skills you don’t have on your resume: “My communication skills are top-notch, and I have the portfolio to show that. As for the specific experience with publishing tools, I’m currently enrolled in classes at night, and I’ve been working with the local community center on a volunteer basis to assist with their newsletter, using Illustrator, Photoshop, and QuarkXPress.”

Step 4: Do the Research

What kind of research about the organization is required?

  • The more you know about the company and type of people who are successful there, the better off you’ll be.
  • Know the organization’s products and services.
  • Know what the company stands for and cares about.
  • Find out if they’ve been in the news lately, and why.
  • Talk to someone who works there if you can, and see what the culture is like.
  • Check out industry best practices, and be ready to discuss them.
  • Research the company’s history, their challenges, flagship products, and achievements.
  • Research the competition! Be prepared to answer why you’d like to work at this company versus their main competitor.

What kind of research about the job is required?

  • Get a job description if you can.
  • Make sure you know as much as possible about the job itself.
  • Compare it to similar jobs you are familiar with, or have researched.
  • Know the subject matter as well as the interrelationship of the job to other areas of the organization.
  • Brush up on job skills, new terminology, recent developments, or other key information that will show you know what’s involved in performing well.
  • Understand the typical reporting relationships, accountability, and responsibility in this type of job. You will then be able to relate your questions to what is standard in the industry.
  • Talk to a friend, a neighbor, or family member who has worked in a similar role. Ask about the top challenges in the job, and the most important qualities to perform it well.

Your research will give you the confidence to anticipate questions, and know what is important in your answers. It should also let you see if this is a job and organization that suits you.

What else do you need to know? Know your rights – what you do and don’t have to answer. For more on that, check out this topic in our section on Sample Job Interview Questions and Answers.

Step 5: Practice

Haven’t interviewed in a while? Or is this the first job you’re shooting for, and you have no idea what it’s really like? 

Practice is essential. And it can be fun. Practice with a friend, a classmate, or family member. Practice in the front of the mirror, or a video camera, if you like. Use sample questions (see our section on Interview Questions and Answers) and try out different answers. In the end, make sure you have polished answers to the questions you know you will be asked. And do prepare for some off-the-wall questions so you aren’t caught off-guard by them, and say something you don’t mean.  

Be sure to assess your performance in both of these ways:

  1. Content (subject matter expertise, skills, accomplishments)
  2. Delivery (body language, voice, choice of words, too fast, too slow, ums and uhs).

Why?

Feel good about the things you do well! As for the areas that require more practice, spend some time working on them until you’ve made improvements.

Whatever the interview, and whatever the field you are in, there are two activities that can be helpful to your performance. They are the ability to be concise in your presentation and knowing your elevator speech.

  • Practice Being Brief
    • Can you summarize situations quickly and concisely? Or does it take you fifteen minutes to tell a story that didn’t take fifteen minutes to occur?
    • Try it. Take any subject. Maybe it’s your last softball game in which you hit a triple and brought in the winning run. Maybe it’s the three-year research project in organic chemistry that won you a prize. 
    • Whatever the topic, the ability to summarize and still make a point is critical in an interview. If you have difficulty being concise when you communicate, practice it. Interviewers don’t want a rambler.
  • Practice Your Elevator Speech
    • Similar to the ability to summarize, the “Elevator Speech” is your way of quickly presenting your goals, skills, experience, contributions, and so on. This 90-second synopsis is your value proposition, and it’s delivered in the time it takes to ride a few floors in an elevator.
    • If you don’t have an elevator speech, make one. Practice it. Not only will it be useful in your official job interviewing, but you never know when you might have other opportunities to use it.
    • For examples of the Elevator Speech, take a look here. Use whatever tone is natural to you. Be sure to include key points, keep it brief, and cohesive. Remember – always have a business card or a calling card on hand. You may find you actually do give an elevator speech in an elevator! And you never know when that next job opportunity is going to present itself.
Elevator Speech Example 1 “I am an independent corporate trainer with a background in solution selling, enterprise systems, and motivational speaking. I’m also a certified executive coach, and frequent speaker for the ASTD. I’ve spent the past 8 years working with a variety of sales teams, assisting in raising their comfort level with new technologies, as well as giving them the tools to successfully prospect, sell, and close large deals. My training style is consultative and interactive, and I thrive in organizations of all sizes, working with executives and sales associates equally well. I’ve helped clients literally double their sales revenues in a manner of months. If you would like to know more, and hear some client success stories, I’d be happy to refer you to. . . (my website, my clients, my newsletter. . .)”  
Elevator Speech Example 2 “I work in PR. I’m a communication specialist and musician, looking to expand my opportunities in the music industry. My background is in journalism and communications. I graduated two years ago with honors, from NYU, where I was editor-in-chief for the school newspaper, and also worked part-time as a sound engineer in a recording studio near campus. I’ve combined my passion for communication and music by spending the past two years working in a mid-sized PR firm, specializing in the recording industry. This has been particularly satisfying since I also play sax in a small jazz group performing in the East Village.

At this stage, I’m looking to expand the breadth of activities I perform to include more media pieces as well as more responsibility for key accounts. My understanding is that your company, Red-Yellow-Blue Creatives, would be an ideal fit for my experience, and I’d like to hear more about your needs, to see where I could contribute . . .”


Step 6: Know the Interview Logistics

Don’t let logistics throw you off your game. Always get the specifics of your interview before you hit the road to make that appointment. Be sure to jot down:

  • Who you are seeing
  • Job title
  • Your working relationship with that person
  • Time, Date, Parking, Directions, and other Logistics
  • Approximate amount of time you are expected to be there.

There will always be surprises, but a little knowledge up front will minimize them, and allow you to be on time and prepared.

You’ve researched, prepped, and brushed up on skills. What next? Now, it's time to go over some sample job interview questions and what you should focus on in your responses.

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