How to ace your next interview
Do you think you know how to interview? Interviews can be stressful events in our lives, and it’s totally understandable if they make you break out in a cold sweat. But there are many steps that you can take to make sure you ace your next interview.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
The key to any good interview is to prepare thoroughly before you walk into that room. While it is impossible to predict every question, it is possible to anticipate most questions that will be asked. Research the company and its products thoroughly. Look at their website and social media feeds. Understand what problems they are trying to solve, and how they are positioning themselves in the marketplace. Look at the latest balance sheet if it’s available. If they have a physical product, try to get hands-on with it. Research their competition. Keep in mind, that sometimes the competition may not be another company, but a completely different way of solving the problem. If possible, arrange for a coffee meet with someone within the company prior to the interview so you have some inside knowledge of what challenges the team is facing currently. Know your resume thoroughly. Be prepared to answer any question regarding your past positions, however long ago it may have been. If it’s on your resume, it’s fair game in an interview. If your resume is ‘unconventional’ in any way – gaps in employment, change of career, etc., you can be sure those will come up during the interview. Think ahead about how you will frame your answers and write them down. Then edit them until you are satisfied. Sometimes, the circumstances for these changes might have been less than positive. Be honest, but tactful. Find a way to word your answers in a more upbeat manner, without sounding like a victim. Be clear about what value you bring to the table, and frame your answers to highlight how your past experience is relevant to the position you are interviewing for.
2. Know your resume thoroughly
Be prepared to answer any question regarding your past positions, however long ago it may have been. If it’s on your resume, it’s fair game in an interview. If your resume is ‘unconventional’ in any way – gaps in employment, change of career, etc., you can be sure those will come up during the interview. Think ahead about how you will frame your answers and write them down. Then edit them until you are satisfied. Sometimes, the circumstances for these changes might have been less than positive. Be honest, but tactful. Find a way to word your answers in a more upbeat manner, without sounding like a victim. Be clear about what value you bring to the table, and frame your answers to highlight how your past experience is relevant to the position you are interviewing for.
3. Prepare to answer common questions
Behavioral interviews are very important to many companies, because they are used to gauge cultural and personality fit. The questions may seem innocent enough, so it’s important to understand why each question is being asked and prepare great answers beforehand. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and the reasons for asking those questions.
- Tell us about yourself: They are looking for a short elevator pitch about you. It’s a perfect chance to state your brand explicitly and explain what strengths you bring to the table
- What are your greatest strengths: They are looking to see if there is a natural fit between your strengths and those that an ideal candidate for that position would possess
- Greatest weaknesses: This isn’t a gotcha question, as much as them trying to assess how self-aware you are, and what you are doing about it. Acknowledge things that you’re working on, with a statement like “Being organized does not come naturally to me, so I’m working on it currently. I’m using productivity apps on my phone to help me stay in control of my life.”
- Why are you interested in this position: They are looking to see how much you really know about the company and this position. Everyone likes to feel courted, even companies. If you’ve done your research, this question should be a breeze.
- Why are you looking now? Or Why did you leave your last job: They are trying to understand what motivates you, and how long you will stay with the company if hired. They are also looking for behavioral and performance related red flags here
- When is a time you failed and how did you respond: They are trying to gauge both your honesty, and your ability to learn from your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t insist that you’ve never failed. Instead, use this question to show how you pick yourself up after a failure, learn from it and move on
4. Do a mock interview
Now that you’ve prepared answers to all the commonly asked questions, it’s time to do one, or several mock interviews. You will quickly find, that answers that sound great in your head need a lot of practice before they sound smooth and confident when spoken out loud. If you have a trusted friend, you can ask them to conduct the mock interview for you. If you don’t, you can record your answers, and play them back to do a self-assessment. Pay particular attention to physical and verbal tics and body language. Using excessive filler words like ums and ahs, tugging at clothes, slouching, playing with a pen or hair, touching your face are all things to watch out for. Aim for a relaxed and confident posture. Make eye contact. Smile. Practice your voice modulation so it’s animated but doesn’t get squeaky. Speak slowly and clearly.
5. Ask intelligent questions
Most interviewers ask if you have any questions at the end of the interview. This is your time to really shine. I know hiring managers who base their hire/don’t hire decisions on just the questions the candidate asks during the interview. An interview shouldn’t just be the interviewer asking questions and the candidate answering them. A good interview feels more like a conversation, with both sides asking pertinent questions. While you are doing your research on the company, jot down questions that arise in your mind regarding the strategy the company is taking to solve the problem. If you have thoughts about any gaps that you see in the solutions being provided by the company, now is a great time to bring them up during the interview along with suggestions on how to bridge that gap. If you are speaking to multiple interviewers successively, it is always a great idea to use information from a previous interviewer to ask questions of the following interviewers. This is also the best time to bring up questions regarding the roles and responsibilities of the position you are interviewing for, company and team culture, management style of the hiring manager, and short-term and long-term vision for the team and company. Show that you’ve really thought about the team’s vision and how well you will fit in it, while helping it meet its goals. A clear articulation of the value you will bring to the company will make you stand out among the other candidates being interviewed.
6. The day before the interview
The day before your interview, make sure that everything is ready for your big day. Here is a handy checklist for your reference.
- Decide what clothes you are going to wear for the interview, and try them on to check for missing buttons, stains, frayed cuffs etc. These include shoes, which should be polished and ready to go
- Drive to the interview location to see what the route looks like. Encountering unexpected construction and road closures on the day of the interview is stressful and can be avoided with careful planning. Make a note of the best places to park. If you use a GPS or a traffic app like Waze, entering the address beforehand will make the drive go smoother the next day. Fill your tank with gas or charge your car as the case maybe. Plan to leave early the next day, so you arrive at least fifteen minutes before the appointed time
- Print out at least three copies of your resume and add them to the briefcase or handbag you will carry to the interview. Interviewers can be super busy and may not always have time to do this before the interview. Keeping them ready will save a few minutes during the interview
- Write down the list of questions you have prepared or print them out and add a copy to your file. Don’t make a list on your phone. It is advisable to turn your phone off during the interview to minimize distractions, so a hard copy of the questions will be better for you to refer to during the interview
- This last one is very important – Get a good night’s sleep!
7. Follow up note
After the interview, send a brief note to each interviewer thanking them for taking the time to meet you. Use this opportunity to once again touch on the main topics you discussed during the interview, emphasize how you will bring value to the team, and how excited you are for an opportunity to work with the team and company. Convey genuine enthusiasm. You will be surprised how far it goes in helping someone picture you as part of the team.
Ok now that you’ve done everything right, go knock their socks off!
If you need help preparing for an interview, in-person or online, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org