This week I will be posting a three part series on how to nail an interview, detailing exactly what you need to do before, during, and after.
This post will deal with the ‘before.’
What you do before your interview is without a doubt the MOST important part of a successful interview.
Prepare, prepare, prepare.
I cannot emphasize this enough. I’ve been through eight interviews at this point in my life and have realized that how well you do in an interview really comes down to how much time you spend preparing for it. If you don’t prepare for your interview, you might as well not show up.
Of the eight interviews I’ve had so far, I blew the first two and nailed the next six. What’d I do wrong in those first two? I didn’t spend enough time preparing.
Of course, I was also less experienced at the time and had a pretty weak resume. But once I got a few interviews under my belt I started to get the hang of it, my resume started to fill up, and interviewing started becoming less nerve-wracking and more of a routine process than anything else.
The way I see it, if you can get an interview, you should be confident that you can get the job.
All you have to do is take the time to prepare for it.
So how much time should you spend preparing?
I typically spend at least 2 hours studying the night before. I say studying because you should treat your interview like a very important test. You have to go into it with an ‘A or bust’ mentality. This might sound like a lot of pressure, and it would be if it was a hard test; fortunately, it’s an easy test because you already know practically everything that’s going to be on it.
I’ve broken down the preparation process into the following five steps. Take the time to follow these steps and you’ll be on track to confidently nailing your next interview.
1. Create an “About me.”
Create a document with a general bio about yourself outlining your strengths, weaknesses, and your answers to some of the most common interview questions (a quick Google search should be sufficient).
Before you get into those questions though, think about how you would answer if the first thing the interviewer said was, “Tell me about yourself.”
This is not an uncommon way for interviews to start, so be prepared to have an answer. Are you a leader, an organizer, a critical thinker, a problem solver? Keep it brief and relevant. Spend some time really thinking about what your skills and strengths are and try to support you answer with what you’re studying, what you do in your free-time, or what you’ve done in the past. You can think of your answer to this question as a sort of thesis for the rest of your interview, in the sense that everything else you say must tie back to your thesis.
When you are answering the common interview questions, instead of trying to answer every single question you find in your Google search, choose a handful of solid examples you could use to answer multiple questions that show why you are such a great leader, or problem solver, or whatever it is that you defined yourself as.
Once you’ve done all this, save this document for future reference. This will make preparing for future interviews incredibly easier. Also, I suggest using bullet points instead of writing out complete sentences to prevent memorizing your answers word by word and sounding rehearsed. Feel free to memorize a few key words or phrases you will want to use, but remember, you want to sound prepared, not rehearsed.
2. Do some research.
You will want to research the company and the position you are applying for.
Go on the company’s website, and read everything. Or at least skim through everything. Pay particular attention to the “About” page or anything that resembles the company’s mission statement. What is the company’s purpose? What is their industry? What kind of service do they provide and how do they provide this service? Think about these kinds of questions and write down your answers, based on what you can find.
After you have a good feel for what the company does and how they do it, it’s time to find out everything you can about the position you are applying for. Re-read the job description and any other material you have on the position. Highlight key words and think of how your skills and strengths make you a good fit for the position. Go back to your “About me” document, and re-adjust, if necessary, some of your answers in a way that specifically applies to the position.
This is where you must cater your skills and your experience to the job. You may not be a perfect match for the job, but that’s not the point. The point is that you have a lot to offer and the company would be at a loss if they didn’t hire you. Your job is to convince them of this.
Doing this requires you to sell your brand. Your brand is essentially everything you wrote about in your “About me” document. Your skills and experiences do align with the position in at least some ways, and that’s what you have to work with. Focus on what’s relevant and communicate it in a way that shows you have what the job requires. Practice your marketing skills. This might take some creativity, but as you gain more experience, it will become easier and easier to apply your skill set to almost anything.
3. Do some stalking.
Okay, maybe not stalking, but do a background check on the hiring manager/interviewer.
Make sure you know who is going to be interviewing you. If they don’t tell you, ASK.
Read their bio on the company’s website. If they don’t have one, do a quick Google search.
Look for their experience, education, what other companies they’ve worked at, and how long they’ve been in the industry. Make note of anything that you might want to bring up during the interview. For example, if you are from the same area, if you’re interested in something they worked on in the past, or anything else that could provide an opportunity to bring the conversation to a more personal level.
4. Create a cheat sheet.
After you’ve completed steps 1-3, condense all your prep material into a single page. Only include important, relevant information. Again, use bullet points so you don’t sound rehearsed during the interview. Use it to review in the morning and if you want, go ahead and bring it to the interview to review while you’re waiting to be called in.
5. Think of a few questions.
Every interview ends the same way–by asking you if you have any questions. Never say no. Always prepare about 3-5 purposeful questions that show you’re already thinking ahead. For example, “If I were to start working tomorrow, what would be the top priority on my to-do list?” or “What are the prospects for growth and advancement in this position?” Of course, if they didn’t answer them already, feel free to ask a few general questions about company culture, typical work day, etc. Never ask about money, raises, benefits, etc.
Remember, it’s better to over-prepare than to under-prepare and not have a job. You probably won’t use more than half of what you study–so don’t try to memorize every single thing–but reading as much as you can will give you a better understanding of the company and the position as a whole, allowing you to better sell yourself than the rest of your competition. Here are a few final tips to make sure you’re ready for the big day:
- Put everything (extra copies of your resume, your questions, and your cheat sheet) in a leather portfolio. If you don’t have one, a new folder or binder should be fine.
- Make sure you know exactly how to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive 15-20 minutes early.
- Relax, loosen up a little, and imagine yourself speaking confidently and with ease during the interview. Practice talking to yourself in the mirror and observe your facial expressions and hand gestures. Right before your interview, you may even want to try taking a power stance (if you haven’t seen this awesome TED talk on the importance of body language, you should definitely check it out).
Well there you have it. Follow these steps and you should be able to walk into your next interview confident that you will get the job, because you deserve it. If you took the time to properly prepare, that alone shows what kind of work ethic you have.
Check out the next two parts to learn what to do during the actual interview and how to follow-up.
Part 1: Preparing
Image Source: freeimages – mikecco