In the last three posts on this issue I covered off the preparation of a CV and the cover letter, as well as how to penetrate the market. The last post is for those of you who get close enough to the front of the queue, to be offered an interview.
Firstly, this is significant. Hopefully you got here because you wrote a great CV and a great cover letter, and those two documents are accurately reflecting who you are and what your skills are. If so, you are in the lucky position of being ideally suited for the job, along with a small number of other candidates. If you got here by networking, also good. Just remember that the reputation of your referrer depends on you acing the interview. If you treat it as a right, and not a privilege to be here, it will end up biting you AND your referrer in the derriere.
So here you are, about to be grilled by a panel of strangers about how you should be selected to join a team that you don’t know, and do a job that you are not yet familiar with, and how you will add value in some way to an organisation that you only know from the outside. No problem!
Of course it’s a challenge! Hopefully this post will help you to prepare yourself for that interview.
Firstly, you absolutely need to appreciate that you are top of the pile. There is no need to go into an interview feeling like you are second best. Let me stress that arrogance is a big turn-off, so I am not advocating that you walk in like the other candidates are worthless. They are not. Humility always a great characteristic to demonstrate but that does not mean having a poor self-image. It means having a RIGHT self-image. You are good enough to be at the interview. Own it.
The interviewers know what you don’t know. So all the insecurity that paragraph three might have caused, don’t worry about it. But they will be looking for some very important things, so that they can take a gamble on you:
- A values fit, and being comfortable in your own skin
- The ability to make your CV come alive through conversation and good storytelling (know your own CV so well you never ever have to look at it or hesitate)
- A hunger to succeed and grow
- A track record of achievement, not just effort.
- Handling the pressure of behaviourally based questions and challenging scenarios.
- That you have a sense of the picture one, or two levels up from you in an organisation.
- A clear picture of what hiring you, as opposed to the other candidate, will add to the team. (This is your value proposition. Formulate it. Take the “elevator pitch” idea and customize/expand it )
These are the things you must learn to communicate well
Secondly, your interview preparation is paramount. I can assure you that it is easy to tell when a candidate is flying by the seat of their pants. And there aren’t many times when that is a good thing. Preparation is about knowing the business that you want to join, and knowing yourself. It is also about presenting yourself in the best possible light, and you always get that right with good preparation.
Know the organisation
Because interviews do not come up often, we expect you to take the time to prepare well. Get on the Internet, and learn what you can about the company. But the corporate pages are mostly marketing stuff controlled by the marketing team, so that is shallow at best. Dig deeper.
Research products, look on YouTube for relevant videos. Hunt down controversy and corporate or product reviews and formulate opinions that you can test in an interview. Understand stock prices and recent trends. If the firm is international, what does the exchange rate; and instability in other countries do to the supply chain? You get the idea.
Valuable team players are borderless, they think outside the team boundaries all the time. Be able to show that you can do that. (You may not get the chance, that’s ok, but be ready anyway. It’s called being thorough)
That said, it’s not about cross-boundary interference or being hyper-opinionated. Being borderless is about creativity, and value; but a good team player knows their place as well. That value can easily be undermined by being rushed or destructive in how you voice those things. Be careful that your value proposition is not only sound, and respectful, but also communicated well.
Its time to look back over your career and know what kind of management style you work best with, and what kind of a manager you are. There are trends and events that you know define you – they say what you are good and what you are not good at. What people you work better with and which ones you do not. Whether you like autonomy or supervision.
This is the part about being comfortable in your own skin. There is no right answer, but there are helpful and unhelpful trends in each of us. Knowing what they are, and how we manage them for the good of the team is hugely important.
Know the job
Do you have the role description, or just the advert you used to apply? Get the role description, and source similar ones from the web to compare responsibilities, etc. Figure out the team, and the likely contributions you and they will be making to the overall picture. Are you familiar with some typical performance constraints in a role such as this? Performance enhancers? Can you discuss them intelligently in a positive helpful way. (Test – could the interview panel leave the interview with improved knowledge, after interviewing you?) can you show how you would positively deal with those things?
Do you know what makes for success in a particular role? Can you find out? Do you know that you can be that kind of a person/employee/team player. If not, do you know what you can do to become that kind of a person/employee/team player?
Interviewers will want to know about situations where you have learned things, discovered shortcomings, overcome obstacles and challenges, and beaten the odds. We expect you to have those stories ready to tell. You can’t possibly prepare for everything but there are some fundamental scenarios that are important to prepare for. (Often those can be adapted to other questions, so having the source idea/scenario well-constructed is vital)
- A time when you handled some serious pressure. How you handled it, and what the outcome was.
- A time when you learned something new.
- A time when you clashed with someone else in the office
- A time when you screwed up and had to fix it.
- A time when you had to deliver something primarily through/using others
- A time you had to plan something from scratch and then execute it to completion
- A time when you were in a team and didn’t get your way, or were leading a team and had to deal with someone else who was a difficult team member.
- A time when you had to problem solve on the fly.
Someone with good answers to these is very employable.
But faked answers, or answers that are carefully constructed to be positive (false weaknesses are a good example), are very transparent. No-one is perfect, and it is very refreshing as an interviewer to find someone who is comfortable with the truth, even when it is difficult. What counts is the positive learning achieved during and after a difficult time. The absence of any flaws or difficulties in a candidate’s career is cheesy and disingenuous.
Some interview skills and fundamentals
- Dress for success
- Good, firm handshakes, and pleasant eye contact. No knuckle breakers, and no wet fish handshakes.
- Don’t be overly familiar, but feel free to be charismatic and easy going
- Make a point of remembering names, using names and making eye contact. Even asking for names and roles of potential team members can be huge if you get it right.
- Take time to answer. Don’t let your mouth lead the interview. Consider, think, and reply with consideration. Clarify if you need to.
- Be positive at ALL times about your previous employers. Even – especially – if there were challenges.
Prepare your own questions to ask. In this regard I can only refer you to a phenomenal article I read recently in Inc. Magazine.
Should you ask about salary and benefits?
This is for you to decide. For me personally, it’s not necessary to ask about salary. When I am the interviewee, I want the impression I leave to be about the value I can add, and what I will be worth to the Company, not what the Company is worth to me.
That said, questions around benefits and quality of life in the workplace are not off-limits for me; I simply don’t like asking about salary or wages. Generally I ask the agent in my preparation stage, or the company at negotiation stage. I don’t believe there is much to be gained from asking in the interview itself – other than exposing that my primary concern is money. And although it’s always important, and everybody of course knows that, it’s not what I want to be remembered for in the interview. But that is just me…
OK, that is enough from me. Good luck out there.