I don’t know anyone that loves to be interviewed for a job. I know people that are exceptionally skilled at it, but even they don’t love it. Because an interview feels like the ultimate judgment exam! A little secret… there is no pass or fail.
Additionally, the interviews are not just about the company seeing if you’re a good fit. It is equally a chance for you to see if the company, the role, and the hiring manager are all good fits for you as well.
- Is this a role you want to do and will learn and grow in a way that excites you?
- Is this manager someone who will help you be successful in your role and is the company an environment where you can thrive?
The goal of the interviews is to get more clarity, and there is a strategy.
First Interview Goal
The goal of the first interview is to get another interview. This is not the time to get all your questions answered. The first interview is typically an elimination interview. Often it is not with someone that makes the hiring decision but is there to determine if there is any reason to eliminate you. Their job is typically to whittle down the list of candidates to a reasonable size for the next round of interviews.
Focus on getting a better understanding of the company’s current situation and its needs. This will allow you to do a better job of being very relevant in future interviews as you tailor your responses to be specific to the company’s problems.
Lots of people will be qualified for the job you’re interviewing for, so the quicker you can connect the dots for the interviewer between your experience and expertise and what they are looking for (because you’ve listened and done research on) the better.
Answering the interviewer’s questions with a polished response is not enough (most people can do that). Instead, you want to be memorable above all the other candidates (in a good way) by making your responses relevant to the interviewer. Turn it into a conversation and connect with the person as a person. Try to see their point of view and respond to what you believe is important to them (don’t be afraid to check in by asking clarifying questions).
Show Not Tell – Storytelling
By now I’m sure you’ve heard that storytelling is the best way to interview. Stories are better than telling someone you’re awesome because it provides a picture that is much more memorable.
A story should include the set and setting; the problem you solved; how it benefited the organization; and what superpowers you used in the process.
Let’s break this down…
Set and Setting – this is about giving a very short background on the situation the company was in to get to this problem. For example, sharing that the company was in start-up mode going for its next round of funding will be a very different environment than a larger organization in a growth phase. The set and setting need to be relevant to the problem by giving insight into why this problem was a big deal without going into too much detail to bore or confuse the interviewer.
The Problem You Solved – this problem should be representative of a problem you want to solve again in the future. If you hated working on this problem, do not share it in the interview because you will be expected to use this expertise if hired because you shared it during the interview process (don’t advertise what you don’t want to sell).
How it Benefited the Organization – share how the solution to the problem provided important results to the organization in a meaningful way. Quantify it as much as possible; for example, it saved X in money or time. Or reduced errors or downtime by X%. Quantifying results is often challenging because you may not have collected the necessary data at the time. If you can go back and creatively figure out an estimate, that would be helpful. If not, be sure to collect this data on all future projects.
Superpowers Used in the Process – This is a chance to showcase what differentiates you from other candidates. When sharing how you solved the problem, share the superpower used and how you approached the problem differently (which obviously was why the solution was a success – duh!).
Build Your Stories
- Brainstorm to collect your dots.
I call your thoughts, dots. Collect your dots before connecting them. You’ll likely have lots of them pop into your head as you try to figure out what stories to tell– what projects or problems to highlight, and what accomplishments to share. A few ways to source these dots:
- List all the projects you’ve worked on (that are relevant).
- List out all the accomplishments you can think of.
- Go through your previous performance reviews and list all the compliments or accolades you’ve received.
- Review your calendar, emails, or project tool (whatever you use to track your work) to help jog your memory.
- Outline the tops projects or problems you want to do again (or something similar), then answer the following:
- What made this problem unique?
- What was the set and setting of the organization – what made this problem important to solve at the time?
- What positive impact did it have on the organization?
- What was your process for solving the problem (this is only relevant if you have a unique process or if the role requires you to be process-oriented)?
- What superpowers did you demonstrate to solve this problem – how was this a unique approach?
Identify what interview questions each of these stories can answer. If you have one story that can answer a few questions, then be sure to have a few stories in case you get all those questions (try not to repeat stories in the interview).
Then Practice, Practice, Practice… Out Loud: Rehearse your responses to common interview questions out loud (not in your head or just written) so you can check that it sounds like a person. If you need a list of common interview questions, ask me for my list of “Interview Questions You Should Know.”
Do Your Homework
Besides knowing your own stories and superpowers backward and forward, you also need to do your homework on the company and people you’ll be talking to.
Study the Company: Interviewers want to know you are excited about the company and that you did your homework. So, you need to study the company’s website and read relevant articles about the company for two primary reasons:
- You don’t want to ask a question that could have been answered by reading their website.
- You want to be able to ask deeper questions that show you understand the company (values, challenges, growth opportunities, etc.).
Research the Interviewer: Try to find out with whom you’ll be interviewing ahead of time or make an educated guess and look their name up on the company website or LinkedIn. Understand their background and review their latest posts on LinkedIn so you can ask questions that can build rapport.
Ask Questions: Be prepared with questions about the position and the company (that you could not know from the website or printed literature – be thoughtful). If you want a list of suggestions, ask me for my list of “Interview Questions – You Ask the Company.”
Day of Interview – Quick Tips
Although many of these tips are not new, it is surprising how often, even seasoned interviewees, forget them. Don’t let the little details get you off to the wrong start in an interview. Be prepared.
It is human nature to want to be liked; you’re a social being (I don’t care what your conscious tells you, this is an innate subconscious way of being). This means you’ll start trying to mold yourself into the role you for which just interviewed. Trying to make it work by compromising your wants. Or worse, you’ll try to BE what they want instead of your authentic self. Both are a recipe for dissatisfaction and disaster.
Regardless of how you might feel, you are not desperate.
You are looking for a role that aligns with who you are, and what you want for your future, and takes all parts of your life into consideration.
What to Wear:
- The first visual impression is extremely important.
- Wear clothing that is appropriate to the environment but nicer to show respect.
If interviewing in person:
- No perfume/cologne or other scented product (your interviewer may have an allergy)
- Do not bring in food/drink (not even coffee you just got at Starbucks)
- No gum
- Silence or turn off your cell phone – do not check it while at the interview (even while you are waiting, instead observe the environment as it may give you clues about the organization, and sit as if your interviewer is staring at you at that moment).
Arrival (in Person):
- Be only 5 minutes early and do not arrive late (even for video interviews).
- Don’t sit on your phone. Observe the environment – what can you learn?
- If the receptionist has a nameplate, greet them by name. Thank them upon leaving also.
Making the Best First Impression (in person or on video):
- BE POSITIVE
- Be aware of body language. Confident handshake (if in person), good eye contact, and posture.
- If on video, create an appropriate background with good lighting.
- Clear voice, don’t interrupt, and it’s ok to pause (be thoughtful) before answering.
- Be Thankful (see below).
Research shows that people don’t feel they have been completely thanked until they have been thanked SEVEN times:
- Thank people with a smile on your face and with enthusiasm in your tone.
- Use their name when you thank them. “Thank you, Natalie!”
- Thank people in person AND in writing (get their email if you don’t already have it).
- Thank them at the beginning of your interaction, at the close of your interaction, and every time you contact them thereafter.
- When in doubt about how to start a conversation, start with the words “Thank you.” “Thank you, Natalie, for making the time to see me.”
- Use these nouns whenever possible to thank them for their: time, comments, advice, perspective, insights, observations, and introductions/referrals (if they gave you any).
- Always send an after-interview thank you email:
- Thank the interviewer for their time and consideration.
- Tie something said in the interview with how you would be a good match.
- State excitement and why you are a good match; and how you can contribute (you are excited to be able to contribute by XXXX).
EXAMPLE: Subject of email: Thank you!
Thank you so much for your time this morning. I very much appreciated your comments about the evolution of the mobile applications in the adventure travel industry. In my conversations with others at TechSavvy, I’ve heard similar perspectives you shared this morning, but you added fresh insights about the technology enhancements that I hadn’t heard previously, which was very helpful.
I know my expertise in mobile app programming will allow me to contribute a lot at TechSavvy. I’m especially excited about the technology TechSavvy is developing to raise the bar in app development. Exciting stuff!
Thank you very much again for your time and I look forward to the next steps!
- Answer concisely, but fully – ask the interviewer clarifying questions so you know what they are looking for
- Make sure they know you are interested in the role before leaving (this is an often-missed opportunity… interested does not mean you will say yes to the offer).
- Share you’re excited about the company (be as specific).
- Don’t ever talk poorly about a previous company, boss, or co-worker (this should be a “duh” but it still happens).
- Do not talk about salary or benefits until they have offered you the position.
- If they push say you feel the most important thing is to find the right fit in both the company culture and the job itself.
- If they REALLY push say something like, “The jobs I’ve been interviewing for have salaries in the range of XX to XX, but the most important thing to me is the job itself.” Quote a range that is a little higher than you think they might be able to pay. No need to discuss benefits until an offer is on the table unless you have a specific need that must be met.