People hate finding new jobs because they hate the interviewing process. It’s torturous. You must effectively sell yourself which most are neither comfortable nor competent in doing well.
Further, it’s a process that is designed to be overtly judgmental. You get professionally picked apart so the interview vultures can make an assessment if the meat is worth further consumption.
And this is just the process everyone talks and thinks about. The other process that’s happening but never discussed is the subtle sizing up of likeability. You’re evaluated on all the soft skills such as social aptitude, communication skills, character, creativity, maturity, drive and ambition. In short, everyone who’s interviewing you is asking themselves, “Do I want to work with this person?”
But it really doesn’t have to be this way. Rewind the tape to the very beginning. The process can and should be different. A better interviewing process happens when you start with the right mindset.
To be successful in an interview you need to feel confident in an interview. Confidence comes from knowing the value of what you’re selling. Remember the interview is a two-way street. An even exchange of information. You ought to be judging the company, the position, the team, the company culture, etc. with the same critical eye as they’re evaluating you.
Is this a place I want to work?
Does this environment or culture suit me?
Do I want to work for this guy?
In short, is this place and opportunity good enough for me?
You have one product to sell. That’s you and your expertise. You have to look at the job market as a bajillion opportunities to sell this package of you. Maintain high standards of what you need and want to ensure the best (mutual) fit. In the long run, you’ll be happier and more productive.
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Successful Interviewing Requires Preparation
Technical skills get you the interview but people skills get you the offer. To get that offer you need to think about preparing for your interview in two ways—showing proof of the hard skills and naturally demonstrating the soft skills.
Before you even go to the interview, do your homework. Do your obligatory research like evaluating the company profile, what it does or sells, who its clients are, etc.
Make special note of any big and recent accomplishments or announcement. Keep this info in your back pocket. You can drop this knowledge subtly in the interview to prove that you’re well prepared.
1 - Look at the Job Description
Next, take a closer look at the job description. Keep in mind it’s their pie-in-the-sky wishlist. They know they probably won’t get everything they want. Don’t fret if you don’t match everything precisely. Sometimes other qualities or experience make up for any shortcomings.
And typically, the hiring manager doesn’t have the description memorized. He or she needs some assurances that you have competency but they’re more interested in judging you for fit.
From the job description, list out all the required and preferred skills and abilities. Put them in order of importance. Then write out detailed examples of how you’ve demonstrated each skill through your experiences. Take the time to actually do this work so the examples are fresh in your mind and easy to recall.
Think broadly. Your experiences don’t just have to be work-related. If one of your accomplishments is tied to volunteer work or your hobby, still make the connection. The exercise is to demonstrate what you have these skills. Period.
2 - List Questions to Ask
Make a list of about 10 thoughtful questions to ask during the interview. They should be organization-focused and address such things as strategic plans, organizational priorities, structure, growth prospects, product/service lines, etc. The goal here is to prove that you’re inquisitive and a critical thinker.
Make the questions probing and open-ended. Solicit your interviewer’s opinion as they’ll appreciate being recognized as an authority. Do not ask about money, benefits, or working hours at this time. Too premature.
You should also prepare a few questions that challenge them on what this opportunity can do for you. It sends the message that you’re also in evaluation mode. It will radically change the dynamic of the interview. Let them know you’re buying as much as selling.
If I perform well, how can I grow my career here?
Why do you like working here?
Where do you think I can make the most impact?
No place is perfect. What do you wish were different about this position/team/company?
3 - List Questions to Answer
Prepare and script out answers you may be asked. Don’t be caught flat-footed.
Why are you looking for a new position?
Make your answer about growth and opportunity, not a desire to run from your current/previous position.
What are your long-term goals?
Be honest about professional ambitions but cite a desire to reach higher levels of competency.
What are our strengths?
Accentuate your best skills. Don’t try to appear well-rounded. It’s not realistic. Own your strengths.
What are your weaknesses?
Never give a personal weakness. It will be viewed as a character flaw. Instead, cite professional inexperience or lack of exposure. This frames it up simply as an experience issue.
Describe a time when you overcame a challenge.
Source professional examples but consider personal ones too. Clearly lay out the problem, your process for solving it, how you implemented the solution, and what you learned from it.
Why should we hire you?
Preface your answer by stating, “If this ends up being a good fit for both of us, I would guess you would feel confident in selecting me because of x, y, and z.” With x, y, and z being your best strengths that match the job description. By answering in this way, you are recalibrating the balance of power. You’re sending the signal that this job isn’t something they may grant to you.
If during the interview you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. Chances are they are not communicating it well. Ask for examples to help you get to the point of the question. If you aren’t sure your answer hit the mark, follow up with, “I am not sure I interpreted your question correctly. Did I give you the information you were looking for?”
4 - Prepare a Personal Statement
Have an answer to a question such as “So, tell me about yourself.” It’s far better to have this planned in advance so you say what you want and not blurt out what you don’t.
Share personal things about yourself like where you grew up, relationship status, kids/pets, hobbies, how you spend your free time, etc. These are probably things the interviewer wants to know but may not be allowed to ask.
It’s through this personal disclosure you transform from a two-dimensional resume into a real person. It’s where you can discover mutual interests, backgrounds, or values with the interviewer which goes a long way in establishing likeability and building rapport. This is essential to set you apart from the other candidates.
Walking into the Interview Like You Own It
If you do this work in advance, your interview should be straightforward and comfortable. It’s important to keep your head in the right place. This is simply a mutual information exchange. By really believing this, you will give off the right kind of vibe. One of confidence.
Adapt Your Body Language
Be mindful of the messages your body language sends. Don’t let it conflict with the conviction of your caliber. That means, offer a firm handshake, sit up straight, and look the interviewer in the eye. At the same time appear relaxed and comfortable (because you should be).
Mirror Their Personality
Quickly gauge their personality and attempt to mirror their energy. Meaning, if they’re mellow try to be low-key. If they’re outgoing, try to be more expressive. At a subconscious level, this will make you appear more familiar to them.
Have your facial expressions be natural but match the points in the discussion. Laugh at the right times, appear intrigued by a good question. Smile as appropriate both when you’re listening and talking. Many interviewees forget to smile because they’re nervous but they don’t realize it conveys disinterest.
Say Their Name
If the opportunity presents itself, inject some humor into the conversation. It helps alleviate some of the pressure of the moment and bring out some of your personality. Pepper in the interviewer’s first name from time to time. This demonstrates social confidence and also that you’re comfortable dealing with professionals at any level.
All of these suggestions set the tone for the interview. They send the message that you know your worth and you’re confident in what you’re made of. Without slipping into the territory of arrogance, this confirms that you are not a commodity. Instead, you’re a unique applicant that should be seriously sought after.
The Interview Formula
The interview can be formulaic if you take control of it. This is easier than it sounds. Especially when you’re well prepared.
This is how it can go...
1 - Request Skill and Competency Priorities
At the start of the interview don’t launch into recounting your experience at the urging of the interviewer. Instead, first ask if they can lay out what their biggest skill/competency priorities are for the position. You can say something like
I would be happy to tell you everything about my background but I’d like to present my experience focused on your needs. I read the job description but I wanted to hear from you what’s most important.
This will make you appear thoughtful and efficient. The interviewer will take note that you’re deferring to their judgment about the role. They’ll probably be flattered by this. It will also give you the best chance of keeping your responses focused and on message.
2 - Present Background Overview to Match Skills
Spend about 3-5 minutes presenting your background based on the priority skills the interviewer identified. Don’t present by job position but rather by experience to match the skill requirements. This means your presentation may not be chronological.
During the first 2-3 minutes cover as many of the interviewer’s priorities as possible. In the final minute, summarize all the remaining areas of your experience you think could also be relevant.
You can then finish up by asking which of your experiences they’d like to explore further.
I covered some of my background rather quickly. I wanted to give you a relevant overview. Would you like me to be more specific in any area or give further examples?
Pay attention to what they focus on. It will give you clues about how they think and/or what they’re measured on.
3 - Share Some Personal Details
When you get the sense that the interviewer’s questions are concluding, offer to share more about you personally. This segues the interview into a new phase.
Aside from my professional experience, do you mind if I share a little bit about myself? In case you were wondering...
To the interviewer, this will be a pleasant surprise. It will humanize you and accelerate your bonding and rapport.
4 - Ending the Interview
As the interview proceeds, do a gut check on how you feel. If you aren’t feeling it, acknowledge it. There’s no point in continuing with a process that has no end game. Most interviewees want to save face and will feign interest just to be polite. But it sends mixed signals and wastes everyone’s time.
Tess, thank you for your time this afternoon. From what I learned here today and in knowing what I’m ideally looking for, I don’t think this will be the best match for either of us.
This will blow them away because no one ever does this!
Now, if you like what you’re hearing and want to move the process forward, you need to say as much. Stay in control till the very end.
Tess, I really liked what I heard today. I think my experience would be a great fit for this organization/team/project. And I’d love to add to the impressive work you’re doing. Do you agree?
This last question is a bit scary especially if you really want the job. But it needs to be asked to see where you stand. Chances are you’ll know the answer prior to asking based on how the interview is going.
If the interviewer demures or presents an objection, you can seek clarification in case there was miscommunication in how you presented your skills or competencies.
May I ask, what part of my experience or background do you feel isn’t the best match for the role?
Depending on the answer, you may be able to address it with additional explanation or examples. Otherwise, you may get a hollow answer that indicates there wasn’t enough professional compatibility or chemistry.
And in the end, you may never know the real answer. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out. It’s time to move on to the next (better) opportunity.
5 - Moving the Process Forward
If the interviewer does agree that it would be a good fit, ask specifically what the next step would be. You need to take ownership of moving the process forward.
I’m glad you think so too. What’s the next step in the process? What do I need to do to make that happen?
Do as suggested and stay on top of the process. It will show your interest and professional assertiveness. Proceed with an assumption that it’ll be through your efforts primarily that you’ll get this deal closed. Leaning in and following up can accelerate the timeline.
At the end of the process, the way forward will go in one of two directions. Feel good about either path because you’ve put your best foot forward. Know your value and recognize that this game called interviewing is not something that simply must be endured.
Instead, it’s a collaborative process and you’re just as much in the driver seat. Use it to ensure that your coveted skills and capabilities go to the highest and most attractive bidder.
You’ve got this!
If you’re planning to interview in the near future, use this post as a guide to preparing. Practice your responses to likely questions and be able to explain your accomplishments with ease.
If you’re not looking to interview anytime soon, download this guide to hold onto for future reference. Or share this post with someone who could benefit from it now.
What was your best interview experience and why?
Share your story below in the comments.