Preparing for a great interview.

Part 1 in a 3-part series.

Research is 80% of a job search, and preparing for an interview is no exception.

Unless you have nerves of steel (or you regularly talk to strangers in high-pressure situations), interviewing is unsettling. I’ve worked with senior managers who are as nervous as a new grad at the thought of talking about themselves. It’s normal: questions are thrown at you, and while being judged, you’re supposed to answer them deftly. It feels like a high-stakes pass-and-shoot.

Good interview skills are useful throughout a career. Use them when you’re seeking a new job (internally or externally); when you’re interviewing someone else; they’re even useful when you’re lobbying for a new idea or cause and need all the influence you can muster.

Even those with high-demand or unusual skills (which means they could bomb the interview & still get the job) need to cultivate good interview aptitude. Someday that knowledge may be less captivating and good interview skills may just save the day.

Good interviews begin with great preparation.

When you take time to anticipate and answer some of the likely questions, you automatically give yourself an edge (and a little relief).

Know your why. What draws you to this company / this job?(hint: it shouldn’t be all about you)
For example:
Meh: “It’s a much better commute than my current role.”
Good: “The job description seems like a good fit for my skills”.
Impressive: “Not only is the job description a close match, but I noticed that your company is doing xxx and that aligns with my values.”

Research, research, research. I agree with Lou Adler, self-proclaimed recruiting and hiring guru, who estimates that research is 80% of a job search. Review the company’s website, but don’t stop there. Google the company and read press releases over the last couple of years. Check out the company’s LinkedIn profile. Look it up on GlassDoor. Has anyone you know worked there? What do they have to say? A candidate who’s done their homework stands out.

Get to know your interviewer(s). Review their LinkedIn profile(s). How long have they been with the company? What’s their (general) background / work history? Do you share LinkedIn connections? Do you and the interviewer have common interests / universities / previous employers? What can you learn about this person (in a non-creepy way)? Note: talking about what’s on their Facebook page is creepy. Don’t.

Take another look at the job description.  Identify the top 2-3 skills. Now jot down examples of your experience as it relates to those requirements. If you don’t have experience with a specific required skill, what comparable skill/experience do you have?
For example:
Meh: “Yes, I’ve worked with x technology.”
Good: “I have 3 years of experience in x technology while working at z company.”
Impressive: “In my current company, I’m using x technology to do y. So far, we’ve been able to <insert a result you’ve achieved>” or “I haven’t worked with x technology, but I have done y with a similar technology, plus I pick things up quickly.” Here are some ideas on how to answer the most-common interview questions.

Put your interview attire together. Try it on, even before you have interviews scheduled. The night before an interview is no time to be caught without clothes you feel great in.

What to wear? I used to say that you can never go wrong with a suit (plus a tie for guys). These days, I think you can definitely go wrong with a suit. For example if you’re interviewing for a creative role, especially in ad agencies. A general rule: the higher the position you’re interviewing for, the more formal your interview attire, at least for the first meeting. Also, certain industries tend to dress more formally.

For an interview with a Big 4 accounting firm, for instance, only a suit + tie is acceptable. In corporate IT, you’ll do just fine wearing slacks (Dockers, for example) and a crisp long sleeve button-down or polo with a white undershirt peeking out at the neck. For women, slacks or a skirt and a crisp blouse in neutral/professional colors is fine. Shoes should be polished and well-kept and dark-colored (no white sneakers, please). Definitely wear socks. Remember, the focus should be on you, not on what you wear. Here’s a fun video about interview wear.

Do your mental prep: Olympic and professional athletes, top business people, and other high achievers spend significant amounts of time envisioning themselves doing well even before their event. You, too, can lay down the neural pathways to your success.

In a quiet setting, relax and close your eyes. In your imagination, go through the entire interview, from arriving at the company (looking sharp and being well-prepared, of course) to asking the receptionist for your interviewer. Now you’re with your interviewer(s). You’re answering questions, seeing them nod and smile and you’re asking a few great questions of your own. You’re connecting with the interviewer(s), feeling relaxed and competent. Things are going really well. They say something like, “You’d be a great fit here. We look forward to further conversations.” Before you know it, the interview’s over, and they’ve said they want you. You’re leaving now, thanking the receptionist on your way out. You feel the satisfaction of fielding their questions well. The fun of meeting someone new and liking them. The joy of acknowledging your nervousness and doing well despite it (because you prepared). Run through this mental movie multiple times before your interview. Seeing – and feeling – success is a powerful confidence builder.

Have you completed the steps listed in this article? Then you’re well on your way to a great interview (and you’ll be far ahead of most others). A little nervousness is normal. It’ll help you be mentally sharp.

If you’re more than a little anxious, though, you must tell yourself that everything will be fine. You’ve prepared yourself. You’ll do your best. And then let it go. Distract yourself, refuse to get stirred up by the moaning and ‘what if’s’ in your head. Keep your confidence high. If not this interview/this job, then something better. But you’re really ready for this, aren’t you? Well done.

In part 2, we’ll cover the actual interview (in-person and over the phone).
Thanks for being here ~ see you again soon! 

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I help mid-career professionals clarify their brands, rock their interviews,
and add a little joy to their job search. Because life’s short.

Got a question?
Here’s a link to my calendar. Free, just for fun.