You know you have to prepare for an interview. You are a professional, after all. But maybe it’s been a while, and your skills are a little tarnished. Maybe you interview just fine but have a nagging feeling you’re missing something. Or maybe you wonder if there’s such a thing as too much preparation.
From our POV as an executive placement firm, read ahead for our best practices and tips on preparing for a job interview, from initial research to analysis paralysis.
First thing’s first…
Start out with research on the industry. Read whitepapers and the latest press releases. Find out what organizations do, how they make their money, who the biggest players are, and who they serve. Google and Yahoo Finance are great ways to find trends, and their analyst reports predict where they see the industry going. Set up email alerts to stay even more up-to-date.
Next, ask yourself this: what skills and personal qualities are shared by successful professionals across the industry? Read bios of different executives to get a sense of their education, pedigrees, and stories, and search LinkedIn profiles similar to the role you’re applying for—are there any common themes among industry professionals?
Narrow it down…
Invest your time in understanding the company. Learn about its missions, values, objectives, and culture. Read current press releases and news briefs, and don’t forget to check analyst reports.
If you applied to a specific division, study that too, and find out how it fits into the overall organization. What are its products and services? Who are its key players? It’s wise to have a working knowledge of other divisions, but focus your energy on the one at hand.
Go back to the job description and use the TODAY acronym to develop sound bites that address the needs of the employer:
• T = Teamwork
• O = Overcoming obstacles
• D = Duties of your past positions
• A = Achievements
• Y = Your strengths and weaknesses
Give examples of times you demonstrated the skills necessary to tackle those challenges and achieve those accomplishments. Frame your answers to show you’re clearly the perfect candidate. (Don’t forget they’re hiring you, and not the other people in the story.)
Prepare 3-5 questions to ask the interviewer about the job posting and the company. What are you curious about? What projects is the department currently working on? If you already know the answers from your research, a great approach is to ask the interviewer to validate your assumptions. For example, “From what I’ve gathered, you manufacture only in this area . . . are there other areas or products that you’re looking to explore?” Prove you’ve done your homework but not that you know more than the interviewer. And ask if there’s anything else you should address about your candidacy, to show you can take feedback. (Everyone knows there are standard questions, and there’s really no excuse for not having prepared answers about them: who you are, your reasons for looking for a new job, why you should be hired, and the salary question.)
As for your resume, make sure it’s tailored to the position you’re applying for and highlights experiences relevant to the job posting. Know the ins and outs of everything on there, even from a long time ago. Most questions will be about roles relevant to the position, but you never know. Once it’s submitted, do your best not to make changes, but if it’s unavoidable ask that the revised version be fully circulated. You don’t want discrepancies from one interviewer to another.
Hit the right tone…
The big day has arrived. While perusing your wardrobe, keep this in mind: there’s no harm in being overdressed, but there’s potential harm in being underdressed. Your appearance is your visual resume. You want it to be congruent with what you present on paper, so go ahead and wear that suit.
Now you have your resume, you look your best, and you arrive 30 minutes early. The last thing you want is to be a nuisance and disrupt the work environment, so wait in your car or walk around the block and then head in 10-15 minutes beforehand. You might even say, “I know I’m a few minutes early, but I’d be happy to wait.” This shows that you are prompt but conscious of the staff and their time.
Once you’re face to face, consider your energy level. It is very possible to have too much or too little energy in an interview. A good trick is to get a gauge of the interviewer’s level and try to match it. Obviously, you need to be true to yourself, but if someone goes 90 miles per hour, and you don’t match his speed he might think you’re not quick enough on your toes. Lack of energy can be a weakness, too. So be aware and mimic the energy level of the person you’re with.
Final words of wisdom
You don’t want to fall victim to “analysis paralysis”, but it’s better to err on the side of over preparation. Just use your research wisely and be careful about how much you disclose. Leverage it to make a connection (“I see you went to such-and-such university, I’m a fellow alum.”), but don’t recite entire histories or careers because you might come across as slightly desperate, or even creepy. In other words, be knowledgeable, but not overly familiar.
So prepare away! Do all the research you want, even overdo it if that makes you feel better. Just be prudent in what you choose to use, follow these guidelines, and you’ll dazzle them at the interview.