After a thoughtful and deliberate approach to your job search you are now at the next critical phase of your search, the coveted interview. Take a few moments and congratulate yourself before rolling up your sleeves to prepare for your interview.
Like much of the job search landscape, interviews are often not what you may remember from earlier in your career. On one extreme, organizations may leverage an array of sophisticated analytics, technology (including artificial intelligence), and science (behavioral-based interviewing techniques) to vet candidates. On the other extreme, you may encounter the dreaded unstructured interview.
Remember, while you do not have control over the capability or style of interviewer(s) you will encounter you do have control over your preparation. So let’s get ready.
PRE INTERVIEW PREPARATION
• Anticipate Likely Structured Questions
Your first step is to spend time carefully reviewing the job announcement for the position; you did this review prior to applying for the role, but now you need to be prepared to answer questions about how your experiences position you to be successful in the role. Look for key words, phrases, and job specific information. Let’s look at an excerpt from an actual job announcement:
Prepares flyers, brochures, alerts, news releases, direct mail pieces, letters, memos, presentations, and training materials.
With this information in hand, review your qualifications. What have you done in your current or prior jobs that would prepare you to meet the need of this employer? Think carefully and devise a concise and complete response that is action oriented and highlights specific experiences you had. Below is a useful framework (remember the acronym STAR) followed by sample response:
o Situation/Task – explain the background and context related to your answer.
o Action- the specifics of what you did.
o Result-the specific outcome of your effort.
An interviewer may ask “What experience do you have creating press releases?” Following the framework above, your response could be:
“When I was the communications manager for Acme Corporation I had to prepare an emergency press release due to a restatement of earnings(situation/ task). I immediately pulled my team together and helped them prioritize their current work while we brainstormed a response (action). We were able to produce the press release with only 2 re-writes and as a result were able to notify shareholders in advance of the annual shareholders meeting.”(result)
This framework, described as a behavioral-based response, provides a useful and results-oriented approach to answer interview questions. By you sharing what you have done, the interviewers are hearing what you can do. Remember your prospective employer is looking for results; you are in a competition for this job and by constructing answers that are action based you have a greater chance of separating yourself from your competition.
• Prepare for Probable Unstructured Questions
“Why do you want to work here?” This is another way of asking “Why should I hire you?” Remember, hundreds of job seekers may have applied to this position, the recruiter screened a large subset of that applicant pool, and the hiring manager will be interviewing several candidates. Many candidates pass over preparing for this question, don’t be one of them. This is a great opportunity for you to sell your skills and experiences related to the position and demonstrate your passion for the organization; it also provides you an opportunity to show you did your homework. Do your research and prepare a sincere but concise response.
- Ask Good Questions
The interview process is two-fold. The company is interviewing you for the job and you should be interviewing the company to determine whether or not you want the opportunity. Your research on the organization should surface questions for you as a candidate. There are two key ingredients to asking good questions:
(1) Make sure the questions are career oriented and communicate your desire to do a good job. A few strategic questions can help demonstrate your capability and enthusiasm and provide information you may need to decide it the organization/role is a good match for you.
(2) Keep your questions focused on the role, the organization, and expectations around the position. Refrain from asking questions about compensation and benefits; save those for after an offer has been made.
In addition to asking questions, you can learn a lot about the company by paying attention to your surroundings. Notice how people interact with one another for other clues about the organizational culture. Are people polite and respectful, do they smile and greet one another? I once went for an interview and in the midst of the discussion we were interrupted (not a deal breaker) and the interviewer began chastising someone in front of me (a deal breaker).
Like anything you pursue, your chances for success increase when you plan ahead. The time you put into rehearsal and practicing can pay off by minimizing your nervousness and bolster your confidence.
Find a friend or colleague and role play the interview. Treat this as a dress rehearsal and get some feedback on your interview style from someone you trust.
INTERVIEW TYPES AND QUICK TIPS
• The Phone Screen
The phone interview is often a recruiter’s first step in screening candidates; be sure to:
- Control your surroundings. Be in a quiet location with no distractions; turn off your cell phone if you are on a landline and vice versa.
- Be prepared. Have the job description, your notes, and prepared questions handy, but don’t make noises with your papers as you are speaking.
- Be concise. This is often a 30 minute discussion, so make sure you are brief but thorough. Communication is key to a successful interview. A 1-2 minute response provides enough insight for the recruiter to elicit a follow up question if needed.
Project enthusiasm. Sometimes it is difficult to project enthusiasm over the phone. Two simple tips to amp up your energy when on a phone interview: (1) smile when you speak, it helps with your intonation, (2) if you are feeling flat, stand up when you are speaking as motion creates emotion.
• The Video Conference
With today’s dispersed workforce a video interview is quite common. Maximizing your ability to shine in this environment can be tricky. To help navigate this type of interview, don’t forget to:
- Test the technology. Do a dry run in advance of the scheduled interview to ensure the technology is compatible and works. Don’t be afraid to ask the person scheduling the interview to arrange for a pre-interview test run so that you can make sure the connection is optimal.
- Be camera ready. Dress professionally and make sure you are not wearing clothing that may be distracting; a “busy” clothing pattern may not transmit well. Also, be aware of your background surroundings as that will be on display as well.
- Speak slowly, clearly and succinctly. There is often a slight lag in the transmission. What this means is that you may say something and it takes another second or two for the interviewer to hear your response. Make certain you give a pause after you speak to ensure the interviewer heard you.
- Minimize movement. There will likely be a lag time in the video transmission, hand gestures and exaggerated movements may distract the interviewer.
- The In-Person Interview
In almost every instance, if you are a serious contender for the position, you will be asked to participate in an in-person interview. Your level of preparation and rehearsal for this stage of the interviewing is critical. Remember, you may have to steer the conversation, not everyone is a great interviewer and it is your responsibility to demonstrate your ability to be successful in the role. To best prepare for the in-person interview, find out the following:
- The interview location. Prepare early and map out your commute.
- The interview format. Ask your recruiter if will you be meeting with the hiring team 1:1 or in a panel setting
- The interview team. Ask your recruiter who will be conducting the interview(s) and what are their organizational roles (hiring manager, peer, colleague)? Learn about the backgrounds of the interviewers.
- The interview type. Ask your recruiter if this will be a structured interview that uses behavioral-based questions.
Tip: Visit the company website and search LinkedIn to learn more about the organization and the people interviewing you. This will help you formulate questions, demonstrates your interest in the organization, and establishes rapport with the interviewers.
FINAL THOUGHTS: MASTER THE BASICS
We just covered the “hard stuff” but don’t lose sight of the basics. Regardless of the type of interview you have (discussed above), be sure to nail down the basics:
- Arrive on Time! It should go without saying: BE ON TIME. Better yet arrive 15 minutes early. This will provide you with an opportunity to catch your breath and do a quick wardrobe/appearance check before the interview starts. Late? The interviewer may smile, nod and empathize with your reason but the reality is that unless everyone else who interviews for the role is late, you are now at a distinct disadvantage.
- Dress Professionally. Even though the majority of businesses are “business casual”, wear a suit to the interview. This demonstrates that you are taking the interview seriously and when you dress the part, you feel the part and exude confidence.
- Project Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is your roadmap to information. When someone perceives your interest and enthusiasm, they naturally want to share information.
- Take an Active Role. The most effective interviews are those where an “active” two-way conversation takes place. Try to speak about 50% of the time and create a nice dialog.
- Have a positive close. The goal of every interview is to get invited to take the next step. As the interview draws to a conclusion, be sure to summarize your qualifications. Ask if you have provided all the information the interviewer needs, assert your interest in the position (if you are interested in the job at the conclusion of the interview, say so!), and ask about the next steps. A positive close may sound something like:
“Thank you (interviewer) for taking the time to speak with me about this opportunity. Our discussion made me even more interested and impressed with the organization and position. I believe that I have the skills that you are looking for to include, XXX, XXX, XXX and this is certainly the opportunity that I have been seeking. What are the next steps?”
Follow up. Finally, don’t forget to thank your interviewer(s). While it is often tempting and certainly appropriate to send an email message, a thoughtful, handwritten “Thank You” note will be well received and set you apart from your competition.
For more information and resources on job search, visit www.aarp.org/work. (If your organization is looking to tap into experienced workers for talent, check out the AARP Employer Pledge Program section on the site). Don’t forget to check out careers at AARP — Spread the word!
Note: Thank you to Michele Johnson, VP Talent Acquisition and Karina Hurley, Director of Strategic Communications at AARP for your edits and suggestions.