After nearly six years as an HR professional, and three years spent exclusively in recruiting, I have a golden line that I’d like to share with you about interviewing.
Interviewing is much more of an art than a science.
What, you say? How on earth could it be an art? Aren’t companies looking for the perfectly rehearsed answers?
No, they aren’t. That doesn’t help anybody.
Trust me, the interviewing process is an act of both planning and spontaneity. Having a rigid script won’t work, no matter what side of the table you’re on. There’s no need to be sterile in an interview. You can show who you are, highlight your strengths and skillsets, while letting your unique personality shine through.
So, let’s back up. You wrote, rewrote and perfected your cover letter. Your resume is sparkling. Your portfolio is polished. You get a call from a hiring manager who invites you to the office for an interview. Things. Are. Happening.
This is actually your first opportunity for professionalism to shine. When you’ve applied for a job and an unknown number calls you, pick up. If you’re unable to pick up for a very serious reason like you’re in class or a meeting, make sure you have space on your voicemail for me to leave a message. There is nothing more frustrating than calling a candidate and getting a voice mailbox that is full or not yet set up. Equally frustrating is when a candidate has no recollection of applying to your organization. Remember where your applications are and be ready to jump into insta-professional mode!
Now, hopefully you’re still reading this, even though I suggested actually answering your phone. It’s really not as scary as you think.
Once you confirm a time and date with the hiring manager, you can begin to prep for your interview. The best place to do this is the internet. First, visit the company website. Look around. Try to find the mission, vision and values of the company. Reflect upon them. How do they resonate with you? Do you identify with what the company does and how they achieve their goals? Taking the time to define your career vision and making sure that you consider your own fit within a company will benefit you greatly. Be familiar with these values and how they shape the work the company does. Speaking of what the company does, it will behoove you to also understand the business and the business model. What’s the structure? What products and services does the company offer? Do you understand how your potential role works within that bigger picture? Who are their competitors, and what makes this company unique? While you’re mulling over all of this, be sure to write down questions as they come up.
Once you feel comfortable with how the company operates within their competitive advantage to deliver their product or service, it’s time to practice behavioral questions. Every interview will seek to find out more about your integrity, problem solving, communication, motivation, self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Interviewers want to walk away from an interview understanding a candidate’s competencies, abilities, skillsets and experiences. Take the time to research potential interview questions online. Practice your answers out loud, or have a (serious, similarly goal-oriented) friend mock interview you. Give detailed enough answers that the interviewers have depth, but don’t ramble. If you can give a concrete example to relate to one of the questions, kudos! In the ‘biz we call these PAR anecdotes. The P stands for problem. What was the situation you faced? The A stands for action. What was done to solve the problem? The R stands for result. What was the outcome? PAR anecdotes are super helpful to reveal relevant experiences, especially when faced with behavioral/fit questions. Anytime that you are able to link your experiences to the company with whom you’re interviewing, you are making hiring manager’s dreams come true.
Take a minute here to think about YOUR personal brand. Your personal brand is created and maintained through your presence and actions. What kind of things do you want to communicate to this potential future employer through this presence and these actions? Visualize it. Positive visualization is one of the most powerful tools we have for affecting outcomes.
Taking the time to research the company and prepare your answers will go a long way when you’re finally in front of the hiring managers. Spiff yourself up, dress smart, and bring copies of your application materials. Know where you’re going, where to park, how to get into the building, and who to ask for once you arrive. Only arrive less than five minutes early. People in offices are busy and when candidates show up on Lombardi Time it throws everyone off. File “arriving early” under not having space in your voice mailbox.
Then, relax. You’ve made it SO far! You’ll be shown into a room with your interviewers. You’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you. This two-way street is testing company and cultural fit in both directions. For this reason, it’s important to be yourself (the professional, polished version of you, recent grads). You’re going to be much happier in the long-term at a company where the corporate culture matches your own career vision.
At the end of your interview, the hiring manager will ask you what questions you have. At this point, ask those intelligent questions you crafted, and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. My personal favorite trick is to ask “is there any reason at this time that you’d hesitate to hire me?” It’s forward and honest and it gives you the chance to further explain in the face of any such hesitation.
Thank your interviewers for their time, shake their hands and write a follow-up thank you email by the end of the day. Then take some time to think about your experience. Can you see yourself fitting into the company culture and going to work there for the majority of your waking hours? Can you envision yourself growing within that company and achieving your goals? I hope that you can, and you do. By following these interviewing tips, you’ve set yourself up for the first step of a fulfilling and rewarding career.