You’ve heard all the horror stories of bad job interviews: sweaty palms; nervous laughter; stumbling over words; forgetting what you meant to say. It doesn’t have to go down this way. With the right preparation, a job interview can be a powerful tool for landing your dream job.
Most people think that job interviews have a single purpose: to get a job offer. However, at its best an interview will serve both the organization and the job candidate. It will reveal to the hiring managers whether they want to make an offer. Just as important, however, it will reveal to you, the job applicant, whether you truly want to accept the offer.
Keep in mind the two- way process of the job interview and it becomes less intimidating. If you have been on the hiring side of the interview desk, you know what an important decision it is. You want someone who can perform the job responsibilities, but you also want someone who is likeable and who will fit into the work team. As a job candidate you have power in this equation. It is your responsibility not only to figure out if the position is one you can perform, but also if it is one that you want.
1. Know the Logistics
As simple as it sounds, you must have an accurate address, time, and date for the interview. You also must know the name of the interviewer and the hiring department. Without this information you may end up embarrassed by arriving at the wrong building or on the wrong date or at the wrong time. Worse yet, there may be no receptionist to help you locate the hiring supervisor. You could find yourself alone in the company lobby with a phone and no number. This scenario is unlikely to lead to a job offer.
2. Take a Test Drive to the Interview Site
Keep in mind that there are no good excuses for being late to a job interview. GPS devices and mapping software can be wrong or misleading. My favorite Mapquest phrase is “take an unnamed street to . . . .” Also, construction detours and rush hour traffic can slow you down. So figure out where you will be going and where you will park.
3. Go over all the Details of the Job Description
In the interview your goal will be to sell yourself to the hiring team and convince them that you are a perfect fit for the job. That means understanding all of the job responsibilities. You need memorize much of the jargon in the job description. It always helps to be viewed as a knowledgeable insider who will be able to hit the ground running.
4. Determine Your Relevant Job Skills
Being knowledgeable about the position is not enough. Take a look at your resume, former job descriptions, and some career planning books. You will find long lists of skills. Cull out the ones that you have acquired from prior jobs, informal training, or formal education. Again, you will need to assess whether you have the skills to perform the job at an outstanding level. Once you conclude that you do, then you need to be able to make a convincing argument to that effect.
5. Research the Organization
Start with the website, some google searches, and applicable trade journals. Find out if the company has been in the news. What are the current trends in the industry, be it health care, education, government or the private sector. Has there been recent litigation? Acquisitions or mergers? In what direction does the organization seem to be headed? Are there any financial problems?
6. Befriend your Local Librarian
No matter how much information about the company you are able to find on your own, your librarian will find more. Librarians are like skilled detectives who can search vast data bases and come up with unexpected findings. Most job candidates will only research the company’s website. So, with all this added information, you can outshine your competition in the interview. Just keep in mind that you must also be discrete regarding litigation and other sensitive matters.
7. Decide What to Wear
Always err on the side of formality. Usually a business suit is appropriate for a job interview even if you will be wearing jeans on the job. So decide early and get the suit cleaned and pressed, the shoes shined, and the matching accessories out. Cover up tattoos. Females should wear only one earring in each ear: males should wear none. If this offends your sensibilities, keep in mind that this is simply a game you play. I have served on many hiring committees where one member was concerned about the informal attire of a candidate to the point that it became a hiring issue. However, never once was a candidate in a neat, pressed business suit vetoed because of dress standards.
8. Take a Good Look at Your Hairstyle
Perhaps it’s time for a professional cut or trim. Women may want to figure out a minimalist makeup routine. Also, absolutely no fragrance for men or women. You don’t want to lose the job because someone on the hiring team has allergies.
9. Practice the Handshake
If shaking hands is not part of your daily or weekly routine, you need to practice so that it doesn’t feel awkward and unfamiliar. Sometimes male recruiters criticize the job seekers because they have weak, lazy handshakes. Similarly, female recruiters have reported wincing with pain as aggressive job seekers have crushed their ring fingers. Find a friend who is familiar with the routine and practice shaking hands until it feels natural.
10. Work on Routine Questions
There are numerous lists of standard interview questions. You can find them on career websites, on the websites of your college or university Career Services Office or in printed form in numerous books for job seekers. They include: “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Where do you expect to be in five years?” You should be able to answer these questions in your sleep. If you can’t answer them easily, find a professional friend to coach you or sign up for an appointment with a career advisor in a community agency or college.
11. Practice in Front of a Mirror
Take a set of practice interview questions and go down the list, practicing in front of a mirror. Check the ones you find difficult and go back over them until you find yourself answering them smoothly. As you work on these take note of your posture, facial gestures, and composure. You aim is to be poised with no signs of nervous energy.
12. Rehearse with a Friend
This will be harder than the mirror exercise. Ask your friend to note which questions you need to improve and to observe anything that is amiss. Once you are feeling confident, ask her to throw in some new, unexpected questions to see how you handle them.
13. Master Behavior-Based Questions
Behavior-based questions are usually the hardest because they demand examples of your previous work experience. However, they’re very popular because they are the most reliable in predicting future performance on the job. Employers want to hire the most successful employees. Here is a sampling of behavior-based questions: “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem at work. What did you do? What was the result?” Or, “Give me an example of a work project that required you to be extremely creative. “ Or, “What has been the most difficult set of circumstances under which you’ve had to work? How did you handle it?” These questions force you to call on previous work history. So before the interview consider some anecdotes of successful work experiences that you can relate.
14. Make a Video of your Mock Interview
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Ask a friend to film the interview with the hardest questions you can find. Do not stop when you stumble over a question. Treat it as a real interview and keep on going. When you finish, make notes on the areas that need improvement. Keep practicing until you can go through all the questions with ease. This will also serve as a test of nervous habits. I once had a student who winked at me throughout a practice interview. Until she saw the playback, she vehemently denied her nervous eye tic that looked exactly like a wink.
15. Handle Stress Questions with Ease
Occasionally, but not often, an employer will throw in a question or two to see how you keep your composure under stress. This could be a difficult technical question or an academic problem or simply a question for which the answer is not commonly known. Keep in mind that with these questions, the answer is not as important as your conduct. So if the interviewer asks you to figure out the square root of Pi or the Arabic phrase for “Good Morning” or the meaning of the poem “Thanatopsis” just chuckle and ask if you’re allowed to use your IPad for a calculator or Google search.
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