Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Nailing that Interview

A few weeks ago a friend of mine emailed me regarding an exciting interview she had gotten. She wanted some tips on how to close the deal. I was happy to share my knowledge. However, once I started typing out my thoughts, even I was surprised by how much I do to prepare for an interview. Because of this I thought it would be information worth sharing. Hopefully, this helps with your next big interview. If it does, let me know, I would love to get feedback.

Some of you may not know that I have been through close to 20 interviews since I left college and embarked on my (so far) thirteen year career. I have also moved five times to pursue my or my husband's career goals. If there is any advice I would give to a job seekers it would be these two things: don't think you can give a good interview without preparation and don't be afraid to move for the right job. Before I address the first piece of advice let me deal with the second. Over the course of my career I have often met people who are victims of golden handcuffs. Work situations they perceive as so good, due to hours, pensions, pay etc. that they can't bring themselves to move on. I would argue that there is never a good enough reason to stay someplace you are miserable, but experience has shown me that this is not how a lot of people react. These people would rather gut it out everyday in a job they are bored by or loath. Usually, when you ask why they stay the answer is they just don't want to move. Whether that means jobs, houses or cities. Now I don't doubt that moving a family is not that much fun. But it isn't that much fun struggling to get out of bed every morning to go to a job you just can no longer face either. 

However, every once and a while someone wants to take that plunge, and to those people I say, bravo! Go after your happiness! So now you need to go back to my first piece of advice, prepare to land that new opportunity the moment you get the interview. To do this, I have put together a list of all the things I do to prepare. It is very rare that I don't get an offer for a job I interview for. This is not just because I have good skills and experience, lots of people have those, but rather I prepare for an interview with a ruthless focus. I would say I easily spend 3-5 hours preparing for an interview, if not more. If you think this seems like a lot of time, think of it this way: if you are offered a job where you make $10,000 more, then those hours are worth $2000 each. Now is it worth it?

Below is the process I following, and I have to say I have been very successful with it. In the past 4 years there have only been 3 times when I did not get offered the job I had applied for, and in each one of those situations there was an internal candidate I was up against. So I don't consider this my failure by any measure. But this does bring me to one word of caution, it has been my experience that it is not usually worth the effort to interview for jobs where there are strong internal canidates, especially, if the company is unionized. Now I am not saying don't ever take an interview in this situation, but experience has taught me to be cautionous. As I said above I spend considerable time to prepare for an interview, and I don't like it when that preparation is for nothing. When I get an interview, one of the first questions I ask is if there is an internal canidate interviewing as well. If there is, I then I ask myself how badly I want the job. I have turned down interviews where there have been internal candidates. Let's face it, sometimes interviews are just set up to follow union rules and the successful candidate is a forgone conclusions. There is a lot of pressure to hire people who have essentially been doing the jobs on contract for a number of years. To de-seat someone like that you have to double prepare and have a management team that is willing to make changes. This isn't always the situation, so be sure you really want the job or don't mind giving up the prep time.

Today, most interviews are behavioural interviews. This means that the interviewers generally ask questions designed to illicit strong responses. They are trying to dig down to your core and see what makes you tick. So it doesn't hurt to do some research on this type of interview so you understand the process, and therefore how to answer the questions. Hiring the wrong person can cost a company a lot of time and money, so they want to find out if you are going to be a good fit. Usually most behavioural interviews use a cross section of 50 common interview questions. You can find these online by Googling. I have my husband go through these with me a couple of times before an interview. That way I rarely get hit with questions I don't know how to answer.

Over the years I have accumulated reference letters from previous employers so I always bring a copy of my three best. I find handing them over at the end of the interview usually cuts through the reference issue and it is a de-facto way of saying, hey, I'm so great you don't even have to check my references, I brought them to you. Usually, I find most employers don't call my references because of this. If you have never asked for a reference letter when leaving a job, be sure you do so from this point on. I would even encourage you to ask for one if you still have a good relationship with your previous employers.

Lately, I have also been bringing a portfolio of my work. I find it usually gets a good reaction and proves that I can do what I say. I have stuff in there like papers I have written, curriculum I have designed, presentations I have given, and any awards I have received, etc. Find out more about how to put together a great portfolio here.

Then, of course, there are the small things, I always shake all the interviewer's hands when I come in and when I leave. I make a point of smiling and being relaxed through the whole interview. I constantly try to remind myself to keep my hands still, keep a relaxed smile on my face, sit up straight, and to take my time answering questions so that I don't just jabber stuff. I tend to talk over people, so I try to be hyper aware of this, and not to interrupt by mentally slowing my reactions down.

I also constantly remind myself to make and maintaining eye contact with each person I am talking to, as well as making eye contact with everyone else in the interview. I find eye contact is important. People feel they have a better connection to you and tend to trust you more when you make good eye contact.

I always bring three questions with me to ask at the end of the interview. It shows you are prepared and are interested in the job and the company. Usually, I do some research on the company to figure out what questions to ask. But I also research the company so I can answer any questions regarding what they do, or why I am interested in working for them. If I know who the interviewers are I will also research them so that I can be sure to hit on topics I know they are interested. Usually, you can ask the HR department who will be interviewing you, most don't mind giving out this information. Then I always send a thank you note after my interview, it keeps you fresh in the minds of the HR people.

Finally, and I think this might be the most important thing in an interview, always get the right time slot. I ALWAYS ask for the first interview of the day. As anyone who has ever done interviews can tell you, people begin to blur into each other over time. If your first up you can set yourself up at the person to beat. You have the power to create a strong impression that everyone who comes after will need to combat, and you will have the benefit of staying crisp in the interviewer's mind. But sometimes, someone else beats you to that spot, in that case you are best to ask for the final spot of the day. If you can't set the bar, then your best chance is to is to leave a strong impression at the end of the day.

Good luck!

Posted via email from Completely Barking Mad

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