You prepare your resume after hours of research on how to best showcase your experience and accomplishments. You research various jobs and companies and solicit help from your network. You write compelling cover letters and apply to selected job opportunities.
Your investment pays off and you are invited to an interview. You know you are qualified for the role. This is a great opportunity to find out more about the company, the role and the people that work there. You want to establish if there are opportunities to expand your skills and build your career. You can find out what they pay, if they have remote work options, how much vacation they offer and generally what benefits they provide to their employees. You look forward to getting more information and deciding if this is the opportunity for you.
You go for the interview, get all the information you need and decide it is a great opportunity and you REALLY want the job. Then you receive a standard rejection note…”thank you for your time… we had many qualified candidates…difficult decision…best of luck to you in your career.”
You are unlikely to get offered every job for which you interview but what happened? Why didn’t they want to hire you? You will probably never know as most companies will not provide detailed feedback. There may have been another candidate more qualified for the role. Or you did something (or didn’t do something) in the interview that made you lose the opportunity.
Preparing for the Interview
Check your Mindset
If the above description is how you felt when you prepared and went for the interview, you may want to adjust your mindset. Don’t see the interview as your opportunity to get more information and decide if it is the right role for you. Instead, see the interview as your opportunity to demonstrate why the company should want to hire you, not the other candidate(s) they are interviewing. This may sound counter intuitive because you need to get more information and you may decide you don’t like the company, the corporate culture or the job. You may get a low salary offer or not like their benefits. If that happens, you can professionally withdraw from the interview process and move on. But don’t focus on what you want when you are preparing for the interview or when you are in the interview.
The interviewer asked to meet you so you can assume your resume shows you have the skills and experience required. Now they want more information about your skills, attitude, communication and interpersonal skills. They interview you based on your resume. They hire you, or don’t hire you, based on how you present your skills and yourself in the interview. You should assume you are not the only candidate interviewing for the job. You are competing for the job. And if another candidate does a better job of demonstrating why they should be hired, you lose.
Do your Homework
Some candidates think they can research the company and the role after the first interview, once they know they are interested. During the first interview, when it becomes obvious you haven’t done your homework, the message you are sending is that you are not interested, not organized, and not prepared. Who wants to hire that person? Assume they will ask you “What do you know about us?” and be ready with an accurate, concise answer that shows why you are interested in the role and the company.
And do your homework on yourself. Do not assume any questions about you or your experience to date are easy. Review your resume and ensure you can go into detail on anything they may ask. Find some standard interview questions online and practice answering in a concise, accurate way. Ideally have someone do this exercise with you and give you feedback on what your answers convey to them.
A favourite interview question used by many hiring managers at the beginning of the interview is “So, tell us about you”. The interviewer intends it to be an ice breaker and an opportunity for you to highlight what you think they should know about you. If you have not prepared for this question you may go blank or you may drone on for five to ten minutes with irrelevant information, unable to stop yourself, even as the interviewer’s eyes glaze over. Have a standard two minute overview about your professional history to date that you tailor for different opportunities to keep it relevant. This question is a potential landmine if you have not prepared or it can be a great opportunity to start the interview well.
In the Interview
Be yourself. Yes, you are going to be your professional self with your marketing hat on but don’t try to be someone you are not. You are unlikely to carry it off and, if you do, you will end up with a job or a team culture that doesn’t suit you.
Dress code is important. If you don’t know the company’s dress code, ask the person who invites you to the interview and always dress a little smarter than their dress code. If they wear jeans, you wear slacks and a shirt. Everyone understands if you are overdressed for an interview. If you are dressed more casually than the interviewer, you send a message that you didn’t care about impressing them. And, as unfair as it may be, the interviewer is assessing you before you even say hello.
Answering interview questions. Make sure you understand what they are asking and seek clarification if you are not sure. Answer the question directly and concisely. Don’t use one word “yes” and “no” answers that sound terse but you should not have longwinded or irrelevant answers either. A good rule of thumb for your answer is thirty seconds to two minutes. And don’t focus on answering quickly. There is nothing wrong with taking a few seconds to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it.
The money question. If they ask you what you are looking for I recommend you work on the assumption they pay fair market salaries and avoid naming a number if you can. The discussion around compensation can happen at offer stage. You may decide to turn a low offer down if it is not negotiable but that is better than not having the opportunity to consider an offer for a job you want. Tell them your priority is a job and a company you can thrive in and you are assuming they will pay a market related salary.
Your turn to ask questions
Finally, they ask you if you have questions for them. After 45 minutes of the interview being all about them, now it is about you. Sort of. Yes, you should ask questions. What you ask and how you ask it makes as much of an impression on them as your interview answers.
Always have three to five interview questions written down to take with you into the interview. If you don’t write them down, you may go blank or ask “instant death” questions. Not asking any questions makes a poor impression as it is often interpreted as a lack of interest. “Instant death” questions are questions about money, office hours, vacation days. Yes, you need to know these things and you would not accept an offer until you have this information. But when and how you ask these questions is important and I recommend you don’t ask them until the job offer stage or until they raise the topic. The logic here is that this information isn’t relevant until the most important elements have been addressed (job, company, team culture).
Instead, focus your questions on the job, the team and the company. This information will help you make a better career decision and these questions will demonstrate you are making a career decision. After all of your work to prepare for this interview, it is a great way to wrap the meeting up. Responding to “What questions do you have for us?” with a question like “How much do I get paid?” can end your meeting on a discordant note. Rather ask something like “What are the key things you need this person to achieve in the first three to six months?” Besides making a better impression, it will give you additional insight on the role.
Interviewing is tough. And it is a skill that is not directly correlated to your ability to do the job. Prepare and practice. Ideally you get offered every role but, at a minimum, you won’t get knocked out for poor interview skills. Unfortunately, it is not the best person for the job who gets the job – it is the person who does the best interview.
Darielle Pettem, Client Manager, TEEMA Solutions Group. Darielle is a recruitment professional with over 20 years of success helping companies solve their recruitment challenges. Her broad knowledge gained from a variety of market sectors combined with her experience in both the “in house” and agency world enable her to add value beyond making quality introductions. Darielle’s consultative and thorough approach can be leveraged to build expertise and quality in all aspects of talent acquisition and job searching. Darielle specializes in high tech recruitment with TEEMA Solutions Group (www.teemagroup.com)