“How would I describe myself?
Three words: hard working, alpha male, jackhammer … merciless … insatiable“
(Dwight K. Schrute)
You have already applied for a job and listened to my advice on the do’s and do not’s of applying for jobs but now it is time for the dreaded interview. The modern day version of the Spanish Inquisition. What will make you stand out? What will differentiate you from everyone else. Here are some ways that you can gain an edge over your competition.
In my career, I have been on 13 interviews for coaching positions at four-year institutions. Of those 13 interviews, I have been blessed to have 10 job offers. Through my personal experience, as well as being a member of several search committees, here are 11 tips that will GUARANTEE YOU A JOB!!!
No, not really. I wish it were that simple. Seriously though, I can offer you one guarantee, however . . .
The one guarantee that I can offer you is that if you follow these 11 tips, you will gain a slight edge over the competition and give yourself a better-than-average chance to get the job. And that is really all that we can ask for. Every job and every interviewer is different but with these tips, who knows, maybe they’ll be just the difference you need to set yourself apart from the crowd and give you an edge.
Why 11 tips? It’s because ten is normal but we don’t want normal. We don’t want to be like everyone else. We want to always do a little extra. Also, remember that the best resume for your next job is doing a great job at your current job. If you want some additional advice, here are four simple yet profound pieces of career advice for anyone. Here are 11 ways you can nail your next interview …
(1) Research and Be Prepared. Seriously…do your homework! If this job is important to you then act like it. It’s not enough to know that the boss used to work at such and such company or that he belongs to a certain civic organization. Find out as much as possible about the person(s) that will be making the hiring decisions. Use your contacts. Talk to people who know people. Do more than just look at the first page of Google to find information. You can’t always control the interview. If you know 3 or 4 key things, you might not be able to tailor the conversation to include those facts. The more you know, the more likely you’ll be able to work some of that into the interview.
(2) Don’t Lose the Interview. This seems obvious; however, not all job interviews are won. Some people get the job because they were the “last man standing.” Losing an interview could be anything from being too over-the-top and risky to being too conservative. Either extreme could hurt you. There are so many things that could fall into this category. If you are going to a personal training interview at a gym and you were a suit and tie, that could be considered pretentious. If you don’t prepare a packet of information on yourself and you are the only interviewee that doesn’t, then you could be perceived as not caring enough. Being late, not looking people in the eye, being too arrogant, being too laid back, asking about salary or vacation time, your cell phone going off (even on vibrate), bad posture, etc… these are all just a few examples of things that can lose an interview for you. In this competitive job market, why give any excuse for them to brush you aside.
(3) Know why this job is special and why you are the right fit. Myth alert: people think some jobs aren’t all that special. That data entry job, that 2nd shift factory job, the assistant manager position at a fast food restaurant are all important. When you live in a capitalistic society with Darwinian principles, every job matters for some reason to somebody or else it would cease to exist. The legendary football coach, Lou Holtz, always used to say, “Make the big time where you are at.” Discover the reason why this is a special job. Then present this discovery in the interview while highlighting why exactly you are the right person for this special job. Word of caution, though. Don’t go overboard and be a cheerleader. You don’t want to sound insincere or pompous. If you have done your homework and really convince yourself of the special characteristics of this job, you should have just the right enthusiasm that will be refreshing.
(4) Do a practice interview. Don’t have time? Sound a little corny? You are probably right. Have fun scanning the classifieds next week and trying to get another interview someplace. Why would you not be committed to doing all within your power to be prepared for your interview. I am constantly amazed how many speech students “wing it” on speech day. As a communication major, I even went to the classroom the night before to get a feel for the setting. I’d also do my speech in front of someone ahead of time and even practiced in front of a mirror. Is all of this necessary for a job interview? Probably not, if for no other reason than you probably would get arrested trying to get into the business to practice. You won’t always know exactly what will be asked, but you can have a decent idea.
(5) Take full responsibility for your actions. This is two-fold. First, even if you interviewed well in the past and didn’t get the job, it is not political and it is not outside of your control…at least as far as you are concerned when preparing for the next interview. Act as if you did or didn’t do something that might have been the difference in getting the job. Continue to evaluate and analyze your performance and conduct. The second part of this is owning your past. If you were fired in the past or made mistakes in the past, take full responsibility for them. Do not blame others and certainly don’t lie. This doesn’t mean you need to sink your own battleship. You don’t need to offer up information that is not needed or relevant. However, all people (even bosses), are human and can appreciate someone owning their actions, learning from the past and overcoming challenges in their lives. Do not ramble on. If you know that a difficult topic will come up, be prepared to be short and to the point, while highlighting the key items.
(6) Be positive. You don’t need show up with pom-poms and a Kool-aid smile. Not everything is rainbow and butterflies. However, you need to present the image that you see the best in situations. You will always be part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem. Challenges and set backs are not the end of the world, they are just opportunities. Above all else, do not criticize or talk badly about people–this includes grumpy bosses, idiot co-workers, or naive customers. Additionally, any negative comments (e.g. “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”) may stand out in a person’s mind after you interview. Don’t give them anything negative to remember you by.
(7) Send personalized thank you notes ASAP. Rarely does ASAP mean a few days later. Most people could actually send the notes the same day or next morning after an interview. It just takes a little more conscious effort. If you fly to the interview, you almost always have down time waiting for your flight. If you drove to the interview, take some time to write them before you leave town. Personalized means personalized. You don’t have to be over the top in a stalker sort of way. You don’t need to mention how their smile melted your heart or that you really enjoyed the scent of their perfume. However, if you really pay attention during the interview process (even if it is a committee) and stay focused, you should be able to remember something that is relevant.
(8) Communicate during the interview. It really doesn’t matter what industry or occupation you are interviewing for, they will want to know that you can communicate properly with other people. Obviously, during the interview, it is important to come across as someone that gets along with others and can articulate themselves clearly. Do not ramble or try to use big words. Be yourself. Hopefully you are good communicator. If you can, get the interviewer talking and listen to what they have to say. Develop a good rapport with the interviewer. They should feel comfortable talking with you. If possible, tell a few stories that are short and to the point, but which illustrate your qualification. This is where doing some practice interviews help out because your partner can tell you whether or not you should attempt to tell a story. Real life illustrations are much better than speaking in generalities. But, you lose that advantage if you ramble or it takes too long to get to your point. You don’t want to sound like that Uncle at the family reunion.
(9) Communicate before and after the interview. Before the interview, try to email some people at the business with a quick introduction explaining that you will soon be interviewing and state that you have worked well with your co-workers in the past and wanted to know how the position you are interviewing for and their current position can best work together. You might pick up some information on the company, plus you might just project some good will which could pay off if one of those people has any say in the hiring process. After the interview, wait a few days and then email the interviewer(s) with an additional question or two letting them know that you have given additional thought to the position. Make sure that your writing is grammatically correct. Whatever you do, don’t revert to your a 140-character alter ego. Also, one other word of warning…don’t be a stalker! Say only what is necessary and do not contact them more than once.
(10) Have talking points. There is a reason that political strategists develop these for their candidates. If you watch the news, you will hear the same things over and over again. That is because they stick out in the viewer’s mind. What are the 3-4 main things that you want the interviewers to remember about why you are the right person for the job. If you have ever watched a political debate or a courtroom trial, the politicians and lawyers always try to bring the topic back around to what they want to talk about. Be wise but find a way to repetitively and subtly reinforce your strongest points. There is a reason that you made it to the interview process. There is something that someone likes or is intrigued by. If possible, find out what that is and then use that to your advantage.
(11) Ask the right questions. Ah, the dreaded question about your questions. This can sometimes be tricky. Interviews can be a two-way street. It is not just about the company finding out if you are right for the job but also if they are a good fit for you. If you are offered the job, you need to know whether or not you want to accept. Plus, depending upon the question that you ask, it could go a long way in making you more attractive for the position. The questions that you ask at the end can be strategic. However, every job is different so there are not necessarily perfect questions for all situations. The main principles are:
- Keep questions to a minimum (quality over quantity). The interview is not the only time you can find out information to help you make a decision later on. Use your interview questions to impress.
- Appropriate timing. This is where wisdom comes in. Some questions are better asked of certain people in certain places.
- Do not judge or state an opinion in your question. Make it seem as innocent as possible.
- Show that you know something about the organization or people through your question
- Get to the point with your question.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask at the end of an interview…
- Was there anything that I said today that you need further clarification on?
- Was there anything that I didn’t address that you would like me to talk about?
- From your perspective, maybe based on your role here, what do you see as the greatest opportunities (and the greatest challenges) that the company will has in the next year?
- What do you like best about working here?
- What are the next steps in the process? What can I do to help you as you move further along in this process?