So, you worked hard to earn that engineering degree, a coveted internship yielding multiple references, and you are plugging away at an MBA taking night classes. You are completely qualified for several great opportunities and the interview for your ideal job is finally scheduled. Perhaps you took a mandatory course in college that "prepped" you for an interview process, but are you really ready? Maybe it's been a while since your last interview. We've all heard the comment, "he or she was great on paper, but did not interview well." This happens frequently and it's frustrating for everyone involved. As much as employers might be tempted to overlook certain interview blunders, I always remind our clients that candidates should be at their very best throughout the interview process. When an employer compromises on their expectations, the outcome is disappointing: short-term employment, poor ability to work well with current employees, and an overall clash in company culture and mission to name a few.
I've worked in recruiting for over 14 years and have seen and heard a lot throughout the interview process. Here are a few of my favorite reminders for candidates preparing for an interview:
1. Suit it up.
This may seem obvious, but it's critical for a positive first impression. With rare exception, a candidate should always have a freshly dry-cleaned suit ready to go. Additionally, shined shoes, a matching belt and a clean shave act as a complement.
2. You are on the spot!
From the minute you pull into the company's parking lot until the minute you depart, you are under close scrutiny by everyone from the receptionist, to employees on the shop floor to Executive Management. Take the time to display your professionalism and enthusiasm about the job opportunity and always mind your manners.
Have you ever needed to ask the same question three different ways to get the answer you were looking for? Remember the STAR acronym. Situation/Task/Action/Result. Let's take the example of a commonly asked, behavioral-based question, "tell me about a time when you improved a process." Think of the best scenario from your professional experience, ideally with a positive outcome. Explain the situation you were in, followed by the tasks and actions you took to improve the process, and then state the results. If the results can be quantified (e.g., "my actions led to a 35% increase in efficiency"), that will impress the interviewers even more. Remember, your answers should be thorough while also being succinct...be sure not to ramble! A few additional tips to remember while answering interview questions:
- Always speak in the first person; we're talking about you and not anyone else in the room.
- Maintain good eye contact with all interviewers; this displays your confidence and strong interpersonal skills.
- Smile. It brings a human components to a high-pressure situation.
- Remember to call the interviewers by name several times throughout the interview; this indicates sincerity, attention to detail and good rapport-building.
4. Questions, anyone?
At the end of an interview, candidates are almost always asked, "do you have any questions for us?" Answering any version of "no" is the fastest way to ruin an otherwise great interview. Always prepare several (at least six), well thought out questions to ask the interview panel. Do not ask obvious questions that can be easily answered by skimming the company's web site; dig deeper and show your genuine interest. What could make the President of a company or the Executive Management Team happier than talking with a high-potential, prospective employee about their company and its industry.
5. Follow Up.
Once the interview is completed and you've wowed everyone with your qualifications, shiny shoes, thorough answers and excellent questions, there's one more component to keep in mind. I am assuming you've provided everyone with a copy of your resume on high-quality paper, as well as a complete list of five or more professional references. Now it's time to follow up with everyone. Be sure that you have (or can easily obtain) contact information for every interviewer. Following the interview, send a prompt thank-you note; preferably hand-written, but email is also okay. This is also an ideal opportunity to recap what you learned about the company, industry and job opportunity, as well as ask an additional question or two.
Good luck and go get 'em!