There is nothing more nerve-wracking than a job interview. All those questions and always the dreaded, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Today we’ll have you navigate the minefield that is a job interview.
As we have discussed in our future of work episode, the face of employment is changing. More than ever we need to be able to stand apart from the competition. One important way to do that is to improve your interview skills.
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Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect when it comes to just about anything, and that includes interviews. Interviewing isn’t a skill we normally practice, but it is an important skill if you’re looking to upgrade your job. A lot of what we’ve talked about this year is focused on preparing yourself your what will certainly only be a tougher job market in the future.
The best way to practice your interviewing skills is to go on interviews, lots of them. But you want the stakes to be low until you’ve perfected your game. Apply for jobs that you aren’t particularly interested in but are still within your industry or the industry you want to get into.
You can polish your skills without feeling the pressure you feel when you really want the job.
Before an interview, you should do a crazy amount of research on the company you’re interviewing with. The more you know, the better you can tailor your resume, cover letter, interview answers, and questions.
You can get a lot of the information you need from sites like Glassdoor and Vault. You can find out what the company’s climate is like, what the salaries are, and stuff you might not want to ask initially but is still essential to know like vacation policies and the benefits offered.
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The first thing to get down pat is your elevator pitch. The goal here is to wow someone in just a few sentences. It should be no longer than about 30 seconds, use a timer when you practice.
Andrew used to tell people he was a data nerd by day and a money nerd by night. That sort of pitch invites a person to ask you more questions about what you do and what you want to do.
Most questions asked in an interview should be answered with a story. Come armed with stories about your triumphs and failures. Triumphs should not be framed as personal triumphs. They should be told as a triumph for your company.
You designed a system that cut the time it takes to do X by one third. This saved the company $X in the first quarter alone.
Failures might include having been fired from a job. How can you spin that? You took that failure as an opportunity to learn because you never wanted to put a company in the position of having to fire you again.
It’s Your Interview Too
During the interview process, you are not some supplicant lucky enough to get an audience with Luis XIV. If you are going to take this job, you are going to trade your time and expertise for financial compensation.
As much as the interviewer is evaluating you, you are evaluating them and their company too. A job interview is very much like a first date, and desperation is the world’s worst perfume. You don’t want to come across as desperate because the person across the desk or dinner table will wonder what is wrong with you that you can’t find a job or a partner.
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Questions for the Interviewer
Again, just like a first date, coming to a job interview and asking no questions shows that you don’t care about impressing this person. Bring a notepad with your questions and write down the answers.
You should ask specific questions about the role you are applying for and the work you will be doing. Ask what additional responsibility you will be eligible to take once you master the basics of your job.
Ask the interviewer questions about him or herself. How long have they been with the company? What do they most enjoy about the company and their own role in it? People love to talk about themselves.
Ask specific questions about the company but make sure they aren’t questions that could be answered with a Google search. You should have already done that and know those answers.
Ask about company retention, if a lot of promotions come from within the company, how often you can expect feedback on your performance through things like one on one meetings with your boss and yearly evaluation.
These are thoughtful questions that show you are looking for a long-term situation and not just willing to settle for any job that will have you.
What Not To Ask
These questions are fundamental but the first interview is not the time or place to ask them. Things like salary, bonuses, vacation, and work from home policies. These questions are better asked during the negotiation process and asked of an HR representative and not of the decision makers.
Oh, and never ask if you need to pass a drug test before being hired. You’d think I wouldn’t need to tell people that but you would be wrong.
No Brillant Assholes
The person interviewing you has to work with you. And so do lots of other people in the company. Do you know what people don’t like working with? Assholes, especially brilliant assholes because they are generally more insufferable than just the regular ones.
Of course, you should showcase your many talents, skills, and overall awesomeness during an interview. But you should do it humbly, a way that shows your brilliantness will benefit the person interviewing you and the company.
These questions are designed to assess you based on past behavior.
“With these kinds of questions, interviewers are usually trying to learn three things: First, they want to know how you behaved in a real-world situation. Second, they want to understand the measurable value you added to that situation. Finally, they are trying to learn how you define something like “pressure at work” — a concept different people might interpret differently.”
Behavioral questions can include things like:
* Give me an example of a difficult problem you solved. How did you solve this problem?
* Tell me about a mistake that you’ve made. How did you handle it?
* Can you tell me about a challenging situation you overcame at work?
* Has there been a time when you had to pitch an idea to a manager or senior leader? What was the outcome?
* Tell me about a time you learned a new skill. How did you approach it and how to did you apply your new learnings?
The STAR Method
The STAR method will help you answer behavioral questions. You need to tell a story that is easy for the person interviewing you to follow.
Situation: What is the context of your story?
In setting the situation, you are telling your listener when or where this event took place. For example, “We were working on a six-month contract for a high-value client when our agency merged with another, larger firm…”
Task: What was your role in this situation?
For example, “It was my role to lead the transition for my group while also communicating with our client to keep the project on track.”
Action: What did you do?
For example, “I set up weekly check-ins with the client to update them on the progress of the merger. This cemented an important level of trust between us. I also had a regular one-on-one with each person on the team, both to assess how they were handling the change and to make sure we would meet our deadlines.”
Result: What did your actions lead to?
For example, “We ended up completing the project on time, meeting all of their specifications. It was incredibly rewarding to navigate a lot of change and succeed under pressure.”
The Barbara Walters Questions
These are the dumb questions that make you want to give back a smart aleky reply. Honestly, if I interviewed someone and asked what their biggest weakness was and they told me, “Three-pointers from way downtown,” I would laugh and hire them because they’re quick, witty, and a little bit of a smart ass which is precisely the kind of person I want to work with.
But it will probably put a lot of interviewers off so perhaps you shouldn’t say that. Don’t pretend that being a perfectionist is your weakness either. It’s such a cliche, kiss ass answer and you probably aren’t one anyway.
If you are, what it means is that you aren’t very productive because you spend time doing stuff that doesn’t matter to anyone but you like choosing between two shades of blue folders to put your report in.
My stock answer was always that I have some difficulty prioritizing. To show how I overcame this, I would say that every morning I would make a list of things that had to get done on a given day or week and then rank them. I would then show the list to my boss and ask if I should make any changes.
Another good one is that you are not at your best early in the morning. To counter this, you schedule your essential tasks for later in the day. You come in a bit later and stay longer which provides coverage in the hours when most of your coworkers are unavailable.
Be a Sniper
Writing one resume and cover letter are a pain, but if you really want the job, you can’t use the scattershot method and use generic ones that you send out to fifty companies. You have to be a job hunting sniper.
You need to tailor these documents as specifically as you can for each job and each company. The people reading these things have read hundreds, maybe thousands of resumes and cover letters throughout their own careers. They can spot a copy and paste job in the first two lines, and you’re not even going to get a call.
It’s Worth It
We know looking for a job sucks so here is a little inspiration. You should be job hopping and way more often than you might think. It seems counterintuitive. We’ve all been told that it looks terrible to see lots of jobs listed on a resume. Makes you seem flaky or like you can’t keep a job.
But employees who stay in a job longer than two years have been shown to make 50% less over the course of their careers than those who change jobs more often. So polish up your interview skills and land that job! And then do it again two years later. Or you can always start working for yourself.
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