In today’s competitive job market, only the best candidates are invited to interview for a job. The average number of people who apply for any given job is 118. Statistically, twenty-percent of those applicants get an interview, but repeatable anecdotal evidence puts the number of interviews over applicants at a much smaller number, usually only 3-4 people, because organizations don’t have time availability to interview more.
Needless to say, then, making the most out of every interview opportunity is essential. You should approach preparation for your interview just as if you would write a research paper for a class. The more you prepare, the greater the likelihood of receiving a job offer.
1. Do Your Homework – It is important that you research the organization, the job you are applying for and the industry standards including median salary for your area. Looking up the website should be just the start of your sleuthing. Google their name and see what comes up in the news and anywhere on the internet. Most students don’t read business magazines, newspapers or trade journals, so when you do, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
This includes finding positive or good news and also news highlighting concerns. You want to know if the company’s stock has been downgraded, or if they are under investigation by the FCC. It is also helpful, if you know about their successes. The launch of a new product written up in an industrial or business magazine or online. By working positive information into the interview conversation, it shows the interviewer(s) that you are interested in them and willing to go the extra mile.
2. Networking – Experts report that 70 to 80 percent of the jobs come through people you know. Networking moves you into the major league of job searching. Make sure you reach out to college and/or high school alumni, their parents and your parents’ network to find out if anyone they know works there or knows someone who knows someone. Use your contact lists, and online resources such as LinkedIn to see if you have anyone in your network who might give insight into the company.
Through networking, you can also learn about a company’s culture. This includes information about turnover, job satisfaction of the employees, favorite managers and if they promote from within. This type of information will not be published in a news or magazine article.
3. Anticipation – There are countless sources that provide lists of typical interview questions. After you have reviewed the list, you should find a pattern that shows the most asked questions for interviews. Don’t assume that you can think quickly and wing it. Prepare for even the simplest questions and practice your answer.
“Tell me about yourself.” “Tell me about your greatest accomplishments.” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Share a time you failed and how you responded to the situation.” “Why do you want this job?” “Why this organization?” Your answers and examples should be well rehearsed and feel natural when you deliver them.
4. Stand Out Through Your Story - How do you stand out from the other candidates they may be interviewing? The best way to stand out, is through your story. You should have 5-7 adaptable stories from your job, school and volunteer experience that you can use to demonstrate your knowledge and transferable skills and how they relate to the job you’re seeking.
Each story should demonstrate how you added value to the job, activity and/or team. Does the story show how you saved money or increased revenue? Can you provide examples of where you implemented a new procedure or process? Can you show increased clients or activity for the business?
Start with the situation by describing the problem. Then explain what you did to improve the situation and describe the results in quantifiable terms. This demonstrates that you understand the importance and the impact of your personal contributions. These stories should be adaptable for various questions.
Write down the key points on note cards and practice telling the story in a concise way that provides context, describes the problem and then transitions to how you added value in the situation. It is also helpful if you think of the possible questions that might trigger each story you have prepared.
5. Stand Out Through Your Transferable Skills – Be able to translate your skills from your academic, volunteer or extracurricular experiences, as well as any jobs you’ve had, to that job. Lydia Whitney the director of curriculum and instruction at Winning STEP recommends, "The first thing you should do before you look for a new job is assess yourself." Whitney said, "People need to say, 'This is what I did, but what else could I do?' "Show how these experiences have helped to prepare you for the role you’re interviewing for — using words in the job description. For example, if you’re a Psychology major, describe how you managed and promoted a group assignment using your project management, creativity and organizational skills.
Don Tennant, a writer for IT Business Edge explains that employers want to see how resourceful you are when presented with a problem. If you have demonstrated skills that you have been successful working on a team, and if you can think outside the box.
6. WIIFM (What’s In It For Me [them]) – Many students too often focus on why they want the job, what they will get out of it, and why it will be good for them. Turn the tables and explain how and why you can and will benefit the organization. Find ways to tactfully mention what they’d gain if they hired you (or how much they’d miss out on if they didn’t).
Ask yourself, “What is the employer looking for?” You might enter an interview prepared to go through a list of skills and work experience, but interviewers aren’t looking for you to repeat work experience you have already outlined on your resume. You wouldn’t be invited to interview, if your resume did not demonstrate your qualifications.
The resume gets you the meeting. The interview gives you the opportunity to set yourself apart from other qualified candidates by demonstrating resourcefulness, initiative, creativity, adaptability, drive and integrity. Employers measure your interest in their organization and the job and assess how you will adapt to the corporate culture.
The corporate workplace is more and more a team-driven environment. Culture fit is the foundation of any organization. That’s why it’s a priority when recruiting. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), poor culture fit results in turnover that can cost an organization between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary. Because of this, organizations are eager to hire people that will fit within a team.
7. Be Curious – Remember that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You want to ask questions that help you get a better idea about the company culture. How do they invest in their employees? What are the company’s expectations regarding work/life balance?
You can learn a great deal when it is your opportunity to ask questions. So don’t skip this important time. It shows the interviewer that you are a serious candidate and that you are trying to see if you would fit in well with the organization. Strategic questions demonstrate that you have prepared and thought about the position and the company.
There’s a difference between “Tell me about our company’s culture” and “Can you give me an example of a recent decision the company/department had to work through and explain the process used to come to a conclusion? Or, “I read that the organization is changing its strategic direction. How will that affect this business unit?” Avoid questions where answers are on the website or in a press release recently distributed.
8. Passion – Always close with a statement that makes it clear that you are excited and interested in the job. It is ok to say that you think you would be a great fit for the job/organization. Allow your voice tone, words and body language to communicate your excitement about the job. Your interest and excitement will significantly impact the decision of the interviewer. If you don’t, your interviewer will question if you really want the job or if you’re going to be committed to the organization.
Companies want to make the right employee selection the first time. They don’t want to repeat the hiring process; because it is time consuming and expensive. If an employer gets the impression that you really have your eye on something else, you will most likely not receive a job offer.
9. Practice Makes Perfect – Most recent graduates have not had the opportunity to participate in a professional job interview in their field of study. The expectations of the interviewer and organization is higher than most jobs students have held while attending school.
The biggest mistake you can make is to under prepare or think you are going to wing it. Remember that you only get one chance – you want to do your best.
Phil Blair, the Executive Officer of Manpower West was recently interviewed by KUSI News. In his interview, Phil encourages students to take advantage of the coaches on campus in the career center. Practicing your stories out loud in a mirror or with a mentor or another professional helps to calm the jitters but also helps you get your story down so that it feels natural when telling it. You don’t want to look like you have memorized your answers.
It’s important to hear the words you intend to speak, including the tone, emphasis, inflections and facial impressions, so that you don’t blow it when it really counts. Do not hesitate to ask someone to do a mock interview prior to the meeting.
10. Gratitude – It is surprising how many interviewers do not know that a thank you note is an essential part of the interview process. It is important that each member of the interview team receive a thank you note less than 24 hours after the interview. If you can, remind the recipient of a specific conversation you had in the interview. Every interviewer expects a thank you note from each candidate, so no note is a sign of lack of interest and lack of professionalism. In some instances, e-mails are acceptable. However, if you really want to make an impression, send a neatly hand-written thank you note after the interview.
DO NOT hand out your thank you notes at the end of your interview. If you were not able to collect the names of each person on the panel, ask the receptionist for their names and titles if appropriate. If you can, write your thank you note right after the interview and then return and hand deliver them to the receptionist.
Preparation and practice will place you in a position so you are able to comfortably and confidently speak about how you will fit into the interviewer’s organization. Use specific stories to demonstrate your skills and experience. Be honest and forthright about your workstyle and what drives you. Making sure the job opportunity is the right fit. Think of the interview as the first step to integrating into the organization and the job.