I coach many candidates before they interview for a position. I do it as part of my role at Salveson Stetson Group and as a favor to help others, and, frankly, I just enjoy doing it. I often find that candidates are underprepared for an interview and are essentially “winging it.” But sometimes, it’s the opposite – candidates are over-prepared to the point that their presentation can seem canned or even insincere. If you are coaching others on the job hunt or you, yourself, are interviewing, I’ve outlined a few suggestions that may be helpful. Some of this information is common sense but worth mentioning:
- Do your homework before your meeting. Does the hiring executive have a profile on LinkedIn? Review the company website, gather information from news sites and talk to others who have worked for the company in the past.
- Make a strong first impression. Smile, make eye contact and firmly shake the person’s hand. I know this is something that your mother and father have told you time and time again – but it really is important!
- Turn off your cell phone, completely. Don’t put it on vibrate. There is nothing more irritating than to have someone’s cell phone ring or vibrate during an interview. It is distracting and sends the message that you are not fully engaged in the conversation.
- Come prepared with specific examples of accomplishments that relate to the needs for the role. You should be able to provide a succinct answer – don’t say too much or too little. You should be able to frame the situation by providing two to three action steps and a summary of the results.
- In addressing your accomplishments, make sure you address your specific contributions. While you certainly want to convey you can collaborate with your colleagues and that you are a team player, you also need to distinguish yourself. The collective “we” can be a deal killer in the interview.
- You should be able to briefly explain your transitions from one company to the next. When someone gives a convoluted explanation, it always sends up a red flag that there may be more to the story than what is told. Don’t leave that impression.
- Come prepared with thoughtful questions. It is helpful to think of questions that are more strategic in nature vs. asking for information that can be easily found on the company’s website.
- There is a balance between showing enthusiasm for the job and sounding desperate. Don’t over-sell yourself. It smells of “I have to land this job!”
- Be cautious of bringing a loaded portfolio of materials to share. I always groan internally when I see a candidate bring out their PowerPoint during an interview. The only thing this accomplishes is to take the focus away from you and shift it toward the materials. Leaving one document as a “leave behind” is fine, or, even better, it can be a good follow-up attached to a thank you letter.
- Speaking of thank you letters – don’t forget to ask for business cards and always write a follow-up thank you note. Whether the note is sent by email or regular mail, I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that you sent something. The advantage of an email is that it arrives quickly, while a personal note clearly stands out since many of us don’t receive much mail these days.
So the bottom line is: use good judgment, articulate your specific accomplishments in a concise manner and demonstrate how you will fit into the role and company culture. However, be careful not to try to cram 90 minutes of material into a 60-minute meeting. The interview is not the time to tell your entire life story, but instead, to listen attentively, connect with the interviewer, answer the questions asked and come prepared with insightful questions. Your objective is not to walk away from the interview with the offer but to influence a company to invite you back. If you are able to accomplish that, you will be ahead of the game and hopefully on your way towards receiving an offer.