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Top 5 Tips to Prepare for Interviews… in the 21st Century

Congratulations! After much hard work on creating a great resume, networking, applying for jobs, and following up, you’ve been called for an interview. Job interviewing is one of the more stressful activities you can go through, so how can you be prepared to beat the competition? Here are 5 tips:

1. Use the job description to anticipate questions, and come with an arsenal of you best stories. Beyond the standard interview questions (“Tell me about yourself,” “Why should we hire you,” “what is your weakness”), which hundreds of other bloggers and books have covered, you should read the job description carefully and turn the requirements into questions. If the job description says you must have strong analytical skills, you may be asked “Give an example of a time you used your analytical skills,” or “Can you walk me through how you would analyze this case study problem?” If the job description emphasizes teamwork, you may be asked “Can you give an example of a time when you overcame a conflict in a team?” If it’s a senior-level position, you may be asked “Can you give an example of a time you led an organizational change?” or “What is your leadership style.” Look at each qualification and duty of the job and turn it into a question.

Your story answers should be in the “Problem-action-result” format. What was the status quo when you arrived, what did you do to solve the problem, and how did your solution solve the problem? How is this story relevant to the requirements of the job you are now interviewing for?

2. Use LinkedIn to research the interviewers; and use LinkedIn to research your predecessor, if you have one. Go to LinkedIn.com (you have a profile, don’t you?). Then go to the “Advanced” link (top right-hand side of the page, next to “people”) and do an advanced search for people. Type in the name of the company that’s interviewing you, and then type in the names (or job titles, if you don’t have names) of the people interviewing you. Read the person’s profile and look for their keywords, educational background etc. Also search for your predecessor. Does everyone in the department have similar backgrounds? If you know they all have worked for the same company in the past, can you research that company as well? If they all have a particular educational background, can you emphasize how your background is similar; or if it’s different, how your differences will add to the team? How do they describe what they currently do?

3. Use internet research to understand the employer. These days, every organization has a website. But just reading the website is not enough, if you want to beat the competition. If it’s a corporation, find their 10K; if it’s a nonprofit organization, go to Guidestar.org to view the 990 tax return and see what they spend their money on (and the salaries of top staff). Go to Glassdoor.com to read company reviews (and, often, sample interview questions they are asking other candidates). Go to Lexis-Nexis (go to your local library to get free access if possible) to read news articles about the company; and go to Hoovers.com to do company research. Go to Google News and search for news. Be sure you know the name and bio of the CEO, and if it’s a publicly-traded company, their current stock price. Look at their competition and trends/news in the industry as a whole.

4. Consider a 30/60/90 day plan. Consider putting together your plan of action– what you would do, if hired, in the first 3 months of the job. Find a subtle way to bring this up in the interview, or, if you are asked what you would do in the first few months of the job, bring out a memo or PowerPoint showing you have thought through exactly what you would achieve. Especially for sales or for leadership-related positions, this can truly distinguish you from your competition. Look at Peggy McKee’s Career Confidential report here for ideas.

5. Practice. Run through your interview questions with a career coach, a friend, a video camera, a family member, etc. (The career services office of the university you attended may offer this service for free or low cost.) Try to say your interview questions out loud at least once or twice before the big day. Practice makes perfect, and nothing cures pre-interview jitters than being really ready and having your answers well-rehearsed. Don’t memorize your answers, though– you still have to come across sounding natural.

Good luck!

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Corey McCarren

Nonverbals, nonverbals, nonverbals. What you aren’t saying speaks volumes. Watch your tone of voice, posture, hand signals, everything. I prefer in-person interviews because then I can utilize non-verbals and really tell if I will fit in. Also don’t just answer questions, ask them. An interviewer wants to feel like your interested, not just searching for a job to pay the bills. Make sure the questions are specific to the organization, and it can be good to ask about the corporate culture as well.

Camille Roberts

Great post as usual, Heather! Your mention of suggesting a PowerPoint during the interview reminded me of this cool service called WinTheView (http://www.WinTheView.com). It is a great way to help our clients stand out during the interview. It’s not for all situations, but it is great for the “right” situation. <g>

Ebony Scurry, PHR, GCDF-I

I really like your tips! I especially like number 5. Pratice is very important, but often overlooked.

Thanks for sharing!

~ Ebony