Friday, February 11, 2011

Are you prepared to interview? Probably not!

by Matt Berndt

Some topics are timeless – How to Prepare for an Interview is one of these timeless topics.  Following is an updated version of a blog I posted about a year ago.  Why the update?  I’ve discussed this topic at least five times in the past week alone in career advising sessions. ‘Tis the season; so, if you are getting ready to interview – pay attention; you’re probably not as prepared as you think!
I’ve seen the shocked look many times:  A lost and forlorn “how could this have happened” expression right after they tanked an interview:
“How could it have gone so badly?  I really wanted that position.  I have everything they were looking for!” 
So, I ask:  “What did you do to prepare for the interview?”  or “How much time did you spend getting ready for the interview?”
The most typical responses: “Huh? Prepare?” and “I read the job description, I thought I was prepared.  All I had to do was talk about myself.”
When interviewing candidates, most employers really want to know four things:
  1. Why you want the job - show them you understand the position for which you are interviewing.  It will prove your interest.
  2. Why you believe you are qualified for the job  - give them examples that illustrate/prove you have the qualifications they are seeking.  Don’t make them take your word for it.  Give them evidence.
  3. Why you want to work for them  - demonstrate that you understand their company; who they are; what they do; and help them seek how and why you will fit into their culture.  Don’t just claim that you are a perfect fit, show them you understand their world.
  4. Why you want to work in their field, profession or industry  - show them that you have some knowledge about their world.  Let them see that, at least on some level, you understand the good, bad and ugly of their profession.  Show them you’re not wearing rose-colored glasses.
Employer can and will ask any number and variety of questions to arrive at answers within these core topics. The success or failure of your interview will boil down to how well you address these topics through your responses.
The reality is that most people do a poor job of addressing these topics.  Think about it, if you can’t answer these questions for an employer, how are they supposed to figure it out?
Well,wait a minute! You are the foremost authority on you, right?  After all, you have lived with you longer than has anyone else.  You know everything you have ever done, right?  Who better to talk about you than you? Maybe your mom and dad, but they can’t (better not!) go to the interview with you.  It’s your job to find your job, not Mom or Dad’s job (or my job) to do that for you, so you better be prepared to put your best and most relevant foot forward in an interview
So, why do so many people mess up interviews?  They don’t prepare.  If you really want a job or an internship, prove it by preparing for the interview!
Where does this preparation begin?

Set Realistic Expectations

First off, expecting you can walk out of any interview with the job offer is an unrealistic expectation.  Don’t set yourself up to be disappointed.  Do set expectations.  At the end of an interview you should be able to say:
  • I told them everything they needed to hear about my qualifications in order to consider me as a candidate.  Never leave an interview saying “I should have mentioned . . . . .”
  • I got answers to all of my important questions about the job and organization. Never leave an interview saying “I should have asked . . . . .”
These are realistic expectations.  They are challenging, yes, but they are expectations you can meet. And, you will meet these expectations if you do your homework.

Do Your Homework

You know that one question you hope they won’t ask?  Guess what? They’ll probably ask it, so be prepared to answer it and every other question they might ask.
Research the company; know what it does; where it operates; its market position; its competition.  Who do you know who works there and what do they have to say?  What have you read about the company in the news? What is going on in that industry?  What are the trends?
In doing your homework, don’t just depend on the company website for information; seek out multiple sources of information.
Research the job itself – how well do your qualifications and interests match with what they are seeking in candidates?  What examples can you offer to illustrate your qualifications and capabilities (don’t make them take your word for it)?  Who do you know that has done that same job or worked with that company? What advice do they have?
Research the people with whom you will be interviewing.  Can you find them on LinkedIn? On association boards? In industry magazines, newspapers or websites? What impact are they having on the profession?  The more you know, the better prepared you will be the more credibility you will have with the interviewer.
In order to come across as a credible candidate, you have to demonstrate some level of knowledge about the industry and field you claim you want to enter.

Dress the Part

You cannot wear the uniform until you are on the team!  Even if the general workplace attire at a company is casual, do not show up to an interview dressed casually.  Show them that extra level of respect by dressing up for the interview.  Doing so conveys a “this is important to me” message.  Jeans, flip-flops and an old polo shirt sends a “yeah, whatever” message.
Be smart about this, though.  Dressing the part does not necessarily mean a dark blue banker’s suit, white shirt and wingtip shoes, guys!  If you do your homework, you should be able to get a feel for the company culture; dress to the high end of that culture.  If you are not sure, ask.  Remember, if you are overdressed you can always get more casual.  Just loosen or lose the tie and jacket.  Try looking more professional when you’re wearing your best cargo shorts and t-shirt – it ain’t gonna happen!

Rehearse your Part

Think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.  If you want employers to believe you are skilled in managing people, what examples are you going to share to illustrate your abilities?  They want writing skills and you believe you are a strong writer – what examples are you going to use to defend your position?  You think you are a “people person” – what does that even mean and why is it a good thing?  Examples from your experience inside and outside the classroom will make your qualifications real.  Rehearse the answers you want to give so you will know where you want your examples to begin and end.  This strategy will keep you on message and help prevent you from giving rambling answers.
BTW – Please, please never tell anyone you are a “people person” – unless, of course,  you want them to snicker behind your back!

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