Facing Your Interview Fears

Anticipating an upcoming interview strikes fear in even the heartiest souls.  There is a lot at stake, you want to make the best possible impression with the hopes of receiving a job offer.  You want to sell yourself effectively and demonstrate both your skills and your fit for the role and the company.  While some level of anxiety can be positive in giving you a competitive edge, don’t let fears defeat you.

Logistical Fears

What if I get lost?  What if the train is late?  What if I can’t find a parking space?  What if I get a flat tire?  All these worst case scenarios keep you tossing and turning at night.  Do a trial run in advance to be sure you know exactly how to get there and where to park.  Allow yourself plenty of extra time.  You can always take a walk, stop for coffee or do some last minute preparation if you arrive too early but why risk stressing about by running late.  Take control and reduce your anxiety.

Physical Fears

What if trip going into the interview room?  What if my palms are sweaty when I shake hands?  What if I show up dressed inappropriately?  Preparation is key to confidence.  If you know your palms get sweaty step into the rest room to wash your hands just before the start of the interview or keep tissues in your pocket for a discreet clean up.  Dress professionally to make a good impression.  Prepare your answers to common behavioral and general questions in advance so you will feel more confident.  Research the company and prepare questions you can ask your interviewer.  The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be and confidence reduces your anxiety.

Response Fears

What if they ask a question that I don’t know the answer to?  What if they ask a question I don’t want them to ask such as why I am no longer at my former company?  Be prepared to tell your story.  Expect that they will ask about why you left a prior job.  Have your answers to potentially difficult questions thought out in advance.  If you truly draw a blank on a question, it is ok to take a few seconds to think about it.  You can ask the interviewer for clarification on the question.  You can rephrase the question to confirm that you understand what is being asked.  All these approaches buy you a few seconds to collect your thoughts.  If you think they want a deeper answer and your can’t come up with one, try the “off the top of my head…” response to at least show that you are thinking about it.  Sometimes talking through the question at least demonstrates your thought process which can be more important than the specific answer.  If you walk in prepared, you are less likely to be caught off guard but tell yourself worst case, you can say “let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”  While you hope to never have to use, having an out prepared in advance will give you the freedom to consider the question because you know you have an out.  Preparation does reduce anxiety.

Recruiters want to see the real you.  The more prepared you are, the more you are able to be in the moment during your interview.

The Recruiters’ Perspective of You

Great news!  You were invited for an interview so obviously the recruiter saw something in your resume and cover letter that they believe would add value to their organization in this position.  The interview is your opportunity to sell yourself.  You prepare for your interview and assume that the hiring decision will be based on your responses to the questions asked.  Think again – recruiters also consider other factors in evaluating you as a candidate for this position.

Your Social Media Presence

Most recruiters will check you out on social media prior to an interview.  Expect them to look at your  LinkedIn profile.  Does it match your resume in terms of your work experience?  Do you have recommendations?  What skills have you chosen to highlight?  What types of connections do you have?  What groups are you in?  What can they learn in advance about you?

Some recruiters will also look on Facebook.  If your security settings are not carefully set they can see your photos from spring break, your rants about the election, and whatever other personal aspects of your life you have shared.  What kind of impression will this make on the employer?  I’ve seen candidates eliminated from the process because of what employers learned on Facebook.  They will also check Twitter and other social media platforms.

Google yourself prior to the interview.  See what the employer will see when they do it so you are prepared for questions.  Is there someone with the same name and a notorious past?  Don’t be caught off guard, know what they will see when they check you out.

Your Attire

While workplaces are generally much more casual these days than in the past, it is important to remember that you are dressing for an interview not a day at work.  Even a casual environment wants to know that the candidate can present themselves effectively in a client meeting.  Professional attire can also signal to the recruiter that you are taking this opportunity seriously.  I’ve heard of candidates not be hired because they didn’t dress appropriately but have never had an instance where the candidate was not hired because they showed up in a suit.  For an interview, be conservative, and dress professionally to make the best possible impression.

Your Non-Verbal Communication

You communicate with so much more than words, particularly in an interview.  Are you sitting up straight, making good eye contact and using an appropriate tone of voice?  Slouching in the chair, staring out the window, fidgeting with your pen, or playing with your hair can all send a very different message to the recruiter.  Present yourself as confident and engaged throughout the interview.  This can be even more challenging during a phone interview when it is only your voice that conveys your presence.  For a phone interview, keep a small mirror nearby to remind you to smile since it will show in your voice.  Do not do anything distracting since that will take focus away from your responses to the questions.  While verbal, be very careful of using filler words such as “like”, “um”, “ah” or even too many “ands” to string your thoughts together.  This can be distracting to the recruiter and it implies that you are less prepared and confident.

Your Fit with the Organization

Recruiters know that there are often multiple candidates who have the appropriate skills to be successful in the specific job.  Their goal is to assess the fit of the candidates for the organization.  Is this someone the rest of the team will want to work with on a daily basis?  Does this individual fit the culture of the company?  Will this candidate be aligned with the mission of the company?  Fit matters and leads to successful hires.

Your Follow-up

You may have the most amazing interview but if the last time the recruiter hears from you is when you shake hands at the door, you are damaging your chances of landing the job.  Follow-up is critical.  In an interview situation, it is critical to follow up to demonstrate your interest and your professionalism.  If time is of the essence (and it usually is), send an email to each person your interviewed with and thank them for their time.  Reference something you specific you learned from that person or something interesting you discussed.  Do not send a group email.  They deserve an individual thank you.  Follow up your email with personal handwritten thank you notes to each interviewer.  Send it within 24 hours of your interview.  You will be remembered.  It makes a huge impression.  Even if you don’t get the job, they will remember you and will often consider you for the next available opportunity.  After all the preparation for your interview, don’t skip the final step.

While preparation for your interview questions is still critical, pay attention to these other factors that consistently impact how a recruiter perceives and evaluates a candidate.

Fight Your Fears This Fall

For some job seekers, networking can be a very scary prospect.  The thought of speaking to strangers to learn about their companies and their careers can cause some to grow faint.  Networking is so critical to job search and career success that it is important to face those fears.

Start with the Low Hanging Fruit.  Reaching out to a stranger can be very intimidating.  Review your target list companies and identify friends, family members, neighbors, and former colleagues who work there.  Start your networking with people you know and build your confidence with the process.  As you gain confidence with the process, it becomes easier to reach out beyond your comfort zone.  Most job seekers are surprised how many contacts they can identify to provide a safe starting point.

Leverage Your Alumni Network.  Before reaching out randomly to a variety of ghosts and goblins, review your alumni network for contacts in your target companies.  Most alumni are willing to share a few minutes with a fellow alum.  Most alumni networks are a challenge to maintain so look for alumni on LinkedIn.  Use your shared connection to your alma mater to establish a connection.  When you start with something in common, it is easier to have a conversation.

More Listening Than Talking.  Be well prepared with thoughtful, insightful questions to keep your contact talking so you can spend most of the meeting listening and taking notes.  Being well prepared based on your research, makes the meeting much easier and demonstrates your interest.

Reframe Your Thinking.  This is not “trick or treat” networking where you knock on a random door to see what surprise you receive.  Do not think of networking as asking for a job or selling yourself – it is not.  Focus on gathering information about industries, companies and roles that interest you.

Be Prepared to Share Information About Yourself.    Anticipate that you will be asked a bit about yourself and be prepared.  Decide in advance what you are comfortable sharing.  Practice your value proposition.

Take Deep Breaths.  Don’t hyperventilate but do take a few deep breaths will help you relax.  It is ok to breathe as you prepare to ask the next question.  A few deep breaths will help you relax and focus on the conversation.

Be Yourself.  Forget the masks and costumes.  You do not have to pretend to be extroverted in your networking meetings to succeed.  Be yourself but strive to be a well-prepared self.  Preparation helps to increase your confidence.

Celebrate Your Success.  After your meeting, review your notes and consider what you have learned.  Congratulate yourself on the information you gathered and the connection you established. Approach your networking one meeting at a time.  Don’t paralyze yourself with a long list of contacts.  Plan one meeting a time to keep the process manageable and to build your confidence.

Always Say Thank You.  Remember to follow up with a handwritten thank you note to your contact to show your appreciate for their time and their insights.  Make it easy for them to remember you but providing timely and professional feedback.

Leave the Haunting to Halloween Night.  Put your fears aside and enjoy your fall networking.  It will enhance your success.  Don’t be surprised if you come to enjoy the process.  It can be so interesting to learn about industries, companies and roles that you start to worry less about the process.  You may find yourself energized by the interesting people you meet.

Suit Sightings on Campus This Fall

As I crossed campus this morning I was struck by how many of the students I passed were in business suits.  I must admit they look so professional and smart in their suits.  Our students are in suits when they have interviews, employer panels in class, employer information sessions on campus, executive luncheons and other activities with our employer partners.  They certainly look like the business professionals they aspire to be.

Dressing professionally demonstrates to the employers that the students know how to present themselves in a professional manner and that they are taking their interaction with the employers very seriously.  Whether the employer works at a company where suits are required every day is not relevant.  Demonstrating their ability to dress appropriately when needed is an important trait to employers.

Dressing for success is an opportunity to promote your personal brand with the employers and demonstrate your interest in the employer.  Making a positive first impression often goes a long way towards being remembered by the employer.

While I still see students in their jeans and tee shirts, it is exciting to be part of an MBA program where suits are such a regular sight on campus.  We are preparing students to be successful in their careers not just in the classes they take but in the employer interactions they experience as well.  While they are taking classes, they are also building a strong foundation for their professional network.

The Power of Networking Luncheons

All the data supports the fact that the best path to a successful job search is networking.  Meeting people at companies on your target list helps you learn more about the company, their products and services, their hiring process and career paths in the organization.  While most students will at least reluctantly agree that networking is important, taking the next step to make a connection and book and informational interview can be a daunting task for many.

At the D’Amore-McKim School of Business Graduate Career Center, we make it easy for students to make these valuable connections.  Our full-time MBA students are currently participating in our fall series of executive luncheons.  Up to six students meet with our guests to learn more about the company, the industry and the guests’ personal career paths.  Students come to the session with questions prepared as well.  The result is an informal yet informative conversation over lunch.  Guests include both employers and alumni.

Students leave these sessions with valuable insights into a company on their target lists and a contact within the organization.  While these sessions are conducted for networking purposes, we often see connections made that lead to corporate residency and full-time opportunities.  For students, the comfort of being in a small group makes it easier to talk about themselves and to ask questions of the guest.  They also do not have to do the outreach – we bring the sessions and the guests to them on campus.

Never underestimate the power of a good conversation over lunch.

Focus Your Job Search This Fall

As life settles into the fall routine, this is the time to get serious about ramping up your job search if you hope to be in a new job in 2017. Don’t waste time focusing on what you should have done over the summer, give your search a fresh start with renewed focus and energy.  Finding a job takes some time, effort, and focus so it’s critical to define a plan and get started sooner rather than later. Here are some suggestions for “falling” into some good job search habits this season:

  • Create a plan – Define specific goals and an actionable plan of how you will go about achieving them.  It’s the old, “You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.” First, start by assessing your skills, strengths and interests.  Then, think about the type of work you enjoyed in current and prior roles, as well as internships, part-time jobs or even on-campus work or volunteering.  Next, think honestly about your core competencies and in what industries and roles those skills will bring value. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable – and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your goals for the week.

 

  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags, right? Well, as you embark on your job search journey you also need to make sure you have the appropriate tools. Do you have your resume up to date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you, just to be sure there are no typos or errors. Practice writing customized cover letters and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about whom you could use for references and collect their current contact information. Of course, remember to ask their permission to use them as references, and tell them you will notify them when you share their information with a hiring manager so you can brief them on the job. Having the right tools won’t get you a job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have the opportunity to sell yourself for the job.

 

  • Develop a target list –What companies and industries are of greatest interest to you? Start your wish list with current preferences, then so some research to identify other companies or industries that are similar and require your same skill sets. Consider company size, location, corporate culture, etc. while building your list of approximately 40 – 50 companies. Prioritize them by first ranking on a scale of 1 – 5, based on your interest. Next, check job boards to see if those companies have posted positions in your field within the last six months, and rank accordingly. Finally, search your alumni database and LinkedIn to identify where you have possible connections, and do another round of ranking based on connections. Start your research with the companies ranked the highest across all categories, and work your way down the list. This will not only help guide your job search efforts, but as you learn more about these companies, you can continue to refine your list.

 

  • Network, network, networkThis is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in your job search.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of resumes in response, so to stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. Networking is NOT asking for a job, however; it is meeting someone at the company to learn about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value, etc. This involves a significant amount of listening. Wondering how to begin? Start with friends and family and explore who they know at target companies.  Do your neighbors or your friends’ parents have any connections to those companies? What about former co-workers or classmates? Sign up for the alumni network at your school, and leverage the alumni database to identify contacts. Most people will give fellow alums a few minutes, if asked. Sign up for LinkedIn, and identify contacts there, as well.  Consider preparing a networking profile to help contacts see what you have to offer and the companies that interest you. Ask each networking contact for at least three other contacts. Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company. Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week. It does make a difference: It is the single most important thing you can do to find your next opportunity. I tell students they should spend 10 times more time networking than they spend reviewing online job boards.

 

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – When you are invited in for an interview, be sure you thoroughly prepare. Practice, and ask for feedback. Use your career services office at your alma mater or rely on trusted friends and colleagues. Think about how you would respond to frequently asked questions. Research the company thoroughly, and prepare questions in advance to ask your interviewers. Demonstrate your interest and passion for the job by coming in well-prepared.

 

  • Always say ‘thank you’ – Interviewers remember which candidates sent a hand-written thank you note, so stand out from the crowd. If the timeframe is quick, send an email thank you, but follow it up with a hand-written note. I‘ve seen a handwritten thank you note break the tie between two finalists.

 

  • Protect your social media presence – Some potential employers will check applicants out online before making an offer. Use good judgment on questionable photos or descriptions of activities you might not want an employer to know about. Put your best foot forward on all fronts to maximize your chances of success.

 Your job search is a journey, and with a little advance planning, you can make it a smoother, more successful ride. Get out from behind the computer, and start networking your way to a more effective job search. Being competitive in this job market is NOT about how many online applications you can submit; it’s about building relationships in your target companies so you have advocates there when the right job opens up. Use this fall season to invest in your future career success.

 

Be Interested to be Interesting

 Students often ask how they can be memorable when they are networking.  They want the employers to remember them as individuals with unique skills and experience.  I find I often rely on advice given to me early in my career – you need to be interested to be interesting.

It is so easy in a networking to put the focus on yourself.  Students are eager to share their experience, their career goals and why they are pursuing an MBA.  While all these things are important if this is how you start you are not likely to be remembered.

Focus your preparation prior to the event or meeting on the person you will be meeting.  Learn something about their company, their current role and their experience to date.  Prepare relevant questions to get the conversation started.  Asking about them and their career is a great way to start the conversation.  Practice good active listening skills to demonstrate your interest.  Ask relevant follow up questions.  When it is your turn to talk about yourself, keep what you have just learned in perspective.

Once you have demonstrated your interest in the person, their company and their career, it is much easier to make yourself interesting and remembered.  Don’t follow the herd and put yourself first.  Be sincerely interested in the other person.  It will significantly increase the odds that you will be remembered as an interesting individual.