2016 Tips for a Successful Interview #3

A critical aspect of interview preparation is anticipating the questions and preparing what you want to say during the interview.  If the interviewer can only remember three things about you from the interview, your preparation can help ensure that they remember the most important three things.  Think about your message and how you will deliver in it response to typical interview questions.

Types of Interview Questions and Samples:

Tried and True

  • Most employers still ask the “tell me about yourself” question to break the ice.  It is a great opportunity for applicants to differentiate themselves and highlight their strengths for the particular position. Consider how you tell your story in the context of the position you are applying to.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about why you are seeking to make a change. Anticipate questions about why this job appeals to you.
  • Don’t be surprised by an interviewer asking you to walk through your resume. Hit the relevant highlights for each position and the reasons for the transitions.
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses? “ is still asked frequently.  They expect proof statements to support the strengths and the actions taken to improve the weaknesses.  They are looking for self-awareness and assessment and expect responses that will help differentiate the student from other candidates. A twist on this is to ask what your manager or colleagues would say your strengths and weaknesses are.
  • “Do you have any questions?  They expect that you have questions and they should clearly demonstrate your preparation and research in advance, your strong listening during the interview and your interest and enthusiasm for the position.

Behavioral Interviews or “tell me about a time…”

  • “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a member of your team at work.  How did you address it and what was the result?”
  • “Tell me about a time you had multiple top priorities due at the same time.  How did you address the problem and what was the result?
  • “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you addressed it.”
  • They are trying to anticipate future behavior by understanding how you behaved in the past and what you learned.  It is important to clarify the situation succinctly, explain what specific action you took and what the result of that action was.  You are painting a word picture for them to help them understand how you work.

Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions

  • These questions give employers an opportunity to see how you think.
  • “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?”  This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions.  What information do you need to put your hands on?  How would you use that information?  What kinds of questions do you need to ask?  You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
  • “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process.  The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month.  He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning.  What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer?  Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
  • What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers?  I actually had an employer ask this of our applicants and applicants enjoyed thinking of creative solutions.  It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem.  Applicants who could not provide any response did not advance in the process.  This is actually a question an employer asked in an interview process.   They love to see how you think on your feet.

At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the student will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.

 

2016 Tips for a Successful Interview #2

So much of the job search advice and preparation is to help the candidate get to the point of being invited to interview.  Networking to make connections and learn the company, developing a flawless professional resume, preparing compelling customized cover letters and utilizing your networking connections to get your resume in the hands of the hiring manager.  If all those things work and you are invited to interview, that’s great news but now the hard work begins.

Preparing for Interviews

  • Research the company, review their website, look at recent press coverage, review your networking notes to see what you have learned about the company.
  • Prepare questions in advance that you can ask your interviewers.
  • Review the job description carefully and think about how you will discuss your qualifications.  What have you done that demonstrates your ability to perform this job and do it well?
  • Anticipate the questions they are likely to ask and think about your responses.  Don’t memorize your answers but know what key points you want to cover.
  • Prepare your examples to behavioral questions.  Identify the likely skills they will ask about and identify your examples.  Think about how you can explain the situation what action you took and don’t forget to emphasize the results you achieved.  Know what examples you will want to share. The job description will provide insight into which skills they consider most critical.
  • Be sure you know how to get there in advance.  Take a test run if necessary. Allow time for traffic and parking.

Cardinal Sins when Interviewing

  • Arriving late.  Always know where you are going, allow plenty of time to get there and to park.  Always arrive a few minutes early. Do not arrive too early – ideally not more than 10 – 15 minutes early is appropriate.
  • Wimpy or tentative handshake.  Demonstrate your confidence with a professional handshake.  Don’t be a bone crusher either.
  • Lack of eye contact.  If you can’t look at the interviewer while you are answering they suspect you have something to hide and they perceive that you lack confidence.
  • Acting like you are not interested or even wishing you were somewhere else.  Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the position.  Employers often report back that the candidate seemed well qualified but lacked a passion for the opportunity.  They hope to hire someone who wants to be part of the team.

Send a Thank You Note

If you want to be remembered after an interview, be sure to send a handwritten thank you note.  Remind them why you are so excited about the opportunity, thank them for their time, and reference something you discussed.  Employers remember who sent handwritten thank you notes.  It makes a very positive impression.

 

 

2016 Tips for a Successful Interview #1

Great news, from the mountain of applicants for the position, they found your resume and the recruiter has called you for an interview.  Bad news, you are a bundle of nerves about the interview.  How can you survive this process and land the job you want?  Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, you need to prepare to be successful on your interview.

Keep Your Perspective

  • Allow yourself to feel good about being selected for the interview.  Clearly they saw something in your resume and cover letter that makes them want to invest time to get to know more about you.  This is great news and should give you confidence.
  • Remember, the interviewer wants you to succeed.  The recruiters are anxious to find qualified candidates they can send to the hiring manager.  If the interview goes well, you’ve made their job easier. Hiring managers want someone who can do the job and that they will enjoy working with over time.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

  • The more prepared you are for the interview, the easier it will be to manage your anxiety.
  • Review the job description carefully.  Have examples of work you have done that demonstrates your ability to perform in this new job.  If it is something you have never done before, share an example of how quickly you learned new aspects of your current job.
  • Research the company and the people you will be meeting ahead of time.  Have specific thoughtful questions prepared that you can ask your interviewer.  Demonstrate that you have done your homework.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before.  Don’t go to the interview on an empty stomach and stay hydrated.
  • Spend time with a friend or family member prior to the interview.  Tell them why you would be the best person for the job.  Before you can convince the interviewer, you need to convince yourself.  Go in feeling confident.
  • Identify sample interview questions and think about your answers in advance.  Don’t memorize them but feel confident about how you want to answer typical questions.
  • Have examples prepared for behavioral questions.  Be prepared to summarize the situation, identify the actions you took and the results of those actions.  You can find sample behavioral questions online for reference.
  • Picture yourself confidently presenting your job-related skills and answering the questions clearly and effectively.
  • Be sure you know where you are going and allow plenty of time to get there.

Focus

  • Arrive a few minutes early.  Use the waiting time to collect your thoughts and gather your confidence.  If you get sweaty palms, use the rest room to wash your hands.
  • Treat everyone you come in contact with at the company as if they have the authority to hire you.  You never know who will be asked for input.
  • Greet the interviewer with a smile and enthusiastic greeting.  Let them know you are happy to be there and are excited about the opportunity.
  • Maintain eye contact and listen carefully.
  • Take quiet deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your nose to stay calms and focused.
  • If necessary, admit that you are feeling nervous.  Sometimes it helps relieve stress to verbalize it and the interviewer may have empathy.  Frame it as “Despite all my preparation, I still feel nervous because I’m so very interested in this opportunity.”
  • Ask if you can take notes, sometimes it helps relieve stress to be doing something.  Capture just high level points.
  • Stay in the moment – this is the best place for you to be at this time.  Don’t worry about anything else and don’t worry about next steps.  Stay focused on the interview.
  • Be a confident YOU.  Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Follow Up

  • Thank the interviewer for their time.  Reinforce your strong interest in the opportunity and ask about next steps.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.  If the process is moving quickly send an email thank you as well.

Interview Extravaganza

This is the time of year our first year MBA students interview for their six month corporate residency opportunities.  Employers have become very competitive with each other and all want to be first to interview so we kicked off residency recruiting with Interview Day in February.  We hosted more than four hundred interviews!

While it was an exhausting but very productive day for students, employers and staff, the feedback was the most critical aspect to me.  Employers were impressed that our students were so well prepared.  The practice sessions in class and their in person and telephone mock interviews helped them put their best foot forward.  It also reminded me that regardless of what stage you are at in your career, when you decide to jump into a job search, everyone needs to update and fine-tune their interview skills.  Whether a recent grad or seasoned professional, interviewing is not something we do every day (thank goodness!) so we need to consciously prepare for success and practice as much as possible.

Practice is critical prior the key interview for the new job you really want.  Identify your behavioral stories and practice using them to address specific questions.  Think about how you explain your decision to make a change.  Anticipate the questions you will be asked and fine tune your responses.

Often the pushback is that candidates don’t want to sound robotic or memorized so they avoid practice.  In reality, the more prepared you are, the easier it is to adapt on the fly, be in the moment and customize your responses.

Interview Day was a reminder of how critical this skill is in the job search process and how little experience most job seekers have with interviewing.  Therefore, the next several updates will focus on critical interviewing skills.

Prepare for Your Starring Role in a Video Interview

With many HR departments leveraging technology to support the hiring process, it is likely that job seekers will encounter a video, Skype of other electronic interview during their job searches.   What can you do to ensure that you have a starring role in your electronic interview?

Dress the Part

It is still an interview.  Full business attire is expected and shows that you are taking this seriously.  Put your best foot forward.  You want to appear as the successful business professional you aspire to be.  Suit, crisp clean plain shirt and a coordinating tie for the men and a suit with a blouse for the ladies.  Avoid any jewelry that could be distracting or noisy during your interview.  If you can’t see yourself on the screen, place a small mirror nearby to ensure that you remember to smile while you are answering their questions.

Know Your Lines

If you were appears on stage you’d rehearse your lines.  You need do to the same for an interview.  Think about the key points you want them to remember about you.  Anticipate key questions and prepare your responses.  Have examples prepared that you can share in response to behavioral questions.  You do not want to memorize your answers but you want to be prepared enough that you can adapt on the fly.  While it is ok to have notes and a copy of your resume, do not read from them.

Test the Technology

Prior to the interview, test the technology on your end.  Ensue that the appropriate accounts are set up in advance and that you know how to use the applicable technology.

Consider the Scenery

If you will be interviewing at your desk, be sure to clean it in advance.  Eliminate anything that could be distracting.  If you are taking the call from home, think about what the interviewer will see in the background.  While your pets may be great moral support, close them out of the room so they will not be a distraction.

Be Well Prepared

Ensure that you prepare thoroughly.  Review the company website and the job posting.  Review your networking notes.  Do whatever research is needed to be well prepared and to have insightful questions prepared to ask your interviewer.

Curtain Call

Remember to thank your interviewer and demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm as you wrap up the interview.  You should still send a thank you note to the interviewer.

Hope Springs Eternal

We had a milder winter and the signs of spring are already evident.  As students across the country prepare for college graduations this spring, they are hopeful about their prospects in the job market.  Is there support for that hope and what should students be doing to maximize their opportunities?

Unemployment is Down

Nationally the unemployment rate is down which is good news for graduates.  While the recovery has been slow, there is progress.  College graduates should be seeking “real” jobs not settling for positions as waiters, bartenders or baristas.  Their investment in a college education gives them an opportunity to take a significant next step in their careers.  There are jobs.

The Retirement Wave Has Begun

Why should college graduates care about retirements?  The much anticipated wave of baby boomer retirements was slowed significantly by the economic downturn.  Baby boomers are now starting to retire and there are many more to come.  As those experienced workers leave their employers, positions will open up for advancement and entry level positions will be available for college graduates.  Many employers are very focused on building their talent for the future and are actively recruiting top talent from the upcoming college grads.

Movement of the Complacent

In the last several years many workers have been under-employed due to the economy or have been sitting tight in jobs they don’t like not wanting to be “last in and first out” at a new company if troubled times hit.  Many of those employees are now looking to make a change.  The good news is that most of them have been working several years by now so they should not be direct competition for the recent grad but could help open up some entry level opportunities for the new graduates.

Networking is Critical

Gradates need to realize that sitting behind their laptops submitting online applications is not likely to land them a job by graduation.  Networking is critical.  Graduates should start now if they haven’t already – reach out to alumni, family friends, former colleagues, etc. to build a network in the companies you most want to work for in the future.  Learn about the corporate culture, the hiring process and the critical qualifications for the positions that interest you.  When you do see a position of interest, ask your connection to share your resume with the hiring manager.  This helps get you noticed.  Do not overlook the critical importance of networking in your job search if you hope to be successful.

Landing a job is still hard work and requires your best efforts and attention to detail but there is indeed reason for hope this spring as there are increased opportunities available for recent graduates.

 

Let Your Target List Focus Your Job Search

As a Disney fan, I can’t help but think of a scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice approaches a fork in the road and asks the White Rabbit which road to take.  He asks Alice where she wants to go but she doesn’t know.  The wise White Rabbit then replies, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”  This applies in your job search as well.

Many job seekers “manage” their job searches by checking job posting boards every day and applying for any job that looks interesting or appropriate.  Needless to say, this does not often yield positive results.  They are missing several critical steps in the process.

Create and Refine a Target List

Seriously think about where you would like to work next.  Which companies are most appealing to you?  What industry is your preference?  Do you have a specific geographic target?  If you have a specific industry and role in mind, do some research about companies in that field.  Often many exciting mid-sized and smaller companies have great opportunities but the company is not on your radar screen.  Build a target list of 30 – 40 companies that most interest you for the next step in your career.  As you work the process and learn more about these opportunities, some companies may fall off your list and you might discover new ones to add.  This should be a dynamic list that evolves as you work through your search.

Use Your Target List to Drive Your Networking

Networking is the single most important thing you can do in your job search.  It is critical in finding your next opportunity.  However, random networking does not yield the same results as more targeted networking.  You should focus your networking on the companies you identified on your target list.  Prioritize your list and start working your way down the list by utilizing Linked In and your alumni network to identify former colleagues, friends, neighbors, alumni, or even friends of friends in your target companies.  You will be able to gain significant insights into your target companies from these contacts.

Unlock Valuable Information with Informational Interviews

Reach out to those connections to set up informational interviews.  You are not asking for a job.  You are tapping in to their experience and insights to learn about the culture of the organization, the hiring process, career paths in your chosen field, etc.  Get people talking about what they like about their job and the company they work for and you can gain significant insights.  Ask them who else you should be speaking with in the company or the industry.  Ask them what professional associations they find most helpful.

Leverage Your Network and Knowledge for Success

The insights you gain from your information interviews will help prepare you for success when the right opportunity opens up at your target company.  You may also have established trusted relationships with your connections who would share your resume with the hiring manager.  This significantly increases your chances of someone actually reviewing your resume over one that simply comes through the online posting.

Heed the advice of the Wise White Rabbit and know where you want to go so you will take the appropriate road to get there.