You’ve waited for months to finally get invited to the interview for your dream job, and tomorrow the big day will have arrived. Excitement and enthusiasm about the role can add a lot and sometimes even push a candidate to the top of the choices. But if you’ve not prepared sufficiently, neither excitement nor enthusiasm will take the place of carefully thought-out responses to interview questions.
In the past you may have been able to squeak by when cramming for a big test, but preparing for an interview the night before is too late. Realistically, most tips require more time than what a few hours the night before can produce. That time is better spent sleeping to ensure you feel alert and rested the next day. The "tips" I provide to my clients require an investment that typically starts before they have actually applied for the job. The following is a rundown of what I recommend to them early on.
Vet the company. Research the organization to know what they do, why they do it and who their customers are. Read articles about their latest developments or blunders, as the case might be. Once you have a clear picture of what they offer and how they do it, you can better understand what your purpose is in the big scheme of things.
Review the job description carefully. In order to completely grasp the purpose of your role, you’ve got to understand and demonstrate that you know how what you do fits into the bigger picture. What does the department do to support the organization’s key objectives? What will you be required to do to support your department? Review the job description line by line several times until you thoroughly understand what you will be doing. Being aware of the specific job functions you will perform will help you understand which skills are critical to performing well in the role. It may be fine if you have 85% of the stated required skills, but only if the remaining 15% are not the ones most critical to do your job. If you don’t understand any of the terminology or don’t recognize the skills requested, then research them and find out what they mean.
Know how what you do fits into the bigger picture.
Talking to people about the work they do that is similar to what you are pursuing is one of the best ways to learn what is important, but if you are responding to a posted position that is already becoming dated, there won’t be time. The other concern that may impact your ability to comprehend your true purpose is when the human resource/staffing/recruiting department posts a position without consulting the hiring manager to learn more specifics about what is needed. It could mean that the most important points the hiring manager may be weighing their decision on may have been misstated or omitted entirely. That leads to the next point.
Know your audience. Taking the time long in advance of the interview to find out who the hiring manager is and what their background is like gives you much more ammunition. Research the rest of the team as well. Identifying any shared experiences or education you have can help you construct responses that better relate to everyone involved. It also helps you to shift your vocabulary and terminology to sound like them. Using unrecognized acronyms or stories about other industries the interviewers may not have had experience with or an understanding of can make your answers to questions fall flat.
Script answers to frequently asked interview questions. Don’t expect to think of pertinent examples of your work and experience on the fly. It takes time to consider each of your accomplishments to know which is most relevant. Although this part of the process is best done when tailoring your resume before you send it, it is also good to review what you have selected and make sure you are focused on experiences that best fit the situation. Stay focused on positive responses and examples of what you have done or can do vs. what you have not.
Answer the question that was asked. You may receive a questionnaire to complete prior to the interview. Although it may seem impersonal, the point is to save the employer time by weeding out the imposters. More or different information is not considered better. If you are unable to respond clearly to a screening question, there is no reason to spend more time barking up the wrong tree. Make sure you are clear about what is asked and why it is being asked. There are really very few “trick” questions. If you understand the why, then you will be able to provide responses that will answer the underlying question that may not have been stated or, at the very least, you will be able to discern what part of one of your already-scripted answers is relevant and what is not. Another consideration when you have already completed a questionnaire and are moving forward to the face-to-face interview is not to assume that everyone present has read your responses — or your resume, for that matter. Don’t assume that you have already provided all relevant information in advance of the in-person meeting.
Know when providing a literal answer takes things off course. Sometimes the explicit truth about a specific conflict or reason for a change in employment may throw an interview completely off course. To be clear, there is never a time that a lie is the right answer. In contrast, there are times that the detail is not going to help the employer or you come to an understanding of your value to them. Don’t let unnecessary detail steer the conversation into a ditch. Stay focused on the solution you created to resolve any problems vs. dwelling on the problem.
Overall, information about the employer is power. Using it to relate your answers appropriately can help move you ahead of equally qualified candidates. And practice really can make perfect, so take more time up front to help make sure you come out of the contest with an offer. Any potential negotiation will be founded on what you have disclosed in your resume and in the interview, so your early investment can ultimately pay off later in dollars.