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Motivational speaker Denis Waitley once said, ‘expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised’. This advice is absolute gold and happens to apply perfectly to the frequently dreaded and often misunderstood interview process. In the spirit of preparedness, here are 20 interview tips for you to work into your job search and interview game.
Sure, rules are made to be broken and bent, but when it comes to the interview process, details matter. If the instructions say to send your resume in PDF format and to c.c. the manager, then do just that. You can demonstrate your innovative spirit in many other ways along the interview process; the instructions are about proving that you can pay attention to detail and respect that if they have asked for something specific, there’s a reason for it.
Chances are this part of the processes is being conducted by either a computer or an assistant who’s been asked to screen a hundred or so applications and stamp the ones who do not pass GO. At the end of the day, the instructions are about getting past the first gate.
Do your research
You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, but doing your research is an absolute must before an interview. This means taking a look at the company website and getting a sense of their management team and history, as well as any past or upcoming projects. Hiring managers are looking to weed out candidates, so take the time to demonstrate that you care enough about the role to do a simple Google search. It’s particularly impressive if you can tie something about the company to a personal value, goal or interest during the interview.
Wowing the manager isn’t the only reason to do your research. The interview process is about assessing fit, so you’ll want to know what you’re walking in to. See if the company has worked on anything that you’re particularly excited about, check out their values and social media accounts. You can learn a lot about a company from their online presence.
Be kind to the staff
If a hiring manager is particularly savvy, they will take the opportunity to check in with any staff, particularly the receptionist, to find out how you treated them. Receptionists deal with all sorts of people and can quickly evaluate what kind of employee you are by observing what you do in the waiting room and how you interact with them. In some cases, CEOs themselves even pose as staff to take a temperature check on how you behave outside the interview room!
Know your nervous habits
Everyone has a nervous habit, whether it’s playing with your hair, biting your nails, humming, swaying or talking at hyper speed. It’s a human quality, and if your hiring manager is kind they won’t fault you for it: They may even find it endearing if you address the nerves. That said, a nervous habit can also be distracting, and some interviewers may interpret it as a lack of self-confidence, amongst other things.
The easiest way to become more aware of your habits is to have someone record you in a public speaking environment or even do a mock interview; understanding your unintentional mannerisms is the first step to mitigating them.
Highlight your breadth of experience
Interviews give you an opportunity to touch on the incredible things that you have done that have helped shape who you are. You aren’t just defined by the conventional jobs you have done, so take a moment to talk about volunteer roles, projects you took on in university, how you managed to raise funds for your sports team, or what it took to immigrate to this country.
Demonstrating a breadth of experience not only makes you more memorable and multidimensional, but also gives you a lot more material to work with. The key is to focus on results, and how your experience directly applies to this role.
Listen for leads
Imagine that you’ve been asked a question and you fumble through the answer or give a slightly irrelevant answer. The interviewer then asks you to explain more, saying something to the effect of, “ok, but what was the outcome of that situation?”. This is an off script, leading question intended to pull out additional details that they want to hear. No need to panic though: The only reason they would ask a leading question is if you forgot to mention something, and they like you enough to give you a bit of a nudge.
Whether the hiring manager is aware that they provided you a lead or not, it’s an important thing to be aware of. If they didn’t like you, they wouldn’t ask for more, so listen for those leads!
Dress the part
Sure, it would be nice to think that hiring decisions are based on your experience and personality alone, but unfortunately humans do judge books by their cover, and what you wear, even your hair and shoes, does matter in the hiring process. Take a moment to research what kind of attire is appropriate for the role and company you’re being interviewed for, and make sure to dress the part.
While wearing more demure colours has been shown to go over well with hiring managers, there’s also something to be said for adding a little splash of your unique personality in your outfit to help you stand out.
Be the driver
Think of your job interview as a form of marketing. No matter what you are asked, you want to make sure that you are steering the conversation towards the most interesting and pertinent stories and facts. Before you head to an interview, make a list of the key pieces of information that you want to make sure to include, and find a way to touch on these. If you miss something along the way, include this in your final answer or final question some way. It’s ok to say, “there is one thing that I wanted to add…”.
Master your final question
You’ve probably heard of the importance of the final question. While the worst thing you can do is to say that you have no questions, being asked a mundane and scripted question is also a bit boring. The final question is a great opportunity to get creative and ask something truly memorable, dig a little to assess fit, and leave them wanting more.
For instance, you could ask about company mentorship opportunities, the interviewer’s favourite project they’ve worked on, what they love about working for the company, or how they got to where they are today.
There’s a reason that you’ve landed the interview, and that’s because there is something about you that caught the hiring manager’s eye. As such, there is nothing worse than when a candidate seems to be following a script, rather than treating the interview as a conversation between humans.
Thing is, you don’t have to be perfect in the interview. It would be weird if you were. Sure, you should be prepared and strategic, but you also need to be yourself. If something funny happens, laugh. If you forget what you wanted to say, take a moment to breath and talk it through. If you have questions or concerns, voice them. The easiest thing you can do to make everyone more comfortable is to smile and be real about the situation.
Adaptability is key
In today’s work economy, demonstrating that you are adaptable gives you a competitive advantage. This is because a lot of roles, companies (think: startup-life), and even industries (e.g., tech), demand a high level of being open to change, adjusting quickly, and taking on new and unforeseen projects and tasks. These interviews focus on your ability to take on a challenge, identify gaps, and be cool in a crisis, which can be difficult as some people aren’t as comfortable digging in to and conveying these kinds of soft skills.
There’s no better time than now to start figuring out your competitive edge. Whether it’s adaptability or something else, dedicate some time to researching the industry and company history, and figuring out some compelling ways to demonstrate how you are the best fit for the environment.
Your greatest weakness is your greatest strength, on a bad day
So, you’ve gotten to that moment in the interview when you’ve been asked, ‘what is your greatest weakness?’. It’s a standard question that makes most people cringe, but that doesn’t mean that you have to provide a standard answer. In fact, two of the worst answers are, “I don’t have any”, or “I’m a perfectionist”. They’re boring, overdone, and not at all thoughtful.
It’s obvious when you’re just trying to please the interviewer; a better approach is to either, (a) think about something that you’re actively working on that ties in nicely with the role, or (b) frame your greatest weakness as your greatest strength on a bad day. For instance, if you are known for being confident in expressing your opinion, chances are that on a bad day you are outspoken and bossy. The key is to be aware of your weaknesses, and demonstrate that you have mitigating tools in place to address them.
Networking is crucial
Studies show that 85% of jobs are filled through some form of networking. But what does it mean? There are many forms of networking, including getting out to events and talking to people, taking on a co-op job, reaching out to people for an informational interview, or even just adding someone on LinkedIn with an engaging note.
Even if networking doesn’t directly land you a job, it can play an important role in getting you an interview. For instance, if you add me on LinkedIn and then apply for a role that I’m hiring for, I may recognize your name and be more likely to ensure you get an interview spot. Regardless of if you opt for more aggressive or passive forms of networking, it does help!
Talk to you references before you apply
References are data mines for hiring managers and are often heavily weighted during the end phase of the interview process; they can make the difference between you and your competitor getting the job. It’s important to be respectful of your references time by giving them a heads up that a call might be coming down the pipeline, as well as to prep them on what might be best to highlight. It’s also a good opportunity to assess if the reference is still a good fit.
Another tip that you see over and over again is to make sure that you follow up after an interview. And with good reason. Whether it is a thank you message, or you are wanting to add something that you forgot to mention (which is ok!), sending a follow up note to your interviewer is a great way to leave a positive impression and demonstrate that you respect the time that your interviewer took to speak with you.
Even if it doesn’t guarantee you a job placement, it will ensure that you are just that much more memorable, which could do you well in the future. If you don’t land the job, it’s also a great idea to follow up (respectfully) asking what you could learn from this process.
Some jobs DO require technical skills
It’s common knowledge that job postings are essentially a hiring manager’s wish list, meaning that you don’t have to tick 100% of the boxes laid out. That said, some roles do require technical skills, such as knowledge of a coding language, software or methodology, and in those cases it’s important to speak to your skills that directly align with the needs of the job. This is particularly important in a role where you will be expected to be self-directed, such as in a startup and/or remote work environment.
You can assess which skills are particularly important by (1) reviewing the list of mandatory skills versus ‘nice to have’ skills, and (2) snooping around the company website and talking to current employees.
Back it up
As important as storytelling is in an interview, a key way to convince your interviewer and set yourself apart is to make sure that you back your stories with data. This means that if you’re stating that an action that you took made a significant difference to a company’s performance, cite the numbers. For example, quantify how your approach affected annual recurring revenue or how many new customers your software adjustments attracted.
Using concrete data, whether it’s actual numbers or not, will set you apart and demonstrate that you are results-oriented.
Less is more
Sure, the interview is technically about you, but interviewers don’t necessarily want to be drowned in your life story. They are looking to assess fit, including what kind of return on investment they can expect if they take a chance on you, and they are on a tight schedule to make this assessment. Be respectful of your interviewer’s time and energy levels by coming prepared with questions and being succinct with your answers.
Familiarize yourself with favorite interview questions
It’s a bit boring, but most interviews will include at least a few of the standard questions that you just have to be aware of. These are easy to track down online and should be part of your answer repertoire. In addition to these, it’s useful to check out some of the questions that top CEOs ask, just to familiarize yourself with the way that these decision-makers think.
Everything is a test
From the moment that you press send, to how you shake hands, answer your questions, and send a thank you note, everything is being assessed. This means that spelling does matter, there is a reason for every question (no matter how bizarre) and the way that you present yourself is key.
When it comes to the weird questions, know that often you are being assessed on whether you can think things through, rather than on getting the answer right. One great example is Jeff Zwelling, CEO and cofounder of Convertro, who always asks the same brain teaser question, with the aim of teasing out those who opt for the obvious answer, rather than really thinking it through.