In life, there are few things more important than landing that dream job. Whether it is your first job as a teenager, your first professional opportunity after college or a move up the corporate ladder, unfortunately there are few chances for interview “do overs”.
Our team at BlackAmericans.com has observed and heard many very qualified applicants who blew their one and only chance to get that highly sought after job. After many discussions with them, we decided to compile a list of best practices hoping to improve candidate’s chances of having a successful interview. While these recommendations are not guaranteed to land you that special job, they will, if followed, improve your competitive position and could possibly create the edge needed for a successful interview.
There is an old saying that “Success is when preparation meets opportunity”. Below is part of your preparation.
Now go get that job!
A successful interview begins during the preparation stage. It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that most interviews are won or lost before the actual interview takes place. Regardless of the school you attended, the GPA you earned, the amount of awards you received, or who you know, adequate preparation is the number one key to success. It is said that, “Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity”. Your preparation is the only thing you control. Once you enter the interview, this is your opportunity to sell yourself and show how you can be a perfect fit for the company. Whether you are applying to be the Secretary of State or the team leader in a restaurant, these same rules apply. Every job is an opportunity and can lead to many more opportunities, but first you must successfully get through the interview stage. The following steps are valuable for interview success!
Preparation for the Interview
Step 1: The “Fit Test”
You should first determine the skill sets that are needed for the job in which you have applied. It is important to not only know what the company is looking for, but also know how your skills align with the needs of the company. Sometimes you may not have all of the skills that the company is looking for, but are you willing to acquire them? If so, then the willingness to acquire any necessary skills that you don’t currently possess is a skill within itself. Use your willingness to acquire and learn new skills as a way to sell yourself. During this initial preparation stage, write down all of the skills the company is looking for and all of the skills you currently possess. Have them listed and prepared in a way that ensures that you can share your inventory of requisite and acquirable skills with the interviewer during the interview. Brainstorm ways that you have utilized your skills in prior jobs, or leadership positions. Be able to show the interviewer that you are both capable and knowledgeable of the skills they need.
Step 2: Visualize: You are the Interviewer (Not the interviewee)
Save time during the preparation stage to sit down and visualize yourself as the interviewer. What are some things that you would be looking for when trying to hire someone to represent your company? For the position in which you are hiring, are you looking for a team player or someone that works well independently? Are you looking for someone with experience or someone that can be trained to get the job done?
All of the above are sound questions to ponder. Although you may not know exactly what the actual interviewer will be looking for, you can have an idea based off the job description, requirements, and the environment of the company. As an employer, you want people working for you that will successfully represent the company. With each new hire there is a chance for success or failure. Either the person will benefit or harm the company. If you owned a successful company, are you the kind of person that you would want working for you? It’s easy to say, “Of course”, but before moving on really think about this.
Possible Interview Questions
While visualizing yourself as the interviewer, think about the kind of questions you would ask the interviewee. On your own, take time to brainstorm a list of questions that are typically asked during job interviews. This is also a great time to utilize the Internet to find job interview questions that are generally asked. Also, you can find job interview questions broken down by specific types of jobs. For instance, if you are applying to be an accountant, some of your interview questions would be different than if you were applying to be a manager of a retail store. Being prepared for both general and specific interview questions, can give you a better idea of what may be asked.
There is an old saying that, “Practice makes perfect”! Use this preparation stage, to your advantage and practice answering interview questions. Now that you have a list of possible interview questions, play the role of the interviewee and practice with a friend or a relative. Practicing with other people will not only help you put yourself in a simulation interview, but it can also help calm your nerves if you’re anxious or nervous about interviews. If you don’t have another person to interview with you could use a video recorder. The video recorder will be a useful tool because you would be able to hone in on any nervous habits that you may have while answering questions. Many people don’t recognize the number of times that they use certain words or phrases while speaking, for instance, “like”, “Umm”, or “let me see”. Other habits that a video recorder will highlight are if you can be heard clearly, if you are moving around too much, and if you are playing with your own hands or anything else. A video recorder can be great for practice both by you as well as working with another person.
Step 3: Familiarize Yourself with the Website
The more you know about the company, the more impressed interviewers will be. You should feel confident and knowledgeable about the company. This confidence is gained through company research. You should be familiar with the company’s mission, values, and culture. You should also familiarize yourself with the history of the company, like when they started, who founded it, and how the company has grown to the company that they are today. If the company has an internet presence, you can find this information on the company website.
Many companies have a presence on the internet, and this could be used to your advantage. Look up pertinent information about the company that you can ask the interviewer to elaborate on. It’s important to understand that if done in a negative way, this can work against you. Try not to question why the company made the decisions that they made. Instead of questioning, show an interest in the information that you have found. Another situation that you may want to watch out for is telling the interviewer how you would have made a different decision than they made. Your research should be used in a way that will point out similarities of interest between you and the company. It is also a way to showcase your talents around the company, and explain how your level of expertise will be a benefit for the company.
Now that you have researched the company, it’s important to come up with a list of questions that you can ask the interviewer. It is always a bad idea to go into an interview without questions to ask the interviewer. This can come off as either you feel you know everything or that you don’t care to know more. The research that you have done on the company is a good place to start. What did you read that interest you? What impressed you on the company website? Come up with at least three good, solid, intelligent questions to ask the interviewer. The idea behind this is that once you get the interviewer talking, it shows that you are interested and agree with the interviewer. Also, ask questions that cannot be found on their company website. If you ask a question that was already answered on the website, it will show the interviewer that you didn’t do research of the company.
Step 4: Familiarize Yourself with the Company
While using the internet to research the company is a great start, there are other ways to research the company. Covert observational research, observing from a distance, is another way that will give you a view of the company culture. Actually go sit outside of the company entrance, and observe the people entering and exiting the building. This will give you an idea about the attire and behavior of the people walking in and out of the business.
When looking at the overall style of the people entering the building, pay attention to details. Below is a list of details that you may want to keep in mind, when observing:
- Dress code. What does the dress code look like? Are the men dressed in a suit and tie? Is it business casual or business formal? All companies have a uniform “norm”, and it is a good idea to use this time to get a feel of the norm of the company.
- Color scheme. What colors do you see the majority of the people wearing? Is there a trend?
- Hair. Is there a standard for the men and women? The people that have longer hair, is it in a ponytail or some other style? What about the people with shorter hair? Do you see anyone with facial hair? If so, how much?
A few things that you will want to keep in mind that may not be easily seen through covert observation are: grooming habits. Nails should be kept neat and clean. For the ladies, if you are looking to paint your nails, be sure that it is a neutral color, and not too bold. Another thing to think about is cologne and perfume. With any company you should keep in mind that someone may be allergic to certain smells. Is your cologne or perfume overpowering?
While observing the attire, take note of the way everyone is behaving as well. On average, are the people entering and leaving serious or relaxed? Does it appear that everyone is in a rush? If you are able to, take note of any interactions between the people walking in.
Your observations should not only give you a better understanding of what is generally accepted by the company, it should also better ease any nerves that you may have. By familiarizing yourself with the environment, you know what to expect from the people that will be entering into the company that you will be for your interview. It is important to note two things:
1) If you cannot physically observe the company, using the Internet is still a great way to get ahead. Focus on the images and pictures of the people that they have on their website. If the company has a magazine, you can use that. Utilize all resources that are available to find useful information.
2) Although observing attire gives you a better idea of what employees typically wear, it’s important to understand that those employees have something that you don’t currently have…the job. Are you dressed like the person interviewing you or even the CEO of the company? Managers often wear ties; if you have on a tie even though the job does not require one, it will not hurt you, but if the job requires a more formal or professional attire, and you aren’t up to par, there’s a good chance that you just blew your chance. A good rule of thumb is: It’s better to be over dressed professionally than under dressed. So although you may find some people that are sporting bold styles and behaving differently than the norm, steer clear of this for the interview. Dress and behave like you are going to meet the CEO of the company!
Before the Interview
Your appearance is important today, so it is vital that you paid close attention to the “Attire” section of “Step 4: Familiarize Yourself with the Company.” First impressions are very important, so the first few seconds will set the stage for the rest of the interview. After you have done your research and chosen the appropriate attire to wear, make sure you have extra copies of your cover letter, resume, and references, just in case the employer asks for another copy. Now that you are fully prepared, it is time for the interview!
Step 1: Arrive Early
It is a good rule of thumb to arrive 15-30 minutes before your interview. This will not only give you a time cushion just in case there is traffic or other unexpected issues, but it will also give you time to relax prior to your interview.
Step 2: Greet Everyone You Interact With
The minute you walk onto the company property , everyone you encounter can be considered a part of the interview! The employees walking around the company, the person sitting at the front desk, the person sitting in the waiting room with you, are all important people. Sometimes companies strategically place people in areas to see how you interact with others. If the interviewer hears that you were rude or disrespectful to the person at the front desk that can ruin your chance for the job! Greet everyone that you interact with warmly, but professionally and have good eye contact. When the interviewer comes out, greet him/her with a warm smile, a pleasant greeting, and a firm handshake. Be sure to listen attentively to get his/her name.
During the Interview
Step 1: Allow the Interviewer to control the Interview
If the interviewer begins by asking you to tell a little about yourself, do so, but after answering let the interviewer take control. Answer the questions that are asked of you, remembering the skill sets that you studied during the preparation stage.
Step 2: Remember Your Body Language
It is not always what you say, but how you say it that matters. Be mindful of the way your body language can affect what you are communicating. Don’t slouch in the chair with your arms folded, because it can come off as if you are uninterested in the interview. Try not to look off to the side or to the floor when you are asked a question. Keep eye contact, sit up straight, and keep your body language open and interested.
Step 3: Expect Unexpected Questions
Although you have already prepared thoroughly, and utilized practice questions, you never know what will be asked. Sometimes you will be asked questions that you aren’t too sure how to answer them. You can ask the interviewer to repeat themselves, as well as to clarify the question. Don’t panic! Take a break, repeat the question, and answer with confidence!
Step 4: Ask Questions!
As mentioned earlier, asking the interviewer questions is very important! This expresses interest in the company and a desire to know more. Never leave an interview without asking the interviewer intelligent questions about the company. A great question can make a memorable interview!
Step 5: Thanking the Interviewer
At the end of the interview, it is important to thank the interviewer for his/her time, and the opportunity that you had to apply for the job and receive an interview. Be sure to use this time to express your desire to work for the company, and your eagerness to get started. Employers will be able to see your enthusiasm, but don’t overdo it. You can come off as desperate, forced or insincere.
After the Interview
Step 1: Send a Thank You Note
Sending a “Thank You” note or email to the interviewer after an interview can add an extra positive impression to the interviewer about you. Although a thank you note typically will not make the difference in whether or not you are hired, it can help you be remembered for future reference. The following is a list of things to include inside of the thank you note:
- The interviewers name
- Title of the position you interviewed for
- Specific/ Important things discussed during the interview
- Express desire for the job
- Show appreciation of their time
- Your contact information
Step 2: Write Down Questions
Write down questions that you had not thought of or had difficulty answering. Research and write answers to these question and file them away for future interview preparation.
Always remember that it is a very competitive market place. Thinking, preparing, and delivering a positive and professional product (as the interviewee) is a must. Remember that, “Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity”! You are in control! Go out and create your success!