February 26, 2020
Interviewing is a vital component of any job search process, and a successful interview is oftentimes the final step needed to clinch employment. While there are certainly ways to generally bolster interview skills – at Priority Candidates we work with clients on the STAR Model of interview preparation – it’s also vital to tailor your preparation to each specific interview and company.
By taking the outlined steps below, you can confidently position yourself as an engaged, prepared, and curious applicant who is excited about the upcoming opportunity.
What is the context for the job you are interviewing? Take some time to look at the industry, the company, its competitors and the area of the company you will be joining. Look at everything you can find; positive news, awards and recognition, negative news, and product issues. Use your search engine and any specific resources that the company makes available as well.
It’s important to begin with this macroscopic view, because you are not only going to fill a position, but enter a professional field. It’s important to have a basic, objective grasp on the industry you’ll be discussing, and the way the company fits into this landscape. What is the history of this company? If it is the product of a merger or divestiture, or a start up, you need to be versed in those facts. What are the prospects for this market? Is this industry expanding, consolidating or contracting? Who are their customers: are they consumers, other businesses, the government, or some combination of these? Is the company an innovator with very few competitors close on its heels? Will you be joining a large division of experts, or, taking the role of soloist in a small company?
Balance your research to understand what the company chooses to publish and highlight in contrast to what the outside world observes. If you find differences in those perspectives, these might be questions to raise during the interview.
Next, focus on understanding the specifics of the role. Examine the tasks, tools and people involved by creating your own personalized version of the role description. Focus on the core components of the position – what will you do and who will you work with – and push extraneous details and perks (like ping-pong tables or a pet-friendly office policy) to the bottom.
Be prepared to explain how your past work at school, in projects, or at early work experiences mirror what is described in the job description. Capture short bullets of those examples you most want to recall. If you realize that you are missing one of the requirements or preferred skills, be prepared to explain your level of competence and inquire as to how you could ramp up in that area before you start in the role.
If the job-listing includes skills with specific technologies, you should be familiar with the purpose of each even if you aren’t proficient. If you are unable to find examples of a listed technology, it is likely proprietary to the specific firm, which is something you can inquire about in the interview. To this point, it is important to note that job descriptions are often written for both internal and external applicants – if you notice any puzzling acronyms be sure to highlight them, so that you can ask for clarification about the meaning and their use.
If the role involves working with other teams, such as marketing, legal, or accounting, plan to share any collaborations you have with those specialties. Also, ask if this is the description for the person doing the job now, or if it is a newly designed role; this may reveal information about changes going on within the company or team.
Last, if, by chance, you are a dog-loving, nationally ranked ping pong player, aligning with the company culture, don’t forget to mention those details along the way.
It’s important to understand not only your ability to serve a specific role, but your holistic fit within the company you are interviewing. Envision yourself working there over time, say 2-3 years – you are about to invest your most precious resource, your time, in the company’s future, so it’s important to think with this outlook in mind. With this perspective, try to generate forward-thinking questions that demonstrate your investment. Ask about the business itself, growth in markets and products. Seek to understand how you might add value immediately, and how your role might grow over time. Understand how people are evaluated and trained. For smaller companies, ask about the relationships of more recent hires to the founders or first round of talent they hired. For a large company, seek to understand if there will be opportunities to move laterally into other areas, or to new locations.
Write out at least five questions to ask that demonstrate you care about the future of the company, and your role in that. During the interview, you may develop better questions in the moment, but these questions are your foundation and will demonstrate both your interest and preparedness.
At Priority Candidates, our coaches work with clients on every aspect of interview preparation. We help ensure that these preparatory steps are managed throughout the job search process for all types of roles, and help job-seekers implement this method for key interviews. Remember, there is no such thing as being overprepared for an interview – if your research does not yield dividends during an interview, perhaps this knowledge might serve you well in a future interview round (or even during the job, if you’re hired).
Consider that you may be asked, “What did you do to get ready for our meeting today?” Being able to honestly answer this question to convey the depth of your preparedness, your familiarity with the company and the role, and the thought you’ve given to your fit with the company is a major asset during an interview. That answer, coupled with your engagement during the interview, will help the interviewer picture you as a valuable part of their team, and may very well lead to a job offer.