You've landed an interview. That's great news!
If your plan is to just show up and knock them off their feet - please think again! Employers have the luxury of being SO picky these days because each job opening they post is getting hundreds of responses.
In today's job market, you to not only stand out, but also soar to the top of an organization's prospect list. But, you don't want to fall into the trap of over-preparing to the point that you go in sounding rehearsed, and then have a deer-in-the-headlights moment when you get thrown a curveball.
There's a careful balance with interview preparation that requires preparation (e.g., company research, practicing standard questions) and the ability to think (and respond!) on your feet.
I've worked with all sorts of job candidates through interview coaching over the past four years - from entry level through senior management. Across all seniority levels, it's imperative to strike a balance of professionalism and personality, and to demonstrate that you are thoughtful and engaging.Those qualities tend to help interviewers remember and relate to you in a way that helps YOU to move further along the interview process.
Below are three SIMPLE tweaks to what you're already doing to take your interview performance to the next level. First, check out our video with a quick overview of these and two other interview tips.
#1 Confidently deliver your personal introduction.
Back when I was a project manager hiring people for my team, I was forever amazed by how many candidates stumbled through the first question I'd ask - can you please introduce yourself and tell us why you're interested in this position?
I've realized that candidates aren't stumbling because they're unprepared; they're stumbling because we're often really bad at speaking about ourselves in positive, confident terms. The content was there, but the delivery was...lacking. Instead of a concise, engaging introduction, it turns into a meandering, disjointed stream of consciousness.
Your personal introduction is one aspect of an interview that you'll want to practice over, and over, and over again. This is especially true if you tend to experience anxiety or feel a lack of confidence when expressing yourself and your accomplishments. This is the one question we can say with near 100 percent certainty you will be asked - and asked first - in an interview. You need to knock this one out of the park.
Use the formula below to create a two-minute personal introduction that reflects your authentic self and creates a strong connection to the skills required in the open position. Note, this introduction will change (at least slightly) depending on the nuances of each position you're interviewing for. Replace the bold text with your own information.
My name is Christina. I am an urban planner by training with about 10 years experience in personnel and program management. I graduated from Allegheny College with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies, and earned a Master Degree from Tufts University in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. I’ve spent the entirety of my career doing mission driven work in the non-profit sector, and I want to use my career to build stronger, more resilient and accessible communities. I’ve worked in matrixed environments requiring significant community and stakeholder engagement for a medium-sized and a start up non-profit. Serving as the POSITION fits squarely into my vision of doing meaningful, mission driven work that serves communities. I view this as an opportunity to have a genuine positive impact with the next step in my career.
#2 Get excited about something you're proud of.
A long while back, I was a finalist for a position where I was asked to discuss my proudest professional accomplishment. I told the story of being partnered with the Lake Mills Elementary School design team through the LEED v4 Beta Program while serving as Program Manger for the U.S. Green Building Council. It's an inspiring story, and I couldn't help but get a glisten in my eye and visibly more excited as I was describing the project.
After I finished answering the question, the lead interviewer responded with "wow, that sounds like a truly incredible experience," with a glisten in her eye. It wasn't the response I was expecting, but it taught me first hand the importance of not only being a solid professional candidate, but also an authentic human being with passion and emotions.
So, spend some time thinking about what your answer to this question would be. You want to communicate something inspiring, and something real that the interviewers can identify with.
Was a program team you were on going in a really risky direction, but the team pulled together and the project paid off?
Have you ever found yourself having to really stretch the bounds of your skillset, and you wound up impressing not only yourself, but also senior management?
When you reflect on the days you truly enjoyed going to work, what comes to mind? Talk about what you were doing and accomplishing on those days.
#3 Take your follow up questions to the next level.
This is a common recommendation for improving your interview performance. You know it's imperative to ask thoughtful and engaging questions, but do you know how to do that? It's important to think about who each interviewer is and what they do at the organization. The goal is to demonstrate your interest in them as people and professionals.
Consider nixing the use of the most common follow up question there is "what do you like most about working here?" It's overdone, and the interview panel may have answered this question several times by the time you ask it.
Instead, study up on the social media, press releases, and blog posts of the organization generally, and--if any of the interviewers are senior enough--the interviewers' corporate social media accounts.
Have they just launched a new project? Well, then ask what the most challenging aspect of getting the project off the ground was. This will give you a feel for how well the team works together, and to what extent there's a collaborative or competitive spirit in the organization.
Ask for one thing they would like to change about their work environment. This will tell you far more than asking what they like about a workplace, and getting a series of safe, vanilla responses.
Consider asking what, if any, vetting process exists for ideas for new projects or initiatives. This will tell you how seriously the organization takes its mid-senior and junior level employees.
I hope you find these tips helpful in preparing for your next interview! As always, we're here to help!
Principal Consultant & Job Coach