So, you have a top-notch CV, nailed your cover letter and landed your first interview for a new position. Great! Let’s rock’n’roll! Or.. is there something more you can do? Here is a collection of advice that career coaches give people to have a successful job interview.
1 - Prepare for the interview
Far too many people go straight into an interview unprepared, wings it, and hope for the best. This is not the best strategy. With just a little preparation you can increase your chances for a positive outcome immensely.
- Research the company and the position (more details below)
- Prepare for the most common questions
- Practice out loud
2 - Know the company and the position
Each interview is different, prepare by doing research of the company, the position, and if possible, find out who is interviewing you. This will allow you to target your answers better. Here are some ways you can research the company.
- Visit their website, learn about what they’re doing and look for the tone of voice
- If you have a contact at the company, call him/her up and conduct your own interview to find out even more details, like what is the culture like, do they promote from within (are there good growth opportunities)
- Study the job position in detail and make sure you understand the key requirements for the position, and also some requirements that are less important, this information can be used to tune your interview answers (more on that below)
3 - Build a story
The reason most people fail on interviews is not because they lack the skills for the position. If you reach the interview stage you most likely have the skills required for the position, and your job is to stand out amongst the competition. The reason most people fail is that they cannot provide a compelling and believable story to why they want the job.
First know your destination. A job interview is similar to doing a pitch for a business idea. You’re never selling something on your first contact. Your goal should be to land your next interview. For this you need a compelling believable story, showing why you’re the best candidate for the position and be enthusiastic about it.
Construct a story by using the research you did on the company and the position. Be clear with yourself why you think you’re a great fit for the position (if you can’t convince yourself no-one else will believe you either). Create a punchline explaining this why, using examples from your own career that supports your story. This is something you should lead with when being asked to talk about yourself.
A good story follows the STAR format.
ST – Situation/Task. This gives a context to the story. (Why was the project important)
A – Action. Meat of the story, highlights of what you did.
R – Result. What did you achieve? (Reduced cost by X euros, delivered on time, etc)
This format can be used for many of the answers that you prepare.
4 - Be honest
While it can be tempting to exaggerate some things to make you stand out even more, don’t fall for that temptation. Even if you manage to get past the first screening interview, following interviews with the hiring manager or with team members will quickly reveal any cracks in your story.
Always be prepared to answer follow-up questions about your experiences and your strengths. If you appeared to be better than you are your story will be ruined and you will earn a “dismissed, next!” response. On the other hand, if you can support your story by proving your strengths with additional details, you will come out as a strong candidate, earning respect from your (hopefully) future colleagues.
5 - Sell yourself naturally
During an interview you need to “sell yourself”. This can be hard for many because it feels unnatural, especially if your personality is on the shy or introverted side. The goal here is not to step completely out of your comfort zone and shamelessly brag about yourself. Review your resume and pick relevant factual details that are specific, impressive and truthful, such as
- I led a multimillion dollar project and delivered on time and within budget
- In my last performance review I got great feedback from my manager about my ability to develop and lead a high performance team
Practice out loud before the interview and try to find your natural voice to deliver these “punchlines” until you feel comfortable about it.
6 - Prepare for the most common questions
Interviews are often quite predictable because there are few questions that repeatedly come up. Make sure you have prepared solid answers for the most common questions and practice them out loud until the answers feel natural. This will give you confidence in the interview situation and helps you to avoid being taken by surprise and stammer or blurt out responses that are not well thought through.
Here are some of the most common questions and some pointers about them:
- Tell me about yourself
- Stick to your story, keep it short (1-2 minutes)
- Tell me about your strengths
- Focus on strengths that support the most important requirements in the job description
- Tell me about your weaknesses
- Find less important requirements in the job description and choose one of them. Be honest! Always include example on how you have mitigated or plans to mitigate your weakness.
- Why are you interested in our company?
- Focus on how you would contribute to the position, because this is the underlying reason for an interviewer to ask this question
- Why did you leave your previous company?
- Again, turn focus towards the new position (better growth opportunities, interesting career challenge). Never speak bad about your former employer!
7 - Prepare speaking points
As part of preparing your answers, write it down and practice. It can be tempting to write down a detailed script with a full answer to the questions, and while this can be good when practicing at first, don’t stop there. Rewrite it to speaking points instead, short list of keywords for each answer. This will allow you to speak freely, sound natural and avoid robotic delivery of canned answers.
8 - Have a strategy and control the interview
Even with good preparation the interview can go in a different (unwanted) direction based on who is interviewing. If it is a trained, skilled and experienced interviewer, you will most likely be able to show off your well-prepared answers and convey your story.
However, many interviewers are untrained and therefore may ask completely different questions or very few questions at all, reducing your chances to deliver the story that you have prepared.
You can cope with this situation by creating a strategy, knowing the key messages that you want to deliver to the interviewer. Even if you don’t get the questions you expect, you can weave in those answers anyway. This way you can control the interview and make sure that you tell a positive and complete story about yourself no matter who is interviewing you.
9 - Show enthusiasm for the role
It’s important to be clear with that you are happy to be there and show sincere enthusiasm for the role. The message that you want to convey is that you can motivate yourself and be committed in the role. The interviewer wants to know that you have the capacity, strength and self-motivation to succeed in the job.
Some people struggle with this because they have a low-key personality. This causes them to miss out on opportunities because the interviewers believe they are not that interested in the role.
If you belong to that group of people, practice being enthusiastic on video, smiling and expressing your enthusiasm for the role. Even if it may feel over the top, many people find that when they watch themselves on video it wasn’t as bad as they felt when doing it.
10 - End on a positive note
Aim for a peak end since this will give a good lasting impression. Some advice people get is to ask a question along the line of “is there anything about me that you have concerns about for this position?”. The idea come from sales conversations where it makes sense to surface objections, a salesperson is then trained to address all of those objections and flip the coin.
However, an interview situation is very different. It puts the interviewer on the spot, it’s awkward. He/she might not have the feedback yet or might even been trained not to give that feedback directly. It also forces the interviewer to think about all the bad things about you right at the very end of the interview. This is a very bad idea™️.
Instead, use the end to ask a question like “is there any requirements that are especially important for this position” allowing you to link any previous experiences to the answers that you get, or simply summarize your updated understanding of the position and why you’re enthusiastic about the opportunity and re-iterate why you think you’re a great fit