Looking for a Job, Part 5: Acing the Interview … and the Follow-Up

This is the final article in a series on how to succeed in a job search in this tough economy. I also would argue that these are principles that also tend to guarantee success in life. You have searched for an opportunity, you’ve applied for the job, you’ve adequately networked, and now the interview is yours. You have to bring it home, and here are some suggestions on how to ace the interview and leave an employer wanting more of you. And don’t forget the follow-up too.

1. Don’t forget that an interview is as much your interview of the employer as their interview of you. This will not only relieve a bit of stress about the interview and give you a feeling of some control, but it also is a reminder to yourself that you want to work for an employer that is a good fit for you. An interview is not just about the employer but about you.

2. Do not use the word “interview” in your self-talk or in your conversations with the employer. It is a “meeting” to discuss “our potential working relationship” or “the possibilities for our work together.” Think like an equal and a colleague, not like an inferior applicant.

3. Do your research and be prepared. Google the company and its leadership. Read its annual report, know its financials, understand its vision, and try to learn something about the person who will interview you. LinkedIn is a great resource for finding information about the background of the company or the person interviewing you. Know the competition and understand how this company is distinct in the marketplace.

This is the one biggest mistake that I have made in interview preparation. A few years ago, I interviewed for a concierge position at an hotel owned by SBE, a famous nightlife and restaurant company in Los Angeles. I had excellent experience, great contacts, and every reason in the world to win the position. But I interviewed on a day when I had other obligations, and I failed to do research into the trending restaurants and clubs in Los Angeles. I thought that I knew the information, but it turns out that my information was stale. I was asked by the hiring manager to list the top five trendy club venues where I would send a guest in Los Angeles, and I listed off the ones I knew. I forgot to mention the clubs that SBE owns! Duh! I never heard from the company again, and I don’t blame them. Do your homework.

4. Ask questions. An interview, I mean “meeting,” should be a conversation, not a question and answer session. The hiring manager is looking for you to assert yourself, demonstrate your knowledge and curiosity about the company and manifest real enthusiasm for the job. There is no better way to do this than to ask good questions. The number one complaint that HR managers report about interviewees is their lack of preparation to ask good questions. You should ask questions intermittently throughout the interview, but definitely be ready when that loaded question comes to you, “Do you have any questions for me?” You should have at least five to seven ready.

Here are some excellent questions inspired by my head hunter friend Tom Truitt in Nashville:

Give your elevator pitch and mission statement that highlights your objective and your qualifications.
“Is that the kind of background or experience you are looking for?” OR

“Do you see how that experience might benefit you if I came to work for you?”

If a question is asked and you responded, end your response with, “Did I answer your question?”

Tell me about your background and what has made you so successful at __ company.” (This question will force them to tell you the qualities they most admire, and you should subtly compare yourself).

If there was a prior employee in the position, ask, “Tell me about the last ___ employee and what made them successful, or not.”

“What are the three most important fit factors for a successful ___?” Then summarize them, comparing yourself to each one. “You’re looking for a candidate who can do 1,2,3. Let me tell you how I can do 1,2,3.”

Ask questions about the position. “What do you most want to accomplish in this department or with this position next year?” “What are the challenges on the horizon?” Show how you can help them meet those challenges.

As the interview closes, ask, “What are the next steps in the interview process?”

The last question you should always ask:” Based on today’s interview, what would be the single biggest concern you would have about me being successful in this role?” It’s a bit bold, but it allows you to address their concern or your perceived weakness here rather than later.

If you are asked about a time that you were laid off or fired, describe the situation accurately, do not speak ill of your prior boss or company, and then tell what you learned from the situation or how you have addressed it.

If you are asked about one of your weaknesses, turn it into a positive. “I am not naturally good at details, but I’ve learned to ask others to review my work and to place other analytical people on my team.”

5. Don’t forget to follow-up. Within 24 hours of your interview, send a written thank you note. An email is sufficient, but a hand written note gets more attention. I actually write mine before the interview, stamp it and drop it in the mail immediately after the interview. If you don’t hear back within a week, it’s fine to send an email or call to ask about the time line or the status of the job. If you don’t hear back for a couple of weeks, don’t panic. If you don’t hear back within a month, panic. Companies increasingly do not get back to applicants and interviewees. It’s sad, but it’s par for the course in this economy.

6. Never say this in salary negotiations.

More assistance is available at Work Coach Cafe.

I hope this series has been useful to you or someone who needs help, and let me know if you have additional tips. If I can be of further assistance, feel free to email me at todd@toddbouldin.com. Best wishes to you as you chart the rough waters of our times in which we also receive clarity about our life’s purpose and new resources for succeeding in the job of your dreams.

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