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One of the most common questions that I get asked by candidates is, “What does a successful interview look like?” As a Search Manager, I spend a significant amount of time preparing my candidates for that first interaction with my clients. In order to understand what it takes to have a successful interview and first impression, candidates must understand how the process has evolved. This is particularly important for those candidates who have not had an interview in a number of years.
Here are a few ways in which interviews have changed:
While these points may sound straightforward, interviewing today is a bit more challenging than it seems. Interviewing is not like riding a bike – you can’t just jump back on and expect a successful outcome. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced and polished. If you’re a professional with 5, 10 or 15+ years of experience with the same organization, it’s understandable to feel a bit lost, especially with the changes that have occurred to the interview format. Here are the top things you can do to help position yourself for success in the first interview with a potential employer. Plus, hopefully secure a second one!
Be Authentic & Engage your Audience
As difficult as it is to overcome our nerves and let our true personality come through in an interview, it’s usually one of the biggest deciding factors on who moves forward and who doesn’t. You may say all of the right things, but if you’re not authentic and providing the interviewer with a good glimpse of who you really are, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It may be a little scary to admit that the recent implementation of an ERP system didn’t go as planned – but that’s okay! Employers prefer to hear the honest scenario about how you learned from that situation verses feeling that you’re sugar-coating or not being completely upfront.
In order to engage your interviewer or panel, simply refer back to a point that one of the interviewers made earlier, or call on their perspective in one of your responses. Here are some examples of what you could say as a candidate that might help you engage the panel and initiate conversation outside of the “question, answer, question, answer” format.
“John, I absolutely understand your problem with recruitment. I dealt with a similar scenario in my position at ABC Company…”
“Susan, you mentioned earlier that sales needs to work more effectively with the purchasing team. I’d love to learn more about that later, but let me share how I’ve done that in the past…”
Be a Great Story-Teller
The human brain is wired to remember experiences and stories over facts and figures. It’s why stories continue to be told generation after generation. They are extremely impactful and help you relate to other people. The biggest mistake that candidates make is not sharing enough relevant examples that are illustrated with real-life experiences. These types of responses are what will make you stand out among a pool of candidates. Let’s look at an example:
Question: “What is your leadership style?”
It is so easy to answer this question with the response, “I have an open-door policy, I’m collaborative and I operate with integrity.”
Does this sound impactful to you? How many times have you heard people use a similar response? If you want to stand out above the rest of the candidates, you need to figure out a way to make your responses memorable.
Try using this response instead:
“I have an open door policy, I am collaborative and I operate with integrity. In fact, there was a scenario with my team last week that I’d like to share with you to demonstrate my leadership skills in action…”
Be Concise – Interviewers have an Agenda
A common concern with most candidates is how to fit 20+ years of experience into one hour. Impossible? Absolutely! The best plan of attack is to review the job description and determine the key skill sets or experience required. Then, review your resume and highlight the information that is most relevant to the role. It’s all about balancing the “nice to know” information with the “need to know” information. Your objective in the first interview is to provide enough information that the interviewer wants to learn more. So get rid of the “nice to know” details and the fear of not saying enough because being concise is always better. When you are concise, you are providing the interviewer the opportunity to ask “probing questions” to learn more about the information that is most important to them. So, at the end of the interview, you’ve given them the best opportunity to relate your experience to the critical elements of the role you’ve applied for.
Don’t be Afraid to Toot Your Own Horn
If there is one time or place where you shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate your successes or share your accolades, it’s in an interview. Of course, you don’t want to over-inflate your successes. Like anything in life, balance is key. Give credit for team efforts, but do not be afraid to talk about the awards that you’ve won, why you achieved promotions, or reference positive feedback that you’ve received. These all indicate that you’re a high performing professional who takes pride in your work.
As you can see, preparing for an interview requires some serious thought and effort, especially if you want it to be successful. However, following these suggestions should help you reflect on your career, the job opportunity you’re considering, and assess whether or not it’s the next best step for you. If you take a genuine interest in having a meaningful and thoughtful conversation with a future employer, instead of just showing up and answering some questions, your thoughts and preparation will shine through. Take it from someone who typically conducts over 300 interviews in a year – preparation is the key to success!