When I graduated from college I was confident that my classes in interpersonal communication had prepared me very well for anything I might face in a job interview. However, after experiencing dozens of interviews from both sides, I can look back and see how little I really knew. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of the seven things that I believe every interviewee should know.
1. Research–Learn everything you can about the organization to which you are applying; go to their website, talk to any connections that you have in the organization who may know something that might help. Take notes on what you learn. All the information you gather will help you in customizing your resume, and in preparing for the interview. During the interview expressing your interest in something unique about the organization, or ask an in-depth question about some aspect of their operation. Interviewers are impressed when an interviewee has specific knowledge of their organization.
2. Prepare Questions–Prepare a list of questions to ask during your interview. Make a list of 5 to 8, enough to show your preparation and interest but not too many to be overwhelming. The list should have a range of questions arising out of your research or the job description. If they haven’t already told you, it is also good to ask about the next step in the application process near the end of your interview. That question will give you helpful information and demonstrate your level of interest in moving forward. One question you should not ask is, “how much will I make?” You should always let the interviewer bring up that topic.
3. Prepare Answers–There are certain questions that are asked in most interviews, so it is important to prepare for these questions in advance so they don’t catch you off guard. You shouldn’t read or recite your answers, just have a general answer in your mind. A couple questions for which you should prepare are: “what is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?” and “give me five words that describe you.”
- Greatest Strength–The challenge with the “greatest strength” question is obviously not wanting to come across as conceited. The key is to think honestly about your greatest strengths in your work environment, choose one, and simply state it. Then go on to give specific examples of how that strength has benefited you and your previous employment team.
- Greatest Weakness–Here the obvious problem is not wanting to give them a reason not to hire you, but you also don’t want to give a weakness that isn’t actually viewed as a weakness. Interviewers get tired of hearing stuff like “my greatest weakness is the fact that I just work too hard.” Once again the key is being honest with yourself. Figure out a real weakness that can be spun in a positive light. Obviously you don’t want to say something like “I’m lazy” or “I don’t get along well with my co-workers.” Here’s a basic example: “I’m not the best at asking for help. If I see a task as my responsibility, I don’t want to burden other people with it, even if it would be better if I did. However, I am aware of the problem and have improved.” I might go into a little more detail depending on how the interviewer reacts. If it seems like they want to hear more, give some specific examples of how it has been a challenge and how you have improved, but often if you give an answer like this, they will be satisfied and will move on to the next question.
- Five Words–I obviously can’t give the five words that describe you, but you should be able to think of these pretty easily in advance. Make sure they can all be positively applied to you as an employee, but they don’t have to be things like “hardworking” and “punctual”. Words like that can be used if they truly are high on the list of words that describe you, but you should definitely include words that indicate things about your personality such as “calm”, “energetic” or “sympathetic”.
- Others–There may be other questions that you have faced in the past, or that you are afraid of facing in the future, go ahead and prepare for those as well. Regardless, it is important to remember to pause before giving your answer, whether it’s one you prepared for or not.
4. Take Your Time–Often interviewees get nervous and then talk too fast and are scared of silence. First of all, it is very normal to be nervous at an interview, so people are often too concerned about hiding it. Secondly, pausing after questions and taking several seconds to breath and think about your answer will help keep you calm and speaking at a normal pace. It will also make you come across as more confident and thoughtful.
5. Paper and Pen–Take a small pad of paper and a pen with with you into the interview. It is an easy place to keep your list of questions and write down information gleaned during the interview. It also shows an extra level of interest and preparedness.
6. Look Forward–Look for any opportunity to enter into dialog about what you can bring to specific challenges faced by the organization. Don’t use presumptive language like, “I will do such and such to resolve that issue.” Rather, say things like “this challenge is exciting to me because if I were to get this position I could do such and such to help the team meet this challenge.” This can be tough, and you don’t always have these opportunities, but getting your interviewer to envision you in the position is extremely valuable.
7. Be You–Finally, after all of that, my primary advice is simply not to try too hard. Prepare as well as you can, but then go into it just planning on being yourself. They may catch you off guard, they may notice your hand shaking, don’t worry about it. Just react naturally, and let them see your personality. That is the real goal of the whole process, seeing who you really are and how you fit into their team. Leave all your standards of performance with the preparation portion of the process. Once the actual interview has begun, don’t focus on what you are or aren’t doing. Just try to relax, breath and enjoy the conversation. Going into an interview with humble confidence and complete authenticity is the ultimate key to success.