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Interview Prep 101: Stand Out From The Crowd


So interview preparation has always been one of those areas that have always been easy to overlook. It has always amazed me how folks that “really want the job” fail to properly prepare for their interviews. Or, a person might bring their “A” Game to the first interview but then let up in subsequent meetings. These oversights may not have amounted to much when unemployment was less than 3%, but these days a person needs to have the best interview possible in order to be seriously considered for a job that most likely has had over 50 qualified applicants.

Think of this list of “To-Do’s” as a game plan template for your interviews. As the saying goes; “No plan for success is a plan to fail.” So let’s get right into it and help you shine at your next interview.....

Company Web Site: This should be the first stop on your information quest. It’s important because every firm puts the information they are most proud of on their site. This will most often include information on the firm’s products, executives, and recent media. But it will often also include the company’s story, press releases and other very important information about the firm. READ ALL OF IT. It will help you become well versed in what is most important to the company. Pay particular attention to the mission/vision statements you find. The more senior of a role your are pursuing the more these statements will affect you if you get hired.

News Sites: The larger the company the more information that you will find from media outlets. I suggest using a media aggregator like Google, Yahoo or MSN because they will search all of their networks. I also suggest that you search a local newspaper, because they will often have stories that were not picked up but the national media outlets. Your news media searches should tell you about recent events, hires and other stories of interest that may be relevant to a discussion in your interview.

Social Networks: Now this may seem odd at first, but trust me on this. You want to know the “types” of people that a company hires. There is nothing wicked that I’m implying here, but rather pointing out it’s no accident that every company culture has been influenced by the personality of their executives and managers. Knowing a bit about the personalities of the people you may work with in advance is never a bad idea. Besides, you never know who your friends might know at that company. Or what professional, academic or social network that you have in common with folks that already work at the company. But more on that later.

Know Your Interviewer: Any marketing pro will tell you to know your audience well, and while you not technically selling your interviewer a product or service you are in fact selling them on something.....your ability to contribute at their firm. Now this does not mean that you should invade their privacy by digging up a high school yearbook picture. But it does mean that some homework should be done. A quick check of Google and LinkedIn will help you learn about your interviewer’s education, company history and perhaps more. The goal here is to find common ground. You might say it helps the bonding process.

Check Your Networks: You should also check all of your personal, and professional networks to find out if anyone you know is a friend, peer, colleague or associate of your interviewer. If find someone that knows your interviewer, it’s not a bad idea to ask them to send your interviewer a brief email endorsing you. If you find someone that is familiar with the division/group that you are interviewing for/with, the same tactic is advisable. Why? Because as I mentioned earlier there are common threads in the hiring tapestry of every organization. Some companies hire heavily from certain universities. Others hire heavily for other competitors, or people who have achieved a certain level of academic training, or even in some cases a certain hobby. Don’t believe me? Just try getting a job at a surf gear company without surfing. Or at a Wall Street law firm without an Ivy League education. Or at a web company without coming from another web company. Every organization over 25 people has hiring tendencies. However the most common hiring tendency is the hiring of people that were recommended by, or to, someone of staff. So check your network and see if you know someone that can “put in a good word.” It just might get you bumped to the head of the line.

So I’m going to skip the usual advice about getting a good night’s sleep and wearing something nice. Instead I’m going to focus on getting your grey matter where it needs to be for the interview.

Questions About The Job: Take a good look at the job description you’ve hopefully received one from the recruiter, or hiring manager, that you’re meeting. The job description typically contains 30%-50% of all the duties of any given position (compare your last job description with what you know you had to do and you’ll see what I mean). That means that almost 1/2 of what you’ll be accountable for (if hired) is not listed. Part of what you need to accomplish during any stage of the interviewing process is to learn more about the unknown aspects of the position in question. The good news is that doing so will also send a clear message to your interviewers that you’re serious about being there. So here are some sample questions to get your brain thinking in the right direction:
1. What departments/groups would I depend on to get this job done?
2. What would the first 90 days look like for me if I was hired?
3. What is the composition of the group/department?
4. Assuming I move forward in your interview process; Whom from the team can I expect to meet?
5. What else can you tell me about the position besides what’s listed on the description?

Questions About The Company: I can’t stress this area enough. All too often folks fail to ask critical questions about the company. The result of this oversight can lead to disaster so please remember that you need to interview the company as well throughout the process. As a recruiter I often hear candidates complain that; “If I had only know about....” So don’t let the same happen to you. Don’t let a difficult job hunt prevent you from asking important and appropriate questions. Here are some examples:
1. Why is this position open?
2. By how much does the company expect to grow over the next 36 months?
3. What kind of career advancement opportunities are available?
4. Does the company support continuing education and/or training?
5. What do you feel gives this firm and edge over its competition?
6. Ask about a product, award, event or something else that your research turned up.
7. If someone in your network has a strong connection to the firm you also might want to mention that.

I hope that this gives you some ideas on how to prepare. Remember that the goal here is a health give & take of information. You don’t want to come off as a Prosecutor questioning a Defendant, so keep it relevant, appropriate, polite and professional. Your research should give you enough information to spark your curiosity and come up with some great questions. Your preparation will also signal that you want to be seriously considered for the position. No company worth their payroll hires candidates that come in unprepared and unknowledgeable about the company.

One final admonishment. By any means necessary try to get a sense of the dress code. The last thing that you want to do is show up to the first interview over/under dressed. Let me put it this way; Do you think that Google will hire you is you show up in a 3-piece suit? Do you think that a Big-4 CPA firm will hire you if you show up without a suit? It could happen, but what do I know anyway.

Cheers, R-A-L