As the expression goes, “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It most certainly doesn’t count in a job interview. In fact, given today’s competitive job market, when it comes to sitting down for the all-important interview, you had better be bringing your “A” game. And that means a lot of preparation.
Wonder how to achieve pre-interview Zen? Here are some tips:
If you’re on-time, you’re late
Preparation is key when it comes to stacking the deck in your favor. Consider doing a dry run in advance of the actual interview. Check out the building, figure out where you’ll park (or the nearest train or bus stop), and time how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B at roughly the same time of day. Don’t forget to factor in plenty of extra time to complete any necessary paperwork or freshen up.
Dress well, feel good
Appearances count when making a good first impression. Be sure to try on what you’ll be wearing down to your shoes and accessories and have a backup outfit ready. Thirty minutes before you’re set to leave is no time to discover you’re still carrying a few extra holiday pounds and can’t button your shirt. And don’t forget to get a haircut so you’ll walk in feeling on-point.
If it’s the interview itself that is causing the most angst, try recreating the environment to the best of your ability. Standing in the kitchen running through practice questions with your spouse or roommate probably (hopefully) won’t make your heart race and your palms sweat. Instead, try soliciting the help of a friend of a friend or an acquaintance, then meet them someplace public for an interview prep session.
The bottom line is that you want to eliminate as many variables as possible so your mind is free to focus on the task at hand.
Going into an interview armed with well-thought out questions designed to elicit whether the company and position align with your values and goals is key. And it serves two purposes: First, you’ll be better able to ascertain if it’s the right job for you, and second, you’ll be showing the interviewer that you understand their company, their market space, and are eager to learn where you might fit in. Coming in without questions or with the idea that you’ll just wing it indicates that you’re not that interested and makes it exceedingly unlikely you’ll be asked back.
If you really want to show that you’ve done your homework, learn a little bit about the person who will be interviewing you. Thanks to the wonders of social media, it’s never been easier to find out what university your contact attended, their favorite teams and their work history. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how their education and previous jobs prepared them for their current position or career and what they love most about working for the company.
Still worried you might not ask the right questions or have the right answers. Here are a few ideas to get you in the interview mindset.
You ask …
- Can you describe a typical day or week on the job? It’s easy to sell a coffee bar and an open office plan, but it’s what you’ll be doing every day that counts. Listen for answers that will allow you to utilize your strengths and that appeal to your interests.
- How long did the person who was previously in the job hold the position? Why did they leave? If you’re interviewing for an entry-level position, this question might not be as relevant but learning that the previous job holder was promoted after several years as opposed to leaving the company bodes well for low staff turnover and promotion from within.
- What do you see as the greatest challenge for whomever takes the job? If the answer is tight deadlines and a high-pressure work environment and you prefer a more laid-back vibe, this probably isn’t the job for you.
- What do you like most about working here? If it’s the company softball team, you might want to reconsider no matter their winning record. Office camaraderie is great, but you won’t be spending your days on the baseball diamond but rather at your desk and across conference tables.
- How would success in this role be measured? Another way to think about this is how will you be judged as successful in the job. Will you be able to utilize your skills and unique traits?
- What attributes do you see in your most successful employee? This is a great question to help tease out some of the intangibles that the ideal candidate will hold.
- What’s the corporate culture like? Today’s job seekers are looking for more than a 9-to-5 with benefits. They want a purpose and want to enjoy work when they come in every day. Make sure that the corporate culture aligns with the way you work and your personality.
You answer …
- What are you most proud of professionally? This is your chance to showcase an award-winning project you worked on or how you overcame a professional challenge.
- Why are you interested in working here? Now is not the time to trash your previous job or company. Every position, no matter how ill-suited, is a learning experience. In answering, don’t talk about generous leave policy or 401k match—it will appear that you’re only there to do the bare minimum. Also, if you’re interviewing for an entry-level position, don’t describe it as your dream job. That implies you’re not looking to grow professionally, a big red flag to interviewers.
- Describe a situation where you were put in an adverse situation and how you handled it? Your answer will show how you handle stress and adversity, but you don’t need to limit yourself to professional challenges. Think about a time outside the workplace where you were able to think on your feet.
- What is something your current employer would say you need to work on? What are you trying to enhance every day? When answering these types of questions, avoid labeling anything as a weakness but rather phrase it as an area you want to improve upon.
- How would you handle a work environment where you or your peers don’t all get along? Your answer here will tell a lot about your ability to interact with a team of varied personalities and skill sets.
- What inspires/motivate you personally and professionally? This is the chance to share a bit of yourself. Make sure that your answer is authentic. Saying you are inspired by a talented team of people won’t ring true if you are someone who prefers to work on their own.
- Name five things you’d do with a paperclip? / You’re walking into a stadium with 80,000 people in attendance. What song would they play to introduce you? Curveball questions are often asked not so much for what you will answer but how. How do you react to a sudden and possibly uncomfortable question? Can you think on your feet?