The biggest mistake in interviewing is not being fully prepared. It behooves job-seekers to use every conceivable means possible to prepare for the interview and to allow ample time to fully prepare. Understand that interviewing is a skill; as with all skills, preparation and practice enhance the quality of that skill. Preparation can make the difference between getting an offer and getting rejected.
There is no one "best" way to prepare for an interview. Rather, there are specific and important strategies to enhance one's chances for interview success. Every interview is a learning experience, so learning that takes place during the preparation and actual interview process is useful for future interviews.
Initial preparation requires recent assessment of skills, interests, values, and accomplishments; a re-assessment and updating of one's resume; and research on the targeted company/organization and position. Preparation also includes actual practice of typical and targeted interview questions. Final preparation includes details of dress and appearance, knowledge of the location of the interview, what to expect, and protocols for follow-up.
General preparation before you begin the interview process:
- Self-assessment: I recommend self-assessment annually, but most people resist this step. When one is unemployed or fearing lay-off, the time is right for reassessing current skills, talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and work values. In addition, it is clearly time to re-examine accomplishments and achievements, particularly those that may be relevant to a prospective employer. I recommend keeping an on-going accomplishments file in which to maintain such items as articles, congratulatory letters, kudos from the boss or clients/customers, 360 evaluations, and descriptions of successful activities as they occur. In the course of daily business life, one often forgets those notable successes.
- Updating your resume: The accomplishments file serves as a springboard to reassessing your resume. The file contains content for selective resume inclusion. If we assume that a resume must be accomplishments-based rather than descriptive of one's responsibilities, then the file serves to jog one's memory about recent notable activities. Bare-bone the resume by removing all superfluous and/or irrelevant material, all articles (a, an, the), and work at getting it onto one page. Use functional headings to help focus the reader on what you have done and what you can do for the prospective employer. Be absolutely certain it is error-free.
Let's now assume you have a specific interview lined up.
- Research, research, research: Depending on available time, use every possible means to learn all you can about the company and position. Use the public library or local bookstore to locate and read information about the company/organization. Access books, journals, magazines, newspapers and any reference materials useful for investors -- and job-seekers! Ask the reference librarian about connections to investor online publications or services, such as Valueline, Lexis-Nexis. Read and/or check online resources for major business publications, such as Forbes, Money, Kiplinger's, The Wall St. Journal, or Investors Business Daily. Go online to the company's Web site as well as competitors' sites. Use investor Web sites to learn what's happening now in the news with this company and its competitors. Use bizjournals.com to find business news by industry and/or location.
- Use your alumni network to the best advantage: if your college offers a searchable online database, search by company name. Contact any alumni who work for that company. Choose fairly recent graduates (to learn about the interview and hiring process, and early experiences on the job) and older alumni as well (to learn about corporate culture, history, and career paths.) All alumni contacts are valuable for their insights as well their connections. Always come away from any networking meeting with at least two additional contacts.
- Re-assessing your resume: Even if you have sent your best-yet resume, which was obviously successful in making the cut, review it thoroughly and know everything that's on it. Be prepared to discuss supplemental experiences that might be important to this employer. Use a Job Interview Prep Sheet to focus on experiences you feel are most relevant and match them to the employer's needs.
part 2, common interview questions and following up.