Monday, December 28, 2009

20 Job Search Answers You Need To Know | #8 How do I prepare for an interview?

A: By doing your homework

Time to roll out the cliché wagon and drop the chestnut that the job search process is a marathon (not a sprint). Have you heard that one before (maybe 13-14 times)? But using that hook, I wimageould like to tag on a quote by runner Lauren Fessenden that is a perfect fit for those beating their feet on the job hunt street:

This is not about instant gratification. You have to work hard for it, sweat for it, give up sleeping in on Sunday morning

The work needed to lap your competition for your next job is not about running fartleks at the indoor track at your neighborhood YMCA, but the workout is just as strenuous and just as crucial to your success (although you can do so without strapping on Under Armour® compression gear) .

Your job search workout is broken into two main categories:

  1. Getting to know the company better
  2. Getting to know (or re-know) yourself

What is it you guys do again?

You want to learn as much about the company and the specific job you are interviewing for.  This is not only so you can determine if it is a good fit for you, but it also gives you the ability to speak intelligently about the company (and their markets).  It also shows interest (as in when you care enough to spend at least 5 minutes on their company website before you walk in the door). 

This is going to be easier for public companies than it is for private companies, but trust me, the information you need is out there for both.  Here are a few areas to spend your time:

  • What is their market? Things in this category include what products/services do they sell (and/or make), who they sell them to, what are their differentiators in the marketplace, have they been a part of any big deals lately (acquisitions, landing a major client). The degree to which you need to know this does depend on the job your applying for (VP of Global Sales vs. PT Mail Room Clerk) - but regardless you should know what they do (as in “everyone is in sales”) .
  • Who is their competition? Simply - who and where do they compete with folks. This is for two primary reasons:
    • I have been asked directly in an interview “who is our competition”?. “Gee, I don’t know” really sounds painful coming out of your mouth an interview. Again – regardless of level, this is important stuff. If you you want to work at Burger King, you need to know McDonald’s is right ahead of them and Wendy’s is right behind.
    • I certainly did not walk into the interview for my current gig wearing Merrell shoes.  Trust me – that stuff matters
  • Work your network One mistaken assumption about the whole networking process is it just to help you find the job. No sir. It can also help you close the deal. Your contacts can be crucial in many ways. They can provide intelligence about the industry (so – as we mentioned- you can talk smart about the space during the interview), about the company (is their press true?), or about the hiring manager specifically (what does she or he look for in a candidate – or are they such a bozo that I wouldn’t want to work there?).  Also – specifically about the job (i.e. not everyone does Project Management the same way).

What I am is what I am (but let’s focus on what will get you the job)

Now that you have done all this research on the company (including the specific hiring manger if you can get it) – it is time to get working on you.

Here are the areas to focus on:

  • Fit yourself to the company (and the job) Knowing what you now know about the company – start thinking of things you have done that fit into that puzzle. Remember – we’re looking for smart/get stuff done anecdotes during the interview, so start a (or tweak an existing) list of the items.
  • Practice Concise Answers This is a biggie. A long rambling answer to a question in an interview is truly a road to nowhere. I kid you not – I have been on the receiving end of 10+ minute answers to simple questions on so many occasions. About 3 minutes in, not only have I lost interest in your answer (and like you – probably have forgotten my original question) but you’ve just flunked the get stuff done portion of the test.  Remember - to leave the irreverent, specific details (I know the project team worked on the 6th floor of the Arlington office…but that probably is not germane to your answer or my understanding of your greatness).  The more questions you are prepared for the better answers you’ll have at the ready.
  • A beginning, a middle and an end Part of the way to be concise is to skinny down your anecdotes. The best stories (as Leonard Nimoy once said in reference to Star Trek V  which did not) have a beginning, middle and end. In the context of an interview questions answers, that translates to a problem (or opportunity), the solution you devised (and how you came about that) and what was the result (how much did we save or did they throw you a parade?).

Where do I start my research?

For companies, thanks to the online world, there’s a bevy of lost cost sources of downlo you can comb:

  • Have you heard of Google? Had you not known, type Top Fast Food Chains into Google and you’ll get the ranking I mentioned before (#1 McDonald’s, #2 Burger King, #3 Wendy’s…).  This is the best place to start.
  • Company Website/Social Media I think by now, most people hit the company website before an interview (if not simply because you had to go there to apply). In addition to the that website, check other social sites (Facebook, Linked In, Twitter) for other places companies talk about themselves and what they do (and what other people say as well).
  • As mentioned, your network can be very helpful to you as well. Use them.
  • Journals/Professional Associations Publications and groups in the industry of the company you are targeting can be very helpful.
  • Libraries A great place to get access to the publications mentioned above. Especially business/reference library (like that James J Hill Reference Library here locally). But if cost and access are an issue for you – your local public library can help as well.

For resaerch on you:,

  • Your past resumes and job descriptions. This should provide talking points on what you have done that you can cull for this specific interview.  It easy to forget some things you have done that you currently aren’t using but would be relevant to your job.
  • Previous Performance Reviews What have your other bosses said about you? That’s often a direct question during an interview and can also give you more examples of what have done well
  • Your portfolio Review samples of your work you’ve done before and have them ready to go in the interview. A great recent story: one of my clients was in any interview recently and asked how she would explain project management to non-IT folks. She whipped out a PPT of a presentation she had done for just that purpose at her current job.  Gooooooooooooooooalllllllllllllllll!
  • Work your network. Call up a former peers, clients or managers and tell them about the job you’re applying for and have them think of a story or two about you that would be good to use. Also seek out people in your network that have the same job as the hiring manager. They often can provide great insight into what they might be looking for
  • Your own previous interviews Remember bad experiences from previous interviews where you did not perform to your expectations. How would you do it differently?
  • Drill  There are a ton of sample tough interview questions online (e.g Commonly Asked Tough Interview Questions ).  Drill yourself over and over on these (you can never be too prepared).  When I was interviewing at a previous job, I printed out the aforementioned tough questions and reviewed them on the plane ride down to the interview.  I can tell you (1) that I was not asked any of the tough questions on the list but (2) but I used some of the answers I had just practiced in the interview and changed softball questions into fantastic answers.  

So sharpen your #2 pencils, purge your job search Chicken Fat, and get ready to cram for an exam (that is the interview).

Next Up: What questions do I avoid early in the interview process?

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