Interviewing is one of those necessary evils we all wish we could avoid, but, unfortunately, can’t escape. No matter where you are in your professional journey, the mere thought of having to sit through a series of questions and have all of your responses judged and evaluated is enough to make you want to stay put. But, growth often comes from taking the plunge and seeking out new opportunities. So, while you can’t forego the interview stage of your job search, you can set yourself up for success by being as prepared as possible.
Do your homework. Before any interview, you should always, always, always do your research. Make sure that you’ve read through the company website and that you understand what the company does, how they make money, who the important players are, and what is their mission. But, don’t stop there. Run a news search to see if they’ve appeared in any recent articles. Research their competitors. Search for each individual person with whom you will be meeting. Check out their LinkedIn pages and search for common connections. Read through publications they’ve authored. In short, scrape the internet and gather all available information before you step into that interview.
Create your elevator pitch. When I worked in sales, we were asked to create an elevator pitch for our product. This was a 30 second description of what the product did and why it was unique. In the case of interviewing, YOU are the product you’re selling. If you don’t have a compelling pitch, there isn’t much incentive to buy, i.e., hire. Take some time to write out you personal elevator pitch. Make sure that it highlights who you are, what you’ve done, what you’re passionate about, and why you’re a good fit for this role. Having a good elevator pitch will help you answer the deceivingly difficult, “Tell me about yourself” question and comes in handy during networking events. After you write it out, say it out loud and see how you feel. Make any revisions until it feels comfortable. Then commit it to memory. Below is one version of my elevator pitch as an example:
I am an attorney by training who is dedicated to helping people develop the skills and tools they need to succeed in the workplace. I am particularly passionate about ensuring that we create workplaces that value diversity and inclusion as critical business objectives and foster environments where everyone can thrive. I’ve had the opportunity to work in this capacity in both law firm and law school settings. I was the first women’s initiative manger at X law firm, where I successfully helped implement the firm’s gender inclusion strategy that resulted in an increase in our women summer associate class two years in a row, as well as a series of new career development programs aimed at retaining our top female talent. Today, I work directly with law students to prepare them for their legal careers through individual career counseling, and I continue to work toward diversifying the profession by participating in diversity pipeline programs in my community and beyond.
Rehearse your answers. You might be wondering how you can possibly know the questions you’ll be asked. And truthfully, you can’t prepare for every possible question. But there are certain commonly asked questions, and you should practice your responses to the questions you are likely to be asked. For example, you should be able to discuss what you did in your last job, why you’re leaving, why you want to work at this particularly company, your greatest accomplishments, any areas of weakness, etc. Using sites like Glassdoor.com can also give you insight into questions asked for specific roles. Again, I suggest writing out your answers first and then practice saying them out loud. Do a mock interview with a friend or family member and have them give you feedback. You’d be amazed at some of the small habits (e.g., fidgeting, lack of eye contact) or verbal ticks (e.g., “um”, “like”) we have that distract from our responses.
Identify and contact your references. Most jobs will want to speak to your references before extending an offer. Make sure that you have 2-3 people who are willing to act as a reference for you. These should be people who can speak to your professional qualifications, so try to stick with former supervisors or co-workers. You should always ask your contacts beforehand if they would be willing to serve as a reference – don’t assume they will do so. Ideally, you would do this at the beginning of your job search. Call them or shoot them a quick note to let them know that you have started to look for new jobs and would appreciate if they would be able to act as a reference for you. Having this lined up ahead of time will allow you to provide your potential new employer with references upon request without any delay.
Dress and act the part. The day of your interview, take extra time to get yourself together. Make sure your clothes are well fitted, clean and wrinkle free. Err on the side of formality, no matter how casual the work environment. Take a portfolio or folder with you to keep extra copies of your resume and collect business cards and a notepad to take down any important notes. Give a firm hand shake, make eye contact and maintain enthusiasm throughout the interview. After the interview, jot down specific things you discussed with each interviewer so you can include it in your thank you e-mail.
Ask questions. When we’re interviewing, we often forget that interviews are two-way streets. The company is evaluating your fit for the role, but you’re also vetting the company to make sure they fit with your goals and personality. The best way to do this is to ask the right questions. Don’t ask questions whose answers you could have easily looked up online. In fact, this is the perfect place to highlight all the research you’ve done. For example, “I read that you recently opened a new office in Texas. Is this part of a larger strategy to become more competitive in the energy field, and how do you see that impacting this role?” Ask your interviewer what they like best and least about working for that company, how they became interested in their roles, what success looks like for your position, about company culture and next steps.
Send a thank you. Some people say nobody reads thank you e-mails. I say, send one anyway. Most employers still expect to receive a post-interview thank you, and I have actually heard of job offers that were not extended for failure to do this one simple thing. A thank you should be sent within 24 hours of the interview to each person you met with, but make sure that you wait enough time so that it’s clear you spent time contemplating the meeting and took time to really think about about you want to say. Try to include specific details about your conversation and reiterate your interest in the role and how your qualifications match what they’re seeking.
Follow up. Sometimes you’ll get immediate feedback on your interview and sometimes you won’t. For those times when you aren’t sure where you stand, don’t be afraid to follow up with the recruiter or person with whom you interviewed. Use your judgment timing wise, but generally speaking, if it’s been a week or two, and you haven’t heard anything, or if you haven’t heard back within the time frame they’ve given you, you can write a short e-mail that reaffirms your interest and enthusiasm for the role and offers to provide any additional information that may be helpful to their decision.
What are some of the ways you prepare for an interview?