I was recently asked for my thoughts on how to best prepare for an interview. It has been awhile since I last had a formal interview, so I reflected on what I have personally learnt from in the past, as well as things I have responded to positively as an interviewer sitting on the other side. There are a number of “must dos” in my opinion that go beyond preparation for the usual behavioural questions like “tell us about a time when you dealt with a difficult situation”, and give a bit more depth to you for the interviewer.
Remember you have already reached interview stage so you can assume the organisation is happy with your general qualifications and credentials; the key is therefore to convey more than what can already be deduced from your resume, and demonstrate why you’re the ideal pick out of all the other candidates.
Must Do #1 – Find out what medium/long-term plans the organisation has, as well as information about the team
The interview is a two-way due diligence process, not just about you impressing your interviewer (regardless of how badly you might think you want the job). There is a wealth of information that you can find online nowadays about an organisation and its people. Glassdoor.com.au for example not only advertises open job positions but also has employees rating and providing reviews on their experience working at particular companies. Think TripAdvisor for jobs!
Do your research and dig meticulously so you know exactly what you’re getting into; I can’t stress this enough. Think about the amount of research you would do before buying a house. Buying a car. Buying anything of significance. Too often people jump into a job based on the remuneration, role description and the interview process, without enough detailed research about whether the organisation and job is truly right for them and their circumstances. Read this post on Developing your own personal strategic plan to help identify your career objectives.
With this detailed research you’ll be armed with not only insightful questions in the interview to ask (demonstrating your genuine interest in the organisation, tick), but also have an appreciation for the company and where it is headed. For example, if you’re about to join a credit card company, you might want to know more about what digital developments they are investing in given the wholesale shift to online/digital payment systems. If they don’t sound like they are putting in any focus or investment in that space, this could be a warning sign that the organisation is going to struggle with not only growth but keeping up with market trends. Meaning limited career and development prospects.
Must Do #2 – Prepare to pitch an executive summary of yourself
Think of this like an elevator pitch, a 30 second summary of you as a potential employee. What is your core experience in, what are you professionally interested in, what is your unique strength and how do you think you’ll contribute this all to the organisation? Identify some key points you want to convey to the interviewer that you think will set you apart from other candidates, and demonstrate: why you?
Sometimes in more structured interviews you will be answering formal questions and may not get a chance to mention something that would be relevant and really help sell your value. If you identify this beforehand then it will ensure you have it front of mind and help you remember to work it into your responses rather than walking out and wishing you had thought to mention it.
Must Do #3 – Be yourself, but ensure it fits what the organisation is looking for
With the research you do mentioned at Must Do #1 above, you should get a good sense of the culture of the company, the people and the business. You want to bring to the interview table not only the best version of yourself but also the best version of yourself sitting within the organisation. Don’t assume qualities that are attractive to one organisation are going to be equally attractive to another. You have many strengths and traits in your toolkit so don’t whip out all the same ones for every interview, try to pick and choose the right ones for each organisation.
I previously interviewed someone who was highly credentialed and clearly very capable of the job I was trying to fill. However they emphasised their eagerness and willingness to work 24/7 and spoke to experiences where they had worked non-stop over holiday periods to meet deadlines. Fine, if you’re joining an investment bank. But the organisation I worked in just did not have that kind of working culture. It also raised some red flags for me and made me question whether this person was inefficient with their workload and time management, or potentially not good at speaking up about needing extra resourcing support – both of which are obviously not ideal.
Must Do #4 – Articulate exactly why you want to work there, as opposed to any other organisation
I was once asked by a recruiter, “Are you running away from something or running to something?” At the time I remember thinking that was a really insightful question because I knew full well I was applying for the role because I was desperately unhappy in my job and wanted out. ASAP. Equally, I wouldn’t want to hire someone who is simply unhappy in their current job and is mass applying for roles just so they can get out. I want to see that they genuinely have an interest in working with me and my team and they are therefore worth the investment in hiring and training them.
For example, one of the things I have said in an interview was I wanted to join the organisation because it was operating in a growth industry. Which meant there would be many new business opportunities to do different things, and I wanted to be a part of that as I saw it aligning with skills I wanted to develop.
Must Do #5 – Address deal-breakers early
There’s no point in wasting yours and an organisation’s time progressing through the recruitment process, only to find out there is a fundamental misalignment of expectations. My honest view is that women in particular don’t do this enough, and are too cautious about appearing too demanding, too early. It is appropriate to honestly and directly raise things that are of utmost importance to you upfront; it ultimately means that if the organisation can’t or isn’t interested in accommodating your needs then you can think carefully about whether or not you’re prepared to join them.
An example that I think is quite common, is the importance of the job title. Possibly more so than remuneration in many circumstances. A friend of mine recently turned down a job offer for a significantly higher paying role because they really wanted the title of “Specialist” versus the offer of “Associate”; the difference between the two titles being of significant difference within her industry. She wished she had made it clear at the beginning that this was a non-negotiable for her, rather than going through multiple interviews only to have it be a deal-breaker.
Finally as part of all your prep, I suggest being absolutely clear in your mind as to what the job is going to give you and why you want to move. How does it align with your personal life plan and goals? Remember it should as much as possible be the “running to” scenario rather than the “running away” one.