I recently made a drastic career change that would take me from an interview a decade to potentially an interview a week. I wanted to do some research on what makes a good interview. Well, honestly, my first interview could have been better so I NEEDED to do some work to improve for the next time. The following summarizes what I have learned through the interview process and by doing some light reading on the subject. I hope you find this as useful in reading (and as reference) as I did in putting it together.
The interview goes two ways
This is not only the opportunity for the interviewer(s) to find out about you and if you are a good fit for the position being sought, but is also your opportunity to find out about the organization and position to decide if this is a good fit for you. Use the opportunity to learn about the organization and how you will fit in, as much as share.
Do your homework
What do you know about the position, company, or project? The internet brings us great advantages these days with the ability to read up on the organization, current projects, current news, business or strategic plans. This homework will serve dual purposes in helping you determine if the position is right for you, but also to help you ask intelligent questions about the position that will help show your foresight and research abilities as well as your ability to probe and analyze the situation which will transfer to the position you seek.
Prepare questions to ask
At the end of every interview you will likely be asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” Again, use you this opportunity to show your stuff. The previous paragraph discusses questions that will demonstrate your knowledge of the position or organization. This is important, but another type of question you should have in your arsenal is a question that you have an interest in helping meet their needs. Think about selling yourself by showing “what is in it for them”. Some examples may include; “what do you see this position accomplishing in the next 6-months”, or “what skill is the most important skill that the selected person can have to help better the organization”. Be ready to follow-up the answer on specifically how you can meet the need. Do not use this opportunity to look for make demands for yourself such as vacation or flexible schedules. That is better served in negotiation if offered the position.
Answer questions thoroughly
This does not mean that you should go on and on or speak without a goal in mind. The best essays and stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. This is especially necessary in situational questions. Briefly describe the specific situation, give background and context, then finally, your solution and how it helped or what you learned. Don’t jump to the solution without the background. This will not give interviewer(s) a chance to see the real you in action. At the same time, be concise and deliberate with your response being careful not to digress. If in doubt, ask if you provided the information they need and be ready to receive and respond to prompting questions.
Walk into the room as if you plan a comfortable yet brief stay
Take off your overcoat, accept the offer of water if given, smile, shake hands and learn the names. Do take notes and make eye contact. You need to show that you are interested in sharing, learning more about the interviewer(s) and organization, and finally that you can be comfortable and professional in a high pressure situation. Humor is also good, but make sure it is proper to the workplace and not criticism disguised as sarcasm.
Practice makes perfect and you don’t want the only practice you get to be in an actual interview situation. Practice your greetings, prepare questions for the interviewer(s) in advance, practice questions that you know or expect are common for the position. If you are a writer or a visual person, this may mean writing out the situations and responses for better retention and recall. If you are a verbal or demonstrative person; practice in front of a mirror, video camera, or friend. Do whatever is going to help you be more comfortable when you step into that room and begin responding to questions.
Your interviewer did not enter the room empty-handed and neither should you. Have a pad to take notes, a copy of your résumé, reference, or other material and keep a summary sheet for your reference on specific projects or experiences you have had handy. Even better, have your summary sheet interview audience ready and offer copies of your summarized experience. As a project manager my summary includes projects, years, technology or other information, team size, budget, my role, and any other useful notes. Your own summary will vary depending on your experience and the type of position you seek.
You should thank interviewer(s) for their time upon concluding the interview. Ask for business cards and make sure you at least have the names if business cards are not available. Remember to smile, shake hands, and refer to people by name. Ask when you can call to check the status, it is about you making their jobs easier, not making demands on your prospective employer. Do send an email or note to again express your appreciation for their time. Don’t forget to offer your assistance and contact information in the event they think of anything more for you. Ask for a debrief on the interview once the recruitment is complete. Your interviewer will be in the best position to help you learn your weaknesses and your strengths so you know what to work on for the next interview.
With a little preparation and some easy to follow tips, you can enhance your interview experience. Keep in mind that an interview is chance for prospective employers and employees to learn how the relationship can be mutually beneficial. Practice does make better, so practice on your own or with a friend. Finally, one piece of advice I recently read was to not make the interview your sole focus of the day. Prepare the days in advance and then plan an activity that is unrelated for prior to the interview. This will help keep you relaxed and your adrenaline in check prior to the big moment.