Secrets to a Successful Job Interview: Why Me? & Interview Prep
After a job interview, I nearly always walk out of the building thinking, “Gee, I should teach a course on the secrets of a successful job interview.” When I told my husband about my idea, he challenged my qualifications. I couldn’t think of a better answer than, “Well, I almost always get a job offer after I’ve had the chance to interview.” I need to admit though: I’m attempting to be modest and offer myself a bit of leeway when it comes to “almost always.” I really can’t think of a time when I haven’t had a job offer after a round or two of job interviews. If I’m fortunate enough to get an offer to interview, I’m pretty much guaranteed a job offer eventually.
My interviewing experience has ranged from white collar jobs to service industry jobs. In the past 14 years, I’ve interviewed for a variety of job positions:
- Library clerk
- Call center specialist
- Mail sorter
- Public relations intern (for a high-profile senator)
- Editorial assistant
And that’s just the tip of the glacial island.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to interview for three different full-time positions and all three gave me offers. This time around, I interviewed for two different part-time positions and may very well get my pick of the one which meets my availability. It’s a nice feeling to have several offers on the table and to decline rather than be declined.
Although I’ve never worked behind a Human Resources desk, I can walk into nearly any office and be the person they’re looking for despite what my recent work experience says. I want to share my job interviewing tips—namely, what’s worked for me—because the job interview stage, especially on a corporate level, is one of the most difficult and nerve-racking stages to endure. (I’ve been nervous on and off for a solid 8 days as I went through two rounds of interviews with two different organizations. Just because I’m good doesn’t mean I’m always confident. But after the interview’s over, I know I’ve nailed it. And you will too.) If God has gifted me with the ability to interview well as a potential employee, then there’s no reason why I should withhold what I’ve learned and what’s worked for me (since it’s worked so well).
I’ll provide general tips that you can find most anywhere but I’ll also give you a bit more detail than many overview sites. Again, these are the strategies that have worked for me, and if implemented correctly, could work for you as well. Be forewarned, however, they’re not all easy and you are required to do some work. But doing the right legwork pays off in the long run. (Job offer, anyone?)
Pre-Interview (Interview Prep)
So you’ve gotten past the dreaded cover letter and resume stage and landed yourself a job interview. Congratulations! What do you need to do before the big day?
1. Reread the job description.
What is the prospective employer looking for? Maybe you meet most of the qualifications but not all of them. Focus on the descriptions you don’t meet. How can you put a positive spin on it so that you still seem like a worthwhile employee?
For example, you notice that the job description mentions proficiency with Microsoft Office including Microsoft Access but you’ve never touched Access before.
- Your first step would to be to investigate what MS Access is if you’ve never heard of it. What characteristics about it would be familiar to you?
- Then write down what your response would be if you were interviewing:
“While I’ve never used Microsoft Access, I am proficient with Microsoft Excel and other data programs, which I understand interact with Microsoft Access. I am adaptable and a quick learner when it comes to new things. At my last job, I had to become proficient with an in-house computer program in a very short amount of time so I know it won’t take me any time at all to become familiar with Microsoft Access.”
Do that for every qualification you are deficient in so that you are prepared to lobby your strengths against it.
2. Research the company.
Know a little about the company you’re applying to work for. Go to the company website and read the History, About Us, and/or FAQ sections. What are its strengths and weaknesses? What’s a fun fact about the company your interviewer may or may not know? Commit those things to memory and don’t rely on Wikipedia for your facts unless it cites a reputable source. You don’t need to know everything about the company but knowing a little could be key to bringing a job offer your way. It tells the interviewer that you’ve done your homework and you’re invested in the company’s goals and values.
3. Prepare your answers.
A question guaranteed to make a verbal appearance at every interview (unless you already work at the company): Why do you want to work for us?
There are a variety of answers to this depending on why you’re applying. If you’re interviewing for your dream job and/or you’re passionate about the company and the position, say so. However, considering the United States is in the midst of an economic downturn, there are a lot of people who are applying for jobs they normally wouldn’t go for (ie, the sales account manager laid off from a big investment firm finds herself interviewing to cashier at a local big discount department store) and that’s what I want to address.
If you find yourself interviewing for a position which you normally wouldn’t have applied for (we’ll call it the “less desired” position), you need to remember three things:
- It’s a job—a means to survive.
- It pays money.
- It doesn’t have to be forever.
With those three things in mind, you must steel your mind and act like the less desired position the best job out there for you. (And if you really need a job, it is.) You must appear enthusiastic and adapt your qualifications to meet the company’s needs.
So when asked why you want to work for the company, your honest answer is: “I desperately need a job and there’s nothing else out there right now.”
Don’t ever say that. Please.
You need to spin your answer so that it presents you in the best light as a desirable potential employee. A better answer would be:
“Well, as you can see from my resume, I’ve been doing a lot of office work but I’d really like to work with customers and serve as a positive face for a company. Being in a job that is fast-paced and busy allows me the opportunity to shine in juggling several things at once,” or “As a person who has a knack for performing well under pressure, I think this position would use the best of my skill sets and that I’d be a valuable asset to a company that is committed to success.”
Determine your answer before you leave your home for the interview. Practice it and get it down so that it rolls off your tongue.
4. “Tell me about yourself.”
When interviewers ask this, they are not looking to hear that you have a wife, three beautiful kids (“want to see a photo of my 6-month-old?”), and enjoy fishing, sailing, and spelunking. What these interviewers are looking for is a brief summary of your work history as it relates to the job you’re interviewing for, why you would be a good employee, and why you’re a good fit for the company. The candidate who answers this question with tailored work-related responses rather than generalities about family and hobbies has a significant edge.
5. Discover the questions interviewers are likely to ask then develop your responses before the interview.
You can do a search for “common interview questions” in any search engine and find a list of the most frequently asked questions. Print out the list and write out your answers if you need to. The goal is not to have prepared speeches for your interviewer but to familiarize yourself with your answers instead of sitting before the interviewer looking unprepared and uttering, “Uh…” leaving an awkwardly long silence in its wake. Familiarizing yourself with your answers and cutting down on thoughtful pauses will show that you are a person who prepares for important tasks.
6. Have a list of questions for the interviewer.
Too often, interviewees forget that the interview goes both ways. The hiring manager is attempting to discover whether you meet the company’s needs but also, you are attempting to discover whether the company meets your needs as well. You can’t possibly know everything there is to know about the company and the position, can you? Write your questions down and don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, asking questions is better than having none: it shows you genuinely want to learn more about the company and what your job entails.
Next post: The Big Day