Make the Most of Your Job Interview

On 01/22/2012, in Finding a Job, Interviewing, by Jordan Wilson
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Many applicants for the same job share the same traits.

Similar education, technical skills, and experience.

Makes sense seeing as how applicants respond to a well-defined job advertisement. 

Wanted: MBA with a minimum of 10 years post graduation experience working with South American government debt instruments.

Candidates who make it through the first cut will likely be quite similar on their resumes. A possible exception might be one’s preference for Samba versus another’s love of the Tango.

But you probably will not see too many nurses, music teachers, new MBAs, or those with no fixed income experience, reach the interview phase.

If you want the position, you need to distinguish yourself from the other applicants.

Monster.com provides Five New Skills Job Seekers Need which offers good tips to separate yourself from the herd.

Pain Spotting

What is the real reason the company is hiring?

That is crucial to understand prior to entering the interview.

What problem is the business facing? What are their short, medium, and long term objectives? What do they really need in hiring for the open position?

What is stated in the job description might be different from reality. The more senior the position, the more often this is true.

Do your research before the interview.

Study the company (obviously). But not just the firm. Look at competitors, the industry, government impact, the economy, even the people that you will meet.

Do your own SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Then match your own skills and experience to your analysis.

Demonstrate how you can meet both the company’s stated and underlying job requirements. If you do, you will have a big advantage in receiving the job offer.

Storytelling

You are interview number 16 this week and the 4th today.

All the (male) candidates are wearing the same black or navy blue suits, white dress shirts, and conservative ties. As if they were processed off a Brooks Brothers conveyor belt.

No criticism here. You never know when that ear piercing or hot purple socks will rub someone the wrong way. Much better to be safe (and boring) than unique (and jobless).

All the candidates also have the same experience plus or minus.

If you stick to straightforward facts you may be lost in the crowd.

The interviewer must see you as a person, not as just another candidate. And one that stands out in his or her mind a week later when deciding which of the 16 cookie cutter candidates the company wants back.

Stories help make a long term impression. Actually, let me restate that. Relevant stories help make a long term impression. You need stories that address the company’s real needs and show that you are worthy of the job offer.

Be Precise in Your Stories

When providing an example or anecdote, be as precise as is possible. “I have a strong work ethic” will not cut it. Nor will “I worked to reduce costs in my department last year.”

Instead, provide details. Verifiable details. Where you have the back-up data in your briefcase if challenged.

Be Memorable in Your Stories

I like stories that are different. Every accountant applying for a Controller position has stories of how they cut costs, supervised and trained staff, worked with sales teams to create budgets and business plans, etc., etc., etc. Been there, done that, bought the pocket protector.

But what about the accountant whose firm had many clients and suppliers in Latin America. He decided to spend a month in Peru improving his language skills to better deal with third parties. While there, he ended up meeting some fellow students and next thing you know he was hiking the Inca Trail. That feeling of looking down at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate after dealing with altitude sickness, difficult terrain, and long daily treks, made the adventure a highlight of his life.

All the while with his pocket protector safeguarding his ball point pen.

I doubt this story will be told by any other candidate. A memorable tale with plenty of visuals. Plus it displays strong work traits: desire for self-improvement; customer and supplier support; language skills; motivation; ability to tackle new challenges; an active and energetic lifestyle.

Characteristics sought by companies for almost any open positions. So this is a story that can be used in a variety of scenarios.

Using a Human Voice

I understand what Monster means, but do not always agree with them.

I hate buzz words. The only thing I hate worse is when individuals use buzz words but do not know exactly what they mean.

If you interview with me, everyday language is perfect. So long as you can convey your point.

Unfortunately, there are many, many, many managers who love buzz words. Interestingly, they are usually the people that throw in these terms to hide the fact they have no real clue what they are talking about.

“We need to reevaluate our corporate paradigms to ensure that we continue providing a best of breed experience to end-users. That means taking a green fields approach, under a blue sky, where we sow a variety of seeds to see what grows.” Jibberish.

I was at an offsite to create a Mission Statement for our 600 person organization. 8 senior managers and only 2 actually knew what a Mission Statement was. Outside of the lovely Swiss background and excellent meals for 2.5 days, not a lot was accomplished.

I am convinced that many of these guys get paid by the buzz word. And to get the job, you need to bond with them. So if someone interviewing you for an open spot uses technical mumbo jumbo, you had better use it yourself.

Showing Relevance

Most applicants use only one resume for all their submissions. Reviewers can tell.

Big mistake.

Create one master resume that holds every possible scrap of information about you. A file with all your accomplishments, evaluations, raises, etc.

Then create a unique resume for every specific position that you apply for.

When I am reviewing a resume, I do not want to wade through all your minutiae to find the relevant gems relating to the job.

It is 10:00 p.m., I have a beer in hand and there is a hockey game on in the background. You are resume number 763 on my list. Make my life tough and it is quickly on to candidate 764.

Be clear, concise, and address the key job requirements and you will get my attention. I will appreciate your efforts and I will definitely be imagining you sending me well-drafted memos and reports. Suddenly you have moved up on my list of potential employees.

Knowing Your Value

You do not want to discuss compensation in the early parts of the interview process.

But at some point in time the conversation will arise.

You have researched the position, company, industry, etc.

Spend some time researching your own value given your skills and experience.

Summary

When preparing for your next job interview, remember these recommendations.

Thoroughly research every aspect of the open position.

Understand both the stated and underlying job requirements.

Tailor your resume so that it best shows how you meet the needs of the company.

Use language that you are comfortable with. Minimize overused buzz words.

Develop precise examples and colourful but relevant anecdotes to support your candidacy in a memorable manner. Look for stories that can be used in response to multiple questions.

At times, you may be in doubt as to a company’s true needs or what stories are relevant in a given situation. If so, always remember the key employee characteristics most companies seek regardless of exact job function.

They will help keep you on the right path for your next job offer.

2 Responses to “Make the Most of Your Job Interview”

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