Today, I had the pleasure of participating in a Mock Interview event which allows college students to practice and improve their job interviewing skills. Mock Interviews provide a valuable and unique opportunity for candidates to fine-tune their interviewing skills while the stakes are relatively low. For most job candidates, the principal desired outcome of the job interview is to “get the job”. However, a better outcome is to have effectively aligned your skill set, background and professional goals to the position, company and culture. Sometimes a successful job interview is one that effectively rules out an opportunity as “not a good fit”. Having said that, here are 10 tips to ensure that you have a “successful” job interview. Feel free to add more tips in the comments area.
1. Prepare your answers to common questions in advance
“Tell me a little about yourself” is a popular question. Also, candidates are tortured with the dreaded “tell me your weaknesses” question on a daily basis. Assume that you’re going to be asked to introduce yourself and provide your strengths and weakness. Document your answer to this question in advance to avoid having to think of it on the fly.
2. Elaborate (but not too much)
Avoid one-word replies. A good method for elaborating a one-word response is to provide the answers to at least one or more of the following questions: Why? What? How? Who? When? Where?
Example: Do you have any experience leading a team or project?
- Minimally Sufficient Response: Yes, I do. (you get points for answering the question)
- Best Response: Yes, I have leadership experience. Last year (when?), I served as a team lead (what?) for a local nonprofit (where?). I led a team of five students (who?) and my role on that team was to ensure that (why?) …
3. Make a strong entrance
Arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the interview. Enter the room with a handshake, professional greeting, state your name and provide a copy of your resume.
4. Know your strengths and weaknesses
(see #1) Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Develop a list of your top 3 strengths and weaknesses, in advance. Many perceive the “weakness question” as a trick question requiring an answer that cleverly disguises a weakness as a strength. Answering the “weakness question” provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the areas in which you have improved. In your answer, you will want to focus not on the weakness, but on the improvement and your process for identifying the improvement required.
5. Know your impact
When describing your prior work experience, ensure that you provide a concise description of the project, your role on the project and how your input into the project influenced the outcome. The difference between good and great is in how well you understand how your role impacts the bigger picture. Use the following method to develop your statement regarding your prior work experience:
- Where? Where did you work on this project?
- When? – When was this work performed?
- Why? – Why was this work important or what was the problem you were attempting to solve?
- What? – What was the proposed solution that you were executing?
- Who? – Who worked on this project with you and what was your role?
- How? – How did you execute the work?
- Finally – What was the result? What was the outcome? Were you successful?
6. Think about your long range goals
A short terms goal is easier to identify because it’s the thing that you’re trying to accomplish currently or in the near future. Take some time to identify at least one long term, professional goal that you would like to accomplish within five years. The following phrases can provide a few ideas:
- In the next five years, I want to be working in <industry, position/title, role>.
- In the next five years, I want to have mastered <professional development goal>.
- In the next five years, I want to have accomplished <milestone, goal>.
- In the next five years, I would like to have influenced the <industry, organization, community> in <accomplishing a goal, making an improvement>.
7. Use repeat answers to provide more credibility
If you feel that you’ve already provided the answer to the question asked, do not ask the interviewer to see your answer for “question #10”. Your experience on a specific project may be used to support your answers to several questions. Use this as an opportunity to provide more detail and additional perspective on your background. First ensure that you understand the question, as interviewers rarely ask the same question twice.
8. Break away from the pack
Your life experiences may not be directly related to the position, but they can provide an opportunity for you to break away from the pack. You can find an example of leadership skills in your experience living abroad while working as a Summer Camp counselor. Interesting and diverse experiences improve your chances of standing out from the pack.
9. Do your homework
When contacted to schedule an interview, ask for more details regarding the interviewer(s). You will need to know who will be interviewing you and their title or role in the organization. An HR-led interview will have a different set of questions than a manager-led interview or a team-led interview. Knowing who will interview you will allow you to prepare appropriately.
Have at least three job-related questions and at least one interviewer-related question prepared. When possible, try to ask a follow-up question to something discussed during the interview (example: “Earlier you stated that …”). Having follow-up questions demonstrates that you’re interested in the company, the position and its people. Keep in mind that your goal is to identify the position, company and culture which aligns best with your professional goals.