In my job-seeking consultancy, job seekers overwhelmingly feel the job interview is the most difficult, anxiety-filled and mysterious part of the job seeking process.
“How do I make myself stand out?”
“How do I talk about myself without bragging?”
“What are employers REALLY looking for during the job interview?”
"I feel powerless at an interview and don't feel I have control of my answers."
When you think about it, job interviews are a combination of a test of knowledge, background, expertise and skills, as well as a way for employers to get a feeling for how your personality would fit in the culture of the company.
As a matter of fact, in the final job interview, each of the finalists for the position could theoretically perform the job: their resumes have been checked, their references called and all have proven they have the pre-requisite backgrounds and qualifications for the position; but only one of those finalists will get the job offer!
In my experience, job seekers who get the job offer are able to turn a one-sided interview into... a two-way conversation. And that is a very different type of interaction. A conversation divides the power of the discussion and the job seeker now has the ability to lead the discussion down the path THEY want it to go.
Using techniques we'll discuss further, a job seeker who can turn an interview into a conversation will allow themselves to create a level of imagination in the interviewer's mind about how their skills, background, experiences, accomplishments, knowledge and personality would be the best fit not only for the job but for the culture of the company.
How do you prepare for a job interview to secure the job offer? How do you differentiate yourself in the interview? How do you turn an interview into a conversation and create the imagination in the interviewer's mind that you’d be a good ‘fit’ within the culture of the company or the department?
Anticipate the most commonly asked interview questions.
First off, anticipate and practice your answers to the most commonly asked questions in a job interview. Here are several you’ll most likely get in interview:
So, can tell me about yourself?
Why do you want to work here?
Why are you leaving your current (or why did you leave your last) job?
What skills do you bring to this job?
If your former boss/supervisor/former colleagues/employees were here today, what would they say about you?
Tell me about one of the proudest accomplishments/projects at a previous job.
What is a weakness of yours?
What is one thing you believe differentiates you from other candidates for this position?
Sit down with a friend and have them ask you these questions and practice responding out loud. Don't forget to smile, show passion and enthusiasm, and look people in the eye as you respond.
Decipher the job posting to prepare for specific questions related to the job.
While you are considering your answers to these questions, go back to the original job description and review the qualifications, the job description and any other knowledge you may have ascertained that is germane to the job, the company, the culture or the department. It's pretty easy to pick out the 4-5 different areas related to the job you'll be asked about. What are the problems you will be required to solve? What are the goals of the company and the department? What specific skills and experiences do you have that are tied to the job? What about this job makes you believe you’d be a good fit? These are also areas you'll be asked about in the interview.
The rule of three.
As you are reviewing this information, start to formulate in your mind the things that connect your background, skills, previous jobs, accomplishments, levels of expertise and knowledge and come up with a short list of things that you want to get across during the interview.
Called "the rule of three," these are the top three things you want to get across in the interview. You should actually memorize and work to stitch these three things into the answers you give during the interview. For example:
Specific examples of what differentiates you from others. Sorry, but ‘hard worker’ ‘highly organized’ or ‘able to multi-task’ are not relevant differentiators unless you back it up with specific examples demonstrating your hard work.
Specific examples of my best work that is relevant. Be prepared to tell stories about previous work accomplishments that connects your skills, experience and expertise to the job you are applying. Make sure these stories demonstrate the challenge, the execution and the results. If you have quantifiable analytics (we increase sales by 35%; our click-through rates rose by 50%) use them to demonstrate the relation to your work and the result of your success.
Specific examples of how I add value to your organization. How are you going to hit the ground running? What knowledge, relationships, skills related to the company’s industry will be valuable to them? What specific skills do you have that will help them solve the problem this position is tied to?
There are certainly other things you might want to get across depending on the position itself, and it is up to you, the job seeker, to determine what these things are, but by preparing yourself this way, you’ll see that it is much easier to feel in control of your answers throughout the interview.
How do you weave these things into the answers to the interview questions?
An important interview technique is “bridging.”
Bridging is a powerful means for taking charge of and controlling an interview. The goal of an interview is to focus the interviewer on a few key messages that are true, accurate, clear, concise, brief, and memorable. If done well, bridging significantly increases the probability that your key messages will get across. By using bridging techniques, you can re-focus or re-direct the interview to the points that are most important, relevant and critical to YOU. Remember, you want to establish your credibility as the subject matter expert and bridging helps you to do this.
Here are some bridging statements you should consider practicing in anticipation of your answers to interview questions. These statements help you to direct your answers to the things that YOU want to get across during an interview:
“Great question. I had a similar experience at my last job and here’s how I managed it..."
“That’s a terrific question. Here’s what my experience has taught me...”
“That is an important issue that is tied to my strengths (expertise, past job)...”
“My last boss appreciated my experience in this area...”
“A tough decision I had to make surrounding this issue was when...”
“I’m recognized as an expert at... here’s why...”
“There were a few different times in my career that gave me this experience...”
“My experience is tied to the challenges of your industry. Here’s how...”
“Based on your organization’s goals, my experience can be helpful in that...”
“And that reminds me of a time at my last job...”
“My employees appreciated that I could see the big picture surrounding this challenge...”
Bottom line: Very few people are natural interview subjects and most job seekers feel powerless in an interview. Interviewing requires anticipating questions, practicing answers and understanding strategies and techniques that allows you to be able to direct the interview to your strengths and establish you as the credible expert. When approached this way, the interview becomes less overwhelming and more manageable and gives you the power to control your answers and to lead the direction of the interview in your favor.