In today’s job market landing an interview can be as difficult as getting an audience with the Pope. When you’re lucky enough to get this opportunity to sell your fit for a job face-to-face, you need to prepare as carefully and professionally as you would for any major business presentation.
Though scheduling an interview can feel like you’re volunteering for the firing line, remember that this meeting should actually be a two-way exploration. You’re being interviewed for the job, and you’re interviewing the company for your career.
In the end cultural fit will be the reason you choose a company or a company chooses you. Keep that in mind when you walk into the interview. It’s only human nature for employers to prefer people they’d like to be around day in and day out. Give the company the same acid test: see if the interviewer and others you meet and observe seem to have your vibe. Throughout the conversation be yourself, let your personality shine and engage the interviewer as genuinely as you would a dinner partner at a social event.
Above all, don’t wing it. Use this checklist to guide your interview preparation, conversation and follow-up:
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
- Research the company, product lines and competition. Know what issues the company is facing and the good or bad press they’ve received.
- Rehearse a few success stories that will illustrate how you meet the skills and requirements of the job.
- Zero in on the strongest reasons you’re a fit for the job.
- Prepare questions focused on your potential role in the organization: “What’s the structure of the marketing department, and how will I interact with the team?” Or, “How is the annual marketing strategy determined, and what role will I play?”
- Prepare questions that emphasize your strengths and skills. “I enjoy a collaborative, team environment. What’s an example of how the marketing team worked together well on a major project?” Or, “I have extensive project management skills. Do you feel they would be an asset to this position, or do you have designated project managers who play this role?”
- Prepare questions that will reveal the company’s culture: “Do departments work more independently or collaboratively?” “How are decisions made on your team?” “How often are there department and team meetings?” “Do you have an open feedback policy?”
- Find ice breakers. Mine Linkedin and the internet for personal information about your interviewer(s). If you both went to school in Boston, volunteer for the same organization or sail in the summer you’ll have an immediate connection and ice breaker.
- Choose an outfit well before the morning of the interview. Find a few employees either on Linkedin or through personal friends to see if the dress code is extremely formal and traditional or a little more relaxed. In either case, look businesslike and professional. Keep jewelry conservative and to a minimum.
- Plan to carry your resume in some professional version of a briefcase—not folded in your pocketbook.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
- Remember what your mother taught you: smile, firm handshake and direct eye contact.
- Keep your answers brief and concise. There’s a lot of information to cover, and you want to show the interviewer you know how to cut to the chase.
- Prove your success through metrics. Don’t just say you led a successful marketing campaign. Tell the interviewer if you met or exceeded the goal (and by how much), how you increased overall market share, how you saved money and other details that prove your success.
- Weave your strong fit for the job into the conversation more than once.
- Ask the questions you’ve prepared throughout the conversation—don’t wait until the end when your laundry list will seem stilted and unnatural.
- Put yourself on the team. Say things like “When I work on the annual budgeting process” or “When we develop a new marketing campaign”. This approach shows confidence and initiative.
- Be conversational. Don’t sit with your hands folded and do little more than nod your head. Make sure you get more than a word in edgewise.
- Play back and ask for elaboration on important points. Show the interviewer you’re listening carefully and understanding the responsibilities you would assume.
- Ask for the sale! An interview is a chance to sell your skills, experience and fit for the job. At the end be sure to tell the interviewer that you want the job—and specifically why you do.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
- Write a thank you note within 24 hours (email is fine) that refers back to major responsibilities discussed during the interview and re-emphasizes your fit for the job.
- Follow up if you have not heard any feedback within one week. Be patient: recognize that it takes time for interviewers to conduct other interviews, debrief with their teams and compare candidates.