Interviewing is akin to marketing and is a blend of art and science. Potential buyers will be looking for what you can contribute, what you cost, and whether or not there is chemistry. You are marketing a product which is you, and negotiating for the right price, location, and timing. There are a lot of parallels to marketing that apply in the job search and interview process including research, sales, packaging and promotion, and negotiation. You will need to draw on the skills you have in these areas to master the interview and get your ideal offer.
Preparation and Research
The job search process is 90% preparation and 10% perspiration. There is a lot you can do before your appointment to increase the probability of a successful interview. Find out as much as you can about the company and the industry you are interested in. Top 50 lists will help you understand the strengths of the company. For public companies, you can read the annual report. For just about any company, you can go on their web-site and find out valuable information including statements of their mission, vision, and values; their products and services, descriptions of each major line of business; employee size; and their various office locations. Find out who the company’s competitors are and what the company believes differentiates it from its competitors. Know the names of key officers. Interviewers will often casually mention the names of the CEO, COO and other senior officers during the interview, assuming you know who they are talking about. Without this understanding you may lose some of the context for what they are sharing or asking you to respond to. You should know all of these are data points prior to going into the interview; so that your questions are related to the position at hand.
Review your resume and think through your strengths, experiences, and transferable skills. How do these address a need or challenge within the company or industry you are interested in? Connect with someone who can help you prepare for the interview (e.g., career coach, trusted colleague in Human Resources, friend, or family member). Leverage these individuals as a sounding board and to rehearse how you will respond to various questions. Their feedback will help you identify where you may need to provide more detail or less, or adjust your body language and your expression. This is key! Any presentation may go well inside of your head, but you need to hear the words and ensure you are conveying confidence and a sense of authenticity when you speak with others who do not know you. If no one is available for you to practice with, rehearse in front of the mirror. Outplacement firms suggest you might even want to tape your voice so that you can hear how you sound or you can check out or buy a video on Effective Interviewing and observe as others role-model effective techniques.
Packaging includes what’s inside the box (your personality and demeanor), how the product is wrapped or packaged (your appearance and body language) and what is around the product (your resume and other collateral pieces). At a basic level, you will want to ensure that your resume is error free, easy to scan, does not raise a lot of questions, e.g., gaps in employment dates. Packaging extends to your attire. Make sure your dress is parallel to what is considered interview apparel for the company. This may be slightly different that the standard dress code for the company. For example, the dress code may be business casual, but there may be an unwritten expectation that anyone interviewing is suited up or dresses a bit more conservatively. Know the “uniform” for the industry. In other words, you would not walk into an interview for a manufacturing company with the same level of flair you might suit up for to interview with a public relations or advertising concern.
Arrive to your interview, leaving enough time for you to find the appropriate building or office, stop in the restroom, examine your appearance, and gain composure – about 15 minutes early. Make sure you bring extra copies of your resume, a pad to take notes on, and a pen – that works! Enclose these neatly in a portfolio, so that you are not struggling to find these during the interview.
From Concept to Promotion
During the interview, you will be painting a picture so that the interviewer can get to know you. Your interviewer has some concept of you based on the accomplishments you have cited on your resume. In the interview they will be looking for validation of your experiences, interpersonal skills, and to test if you would be a good match for the company and role.
Many interviewers will use a situational or behavioral interview approach to validate your work experience in which they will ask you to describe in detail a situation or challenge that demonstrates a specific skill. As you describe your experiences, use the STAR technique. Describe the Situation or Task you were presented with, the Action you took, and the Results. Spend the most time describing the action and results – how you made a difference. Remember not to speak negatively of your employers or co-workers even if the situation was negative or challenging. Focus on how you were able to turn a negative into a positive either for yourself or others.
Depending on the job level you are at, you may have several interviews. There may be a screening interview with someone from HR. Leverage this time to ask logistical questions, For example – questions about the interview team composition, questions about the prior incumbent in the role, how long it has been vacant, and the timeframe in which they are looking to fill the position.
Each subsequent interviewer may be interviewing you to assess specific skill sets or competencies. Try to understand the perspective of each interviewer by asking them to explain their role in the organization and the working relationship they would have with the person in the position you are applying for. This team of interviewers will later convene to compare observations and provide their recommendation on whether or not you are a viable candidate.
Given there may be several interviewees competing and bringing a comparable level of value to the table, the interviewer’s decision may be based on their connection with you. You may establish a connection by sharing aspects about your experience that you know will resonate with your interviewer’s interests or background, or by coming across in a way that conveys authenticity, and engenders trust and comfort. This is the part of the interview that is clearly “art” versus “science.” To this end, pay attention to your non-verbal behavior. Appear interested, by sitting up straight and/or leaning slightly forward. Appear engaged by keeping eye contact and providing affirming gestures. Even if you are nervous, appear composed by controlling any nervous habits you may have such as fidgeting, tapping your feet, or clenching. Take a deep breath and smile inwardly so that you appear confident. Make sure you are talking at a pace that the interviewer can follow. Don’t be afraid to use brief silence to think through a question or pause to check for understanding.
Remember, during the interview you are promoting yourself, but it is also a mutual exchange. You are trying to find the best “buyer.” Make sure you have prepared some questions ahead of time so that you can gain a better understanding of the current and future direction of the role and company, the value of the role within the company, the work environment, any inherent challenges, and specific results you will be expected to deliver early on.
At the close of your interview, be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time, ask about next steps, and get a sense of timing of when you will hear back from the company. A memorable and nice touch to keep you top of mind is to send a follow-up thank you note to each interviewer.