You’re Out of Your Mind – Interview Preparation Step 1

Quote of the week:

Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard”.  -Kevin Durant


How do you prepare for an interview? Do you rehearse your responses to questions, plan out how you will sit, or practice your handshake? Too many people walk into interviews unprepared. Feel free to practice all the responses you want, but that can’t prepare you for the real thing. An interview should feel fluid and semi-casual. Your responses should be appropriate for the culture of your potential employer and profession, but once the meeting takes off it should feel like a conversation rather than an interrogation. The two most important steps in preparation are understanding that interviews are a two-way street (to be covered in the future), and understanding the mind of the person interviewing you.

Before I even start preparing for an interview I take a minute to put myself into the employer’s mind. Ask yourself: what would you want to see and hear from the person you’re interviewing? How would the best candidate respond? Now come back to yourself and see how you fit that role. Don’t tell yourself that you don’t fit. Tell yourself how you do, and why. Establish who you would hire, and ask yourself how you fit that role. Write down why you’re perfect for the job. Describe how you fit into the company.  Be as detailed as possible. Before stepping foot into an interview you should be convinced that you’re the best candidate, and using this method you’ll be ready to defend your position. If you answer, talk, and act like the perfect candidate, then when a question comes up that nobody could have prepared for, you’ll have a guideline on how to respond, and most of all it won’t sound scripted.

Obviously, faking your way to a job can land you in a position to fail.  Please do not “fake it till you make it”. Think of yourself as a product. A commodity. It’s not a catchy slogan, but I recommend anyone building a career should constantly gain and polish skills in an effort to improve themselves. Earn it. Earn the job. Earn your promotions. This whole process is assuming you are qualified and have worked hard to get to this point. You formatted and edited your resume, wrote a flawless cover letter, rocked the phone screening, and now all that is left is to sell yourself. Your interview is a chance to show the employer who you are face to face. There are two words to remember at this step: professional and personable. Some candidates get the job because of a shared interest with the interviewer. Other candidates have a commanding presence in an office as they walk by dripping in professionalism. The key is to be the best of both. More and more companies are focusing on communication skills over technical ability. The theory is that job skills can be taught, but poor communications and relationships become costly.

It can be difficult to figure out what employers are looking for. It requires assumptions and an understanding of someone who you know – at most – from a phone call. You might wonder how on earth you will read minds. The fact is half of the items interviewers are looking for are buried in the company’s website. Read their mission statement, motto, about page, press releases, and anything else that might convey the culture a company wants to maintain. Pull out some key words and tailor your elevator pitch for the occasion.

About one year ago this month I was in an interview for an engineering position in a major corporation with dominant market share. The entire time I preparing was spent thinking of the traits and skills the recruiters might be looking for during their day of interviews. I needed to stand out from the crowd. I researched the company in depth including their public documents describing who they are. I then took my brainstorm results and decided where my product (i.e. me) overlapped. My goal was to relate everything I was asked to a handful of selling points. Not surprisingly the interview didn’t have much room for those bullet points and I had to improvise. However; I had spent all my time working on the foundation of my ‘product’ rather than specific questions, and in the end was able to keep my responses relevant. All it took was pulling from the reservoir of ideas from my brainstorm. One of the questions I was asked was “In your personal life, talk about a time you challenged yourself”. The question was open and allowed for a lot of room to work, but it threw me off guard. I ran ideas through my head at about the speed of light until I landed on something. I remembered it because it was under my ‘personal interests/projects’ section on my resume. I was a licensed Amateur Radio Operator which requires you pass a written exam. I referred them to the bottom of my resume (so they would remember it when reviewing candidates) and told them about my hobby. They loved it. It mixed my profession with a hobby and made myself relatable. One of the two people interviewing me wanted to know more and found it fascinating. I got the job.

Why do I tell you this story? Because that interview was only successful because I walked in knowing more about the company and myself than I could have needed, but knowing yourself and knowing your target audience is the key to interview success. Sometimes the best way to land a job is to be out of your mind, and in someone else’s.

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