Job Interview – Five tips to making a lasting impression.
Job seeking can be a stressful experience, regardless of the seeker's background and strengths. For one – most of us do not practice job seeking as a vocation. Once we have a job we want to do well and make the best of it for both the employer and for ourselves. We usually are not thinking of seeking our next jobs until we are compelled (in some way) to do so. Since most of us are not seeking jobs on a regular basis, our training and preparedness can become rusty. Many find themselves falling short in terms of talking about their own skills and strengths, be it in their resumes or during an interview.
As an interviewee, it is hard to put one's self in the interviewer's shoes. It feels natural to think that our job is to do well in the interview and then it is the interviewer's job to make the right choice and select us. However, the truth may be different. The interviewer's priority for hiring you may not be as high, when compared to your need for getting hired. There are exceptions - you may have skills and experience in an area that puts you in the driver's seat. In such a case you would be considered as being in an interviewee's market (in short - the demand for your skills and experience would be higher than their supply). What I am about to write in the following paragraphs is for those of us that are not fortunate to be in the interviewee's market.
1. Do your skills and experience fit the opportunity?
Before you go for an interview – talk to the recruiter in detail about the position and requirements – make notes and reflect on what you are told about the job. Is this job something that you want to do? Do you have the skills and experience that may be required to be successful? Can you convince yourself that you will come out with flying colors? While studying the job spec, you might want to reflect on specific examples from your experience or credentials that justify your conviction. Unless you are certain that you can hit the ball out of the park in convincing yourself, there is very little chance that you will be able to convey that to the interviewer.
Sometimes, recruiters do not have enough information on the opportunity, other than what the job spec says. In those cases and even otherwise it is alright to ask the interviewer about the job and the interviewer's expectation. This lays out a level playing field for you, and you can either decide (based on what you have heard and know) that you are the right candidate. Most interviewers will appreciate and some may even be impressed if you stop the interview at this point and tell them that your skills and experience do not match with the requirement, and if they (the interviewers) are interested, you can give them a synopsis of what your real skills and experiences are.
When there is match between the expectation and your strengths, you have already won half of the battle. Your homework in introspection and the resulting conviction will take you through the remaining half. In his book “So Good they can't ignore you”, Cal Newport talks about the craftsman mindset and the passion mindset like so “..the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world. .. the passion mindset focus on what the world can offer you”. You can look inside the book here: So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
2. Keep the conversation going.
Chances are that the interviewers are speaking with more than one (in most cases – many more than one) candidate. The interview process is something most interviewer's undertake over and above their day jobs. Most busy people are likely to start forgetting your details progressively as time passes ( I am talking hours and not even days or weeks). The onus is on you to keep things fresh and in discussion. Make it a point to do a few things during your interview:
a) Ask for e-mail ids from your interviewers so you can send individual thank you e-mails to each one.
b) Take notes during the interview so you can emphasize a couple things that were important to each interviewer, when you write back to them.
c) During the interview your job is to also plant some conversation hooks. Pay attention to questions and identify how you may be able to take a conversation beyond the window of the interview. For example if you speak about an industry statistic that you had come across and your interviewer may not have seen, send a link to the statistic and some further commentary on it, in a different e-mail. Be careful though, unless your information is crisp and succinct, the information may be seen as junk, and you may be seen as trying too hard. You may not be able to plant conversation hooks with everyone, and that is okay too. However, when the opportunity comes knocking, you have to recognize it and take it.
3. Ask good questions.
As part of your homework on a given opportunity, be prepared to ask at least a few questions. Good questions provide as much insight into you as good answers do. As you continue with responses during the course of the interview, keep jotting down things that you may want to know more about in the context of the opportunity. These will be the questions to ask when you are given the time to do so. In case you are struggling to ask questions ask some standard open ended questions – it is better than “I can't think of anything”. Standard questions could be:
a) What is the culture like?
b) What is the structure of the team?
c) What is your turn around time on a decision?
d) What can I expect the next steps to be?
e) Are you hiring for more than one role?
Another good home work assignment is to research the prospective employer. That is likely to give you a number of good questions to ask.
a) The employer may have had some positive news recently.
b) They may have products and goods that are unique.
c) You might find out about their unique selling points.
d) There may have been some stock market activity.
All of these can be turned into simple open ended questions. Most interviewers will take personal pride in answering these “good news” questions about their place of work, and in the bargain you will have demonstrated the initiative of having done your due diligence.
4. Build a notes portfolio.
As soon as your interview is over, take the time to compile your notes, impressions and action items. Since you are searching for a job, the assumption is that you are interviewing with multiple people and for multiple opportunities. Your notes will stand you in good stead when you are called in for round two and beyond. At these stages you can refer back to your previous conversations, questions and discussions. The fact that you are building up on your knowledge and information will show in your subsequent rounds. When you speak about some of the conversation that you may have had with other interviewers, and things that may have been important to them, makes you look like an insider rather than someone that is coming in with no knowledge of what goes on.
5. Follow up.
Recruitment is a process, and can sometimes take long because of the complexities involved. However, sometimes it can also be overtaken by other priorities within an organization. Don't be shy to follow up politely after a fair interval. A follow up puts you back on the radar and demonstrates your eagerness. Most recruiters will take your follow up seriously and can stir up another round of conversation around you. However, after a couple follow ups – be prepared to close the chapter and move on. That will not only give you closure, it will also let you move other opportunities on your list higher up in priority.