Many of the stellar candidates who apply to be associates with Agency a la Carte ask us for help polishing their interview skills. Interviewing is certainly a skill that can be learned, and we’re happy to give you some of our favorite tips.
Some of the best interview advice that has endured for my entire career includes the old recommendation that you research the company with whom you’re interviewing. This is much easier thanks to the Internet, because you can find out both how the company portrays themselves and how others perceive them with just a few clicks.
To best be able to answer questions and show how you’re the right person for the job, you need to know who you’re talking with. Who is the company? What they do and for whom? Search both Google and Google News to see what the company is doing. You also need to know how the company positions themselves, so read their web site, their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter profile and most recent Tweets, and their Facebook page, paying attention to the language they use and the images they choose to represent themselves.
Then, ask your colleagues if they know anything about the company or know anyone who works there: you will get a better sense of whether you want to work with an employer if you have a sense before the interview what aspects of their culture and workforce are relevant to your skills, personality, and career trajectory.
Find out what you can about your interviewer, too. Their LinkedIn profile will tell you their position within the company and their background, and might hint at the role they’ll have in your hiring. Knowing who you’re talking to is as important as knowing how to present your own background and skills.
I often remind my associates that hiring managers are interested, first and foremost, in what you can do for their company. So have three specific success stories (where you wowed an employer or saved the day or won an award) that relate specifically to the hiring manager’s needs. If you designed an award winning campaign, discuss the details of that engagement in terms that make the interview think that success will translate to her or his company. If you solved a problem for one of your previous employers, apply that story to a scenario you know from your research (see above) is troubling the interviewer’s company.
In applying for a job, you’ve written a cover letter that specifically addresses how your experience relates to the posted job. Go further in your interview preparation and practice answering with phrases that include specific qualities the company is seeking. If the hiring manager is specifically seeking someone with leadership skills, include the word “leader” and “leadership” in your answers where those words apply. Hearing that you were leading a team rather than managing a team will align your skills more closely with the hiring manager’s ideal candidate.
Please also prepare questions you have for the interviewer. Do you need more information about the logistics of the job? Do you want clarifications about the management structure? Wouldn’t you like to hear how they’re selecting the best candidate? Your questions are a window into your thought process, so carefully consider what the hiring manager will hear when you ask your questions. “How much vacation will I get?” sounds as though you’re already bored with the job and are eager to leave. Ask instead about the potential for growth and advancement; questions about how you and the company will grow together show investment in both your professional growth and your relationship with this future employer. Ask the interviewer what she or he likes about the company to gain insight into the company’s best side as well as engaging the hiring manager in a conversation rather than a one-way interrogation. Then ask your interviewer what she or he doesn’t like about working for the company to get a sense for the culture and what you’re getting into. Just as your responses tell the interviewer how well you’ll fit, the hiring manager’s answers tell you volumes about the company’s level of self-awareness, honesty, planning, and willingness to find solutions.
Dress the part
Acting the part of the best candidate for the job means more than simply wearing a suit and answering questions as they’re asked. In addition to wearing clothes appropriate for the role you’re seeking, make sure you arrive ten minutes early, put your phone on silent before you enter the building and don’t touch it until you’re back outside after the interview, ditch your gum, smile warmly, keep your language professional, and write thank you notes to each person to whom you speak at the interview. Act as though you’re the person who will fit the role by making common sense, professional choices about showing your best side. Frame old employers in a positive light and focus on why you’re a great person to work with rather than wasting interview time on problems from the past.
Keep in mind that the hiring process is about finding the right fit for everyone concerned. Hiring managers choose the person they see best suiting their company, not necessarily the person who would do the best job. Ideally, you will show the interviewer how you’ll fill all the job requirements and make the company a better place to work. And that’s your path to getting the job!