How to stand out and form a meaningful connection during your next job interview by…
The dreaded interview. If you’re like most people, you’d rather be doing pretty much anything else. But it’s a necessary step to getting your next job, so you might as well work to get good at it! Here are a few simple rules for jobseekers to follow to maximize your chances for a great interview. For some, these steps may just be a good reminder. For others, you might be a little rusty, or see a new idea or two. Regardless, good luck!
Before the Day of the Interview:
1) Know your story
“So, tell me about yourself.”
“Walk me through your resume.”
Many interviewers start off this way to hear how you present yourself, or because they can’t remember what’s on your resume! Either way, be prepared to weave your resume into a 2 minute narrative of yourself and your career trajectory. Don’t go longer than 2 minutes – if they want to know more, they can ask a follow-up question.
2) Know why you want to work at the organization, why you are passionate about the mission, and why you want this specific role
Every organization is unique with its own mission, values, and vision. Every role is unique as well. Employers, especially the education employers WorkMonger works with, want people who are excited about the organization and role and who care deeply about the mission. To determine this, many will directly ask, “Why do you want to work here?” or “What excites you about this role?” Others will simply deduce the answers from your other responses. Your job is to know specifically why you are interested in the organization and role and to communicate your reasoning with enthusiasm.
3) Learn what you can about the organization and interviewer in advance
Interviewers expect you to be fairly familiar with the organization before an interview, and if you aren’t, they’ll notice. You should have thoroughly reviewed an organization’s website before an interview. Likewise, go through your contacts to see if you know anyone who works (or worked) there. Besides asking that person to put in a good word for you, be sure to also ask about the organization and what they know of the role. Lastly, if you know your interviewer’s name in advance, find their bio on the company’s website or read their LinkedIn profile. This demonstrates passion and commitment and allows you to look for things you share in common.
4) Know the 3 essentials you need to convey in the interview, and then make sure you do
As a jobseeker, one of your core objectives in an interview is to distinguish yourself and make it clear why you would be a great addition to the team. Many interviewers meet numerous candidates, and one can start to blend in to the next. At WorkMonger, we know that you are more than just the items on your resume – that’s why we’ve developed our in-depth, profile-driven matching approach to job seeking to ensure you only interview for jobs where you should stand out. Once you’re in the interview though, continue to distinguish yourself by knowing the 3 most important things that you want the interviewer to learn about you and then make sure to weave them into your responses. If you reach the end of the interview and haven’t hit on all 3 yet, be sure to do so when they turn it over to you for questions. Don’t leave without communicating the 3 essentials. For example, if you are interviewing to join a start-up, be sure to illustrate your ability to handle ambiguity in your responses. Likewise, if you are joining the team to turn around a fledgling nonprofit or school, a story or two that illustrate your perseverance would be a must.
5) Have stories to share about each section of your resume mapped to potential questions
You probably won’t have your interview questions in advance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your answers ready in advance! Ever watch a politician answer interview questions on TV? If well prepared, they know what answers they will give in advance of hearing the questions. You can do the same by mapping stories from the various parts of your resume to potential questions. In other words, interviewers might ask, “Tell me about a time when you worked with a team to accomplish a challenging goal” (i.e. Teamwork) or “Tell me about a time when you managed a project to its successful completion” (i.e. project management) or “Tell me about a professional failure and what you learned from it.” (i.e. weaknesses, ability to self-reflect). For these questions, and others that you think they may ask, think through what stories you might share from your resume in advance so you’re not caught off-guard. Be sure to pull from all corners of your resume and not just from one particular job or experience.
6) Have questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview
One of my pet peeves as an interviewer is reaching the end of the interview and asking the candidate if they have any questions, and the candidate responding no. Red flag! If you are not curious when given the opportunity, then you are perceived as lacking interest and not being a fit. So, have your list of questions ready, and make sure (a) that the answers are not easily available on the website and (b) that you focus your questions primarily on the organization and role, not on the selection process. Selection process questions are fine, but they should be saved for the very end and only after asking more substantive questions about the organization and role. As for how many questions, I always like to have 5 determined in advance, not because I plan on asking all 5, but this way if some are answered during the course of the interview I still have some left to ask at the end.
7) Make sure everything on social media is workplace appropriate
Your social media accounts, personal website, etc should only contain information that you would be comfortable with a potential employer learning, simply because you have to assume potential employers will review your accounts during the selection process.
Day of the Interview:
8) Arrive 15 minutes early (and not any earlier)
Yes, you should arrive 15 minutes early for an interview. This shows that you are on-time, professional, and take commitments seriously. But please don’t show up earlier than 15 minutes. As an interviewer, many times I have had people show up 30 or 45 minutes early. This is frustrating, because now I have to figure out what to do with you until the interview starts! If you want to show up earlier than 15 minutes before, wait in your car or at the coffee shop across the street.
9) Better to be overdressed than under
It’s an old rule, but even in 2015 I find it to be true. Many places have a casual work environment, but I still find it best to dress up for an interview. It demonstrates your interest in the role and organization, and shows that you are professional.
10) Your primary goal – make a connection with the interviewer
The most important thing you do in an interview is make a connection with the interviewer. The best interviews are when you leave feeling like you’ve made a new friend. People enjoy working with people they like. Again, this is the heart of WorkMonger’s approach. Many people will be qualified for the job, but WorkMonger’s goal is to match the person who is also the best fit for organizational culture, mission, and values. So, how do you make a connection? Ask about your interviewer! Learn about their background and what they do at the organization. See what you have in common. Find out what they like best about working there. The old airport layover test – would I want to be stuck in an airport for 3 hours on a layover with this person – is still very true. To this day I still credit getting my first job after college as an investment banking analyst with Citigroup to hitting it off with my interviewer because he was fascinated with where I had interned and wanted to hear stories about my experience.
11) Bring a note pad, pen, and extra copies of your resume
Have your top 3 essentials that you want to communicate, as well as your 5 questions for the end, written out in front of you. And extra copies of your resume are always helpful to look at when you’re sharing an overview of yourself, or to provide to your interviewer in case they didn’t have a chance to print one off or invited an extra person to sit in on the interview. And don’t hesitate to make a note during an interview; it is perfectly acceptable to do so.
After the Interview:
12) Write a thank-you email within 24 hours afterwards
20 years ago this would have been a handwritten note after an interview. But, these days (a) people don’t expect that, and (b) it would take too long to get to them anyway (they might even make a decision before the note gets to them). So, just keep it simple and send a short email to the interviewer afterwards thanking them for the opportunity and sharing that you enjoyed meeting them. If you met with more than one person, email each of them. Once again, it illustrates passion, commitment, and professionalism.
Of course, these steps don’t cover everything, but they hit on the basics that are relevant to every interview. With these steps in mind, you now have a solid foundation to ace that next interview!
Want to learn more about WorkMonger?
- WorkMonger is a unique online job matching service for non-teaching roles in the US education sector.
- Connect with WorkMonger on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and create your free JobSeeker profile today in just 20 minutes!
- John Troy is the Founder of WorkMonger and has interviewed hundreds of people for roles in the education sector, as well as been a candidate in interviews quite a few times himself.