Make no mistake about it, even though the job market is improving in key sectors, it nonetheless remains one of the most challenging, most competitive markets in recent memory. Even highly qualified candidates are still sometimes being subjected to an often lengthy and quite daunting job search process.
If you happen to have made it to the first, all-important step in the job-hunting process—the job interview—you certainly are to be congratulated! However, it’s at this stage that the real work begins. And you had better be well prepared, if you want to progress in the process. Why? Because, contrary to popular opinion, a job interview, any job interview, is designed to accomplish one primary goal: To exclude as many of the candidates as possible as quickly as possible—NOT to determine which candidates to include in the hiring pool!
The initial job interview is usually a telephone interview conducted by an HR “screener” in the larger companies, or by the person who may actually be doing the hiring in the smaller companies. Blow this initial interview by assuming it really doesn’t count, or by “winging it,” or by being either un-prepared or ill-prepared, and that’s the last interview you will have with that company!
In my executive recruiting firm, The HTW Group (Hire to Win), the recruiters coach candidates presented to our hiring company clients by advising them to prepare for interviews the way Super Star candidates prepare, by following these SEVEN steps:
1. Research the Company and the Hiring Manager. Nothing works better for you than knowing a little—or, even better, a LOT!—about the company AND the person who will be doing the actual hiring for a position. Most candidates will do at least some research on the hiring company, but few will think to research the hiring manager. Be creative, and brand yourself as a true professional by doing so!
Sources to conduct this research include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
• LinkedIn. Virtually every professional today has a profile on LinkedIn. Chances are, the hiring manager will also.
• ZoomInfo. This site quite probably will contain significant and substantial information on the hiring company.
• Company website. Today, most companies, no matter the size, have a website. Pay particular attention to such things as market share claimed, special products and/or services offered by the company, new initiatives/acquisitions, etc. Sometimes you can even find the company’s latest annual report.
• Google (or your favorite search engine, if not Google). Obviously, a Google search engine will usually return “the good, bad and ugly” about both the hiring company and the hiring manager. (You’ll of course want to focus only on the good information during an interview!)
2. Prepare a List of YOUR Questions for the interviewer. The candidate who is “just looking for a job, any job” will usually go in to a job interview, any job interview, prepared only to answer the interviewer’s questions. The Super Star candidate is also prepared to ask some of his/her own questions!
Usually, toward the end of any job interview, you will be asked something along these lines: “Now, what questions do you have for me?”
The ill-prepared candidate normally comes back with something inane, such as, “I think you have pretty much answered all my questions.”
Conversely, the well-prepared, Super Star candidate is ready with a list of well-thought-out key questions, including questions such as these:
“Can you give me some additional information about (a product/service)?” “What does the ideal candidate for this position look like?”
3. Be Prepared to Briefly Illustrate at Least THREE of the MOST Important Benefits/Skills You Offer the Hiring Company. It’s important to keep in mind that, until and unless the company actually makes you a job offer, the focus of each and every interview is NOT on you, the candidate. It’s on the hiring company! And more precisely, what you can offer the company.
These benefits/skills must of course be appropriate to the specific position for which you are applying, but each of them should answer this question: “So what?”
The typical candidate might say, for example, “I have over five years of successful team management experience in the manufacturing process, etc.”
The Super Star candidate would add, “and as you’re quite aware, a well-led, highly motivated team means far less down time for the company, thereby reducing or eliminating any possible negative impact to the bottom line.”
4. Be Prepared to Intelligently Answer the “Tell me about yourself” Question. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, expect to be asked this question (in one form or the other) during virtually any job interview.
The typical candidate will almost always consider this merely a “warm up” question. Big mistake! Arguably, it is the second most important question you’re likely to be asked during a job interview. (The most important question is, “What questions do you have for me?”)
The average candidate usually takes this question as the cue to regale the interviewer with a brief (sometimes, not so brief!) personal biography, by saying something such as, “Well, let’s see, I grew up in rural Wisconsin, played baseball and football in high school. And, I’m a BIG fan of the Green Bay Packers. . . .”
And the interviewer’s eyes begin to glaze over. . . .
Here is how a Super Star candidate responds to the question:
“I am a formulation chemist with five years’ experience in development of unique types of emulsions. . . . For the last two years I have led a team of. . . .”
See the difference?
5. Be Prepared to Very Carefully Answer the “Why are you looking for another job” Question. This is where many, many ill-prepared candidates fall into the trap so carefully set by many interviewers, and answer the question by providing a litany of grievances about their current job, current boss, or both! The result? These candidates are almost always excluded from further consideration! So, never, never, never say (or even imply) anything negative about your current job when answering this question.
Here is how a Super Star candidate would answer the question:
“Actually, I have learned a great deal in my current job, and I have the privilege of working with some really talented, very dedicated colleagues. I just believe it’s now time to consider options to move my career to the next level. I think this position, and your company, may in fact provide me with such an opportunity.”
6. Know How to Field the “Why do you want to work for us?” Question. This is an opportunity to impress the hiring manager with how well you have done your homework on the hiring company, without seeming to pander. Yet many candidates still will answer this question by saying something like this (honest!), “Well, I am sick and tired of my current job and the guy I work for, and I am looking for something new and more exciting. I think your company is one I should be considering.”
A Super Star candidate would answer the question this way:
“Based upon my rather extensive research of your company, I have found. . . .” or
“I noticed on your website that you recently introduced an exciting new product. I really would be proud to be involved in something like that. . . .”
7. Be Prepared to EFFECTIVELY Handle the SALARY Question/Issue. Without doubt this is the “800-pound gorilla” sitting in the corner during most job interviews. You can expect it to come up early and often—in virtually every type of interview, from the initial screening interview to the telephone and face-to-face interview(s) you may have with a hiring manager. But don’t freak out! If you properly prepare and anticipate having to respond to this question, it can be effectively dealt with.
This post is not the place to provide a comprehensive analysis of how to field the salary question/issue, primarily because of the complexity of the issue. Suffice it to say, however, you would not respond to a question such as, “How much is your current salary, and what would it take to get you to consider this position?,” with an answer such as this:
“Well, I make $60,000 a year now, and I wouldn’t consider making a move for less than a 10% raise. How much does the position pay?”
Here is how an adroit Super Star candidate would answer the question:
“While salary is of course an important consideration when investigating new career opportunities, the more important consideration is the actual opportunity. If you were to ultimately consider me the best candidate for the position, and likewise, if I were to consider this to be a logical career move for me, I am sure your company will offer a very competitive salary.”
Want to make sure you’re branded as a Super Star candidate when you go in for your next job interview? Sure you do! Simply follow these seven steps and I can practically guarantee that is precisely how you’ll be perceived… as a Super Star candidate!
This post is a condensed version of the Kindle eBook “How to ACE the Job Interview!” To obtain a FREE copy, click here.
Stay tuned for the fall 2014 release of “Career Stalled? How to Get Your Career Back in High Gear and Land the Job You Deserve – Your Dream Job!”