[05.08.09]
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How to Prepare For A Successful Job Interview: Take A Sip™

This post is about how to prepare for a successful job interview.

successful job interview

So, I mentioned a few days ago that I was working on a successful job interview prep tool.  Well, if you think I am heading over the deep end with all the job search tools, you’d be partly right.  The problem is that the feedback has been pretty good on the others.  So you’ll just have to put up with a few more.  And maybe a few more after that . . .

Help for a successful job interview

Sip™ is a successful job interview prep tool designed to walk you through a structured process to prepare for a strong and focused interview. Strong preparation supports a confident and direct conversation about your real skills and your ability to immediately impact the interview team (i.e. successful interview tips).

While it is thorough in some ways, it is not intended to cover every possible angle.  Because truly you can kill yourself preparing for unlikely questions.

What I like about these career downloads is the structured process they force you through. Especially during job search – where it is easy to get subjective and emotional – your ability to remain focused and smart will help you in so many ways.  How?

Here’s a simple example:

It’s been eight weeks since you were laid off and you’ve had no job interviews.  You finally get a phone interview and, surprise, you are offered a first round in-person interview at a target company.  Great news all the way around, right? So where’s the issue?
The issue is that the eight week wait likely has you hyper-focused on this new job opportunity.  Mostly a good thing.  But the risk is that your focus puts too much pressure on the upcoming day.  You cram as much thinking as possible into your job interview prep and, as a result, ignore all other potential opportunities. You stop networking and perhaps are slow to call back recruiters or HR managers.  Why would you, right? A great job is just a few days away!

Here are a few risks of a hyper focus on one opportunity:

1.  As stated above, your focus on the upcoming interview leaves you unfocused on other opportunities.  And, in my experience, job interviews come in waves of twos and threes.
2.  Pushing hard on two or three opportunities provides perspective and takes some pressure off each individual interview.  Less pressure means you can be your confident self, realizing that all is not riding on this one day.
3.  If you don’t get an immediate call back or you don’t eventually get an offer, it can put you in a sour mood for weeks.  If it was not meant to be, you need to be able to let it go.  Easier to do when other calls or meetings are already scheduled for next week.
The solution?  Remember the power of multiple options.

So, what does a successful job interview prep tool look like?  Oh, and how can I get one?

Well, to me, it breaks down like this:

Company Name, Job Interview Date, Location and Start Time

Whether you have two weeks or two days to prepare, it is important to start with the basics.  Map the location and drive it a day or two before the job interview.  Drive it at the same time you’ll be driving a day or two later.  Arrive early.  This helps you relax.

Company History and Culture

You can learn a great deal from a look at where a company has been.  Have there been struggles (financial or strategic)?  Is it a new product rich environment or a company relying upon historical products or services to succeed today.  What do these things say about the culture?  Importance of innovation?  This may be an important component for you as you identify a target company.

Industry Trends and Competitive Review

What’s happening in the company’s industry may have an impact on its decision making.  Are there any large macro issues facing them and their competitors? For example, are they uniquely impacted by high gas prices?  Who are their competitors and what are their new products.  Does the company have number one brands or is it a second tier company in a very competitive category?
Now, before I go any further, you might be saying to yourself:  “But I’m looking for an IT job!  Why do I need to know all of this?” It may be that you don’t need to know all this information, but depending on who you meet, a knowledge of the company and its culture cannot hurt you!

Company Strategy and Recent Results

What is the stated objective of the company?  Where is it looking to go?  If you are in IT, what might be the impact be on the company’s use of technology?  Is the company riding a few big recent successes? Has it struggled to get traction?

Interview Team Vetting

Who will interview you?  Can you find out in advance?  If so, look them up on Google or Linkedin.  How long have they worked for the company?  Have they spent their entire career in this industry?  If the hiring manager has been in his/her position for less than a year, they will be more likely to listen to messages of change than if they’ve been in that role for 10 years.  A more established manager may be more defensive to a more aggressive approach. This knowledge also helps in developing a person-specific list of questions.

Key Product Review And Usage Results

Whether the company makes widgets, rents cars, makes music videos or builds condos, find a way to get some personal experience with their product or service.  For example, prior to my interview with a company that makes car wax in 2005, guess what I did?  I washed and waxed my car.  Twice.  Really? Absolutely.  And it made a huge difference in the job interview.  I was able to give them personal feedback on my experience with their products and it showed an early engagement and interest in their products. The other value?  My car was sparkling on interview day – something they look for in candidates.  So, ask yourself, how can you show a similar interest in the products or services of your target company? Of course, if you work in certain industries (Bio Tech or Pharmaceuticals) you may have to be careful!

Specific Job Requirements vs. My Strengths and Experiences

As simple as it sounds, list out the requirements and how you line up against them.  Part of your job in this first interview is to prove (through a deeper look and via specific examples) your excellent fit with the job description the company worked so hard to create.  Know where you are especially strong and where you may have to try a bit harder.

Identify Three Relevant and Measurable Successful Experiences

Be prepared to tell a great set of stories about how you’ve had a significant impact on other companies. And be able to relate them back to the challenges or opportunities described by the hiring company.  Be ready to describe in a compelling way how these experiences make you uniquely qualified to step into this new role and succeed.  Tomorrow.

Questions?  Beginning, Middle, End

Be prepared to show a genuine interest in the ways of the company, the hiring manager, the current challenges, the team, etc.   And make sure you have questions prepared for each part of the interview. Early on, try a question that establishes a more conversational tone to the interview vs. a traditional Q&A format.  Questions in the middle should show your depth of thinking and allow you to learn key details to help you cement fit with the position.  Questions at the end should show your interest in the company’s future and perhaps the role that the department might play.

Positioning Objective

How would you like to be remembered by each interviewer?  In addition to your being a great fit with the job description and, hopefully, a good fit culturally and personally, what will make you the ideal candidate? What will be the one thing that makes an interviewer gush over you in the post-interview wrap-up. You are in the car heading home.  They are talking about you.  What do you want them saying?  Was it your energy?  Your breakthrough ideas?  Your work ethic?  Learn how to write a positioning statement.

Post Interview Reactions

So you survived.  Now before you turn on the AC and pull out on down the road, take a few minutes to jot down your initial reactions.  What does your gut say? Bubbling with excitement or really unsure? You need to react to the people but you also need to react to the messages and the energy of the office environment.  For example, if you are a people person and no one smiled at you during your walk-through, what might that tell you?
There.  That’s my Sip™ for your successful job interview.  You can download the template on my career downloads page if that helps you.
I hope it helps you prepare for your next successful job interview. Even more, I hope it helps you focus and feel smart as you step into the office of your first interviewer.
Oh, and I hope you knock their socks off.
Thanks Boris Baldinger for the photo via Flickr.


Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Job Interview Tips

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