Whether you’re starting your career or looking for job number six, the rules for impressing your future boss are the same.
After sitting on both sides of the interview table, I’ve learned that being your best at an interview really comes down to five things.
1. Know thyself
Start by asking yourself a few questions, ideally taking a moment to jot down your thoughts. That way, you can go back and evolve them. Plus, the articulation process itself helps you access parts of your brain and desires that don’t come up in reflection alone.
What are these magic questions? If you just answer these three, you’ll be on solid ground to start. (By the way, these also line up with some of the top interview questions you’ll be asked, so this is important homework!)
- What do you envision your life to be? Design your ideal life and career. Dream big. Be specific. Where is the job? Where do you live? What do you do on the weekends? Where do you volunteer when you’re not at work and who are you doing it with? All of this sets your mind, body, and consciousness in a direction without you having to do a whole lot! Just be careful what you wish for — it tends to come true!
- What are your strengths? List at least five and up to 10. If you need help, ask people who know you best. Do a StrengthsFinder survey. When you use your natural talents and abilities, you’re many times more likely to be successful (and happy) in your work, whether it’s crafting cocktails or leading a team.
- What knowledge, skills and abilities do you need to build? Depending on the path you’re designing, each job is an opportunity to build a set of skills and knowledge. To be perfectly honest, you can learn something everywhere. Even more than that, though, is making sure you’re constantly evolving your skills at every stage of your career. In the beginning, you have to build skills. As you evolve, you have to keep them current with technology, business trends, and human sciences that change how work happens.
For all of these, there are no “right” answers — just your answers. And knowing them will empower you to not only get a job, but to get a job you can enjoy and flourish in.
2. Know your audience
First, take a walk-about around the company you are interviewing with. Get yourself firmly into their way of seeing the world — either literally or virtually — by studying their identity. Talk to people there. Interact with their employees and customers. Read everything you can.
Second, find out who you’ll be interviewing with and how (Skype, in person, phone). If it’s just the recruiter or HR lead, they are vetting for background, skills, ability, and whether or not you’ll fit into the company culture. If it’s your future boss, customers, or team members, they’ll be looking for similar things, but at a level deeper. They’ll also be looking at team fit, ability to think on your feet, how you manage conflict, what your strengths and opportunities are.
To know your audience, there are a few simple questions to answer for yourself ahead of time — and again, jot down the answers!
- What is the environment like? What are people wearing (you’ll want to wear something one step above and only one step!)? How do people interact? How would you fit into the place?
Your answers here will help you assess whether it’s the right fit for you, as well as helping you look the part and make a good first impression when you step in the door.
- What is the goal/purpose of the business? This includes answering what kind of business it is (retail, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer, web-based, marketing, consulting, etc.). Who are their customers? How does the company give back? Do the organization’s goals fit with yours?
Make sure you know their products, services, divisions, locations, the names of the top executives, how they’re structured. It might seem excessive, but it will make sure every answer you give is relevant to the folks sitting across the table from you.
- What issue are they solving in the world (and how can you help them solve it)? This goes for the overall company (for example, a charter school might be solving for a new way to approach learning), and it also goes for your specific team. If you’re interviewing for the marketing team, what is their focus right now, and what is their long-term strategy? How can you help them solve their current problem (maybe, improving their social media outreach), as well as help them move in the direction they need to go?
You might not know all these answers, but you can ask! When you talk to that recruiter or HR person, be ready to ask some of the questions you couldn’t find answers to. It makes you look smart and interested in the job, and it gets you ready for interview #2!
3. Make it easy
What is true in life and work is also true when interviewing: be someone who is easy to be with. Show consideration for the people making arrangements. Communicate clearly. Be polite to everyone, even the moody parking attendant.
Here are a few rules to live by:
- Respond to texts, calls, and emails within 24 hours or less.
- Outline, write, and review all communication to make sure you’re clear and succinct.
- Show up 15 minutes early (no more, no less!), so everyone can get started on time.
- Bring extra copies of your resume and samples of your work ready to hand out.
- Have a bottle of water and snack on hand in case you get the munchies or need to wet your whistle.
- Send in any expense forms within 24 hours of interviewing.
It may seem like Manners 101, but many people don’t do this well. Be someone who does!
4. Ask questions
When they ask, “Do you have any questions for us?” don’t be the person who answers “No.”
I promise, they won’t be calling you back for another interview if you do.
Have thoughtful questions for the interview team based on all the preparation you’ve already done. Here are some things you will definitely want to know (and asking will make you look clever!):
- I’ve learned that ____ are your goals. Where do you see the team/business going next?
- What keeps you (or our boss) up at night?
- What is leadership most interested in seeing from our team?
- What will the person in this role need to do to be successful?
- I noticed the company mentioned in the news for (new product, new service, philanthropy, earnings report). How will that impact this role and where you’d like the team to go?
- What are the opportunities for development and career growth at the organization?
You’ll have more of your own, so add to this list. For some of your bigger questions, plan to ask the same question to different people to get access to different perspectives. For the rest, you can split them up among your interviewers, so you don’t exhaust anyone or run over on time.
Be thoughtful about what you ask and how you ask it. How you ask questions reveals what you care about and perhaps the level of commitment you’ll have to the organization, which can turn on or off the interview team.
If having time for your hobbies is important, you might ask, “What do people here do in their downtime?” (NOT, “I’m training for a triathlon — do you mind if I leave early every day?”) Or maybe you’re itching to practice public speaking, so you might ask, “How often do people in this role have a chance to get up in front of others?”
Finally, if you are required to do a skills assessment (like a writing sample), ask for feedback! Candidates almost never do this, but it demonstrates a person who wants to grow and who can accept constructive criticism as well as praise. And you’ll be better prepared for the next time you need to do this if you decide not to take this job.
5. Be ready to show your stuff
Show up ready to show off — with humility! Interviewing is a time when you can be real about what you’ve learned and accomplished. Be ready for questions like,
- What has your favorite role been?
- What project/work product have you been most proud of?
- Where have you failed and how did you handle it?
- How have you handled work conflicts in the past?
- Have you ever been asked to do something you didn’t agree with, and what did you do?
Choose examples that coincide with what you know they’re looking for — and make sure you’ve prepared and practiced ahead of time, so you stay on point (and don’t ramble!).
In some cases, they may ask altered versions of these questions or not ask them at all. But these are the types of things you want them to know. So plan to weave these strong stories into your answers regardless of what they ask!
Best of luck as you put yourself out there. Not every job will be the right match, either from your side or theirs, but keep at it. You’ll get better at being a stellar interviewer the more you do it. And, you’ll get better at spotting your dream job, too.
Now go break a leg!