How to Take Your Job Interview Skills from Stale to Stellar
If you’re like most job seekers I talk with, you find job interviews uniquely stressful for one of these main reasons:
- It’s been years since you’ve interviewed.
- You’re actively interviewing, but not getting offers.
- You struggle to sell your skills, even though you’re exceptional at what you do.
Yet with a few hours of interview preparation, practice, and polish, you’ll find your job search anxiety dissolving and confidence re-emerging.
Overcome the overwhelm, prepare for a successful, confident conversation, and accelerate your time-to-hire. Here’s how to master all phases of the interview process:
Before: Research and Reflect
Now’s your chance to get as close to your ideal next job as possible. Remember, you’re sizing up the opportunity as much as the interviewer is evaluating your fit for the job.
First, check in with yourself. Where will you thrive? What is your ideal work environment? Who do you like to work with? Note these things so as you learn more, you can compare the job with your preferences.
- What sets you apart – Think, “this is why they should hire me over another candidate.” What is it about your combined skills, background, and attributes that make you stand out from your competitors?
- Know the job – Dissect the job description and look for repeated themes and terms. This will clue you in to their priorities, and help you shape your messages and stories.
- Know your interviewer – Use LinkedIn, general online search, and word-of-mouth for details on your interviewer. Understand their background and look for common ground as conversation points.
- Know the company and industry – Research company direction, news, and culture so you can speak intelligently about how your skills and attributes will help progress their objectives.
- Understand any potential obstacles to success – While not necessarily negative—because life happens—be ready to address issues such as a glaring employment gap, being fired, or job-hopping.
- Prepare 6-8 solid success stories – In addition to researching and practicing responses to typical job interview questions, use the information you’ve gained from the job description and company contact to create success stories that are most relevant to the job. Use the SOAR format. First, outline the Situation (or challenge). Then define the Opportunity (or risks or stakes) and the Action you took. Finally, surface the Result or benefit to the company. And then PRACTICE. Out loud. A few times over. In front of a mirror or with a coach or friend. Get comfortable telling your stories so it becomes second nature. Also know your strengths, weaknesses, how to answer “Tell me about yourself” and “Why do you want this job?”
- Nail down the logistics – Know the route and travel time in advance so you can spend your mental energy on interview prep versus stressing out about navigation and risking a late arrival.
Since you’ve landed an in-person job interview, you likely have the skills necessary for the position. Now the hiring manager needs to know whether they like you and can work with you.
- Remain standing while you wait to meet your interviewer so you’re on equal ground. Offer a firm, dry handshake, good eye contact, and a smile to start off on a positive note.
- Use positive nonverbal communication throughout the interview by maintaining good posture, leaning in slightly, mirroring, keeping eye contact, and removing barriers like crossed arms, crossed legs, or holding objects (like portfolios) in front of your torso.
- Use your SOAR stories and specifics to back up your statements. Rather than “I’m a strong communicator,” say “I’m a strong communicator, and ensured my staff was always on track through daily 10-minute stand up meetings, regular individual check-ins, and being transparent on company goals.” Then get even more specific if asked.
- Keep your response time to 1-2 minutes, depending on the complexity of the question. The #1 crime many job seekers commit is rambling on or going off on tangents. Stick to answering the question you were asked, and keep it brief, so the interviewer can get through their questions.
- Make sure you have smart questions for the interviewer, where the answers can’t easily be found online.
- Before you leave the job interview, find out the timeline for their decision and how/when you should follow up. This removes ambiguity and stress from the equation.
After: Show Your Gratitude & Follow-Up
You’ve made it through the interview, but don’t relax just yet!
- Immediately send a follow-up thank you email to everyone you met with. Restate your appreciation for their time, mention something relevant or interesting from your conversation, and briefly reinforce your main strengths or address the problem you’ll solve. (Handwritten notes are acceptable and different, but if you choose to go this route, hand-deliver them within 24 hours.)
- Check in as you agreed upon with your potential employer.
With these strategies, you’ll be ready, be confident, stand out from the competition, and get one step closer to that great new job!
Start building an impressive portfolio of strong success stories today! Click Here for Your Storytelling Cheat Sheet