By Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates
As someone in workforce development, you have probably read a zillion things and received a bazillion pieces of advice about what to tell people so they will ace a job interview. As someone that has been in the employment field for over forty-five years, I have heard many of these words of wisdom. While some are helpful and some are harmful, the vast majority of them miss the most important aspects of an interview.
If you want to turn the interview into a job offer, you must learn to think like the interviewer and the employer. As the old Native American adage goes, “if you want to catch a fish you need to learn how to think like a fish and not someone who tries to catch fish!” Nothing is more important than to be able to look at yourself through the eyes of the interviewer and the needs of the employer. This means getting rid of generic interview answers and customizing them for each interviewer and company. How do you accomplish these tasks? People will often tell you to research the company. That is good advice, but it is once again incomplete advice.
You should also research the interviewer, the industry and the competition of the company. You research the interviewer using Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and any other resource you can find. What is their background? What do they like to do? What is important to them? Who do you know in common? Are they members of any professional and other associations? You can integrate that information into the interview and you will get a personal connection not just a candidate connection that puts you a lot closer to a job offer. One person who took this advice found out that the interviewer had been a soccer player at one time. The job seeker also played soccer and used a soccer strategy analogy to show how they would approach a problem that was posed by the interviewer. The analogy led to a half hour soccer conversation and a job offer!
Never forget that the company is part of an industry. Do research to find the industry association websites and the industry magazines (yes-old fashioned magazines) people in that industry look at on a regular basis. Make sure you can talk about industry trends and new developments to show the interviewer how knowledgeable you are about their world. Immerse yourself in the field by reading articles and books by leaders of the industry. In addition, nothing beats getting informational interview from someone working in the industry. They may even know something about the hidden hiring agenda at your targeted employer. The interviewer wants to hire someone who has looked past a job and wants a place in this sector of the economy.
The company you are interviewing for has a personality (think culture) and also lives to find ways to beat their competition. If you can do research to find out about their culture, you can make the way you dress and answer questions show them that you will fit with their culture. A classic mistake in this area was the candidate that showed up for an interview dressed to the nines in a company that specialized in business casual dress. As soon as that individual walked into the room where everyone was dressed differently, it created an insurmountable gap in the hiring process. Companies hire for personality match as much as for skills and experience. Sometimes personality match will dominate in the selection process. Look at websites like Glassdoor to learn more about personality. If they have an annual report, read it to learn more about who they are and what they value. Check out articles in the business press about the employer. You may find out in this process that your personality and values do not match this company. Choosing other targets would be a good idea in this situation. If the company is a match, make sure to integrate comments that show how your personality and values match the employer so the interviewer can see that you will easily fit into the company culture. For example, the annual report, newspaper articles and the mission statement of one company talked about their partnerships with local schools. A candidate matched this by talking about serving as the head of several Parent Teacher Associations and their volunteer work in the schools their children attended. This led the interviewer to talk about the school partnerships and the conversation evolved into a job offer!
You also research their competitors so you can think of something to suggest that would help them beat the competition. The candidate that comes to the interview with a money making idea will go to the head of the job offer list even if the employer cannot use it. These days companies want to hire entrepreneurial employees that can think of ways to increase profits and beat the competition not just people who talk about how they will do a job.
Getting experience with public speaking through Toastmasters can be an excellent way to build your network and interviewing skills. Remember at this stage of the job search process, you will not be hired on how well you can do the job, but on how well you interview. Those are two different things and people often confuse them. There are a lot of good workers out there who are bad at interviewing so they will never get a chance to show how well they can do the job. Job search is now your job and interviewing is a key task you need to master to do that job effectively. I hope some of these pointers will help in your job search!