How to Prepare for a Successful Interview
This article features the expertise of John Davis, a professional recruiter with over thirty years of experience in the Atlanta market, 19 of those with Accountants One.
There’s a lot to consider as you prepare for a job interview. Here, Accountants One recruiter John Davis shares his expertise, having conducted thousands of exit interviews between candidates and their employers during his career.
John encourages job candidates to contemplate several considerations. For this article, he shared four areas that are critical:
- Know your primary objective of interviewing
- Be prepared to answer key questions
- Be prepared for the “Money” question
- Understand the dynamics of your post-interview follow-up
Let’s roll up our sleeves and learn from John’s vast experience:
Primary Objective of Interviewing
Your primary objective as a candidate should always be — to get a job offer! Concerns, such as “what’s in this for me” questions, can be addressed after the job has been offered.
So, how do you get the offer?
First, focus on THAT job – don’t look ahead to your next promotion. Remember the company is hiring you to solve their immediate pain Now – the current position as described – not what you can do for them in the future.
Secondly, make a positive impression. This begins by being authentic. After all, the person they experience in the interview should be the person that’s going to show up for work — just make sure it’s the very best self you are capable of being). In this initial interviewer, your job is to let the interviewer know that you are well-qualified to do this job.
This means you need to be mindful of how you present yourself. Speak up, smile, be as outgoing and enthusiastic as your personality will allow. You will be amazed how many times an employer will get enthusiastic about you if you show genuine, outgoing enthusiasm.
Look, act, and be professional. Wear a business suit or business casual attire. Leave the cologne and perfume at home, as some clients might be allergic. And, remember, it’s not just what you wear, it’s what you bring. Along with your enthusiasm, be sure to have an extra copy of your resume in-hand!
Finally, be aware of the importance of how you communicate. Communication skills rank second only to job knowledge as factors crucial for business success, and those ‘skills’ encompasses a host of qualities, both verbal and nonverbal. You communicate through your speech patterns, vocal tone and quality, gestures, attire, your posture, your eyes, your facial expressions, your listening skills, your sense of humor, the questions you ask. Together, these factors make up your professional image and how those in power view you. Remember, there’s only one chance for a first impression!
Be Prepared For Key Questions
Believe it or not, the interview is not all about you. (That should be a great relief, by the way.) The purpose of the interview is to address the hiree’s concerns. Interviewers often come into the process from a Mindset of Fear (“What if I make a mistake and hire the wrong person!”). It’s up to you to alleviate that fear by positioning yourself as their problem solver. You do this by being prepared beforehand to give concrete examples from your own business experience to answer the interviewer’s four core key questions. Mind you, they won’t ask these questions directly, but these four questions are the subtext behind almost every query they have for you:
Why are you here?
To answer, ask yourself: What does this job involve?.
What can you do for us?
To answer, ask yourself: Do my skills truly match this job?
What kind of person are you?
To answer, ask yourself: Are these the kind of people I would like to work with, or not?
What distinguishes you from the 19 other people who have the same skills as you have?
To answer, ask yourself: Can I persuade them there is something unique about me that makes me different from these other people who can do these same tasks? Have your own stories and accomplishments from personal experience that demonstrate your skills and how you can solve their problems.
Everything you do and say must answer these questions to the employer’s satisfaction. Needless to say, speak the truth! It is one thing to get the job but then you must keep it. Exaggerating your skills or “enhancing” your experience will backfire every time once you have to perform.
And, though it may not seem like it while in the hot seat, an interview is designed to be a conversation, not an interrogation. Relax and engage. Be an active listener and strive to answer questions directly in the first sentence of your response, only elaborating after that as needed. This approach keeps the conversation focused and on-point for both parties.
You should have several well-thought-out questions prepared as well. Have your questions written down and in a portfolio folder or small notebook. It’s best to ask general questions designed to draw out the interviewer so you can better determine what they are looking for in this position, such as:
- What are the most important skills you are looking for in this position, both technically and personally?
- What do you wish you had known about this company before you came to work here?
- How will you measure my success in this position?
- What is it that I can do to make your job easier?”
- Has anyone who’s worked for you failed, and why?
- Has anyone who’s worked for you really succeeded, and why?
- Who are the company’s “Star” employees, and what are they like?
Needless to say, you must also have several specific questions about that company and that position. The goal is not to give a good performance but to build real rapport with the interviewer and create a relationship that lasts beyond the interview, and to address the employer’s concerns. It’s not about memorized answers or any fancy footwork, but overall fit that you’re going for.
Wonder why we buried this important topic way down here? It’s because salary and compensation are very literally the LAST thing that you want to discuss (and do all you can to avoid it in any initial interview). The more time the employer invests in you — in interviewing or lunches or revisits or reference checking, etc. — the more you have helped to “tenderize” them when it comes to how much they will offer in compensation. Time is definitely on your side in this area so relax and don’t bring it up, ever — the employer will not forget to address this subject!
However, what if the employer asks you to commit to compensation first, like filling out an application that asks “desired salary”? If you must commit something to writing how about “it’s negotiable”; or if you can’t get away with that one gives a very broad range, from the lowest you will seriously consider in base salary to the top of their range as you understand it.
If the compensation question is asked directly to you by an interviewer, you can say something like “while salary is important to me, the duties and responsibilities, the team, the company, the opportunity, etc, etc, are MORE important; so, I’m sure if we can come to agreement on these things, compensation will take care of itself”. Or my personal favorite: “I am here because I believe there is real opportunity for both of us, so I WILL CONSIDER YOUR STRONGEST OFFER”. Of course, you want the employer to lay their cards on the table first and commit themselves to a figure. This helps to insure you don’t leave any money on the table that could have been yours.
Post Interview Follow-up
After the interview, what then?
A short “Thank You” email, of course. Just make sure it looks and reads like a business letter – no time to get sloppy; this is a chance to highlight your written communication skills with a brief letter-formatted email that (1) basically thanks them for the interview and 2) states you are confident you can handle this position because….. (just a very short phrase or sentence — don’t oversell), and 3) you hope to have the opportunity to meet with them again. If something personal came up during your interview that allows you to make a “human link” – you found out you went to the same college, have kids the same age, etc., this can be a good personal touch. Again, just don’t overdo it.
Following these tips will not guarantee any offer, nor the perfect salary or perfect position; but it will build your self-confidence and certainly improve your chances of success if you find yourself face-to-face with what might just be the Best opportunity in your career.