How to Nail Your Next Interview

Published in CareersConnect, November 2010

By April Silverthorn Southward

We hear time and time again about how to "prepare" for an interview-Make sure you dress for success; arrive 5 to 10 minutes early with a copy of your resume; be sure to smile; and whatever you do, turn your cell phone off. While there are a lot of job seekers who actually need these reminders, the majority of those looking for a job already know everything that such advice has to offer. Rather than cover these elementary interviewing basics, let's focus on some of the areas of preparation that too many job seekers fail to spend enough of their time focusing on.

Interview preparation is about so much more than the common-sense practices listed above. Job seekers need to familiarize themselves with the company and position they are interviewing for, practice the interview several times, and get into the proper attitude and mindset prior to their arrival.

Research the Organization
All it takes is an hour or so to research the company you are interviewing to be a part of, its history, its competitors, the issues it's facing, and its employees. You'd be amazed how many people walk into an interview without knowing a thing about the organization. Even in today's tough job market, people aren't taking the time to research prior to their interview, and this can easily keep them from landing the job.

The goal of this research is a) to gain a better understanding of the company, and b) be able to carry on a basic conversation about the company. You want to show that you take the time to think about your work and relate what you can offer to the needs of the organization. Plus, with so few interviewees taking this step, it's an easy way to boost yourself up above your competition.

Understand the Position
Another thing that few job seekers actually do is to familiarize themselves with the position they are interviewing for. If you don't size-up the position prior to the interview, how will you show the company that you are the best fit? Think of it this way-would you set out to achieve a goal without having defined a concrete goal to work towards? No, of course you wouldn't, because there is no way to truly succeed in such a situation.

One way to ensure that you have the information you need is to print out or save the original job posting to a Word document. Also, be sure to list where you found the position since the employer may ask. The last thing you want to do is say that you found the position on Monster.com when they never advertised it there. It may be prudent to save this with the custom cover letter that you sent with your application so that it's easy to locate later.

Practice Makes Perfect
Too often we get caught in the mind set of: I really want this job (or need this job) so there is no need to practice, my determination will shine through in my interview giving me the right things to say. This couldn't be farther from the truth! You have to remember, no matter who you are, what you're capable of, and what you have to offer the employer, you are going to be at least a little bit nervous.

Think of the last time you were nervous-maybe you were giving a presentation to a group. As you began, your heart raced and your voice was a little shaky, and at that moment you began to panic. "This is going horrible; I should just make a B-line for the door while I still can!" Were you really in the proper mindset to "come up" with the right things to say? How much preparation and practice went into that presentation? Now imagine if you had not practiced at all. That is essentially what you are doing if you are not "practicing" the interview in advance.

So, how do you practice an interview? Take a look online and come up with a list of the most commonly asked interview questions. Write them down. Then, write down your answers. It's okay if your answer is really long; the first step is to get every bit of answer that you would want to express on the paper. Come back the next day and refine each answer; remember, quality over quantity. Once you have revised your answers down to what you think are your best answers, practice them. Read your questions and their answers out loud. Finally, ask a spouse, friend, or family member to read the questions to you and give them your answer.

I know what you're thinking...how is this going to help if I don't get asked that specific question? Trust me when I say that it's going to help you focus and will help to relieve you of the majority of the nervousness that comes along with interviewing. It's also key to remember that the ultimate goal of answering these questions is to leave no doubt in the employer's mind as to why you want the position and what you can do for the organization. Having a more focused approach, thought out in advance, will help you to accomplish just that.

Without a doubt, there are certain questions that you are going to feel stuck on. One of the most common questions that people struggle with is the famed "Tell me about yourself." Remember that interview questions should be answered in terms of the position and the company, not in terms of your personal life. To keep your answer on track, focus on three things: a problem that you love to solve, an example of this at work in your career, and then relate how you can do this for the company you are interviewing with, and presto! You have a great answer!

Check Your Attitude & Mindset
Another thing that we too often forget to consider when interviewing is our attitude. I recently read a study that evaluated the effect of optimism in one's job search. The study revealed that not only did an optimistic job seeker find a job more quickly, with a much less intensive job search, but they were also more likely than less optimistic job seekers to have been promoted during their first two years with their new company.

When I originally interviewed with NCMA back in 2008, I was asked "Would you say that you see things from the standpoint of the glass as half full or half empty?" Without hesitation I answered that I saw the glass as half full and explained my position. There was a pause at the end and the two people who were interviewing me looked at one another before telling me that they had never had someone actually answer the question as half full. When you bring your optimism to the table, it's contagious and inspiring to others.

Maybe you aren't naturally an optimistic person. Don't worry, there's hope! Just give it a try, because the study mentioned above also found that those who were viewed as optimistic were highly likely to receive some of the benefits of a naturally optimistic job seeker. Plus, looking at the bright side of things has never hurt anyone!

You should also think about your mindset when interviewing. One of the most beneficial mindsets is thinking that the interview and the job don't really matter. While this can be a difficult mindset to get into, especially when everything relies on getting the position in question, the practice has been hailed by countless recruiters and hiring managers.

Back to my original interview with NCMA; I clearly remember that I wasn't really worried about the interview. I'll never forget pulling up to the NCMA offices and thinking, I'm not sure why I'm even going to this interview, but I'm already here so I guess that I should just give it my best shot. I had completed several interviews the week before and had already been given two other offers. This allowed me to walk in not only fully confident in myself but without the normal pressure that accompanies an interview.

On the other hand, one of the most ineffective mindsets is thinking that you are the best candidate. While this practice is hailed by some, I would really caution its use. Rather than coming off as a confident and competent candidate, you come off as snobby and superior, which will without a doubt turn your interviewer off. Who wants to be around someone like that for 40+ hours a week?

All things considered, investing a little more time to adequately prepare is key to nailing your next interview. I hope that upon the next call from an employer that you take the time to focus on these aspects of your interview. Good luck!

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