What Does Interview Prep Mean to You?

“Just get me an interview with them and believe me, I’ll take care of the rest and make you look good.” That’s the kiss of death. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that by candidates, but I do know how many of them got the job – zero. Be it outright hubris or the proverbial shooting-from-the-hip cowboy approach, these candidates don’t seem to understand the importance of interview preparation and all it entails.

Last week, I had three well-qualified Director-level candidates go in for initial interviews. One didn’t take me up on my offer to have a prep call prior while the other two did (in fact, I think they may have suggested it first). Guess which two are moving on in the process? Clearly, interview preparation means different things to different people. I’ve seen some people put more effort into preparing to buy a new flat screen TV than preparing for what could be a life-changing career move.

Having been both a hiring executive and candidate over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the inherent benefits associated with doing one’s homework prior to the big dance. Here are some of the steps I’ve seen top-tier candidates take to get ready for their interviews.

* Research the company. Of course, this is obvious. Yet all too often, candidates rely solely on the job description as their study material. Along with combing every square inch of the company’s website, including press releases and case studies/whitepapers, a simple Google of the company will produce a wellspring of material to absorb. As an additional step, I recommend studying the company’s competitors as well, taking notice of how they position themselves in the market along with newsworthy events they’re either touting or bemoaning. All this can produce rich discussion points in the interview as well as poignant questions to ask.

* Research the people. Aside from executive bios on the company’s website, take the time to look up the interviewers’ LinkedIn profiles. This can be a great resource to learn about their career paths and how they position themselves. In addition, it can reveal other valuable tidbits, such as their educational background, personal interests and contacts in common. This can be exceptionally helpful in establishing rapport.

* Leverage your network to see who might know someone at the company. Perhaps one of those employees would be willing to have a brief call with you to provide insight into the people you’ll be interviewing with, the company’s culture or high-level company initiatives.

* If you got in to the opportunity by way of a recruiter, pick their brain. Any recruiter worth their salt will be able to impart vast quantities of useful knowledge. The best recruiters can convey the hiring executive’s hot buttons and nuanced preferences (i.e., what’s not on the job description). They can provide detail on the company’s financials, competitive landscape, the interviewers’ differing styles and mannerisms, and the work environment. A recruiter should be able to discuss the history of the search in terms of how long the position has been open, what kinds of candidates have already been through the process and what led the prior candidates to be disqualified.

* Check out company rating websites, like Glassdoor, not so much to take the feedback as gospel, but to spot trends and perhaps raise as questions. Keep in mind that some of the feedback posted on these sites came from disgruntled former employees whose disgruntlement may have come about from their own doing – less than stellar performance, unrealistic expectations, or perhaps a lack of cultural or job fit.

* Prepare thoughtful, salient questions to ask. Granted, the interview discussion should spark questions naturally. Yet, having questions prepared in advance will ensure that even despite nerves or forgetfulness, you’ll have questions at the ready.

* Review your own career history, especially as it pertains to the role you are vying for. Sure, hiring managers will likely have you go through each position you’ve held – why you took the job, what did you accomplish in the role and what business impact those accomplishments had, and why you left the company. But beyond that, they may ask you to walk them through specific examples of past situations that relate to the position at hand. For example, if you’re interviewing for Director of Pre-Sales Engineering, the hiring executive may ask: “Tell me about a time when the demand for SEs exceeded your resources. What happened and how did you manage through that challenge?” In preparing for the interview, take time to think of a variety of challenging scenarios that the hiring manager may ask about. Be prepared to describe the specific situation and its associated challenge, what action you took, and the results of your action.

* Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take care of the little things a day ahead so that you’re not burdened with them at the last minute. Plan out your wardrobe (always dress up, unless you’re specifically told not to). Plan out your commute, figuring in extra time for traffic and finding the right building. Some candidates even do a dry run commute a day or two in advance, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the location. Print out extra copies of your resume ahead of time, just in case they’re needed.

Thorough interview preparation carries many benefits that help stack the deck in your favor. From the hiring executive’s perspective, a well-prepared candidate comes across as such in no uncertain terms. After all, it demonstrates initiative, forethought, resourcefulness, organization, interest, inquisitiveness, and drive – all positive intangible qualities that many hiring managers consciously seek out. Going into an interview well-prepared will generate greater confidence, enable sharper performance and mitigate nervousness. The sweat equity put into comprehensive interview preparation will invariably lead to significant dividends — well beyond that of a new TV!

 

Action items:

  1. Take a moment to assess how you’re currently preparing for interviews. Be honest with yourself. Are you really doing all you can to stack the deck in your favor?
  1. Gain as many data points as possible about the company and interviewers.
  1. Take a trip down memory lane, reviewing your own career history. Put particular emphasis into recounting the specific challenges, initiatives and accomplishments you experienced that bear relevance to the opportunity you are interviewing for.
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