You’re sitting nervously on a couch in the outer office, waiting your turn to interview. The candidate before you just finished; you weakly smile as your name is called. You’re next — but have you prepared yourself properly?
Many people are afraid to admit they’re not well-practiced at interviewing. And let’s face it, how many job interviews will most people undertake? Interviewing is a skill we spend no time practicing and only do when it’s “game time.” Is this any way to succeed?
Even people who exude confidence and make multimillion-dollar decisions before lunch tremble at the thought of a job interview. I felt the same way — but learned it didn’t need to be that way.
I’ve sat through many interviews, on both sides of the table. Some were fantastic, many just average (mine included), and others lacked the preparation needed to impress a panel. I’d like to help improve your odds of standing out! Here are some tips to overcome common shortcomings that I’ve observed.
First, manners count; it’s important to introduce yourself and look each panel member in the eye, greeting each member individually with a handshake. When you take a seat, make yourself comfortable, but remain attentive. I recommend leaning slightly forward, toward the interviewer, in a relaxed but interested manner.
Face members of the panel as they ask questions of you; turn your entire torso so that your upper body is facing toward them — this sends an important nonverbal message that you’re paying full attention to what they’re asking. Engage with eye contact and a smile, even if it’s discomforting; it shows confidence and it’s harder to say no to someone who’s smiling.
Pause to reflect before answering. This does two things. First it gives you time to gather your thoughts before you answer, maybe even scribble a few notes to yourself so your answer is complete. Second, it indicates to the interviewers that you are a reflective person, not someone who just reacts to a situation, but rather takes time to consider all the information presented before forming an answer.
Anticipate the questions and think through your answers; most interviews I’ve sat through have used some variation of the same questions. I suggest you develop at least an outline of an answer to common questions like, “Why do you want this job?” Consider an example of a team you’ve been a part of and what it achieved. If supervisory duties are a part of the job, think about how you handled a problem employee. Results are important and should be the focus of your stories.
Study what the organization does; be well-informed about its mission and key issues. The Internet is a wonderful source for this research; however, I’m constantly amazed at how many candidates fail to take time to learn even a minimal amount about the organization.
I’d also suggest trying to learn a bit about the panel members or interviewer by finding their biographies online, or studying them from their LinkedIn pages. You should also know that while you’re learning more about these folks they too are learning about you from your online presence. (Posting those pictures from Las Vegas a good idea?)
Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses and develop short vignettes to highlight each. Limit to about five strengths — you can draw on examples of these for multiple questions. Use stories from your experience as examples to highlight your strengths and describe your accomplishments.
Many candidates overprepare for an interview. That’s OK, but don’t try to fit too much detail into your answers — it exhausts the panel and is not effective. In fact, it can demonstrate an inability to be concise — not the impression you want to give.
Finally, prepare, practice and critique your performance. Ask someone you know (your spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a mentor) to review the job duties of the position you’re applying for, then listen to your answers to scripted questions and provide feedback. This can help refine your responses and relax when in front of the panel.
Think of a job interview like a television interview; you only get one take, and your answers need to resonate with the panel to make a lasting impression. The interview is a commercial about you; it should enable the hiring manager to recognize you as the most qualified candidate and the best fit for the team — and make you an offer!
Jim Balocki has 31 years of federal and military service and is a member of the Senior Executive Service serving in the Army Corps of Engineers. He has a passion for enabling the federal workforce with career advancement strategies and has developed an interactive seminar to enhance job-hunting skills. He can be contacted at email@example.com