These days, getting a job interview is half the battle.
First, recent college graduates must navigate a daunting gauntlet of low- and high-tech networking, from happy hour mixers to LinkedIn requests. Then there is the task of crafting a resume that’s sucked into today’s sophisticated applicant tracking systems, which select candidates based on keywords and algorithms.
But current college students and grads only get that opportunity if they can find it. And 70 percent don’t even know how their education aligns with available careers to join up with the workforce in the first place. (1) (Tip: a trip to the campus career development center can help.)
What does it all mean? It means that every job interview opportunity should be highly valued. It means that preparation is critical. And it means the other people interviewing for that same job are also working their hardest to stick out from the pack.
As someone who worked for a job search website for five-plus years and spoke with human resources decision makers on a daily basis, I can tell you that you that there are many important job interview tips that seem so… basic. Like common sense, even. But there is a reason that employers repeated them to me and I’m repeating them to you: candidates don’t follow them. So study this job interview advice carefully, whether you’re seeking your first real world job or you’re the parent of someone who is, and acing the most important test to date will be a little bit easier.
Don’t Try It Until You Mock it
It’s one thing to know how to answer basic job interview questions: Why are you interested in working for my company? What’s a challenge you were able to overcome? What’s your greatest weakness? And so on. But until you verbalize responses, you don’t really know what you’ll say. Mock interviews will provide you a roadmap for the questions you can nail today and the ones you need to work on for tomorrow. Often, a school’s career development center or similar resource will provide mock interviews. But simply finding a friend who’s also job hunting – or even answering questions aloud in the shower or while driving – are also effective ways of boning up your interview chops. Be sure to record your answers and listen for any answers you can elevate. You never want your answers to sound rehearsed, but you want a few bullet points to guide your responses to the top 20 or 30 questions you could potentially be asked.
Do Your Research
Visit a company’s website. Learn their mission and values. Conduct a Google News search to learn any new developments – maybe they acquired a competitor or launched a new product. Even search for the folks who are interviewing you on LinkedIn. Showing you’ve done your work expresses a genuine interest in working with the company.
Little Things that Make a Big Impact
Remember when I mentioned that a lot of tips seemed like common sense; well, here we go. Dress the part – and ask HR the preferred dress if you truly don’t know. Practice driving to the interview location. Arrive early. Offer a firm handshake. Leave your phone but bring your resume – even if you’ve already emailed it to 15 people. For group interviews, address and engage everyone. Thank them for their time. And write a thank-you note. It’s amazing how many people don’t do these simple things. Don’t be one of them.
Show You Can Do, Will Do and Will Fit
This is a simple interviewing strategy employed by many top companies, whether it’s a one-on-one or group interview. Interviewers will design questions to see if you have the skills to perform the role, to see if you have the motivation and other intangibles to actually get the job done, and then see if you have the character and personality to fit in with the company culture. The more you research the role and the company, the better you can address these three critical criteria.
Flip the Interview
OK, you did your research. Now plan on peppering in a few questions here and there during the interview. There is some information you’ll really want – maybe they didn’t offer adequate detail about what the average day will look like for the person in this role or what other teams and departments he or she will engage with. But you also want to let your interviewers know that you genuinely care about the company – and took the time to get to know them. Finally, try to keep two or three questions in your back pocket for the standard, “What other questions do you have about the job?” portion of the interview.
Don’t Chase a Curveball
Google and other Silicon Valley companies made the job interview curveball question famous, posing dizzying puzzles and elaborate problems for candidates to solve on the spot. Other companies have followed this trend. I was once asked about how I could sell a warehouse full of ping pong balls – but they couldn’t be used for ping pong. Another time, I was asked to calculate the number of staplers that could fit in a standard Olympic-sized swimming pool. Rest assured that you’re not being asked to arrive at the right answer. Some of these questions don’t even have a correct answer. You’re being asked to demonstrate your real-time critical thinking skills. How will you approach the problem and how do you operate in a pressure situation – that’s what’s being tested. Work out the problems aloud and take your time. Offer creative solutions. Mention the people or resources you’d consult with. If math is involved, give it your best guess.
Embrace the 30/2 Rule
There are some exceptions, including the type of questions we just mentioned, but studies show that the best job interview answers take between 30 seconds and two minutes. Don’t look at your watch; just use this as a rough guide. (2)
Don’t Avoid the Millennial Label
Millennials are an oft-studied demographic and they happen to comprise the recent college grads out looking for work. It’s important not to run away from this label – but to leverage any applicable strengths while also addressing perceived gaps. For example, Millennials are sometimes thought to lack patience when it comes to climbing the career ladder. Be careful of answers that show an inappropriate level of ambition or frustration at a potential career path.
Interviewers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re seeking the best candidate for a given role from the pool who applied. By approaching a job interview as simply another learning opportunity – after which it’s quite possible to walk away with a life-changing offer – candidates can take some of the pressure off, and truly be themselves.