You either hate them or you love them. You either get sweaty palms or you confidently rise to the occasion. Whichever side of the spectrum you are on, the fact of the matter is this: Interviews are unavoidable and as soon as you accept that, you’ll be able to learn some tips and tricks to help you manage the process.
We recently had opportunities to perform mock interviews on graduate students as they were preparing for “interview season.” We used to be on the other side of the fence, craving tips from professionals in the field. But now that we were on the drilling, err…interviewer side, we wanted to give some highlight some key points and tips to help you prepare. You’re welcome!
Here’s what we’ve learned:
1.) Safe Words. I was in an interview once and while giving an explanation of my experience, the interview interrupted me and said “‘Um’” is your safe word, isn’t it?” Um…I was mortified! Safe Words are those filler words such as “like” and “um” that we (ladies, it’s mostly us!) tend to use in general conversation but should not overuse in the professional sense. It’s so hard to ex these out of our vocabularies! They tend to show up when we are nervous and then they grow legs and feet and run away from us when we’re under pressure.
And while we’re talking about safe words, let’s also talk about the upward inflection that we use so that we make things sound like a question when we’re actually making statements. Let’s just stop that, okay?! Okay.
Pro Tip: Record your interviews with the voice recorder on your phone to figure out what your safe words are and when you tend to end phrases with upward inflection. Before you go into an interview (after you’ve put your phone on silent, of course!), open the voice recorder on your phone, put the phone back in your bag and just let it run while you interview. Play it back to see how you did, which words you over used and use this a personally feedback tool to start improving for future interviews. You’ll be surprised with how aware you are of your words and how you say them when you hear yourself in action!
2.) The robot. Interviews should be a conversation. While you should be prepared and rehearsed to an extent, if they wanted to hire a machine, they could have. It’s 2017! I heard several students sounding like they were reading a script. I tend to write out the bullets of what I want to say, but at the same time, it’s important to be personable and allow the interviewer to know that you are sensing, thinking, and adapting to the present environment. They are looking for someone who fits the work but who also fits the culture. Let them see who you are!
Pro Tip: I have a big personality and I like for my potential coworkers and leaders to know that when they meet me. I think that it’s just as important to do good work as it is to like the people you work with. However, sometimes it’s best to keep you wit in the bag if your interviewer can’t handle it. This is why you have to become really good at reading a room! Play off of your interviewers energy. The better you get at this, the better you will be able to guide interviews in the direction that you want them to go.
3.) Modesty. There’s a fine line between selling yourself and begging for a job. We interviewed both male and female students, and I must say, the men sold themselves so much better than did the women (obviously this is subjective!) I found that my male interviews were able to tell me why I should hire them without even flinching. They were able to point back to their experience and point that experience to the requirements of the roles. They were able to point out their skills without hesitation or apology. But they were also able to do so in such a way that didn’t sound overly confident, but more so reassuring. Is this genetic?! I’m not sure! I certainly still struggle with this! I found that the women interviewees said things such as “I want to learn” or “I’d be so grateful for the opportunity” rather than “I have a track record of success”. Why is this? I have several theories (not wanting to come across too aggressive, not wanting to overstep boundaries, etc.) but for whatever reason, I liked the male responses better! I say all of this to say, don’t be afraid to promote yourself with assurance. You have value and you have worth. You would not have made it the interview process if you didn’t. My favorite interview question to ask is “why should I hire you?” Learn how to confidently say what differentiates you from the person who is coming in an hour after you. Leave an impression, leave a mark, and don’t feel sorry about it!
Pro Tip: Practice different ways of selling yourself and find a method that works well for you. Everyone has different approaches. For example, I lead with passion. I make sure interviewers know that this isn’t just a job for me, but there’s a purpose and a calling behind what I do that drives my ambition, my dedication, and the value I will bring to the organization. Figure out your method and you’ll be able to communicate why you are the obvious choice in no time!
4.) Be Prepared. This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how much of an issue this can be! Having been through a million interviews, I’ve started to see some commonalities in the questions asked. Some questions you can prepare for in advance more so than others. There’s no excuse to be unprepared for behavioral interview questions (the good ole “tell me about a time when…”). That might seem a little harsh, but there are tons of resources online with hundreds of questions you can use to prepare. They are looking for how well you describe the situation, the task you were asked to take, the actions you actually took and the result. Think of this as an adventure in story telling. Once upon a time I was working on [insert project]…where I had to do [insert task]…but I only had [insert situational details]. I decided that I would do [insert action] because of [insert reasons for action] and because I did [insert action], I ended being able to achieve [insert result]. It’s that simple! Just don’t leave any cliff hangers and you’ll do just fine!
Also, no matter what your responses are, make sure they lean towards the positive. If they ask you what your greatest weakness it, tell them something that isn’t actually a weakness. No, don’t lie! But say something that can be perceived as a weakness, but is actually a good thing. For example, my greatest weakness is my sense of responsibility. How is that a weakness, you might ask? Well someone who takes such onus over their work (positive), might have a hard time delegating (not as positive). It’s important to also state how you are overcoming the less than positive part. This goes for the “tell me about a time you failed” question as well. You didn’t fail, you learned. Perspective is everything!
Pro Tip: When preparing for behavioral questions, think of scenarios that will answer more than one behavioral question. This way, you don’t have as many behavioral answers to remember. For example, if your “tell me about a time you were stressed” and your “tell me about a time you had to prioritize responsibilities” is both answered by that time you worked on that project with your VP and you were on a time crunch, then you only have to remember that one example and modify it to fit the question asked. (Note: Use common sense! Don’t give the same story repetitively, but use different parts of the experience to illustrate your behaviors.)
Pro Tip: For case questions, I cannot stress this enough: THINK OUT LOUD! The answer is not as important as the process you took to get there. This was always interesting to me because culturally, we want to have the right answer. We want to be right. But that’s not the point here. The point is to see how you process information and the steps you take at arriving at a particular course of action. I had an interview where I was asked how I would save a pizza franchise. There are many ways to save a pizza franchise, but the interviewer wanted to know how I would approach all aspects of the business from marketing to staffing …and I even through in re-evaluating the recipe. That’s probably not good for a franchise, but desperate times calls for desperate measures!
Pro Tip: Panel interviews are the worst! You are being judged by multiple people simultaneously and you have to be overly aware of verbal communication as well as your body language! All I can say is to shift your focus around the panel, give everyone equal attention, and know that while one interviewer might be taken notes, the other is staring you down! So remain “on” at all times. Good luck with that!
5.) Do your research. Know about the company, but also see what you can find out about the interviewer in advance. Why? Several reasons. This will help you ask informed questions at the end of the interview and it will also help you understand if your background fits the role. I have found that doing my research gives me enough information to get interviewers talking more. And sometimes, you just need a break from doing all of the talking!
Research is also important for the infamous salary question. Do not be afraid of this question. Interviewers are animals that can sense fear and almost always, this question, if asked early on in the process, is a trap. A trap that people, especially women, fall into way too often! From a high level, the rule is to never throw out a number on the first interview. If pressed, give a range. If pressed even more, give a percentage increase above your current salary (without telling your salary!) I rely on the “bob and weave” technique which is basically stating interest in the role, making sure it’s a good fit, and expressing confidence that you and the company can work together to figure out a salary commensurate of your experience and the value you will add. Then change the subject. Quickly! Talking about salary is uncomfortable, but we’ve got to be better at doing it! Not only will it help us work on the pay gap, but it also sets us up for future roles. I don’t know many companies that will pay you more than what you ask for, so don’t be afraid to ask….but not until you know they want you!
Pro Tip: Get a Glassdoors account. It’s free and it’s very helpful in researching the interview process from those who went through it before.
Pro Tip: And finally, as much as possible, relax! Be rested, be energized, and don’t forget to breath!
These are just a few tips to help you prepare for and ace your next interview! Let us know what questions you have! What’s been your best interview experience? What about your worst? We want to hear your feedback!