Interview Preparation To Get A Job

When you’re looking for help with landing a job making sure the interview goes well is key.

When you hear this question, know that it is a test of your ability to summarize information concisely, not a test of the presence or absence of job skills. Once you go down the road of trying to list everything the job entails, you’ll soon grind to halt in a great steaming cloud of words—assuming you don’t bore them to death first.

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Simply, you have to have the confidence to be brief, to pick only the essence of the job—which is usually either something to do with making a profit or keeping stakeholders happy—and then peppering that with maybe one or two everyday logistical tasks.

So let’s say you’re applying for the job of airline pilot:

My job is to fly passengers safely, on time, in comfort, at a profit to my employer.

And that, believe it or not, is a good answer in the eyes of many. Compare it to what you see when Googling the phrase “Boeing 747 pre-flight checklist.”

If they want more, you might also wow them with:

  • The exact job title.
  • The reporting relationship, both up and down.
  • Key performance indicators for you, your team or your product.
  • One or two key challenges to be overcome in the industry.

How did you hear about the position?

The Real Question: How plugged in to our company are you?

Top-line Tactic: If possible, take this opportunity to highlight your personal connection to, or passion for, the company.

Could the interviewer simply be trying to find out which of their recruiting channels is bringing in quality candidates like you? Possibly that’s part of the reason for asking this seemingly straightforward question, but there is also probably something of a hidden agenda.

As we mention in several questions throughout this article, potential employers are like potential dates—they want you to be interested in them specifically, not whoever happens to be available at the moment.

Questions about how you came across the job, therefore, are likely to be testing whether you sought out this particular firm or type of employer and feel strongly about what they do or whether you simply stumbled upon the job opening on a massive job board.

If it’s at all the truth, now is the time to highlight your personal connection to the company. Did you hear about the opening from a friend or contact? Here’s the perfect way to mention that without sounding like an obnoxious namedropper. Did you locate the job through research into the industry or company because you had an interest in moving your career in their direction? Definitely tell your interviewer that.

Even if you came across the job simply by browsing through ads or via a recruitment agency, when you tell the interviewer that be sure to add a few details about why this opportunity in particular got you excited and fits your skills and abilities.

Why do you want to work at this company?

The Real Question: Have you been following us for a long time, or have you just read up on us?

Top-line Tactic: Show that you are familiar with the company’s regular outputs, not just its “About Us” article.

Many people can do a decent job of talking about their skills, experience and motivation, but fail to make a convincing case when talking about the target company. Recruitment experts report that candidates often focus on what the job will do for them, rather than what they will do for the company. These candidates need a simple shift in focus.

Genuine enthusiasm for the company and its business is a powerful way to get the interviewer to take an interest in you and your application, so you should treat this part of the question as an opportunity to show the interviewer that you’ve done your research on the company. Make sure that your research is current and relevant to the question, and shows that you’ve been keeping abreast of the company’s development plans. Setting a news alert on a search engine for the company you’re interviewing for can be a great help in the days preceding your interview.

You could choose to refer to a recent piece of news regarding the company’s success, or its expansion plans, then explain how you would like to contribute during this exciting period of growth. What you say is part of the story, but most important is to let your enthusiasm shine through; it’s all about showing you want to commit to that company, and it’s not just a job.

Finally, if you are being interviewed by your prospective boss, focusing on your personal contribution has particular power; if you are looking forward to helping the company succeed, then you will also be making your prospective boss look good.

Best Interview Prep

Unsurprisingly, interviewers want to hear where you think you are in your career and where you want to go next—hence you’re very likely to be asked a potential showstopper like Why do you want to work here?

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Within the broad requirement of wanting to know about your career goals, different interviewers have different reasons for asking:

  • If you’re a recent graduate, interviewers want to know that you expect to start at the bottom and work up, rather than start at the top and see how it goes from there.
  • If you’re in the middle of your career, interviewers want to know how you got there, where you want to go next and whether you have the energy and the ability to make the move up.
  • If you’re hoping to move sideways or planning a fresh start in a new industry, the interviewer will expect you to be clear about why you think you should be given a shot, and that you know what will be expected of you in the unfamiliar environment.
  • If you’re hoping for a job that’s significantly bigger and more taxing than the one you have, the interviewer will want to know that you’re motivated by something other than money—because money is usually not enough to keep most of us interested in a job we can’t do or that we don’t like, at least not for long.
  • If you’ve had a large number of jobs recently, the interviewer will be keen to know why, and whether you’re likely to flee from them too.

It all adds up to the same thing: no interviewer wants to get you on-board if deep down you’d rather be somewhere else. Wrong hires are not just time-consuming and expensive to deal with—they can also be acutely embarrassing to the hirer’s reputation as a manager. Also, if you have no idea where you’re going in your career, chances are you won’t be in a position to inspire anyone else to travel with you—in which case you probably shouldn’t be trying out for anything resembling a leadership role.

For all these reasons and more, you need to prepare a strong picture of your professional outlook, and be in position to quickly relate it to the job specification and to the culture of the hiring company.

If the job is consistent with the career path you have envisaged for yourself, show them. If, deep down, you’d rather be somewhere else, then you should be.

Please describe the job you’ve applied for

The Real Question: We know you know, else you wouldn’t be here—but how well can you sum it up?

Top-line Tactic: Have the confidence to give them the briefest of answers.

At interview, the difference between success and failure often comes down to knowing when to stop talking, and, when that time comes, actually having the confidence to stop too.

Most jobs require at least forty hours a week of activity, and there’s probably something you could say about each hour. Therefore, this question truly does separate the gabblers from the strong and silent types.

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Interviewing Tips

Now that you have secured an interview you are in the right place to get some great interview tips.

Most people are good at managing up or down, but usually not both. Which one are you?

The Real Question: Are you more charm than substance?

Top-line Tactic: Try to avoid the distinction by framing “managing up” and “managing down” as different skills for different times and then focusing on which you’ve excelled at . . . so far.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “managing up” basically means massaging your relationship with your supervisor to keep your work on his or her radar, get access to the resources you need and temper any unrealistic expectations. For some people, it has a pretty nasty connotation of sycophancy and self-promotion.

“I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter,” Kim Bowers, CEO of CST Brands (a large U.S. company that runs convenience stores), once said in interview, for example. “It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up.”

Other people view “managing up” as simply good business practice. This difference of opinion, along with the either/or framing of this question, can make it a particularly dangerous one. One way to avoid the obvious pitfalls here is to frame the skills of “managing up” and “managing down” as appropriate for different circumstances rather than a fundamental personality divide that you could accidentally end up on the wrong side of.

For me, managing up and managing down are skills I’ve had to master at different stages in my career based on different situations I’ve encountered. In my first job after college, for instance, my boss was always traveling and I realized she was sometimes out of the loop on what different team members were working on and we had to wait for her to catch up before we could move on. By sending her progress reports every week and asking specifically about the priorities for the week to come I was able to keep things moving forward. In that case, managing up got me promoted to team leader the following year. Now, I’m working on my skills at managing down.

Another approach for avoiding the either/or framing of the question is to bring up any 360-degree reviews you have been involved in. As these sorts of exercises evaluate your ability to manage up, down and sideways, noting positive reviews is a good way to avoid having to signal allegiance for only team “managing up” or team “managing down,” as well as stressing your flexibility in communicating well with people no matter their position in the office pecking order.

Which websites do you use personally? Why?

The Real Question: Do you keep abreast of industry news? Are you tech savvy?

Top-line Tactic: Determine what level of technical competence the interviewer is probably looking for and respond appropriately.

The import of this question very much depends on what sort of job you’re applying for. If it’s a traditional role in a non-tech company, the chances are the interviewer is fishing mainly to find out if and how you keep abreast of news and industry trends. Possibly, they’re also looking for basic tech skills, especially if you suspect they don’t possess such skills themselves.

In this case, simply tell the interviewer how you follow developments in the sector, keep up to date with current events and stay in touch with friends and colleagues online. Nothing fancy is required; just make sure you mention the touchstones in your industry. Perhaps that’s the FT if you’re in finance, popular design blogs if you’re a designer or LinkedIn if you’re a salesperson or recruiter—demonstrate you are familiar with what people in your niche are using and throw in a few personal favorites like that classic car site you’re addicted to or your love of Pinterest to give a glimpse of your character. A classic canned answer for this question is to say you use the New York Times website, but most employers have heard this answer so many times that it literally goes without saying. One stated that people “drink water and read the [New York Times] website,” so try to show a bit of personality in answering this question.

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Best Interview Prep Tips

When you need help prepping for an interview this article can be of assistance to you.

How have you ensured maximum value for money when managing resources?

The Real Question: Money is tight. Do you know how to squeeze a dollar for all it’s worth?

Top-line Tactic: Don’t shy away from giving them figures.

For all competency-based questions, providing quantifiable results is always a good idea, but for questions like this that are designed to gauge your ability to manage scarce resources, work within budgetary constraints and make cost savings, getting down to exact figures is even more important than usual.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, while controlling the budget is generally a management-level skill, this question might be asked of candidates on any rung of the career ladder. Companies want people at all levels of the organization to make the most out of company resources. You might not be setting the budget, but no matter what you do you make choices about using your employer’s resources.

The bottom line: don’t say this isn’t your area, try to choose an example where you can quantify the end result of your efforts and then just apply the STAR method, stressing, as always, not just what you accomplished but the skills and behaviors that got you there. For a more junior-level position, that might sound something like this:

While I wasn’t directly charged with handling my department’s budget, I’m the type who always likes to get the most for my money, so when my supervisor sent me to pick up some materials we’d had printed I couldn’t help being surprised by the size of the bill. At college I was active in the drama club and got flyers and programs printed up, so I knew we were paying too much. I asked for quotes from a few printers and found one who was 20 percent cheaper. My supervisor was delighted. We switched suppliers and saved over $5,000 a year.

Name some top opinion influencers in this industry

The Real Question: Do you care about thought leadership? Do you agree with the people I agree with?

Top-line Tactic: Get a spread of names, from “safe hands” to mavericks.

This is one question where a highly motivated career-switcher can score just as well as an industry veteran, because finding opinion influencers has never been easier. The world is positively dripping with industry opinion. Here are two ways of putting together an impressive roster of names.

Power lists: most trade magazines publish an annual survey of the most powerful, influential or just plain wealthy people in a given industry. They usually give these lists corny names like “Landscape Gardening’s Power 100.” Follow the top few names in these lists and you won’t go too far wrong. In all probability you’ll only be reciting the same old names as everyone else, and maybe the same old ideas too—but you need to start with the classics, as Liberace used to say.

Event speakers: most industries have big trade shows, like the Geneva Motor Show or the Ideal Home Show. These exhibitions usually feature a seminar program, and the speakers come in two varieties: a keynote speaker and a Sideshow Bob. The keynote speakers are typically on the “Power 100” lists mentioned above, so you’ve already got those covered—it’s Sideshow Bob you’re really interested in. He or she is someone who has yet to make it to the keynote stage but often has the most fresh and radical ideas. You don’t have to parrot what they say—they might be on the fringe for a reason—but in interview it’s enough to show you’re aware of thinkers who exist outside of the consensus. It’s also important to show how you feed your mind, not just what you feed it.

In property, you can’t ignore the opinion of people like Donald Trump. Their opinions are often influential partly because they get so much exposure anyway. What they say often ends up being true just because they’ve said it. That’s not to take anything away from them—they’re prominent because they know what they’re talking about, after all.

But I also try to take in the views of people on the fringes, people like Campbell Robb of Shelter. I read his thoughts on the recent sharp rise in house prices we’ve seen across the UK, when he said homelessness, house prices and our benefit bill will continue to rise out of control if nothing changes. I can’t say that he’s right, but most people in the industry have vested interests in keeping the whole thing going, and he doesn’t—so you can at least be sure he believes what he’s saying.

I think the range of opinion in the industry is one of the things I like most about it—I try to read the Property Gazette every week and I have a few blogs set up as subscriptions.

That’s how I follow opinion leaders.

And if you don’t read the trade press every week, be aware you’ll almost certainly be competing with people who do.

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