As a new college graduate or young HR professional trying to land a great first or second job, how you interview usually is the only way to separate yourself from other candidates. That means you must pay attention to the details that will help you stand out with hiring managers.
If there’s a major professional weakness that most people share, it’s a lack of ability to turn job interviews into offers—simply because most of us have very little experience in this area. But with patience, practice and preparation, you can develop the skills to earn job offers consistently.
Always go to an interview with the single intent of landing the job. All too often, candidates will waste interviews by going in with the wrong goals, asking questions to help decide if this is the right job, right company or right work environment for them. While it is good to ask questions, they’re irrelevant until there’s an offer on the table. You go to interviews to get job offers; evaluating the job happens after an offer is on the table.
Recruiters and hiring managers don’t just consider your education and experience to help them find the right hire. They often look at how you present yourself and the vibes you give off. Make an honest appraisal of your personal branding before applying for a new position. Ask yourself the following:
- Will you be a cultural fit?
- What do your social media accounts reflect about you?
- What does your demeanor reveal about your work ethic?
- What does your body language convey?
- Do you speak with confidence?
- Are you likeable?
- Do you come across as trustworthy?
Focus exclusively on how you’re qualified, capable, eager and easy to get along with. One recent candidate for an HR position was turned down for the job and told that it was because the company was looking for someone “more collegial.” We sometimes spend more of our waking hours with our professional colleagues than we do with our loved ones, so, while you want to be professional, also be friendly, smile and be considerate.
And don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.” Avoid speaking poorly of a previous employer or anyone else. If your interview is over lunch, exhibit excellent table manners.
Show and Tell
There are many considerations that can impact your tactics at an interview, but they all boil down to this: No matter what you do, or at what level you do it, everyone’s job involves performing the same basic functions. We’re all hired for our ability to identify problems within our area of responsibility, anticipate them, prevent them where possible and solve them. Why? Because problems hinder profitability, and, if the problems didn’t exist, then the job likely wouldn’t exist. When you cut right to the heart of it, we’re all hired to be problem identifiers, problem preventers and problem solvers.
The candidate who’s best able to convey his or her skills and experiences as they relate to the recurrent problems of the job in question is the one who gets the job offer. He or she seems to be best-suited to taking problems off the hiring manager’s desk or even preventing them from getting there in the first place.
Come to the interview armed with short stories about how you put your skills to use, whether in school or the workplace. Talk about a time when you kept your cool in a pressure-packed situation. Recount the day that you made the best of a bad situation. Recall the meeting when everyone was out of solutions and your innovative idea saved the day. Let the interviewer know that you’ve done your research by having three concrete ideas for how you can help the company.
Once you’ve considered all the deliverables of the job in terms of the problems they present and how you can identify, anticipate, prevent and solve those problems, you’ve covered the areas that every hiring manager is most concerned about.
To be fully prepared, find out the titles of the people you’re likely to interview with, particularly those who are higher up the chain of command and in other departments. Knowing the interviewers’ titles and responsibilities will help you answer their questions in ways that show appreciation for their roles. This will score additional points in your favor and help secure positive feedback from key stakeholders.
The Questions You Ask
Hiring decisions are based on how you answer questions as well as the questions you ask, which demonstrate your interest and understanding of the job’s essentials. By asking questions that go to the very heart of the job, you demonstrate a degree of knowledge that many candidates will never approach.
When you show yourself to be someone who “gets” the very core of the job and recognizes and can handle the problems that it serves up every day, you become the candidate who will land the offer.
Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, is the author of The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, available at SHRMStore.