How to ace an interview in 3 steps
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
There are tons of articles, videos, and books out there to help you prepare for giving a great interview. I'm sure they all have great advice and if you have the time to read through them all, you'll be ready to knock the interview out of the park. However, if you're strapped for time or just don't want to wade through pages of suggestions, then follow these three steps to prepare for your upcoming interview and leave a great impression that will have them calling you back.
1) Have an answer ready for the "Tell me about yourself" question
Almost every interviewer asks this question at the beginning of every interview, yet many candidates are not prepared to provide an adequate answer and instead get that deer-in-the-headlights look before stumbling through a brief review of their employment history. Super. You just told the interviewer that you didn't bother to prepare for this interview.
Instead, take the time to be the one candidate who prepares. Write down a paragraph (between 5-10 sentences) which provides a brief overview of your background and what led you to apply for this position. Keep this information relevant to the job. If you already have an "elevator pitch" that you use at hiring events, you could start with that and add more information relevant to this particular job.
Don't have an elevator pitch? That's okay! Create a paragraph that briefly summarizes your experience. Brief is the key word here. If you're like me and have had 27 jobs, you're not going to list them all. Instead, only go back 10 years or as far back as is relevant for this job. You might only talk about the last 2 positions that are relevant to this job. Make sure to mention your education if it's relevant to the role.
An important thing to remember here is that the employer is not your friend. They are not there to learn more about your interests and hobbies. When they ask you to tell them about yourself, they are only wanting to know about things that are relevant to the job. Do not talk about your family. Do not talk about your kids. Do not talk about a divorce you recently had. Do not talk about your disabilities. Do not talk about politics or religion (unless the job has to do with those particular topics).
Here is an example of a summary for someone applying to work in Logistics:
"I’m originally from a small town in West Virginia and joined the Army so I could see more of the world as an automated logistics technician. Over the course my 8 years of service, I rose through the ranks to a logistics supervisor and eventually a logistics manager with about 25 people under my direct supervision and responsibility over $5 million of equipment and supplies. I really enjoyed my time in service, but around 2012 I realized I was ready for a new challenge and decided to separate from the military in order to finish out my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration before going on to complete a Master's degree in Supply Chain Management. I then had the opportunity to complete an internship with XYZ Inc. at their headquarters where I got to learn about all the moving parts of a global corporation. Which is why I’m so excited to be interviewing for the Global Shipping Director position. I really feel that with my military management skills combined with my internship experience and recent education, I could help further this organization's goals of fulfilling global requisitions while maintaining customer satisfaction."
This answer allowed the interviewee to include their relevant education, mention 2 relevant positions, and why they want the this job. Remember that this will be something you'll be memorizing and saying, so you want it to be conversational. (You don't want the interviewer's eyes to glaze over during your answer.)
The main thing that you want to make sure you insert into the end of your spiel is why you're so excited about the job. Showing excitement and enthusiasm for the role right off the bat is great. It's even better if you can tell the interview why you're excited about the job. They'll be more likely to remember you and you'll stand out from the other candidates.
2) Have 3 reasons that you're the best fit for the job
The purpose of an interview is to help the employer determine the best candidate to fill a position. Help the interviewer out by ensuring that your top reasons for being the best candidate get mentioned in your answers to the interviewer's questions.
However, keep in mind that your reasons need to be solid and have examples. If one of your top reasons for being a great fit for the job is, "I'm a leader," then you need to have a solid example of your leadership abilities. A story of how your leadership skills led your company or department to success in a previous job would be much more convincing than you just telling the interviewer that you have great leadership skills.
Before the interview, really consider what makes you a top candidate for the role. What makes you stand out from the crowd? What skill(s) do you bring to the table? Make sure that you have a solid example for each. As the interviewer asks you their questions, you may be able to use one of these examples for your answer.
3) Have questions to ask the interviewer
At the end of most interviews, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Telling them, "no," is the kiss of death. You've basically just told them you're not really interested in the job.
Instead, make a list of 3-5 questions to ask the interviewer. This might seem like a lot, but there's the possibility that some of these questions might get answered during the interview. You'll want to have backups in case that happens.
Try to stay away from asking about salary and benefits. Immediately asking about pay suggests that you're only interested in the position for a paycheck and not for the opportunity to tackle exciting challenges and build a career with that company. Pay, benefits, and leave/holiday are really topics of conversation to broach after you've received an offer.
Instead, focus your questions on the position, the company, and/or the interviewer's experience at the company. With that in mind, here are some questions you might ask:
What does success look like in this position?
What are the expectations for me at 30, 60, and 90 days into the role?
What are the opportunities for continued learning and development in this position?
What is the single largest problem facing your staff and would I be in a position to help you solve this problem?
What have you most enjoyed about working here?
Can you tell me about the team I'd be working with?
The main thing to remember is that these should be questions to which you genuinely want to know the answers. When you're finished asking questions, you can then say something along the lines of, "I think those are all the questions I have right now. What are the next steps in this process?" This will give you an idea of what to expect next and might even get you information regarding when you'll expect to hear something back.
Following these three recommendations to prepare for an interview will ensure that you feel confident and will help you stand out from a crowd of job applicants in a positive way.
If you have more time to prepare for interviews and would like more insight into what hiring managers might ask as well as suggestions for how to answer general interview questions, buy my book, Cut the Bullsh*t, Land the Job: A Guide to Resume Writing, Networking, Interviewing, LinkedIn, Salary Negotiation, and More! The guide comes with over 30 resume templates and is available in both Ebook and print formats.