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11 Tips to Prepare for an Interview

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(Image used with permission. Original: https://simpleprogrammer.com/2016/12/14/new-job/)

The purpose of this post is to provide valuable, concrete ways to prepare for an interview to build confidence and maximize your chances for success. Before getting to the list below, I strongly recommend you read my two prior posts How to Ace Any Interview and Great Answers to 3 Very Common Interview Questions as they provide great tips that will not be repeated in the list below.

1. Do Your Research

Your goal in the interview is to convince the interviewer that you are a perfect fit for the role. You fundamentally cannot do this if you do not understand the company, its strategy and culture, and the goals of team you will be joining. Thankfully, in the age of the internet, much of this information is readily available. Great sources include:

The company’s website — The “About” section often has the history of the company along with a mission, vision, or value statement.

Quarterly/Annual reports/Investor Presentations — If the company is public, all of this information will be on the “Investor Relations” section of the website. Look at the financial performance of the company to understand if the company is growing or is struggling. Try to find information on corporate strategies (e.g. grow globally, move into a new space, launch new products, etc.) that give insight into the goals of the organization.

Press Releases — Press Releases are often a gold mine of information on recent product launches, new brands, etc.

Analyst Reports — Analyst reports are helpful as they provide objective information into the company as well as key competitors. Who does the company compete with? How are they faring against competition?

Social Media — Most companies have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Follow their company pages to get the latest information on new product launches, press releases, etc.

Glassdoor.com — Glassdoor is a great website that aggregates reviews on companies by people who have worked there. It also provides employee ratings on the CEO as well as insights into the benefits and culture.

2. Conduct Informational Interviews with Current Employees

An informational interview is a casual meeting with someone who works at the company with which you will interview. The purpose of an informational interview is to learn about the company from someone who is working there today and is a great way to get insight into culture and the style of the leadership within individual work groups. The best way to set up an informational interview is to ask your HR contact by saying something like, “In order to prepare for my interview, I would really like to conduct one or two informational interviews. Can you provide the names of one or two people with whom I can connect?” Additionally, you can reach out directly to people on LinkedIn but do not be surprised if you do not get a lot of responses (people are busy, after all).

Remember, the goal of an informational interview is to learn more about the company. As such, I recommend you conduct the research in step one above BEFORE setting up an informational interview. Also, make sure you go into your informational interview prepared: respect the interviewee’s time (30 minutes is appropriate), have a list of questions you would like answered, and send a thank you note. Finally, the goal of the informational interview is NOT to get a referral, but to learn about the company, so keep your questions focused on learning.

3. Perfect your Elevator Speech

Your elevator speech is your 30 second “sales pitch” to the interviewer and summarizes why you are a great fit for the job you are applying for. Prior to the interview, write out your elevator pitch and commit it to memory. Practice it with friends and family and ask for feedback. A good elevator pitch is short, relevant, and delivered with confidence. I have provided an example below.

“I am a highly motivated marketing leader with a passion for successfully managing all aspects of a product launch. Over the last five years, I have launched seven consumer packaged goods products into the retail channel and all seven have exceeded sales targets. I am confident my experience and passion around product launch excellence will be a valuable addition to your team and will help you achieve your goal of doubling market share over the next five years.”

4. Prepare for Common Questions

If you read my prior post on How to Answer 3 Very Common Interview Questions you will have a head start on most of the other candidates. However, there is a nearly limitless number of questions that can be asked, so you need to focus on HOW to answer questions in addition to preparing for specific questions.

The best way to answer any interview question is to use the “STAR” format where S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Actions and Results.  Answer EVERY question with an example where you start by outlining the situation, move on to what you were tasked to do, what actions you took, and what the results were. For example, if you were asked, “Tell me about a time you had to support a product launch,” a good S.T.A.R. response would be:

“In my current role as a marketing manager, I supported the launch of the S4000 line of smart light switches. The S4000 line was our next generation switch which had connectivity through a smart phone app and was the first IoT launch for my company, so it was extremely high-profile (Situation). I was responsible for developing all the marketing communications for the launch including managing our first ever exhibit at Lightfair, the world’s largest lighting trade show (Task). I proactively put together a work plan to identify key dates and milestones, collaborated with our 3rd party PR firm, managed a mar-comm team of 5 individuals in the creation of 36 communications over 4 months, and personally managed the VIP section of our booth at Lightfair (Actions). These actions resulted in over 74k impressions, an increase of 47% year over year, driving first year sales 14% above plan. We also received a ‘new product of the year award’ from Lighting Innovations, a leading trade publication (Results).”

Read the above response out loud. Notice how short it is? A good S.T.A.R. response is about 30 seconds and spends most of the time focusing on actions and results. A very common interview mistake is to ramble and the S.T.A.R. approach keeps you from doing just that, so practice it as much as possible.

5. Understand How to Respond to a “Case” Interview

A “case” interview is a type of question designed to have the candidate solve a problem and is designed to assess your thought processes and analytical skills. Case interviews are more common in the consulting and finance fields, but they can be used in any profession. The questions can range from completely random (I was asked “how many ping-pong balls fit within a 747” in a McKinsey interview) to specific (I was asked “assume you are launching a new 30 inch oven/range into the retail space…what price will you set?” at my last job). Case interviews are strange if you are not used to them, but become very easy the more you practice. There are three steps to a successful case interview:

  • Ask clarifying questions.

Most of the time you will not be given all the information you need, so you are expected to ask good questions. For the 747 example, I asked, “Do you want to know how many ping-pong balls fit only in the fuselage, or the wings as well?” Reality is complicated, so the interviewer is looking to understand if you know how to appropriately break difficult problems into the key elements.

  • Take time to structure your thoughts.

Once you are done asking your questions, put together a mini-plan of how you want to tackle the problem. It’s okay to ask for a minute or two to sketch this out on a piece of paper. Try to focus on three things you would investigate. For the oven/range example above, my mini-plan was the following:

“To answer this question, I would, (1) research competition to see how many similar products exist, (2) conduct customer segmentation to understand willingness to pay, and, (3) I would want to know our manufacturing and selling costs to ensure any price we set will provide acceptable margins.”

  • Explain the tools and analysis you would use for each of your three areas.

You want to make sure you are able to showcase your expertise and familiarity with these tools.

6. Become Aware of Your Behaviors

Now that you have prepared your answers for common questions, the next step is to become aware of your non-verbal cues. I realize a lot of what I am about to say seems obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of candidates who do not do the following:

  • Listen carefully and take notes. It shows you are serious and are paying attention. Plus, interviews can be overwhelming, so it is good to have notes you can refer back to.
  • Don’t ramble. Answers should be short and crisp using the S.T.A.R. framework. If interviewers have follow-up questions, they will ask them. Just make sure you are not rambling and are spending the majority of the time taking about ACTIONS and RESULTS.
  • Smile. You want to come across as pleasant and warm. Smiling also will help calm you down and seem less stressed.
  • Make eye contact. Eye contact is an important part of being perceived as confident and trustworthy.
  • Avoid nervous laughter.  

7. Write 2-4 Great Questions to Ask your Interviewer

At the end of virtually any interview you will be given an opportunity to ask questions. Do not pass this up! If you don’t ask questions, you will come across as not being interested in the job. Prepare in advance 2-4 good questions relevant to the position. Examples of good questions include:

  1. What are the attributes of employees who are successful in this role?
  2. What are the most important objectives of this role in the first 90 days?
  3. How would you describe the company’s culture today?

DO NOT discuss compensation, benefits, vacation policy, etc. during the interview! This will only make you appear like you are looking for a paycheck, which is not the impression you will want to leave.

8. Rehearse a Killer Close to Ask for the Job

Ask for the job! I cannot stress this enough, you need to ASK FOR THE JOB. It feels awkward, but it is important. I strongly suggest you use the “widow-maker” I provide in the How to Ace Any Interview post.

9. Draft Out your Thank You Notes

Why wait until after the interview? A link to a draft thank you note is available here: [How to Ace ANY Interview]. Make sure you get a business card or email address from everyone who interviewed you and send them a thank you note within three hours of the interview (no later than 24 hours).

10. Have a Plan to Deal with Curve Ball Questions

No matter how much you prepare, you are likely to get a question for which you are not prepared. Don’t panic! Ask for a minute or two to gather your thoughts and sketch out an answer in your mind. Most people start rambling, which is a big mistake. If you ask for time to gather your thoughts, you will not only provide a better answer, you will come across as mature and thoughtful.

11. Plan your Day in Advance

Interviews are stressful, so the last thing you need on the day of an interview is more stress. Plan what you are going to wear the night before. Wake up 15 minutes earlier than normal and double-check that your alarm is set. Aim to be at your interview at least 20 minutes early and, if you have never been to the location before, drive there the day before (and get an estimate of traffic if you are driving during rush hour). The last thing you need on the day of your big interview is to get lost or run late because of unexpected traffic.

As I always say, the secret to success is discipline. The most important part of discipline is creating a plan and practicing it to ensure flawless execution. Follow the steps above and you will go into your interview with confidence instead of stress which will set you apart from the other candidates and maximize your chances of landing the job you deserve.

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