A Career Coach’s “Can’t Miss” Tips for Interviewing

Dear Eli,

I’m a professional looking for a new job in the tech industry. I know things are always changing and I want to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be. As 2019 approaches, what are your top interviewing tips for someone looking to land their next job?

Thanks for the help,

— Richard (Chicago, Illinois)

Eli: Hi Richard, thanks for the email. This is a good time to think about job interviews because companies start to think about their placement numbers around this time. When the new year starts, recruitment and interviews will begin anew with fresher eyes and minds, ready to improve their company’s bottom line and the quality level of the workforce.

So I’ll give you some advice that you, or someone entering any profession, can use as they prepare for tough interviews. I hope it helps.

First, we have to start with an elemental part of interview preparation…

1. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Going into any phone screen or interview without practicing can be lethal in your job search. There are some standard questions and topics that you absolutely MUST have a great response for on the tip of your tongue.  

“Tell me about yourself,” is a question you will get in most interviews. My recommendation about how to answer it is three-pronged. Start by asking yourself this: What are the three things you want your reviewer to remember about you in less than two-to-three minutes? Think about it and create a triangle of three major points, because people remember things in threes. Keep in mind your last corner should describe specifically why you would be a benefit to the team.

The triangle is actually very helpful for you. To keep it simple, all you have to remember is three key points to discuss. They will definitely have more questions for you after your “pitch.”  

 why you're a benefit

By the time you are in an interview setting, it’s important to know that a recruiting team is talking to you because it needs extra help or because you are expected to replace someone who has left. Work volume, therefore, is high. Your benefit as a potential employee is that you can help the team based on your experience and can “hit the ground running.”

Of course, there will always be technical questions related to your field and you should be able to talk about the challenges, successes, and failures you’ve faced. From an employment perspective, be prepared to talk about your accomplishments as well as difficulties you may have had working with co-workers and on projects. Come in knowing what your most important two-to-three best strengths and weaknesses are.

Be prepared to explain in detail why the company interests you and if you have any questions for the interviewers. Always have at least three questions prepared.

When you are practicing, I recommend to practice answering out loud in the volume you will speak at during the phone screen/onsite. Just practicing in your head is not enough. You need to have the experience of strong volume/energy and knowing your responses.

2. Research

Know the company. What are their values and/or mission statements? What would excite you about working at the company? If you need to know more about the company, read up on them online, at their site, and at company review sites like Glassdoor.com.

Sometimes, you can also find specific interview questions online by Google-searching terms like  “XXXX Company interview questions.”

You also need to know who your interviewers are. Check them out on social media. Do they have any videos on YouTube? There might be some really good info you can find out about the person and use it in the middle of an interview.  “It was really interesting to learn you were…I would love to learn more about it,” “I see on LinkedIn you have definitely moved up the ladder here — What changes have you seen over time?” and “By the way, I really enjoyed your video on…..”

3. Energy

Think about this: Prior to your interview, your interviewer may have been sitting through four or five other interviews that day or may be inundated with work. Sometimes, it is not WHAT you say, but HOW YOU SAY IT. This is why your own energy you bring to the interview is important.

A good trick to help with any interview is to speak at two levels above your normal speaking voice, on the phone and in-person.

A great way to measure this is to get a friend and do a number count from 1 (whisper) to 10 (a shout) and ask them “At what number do you think I have the most energy?” Usually it will be above your normal speaking voice. Doing this can actually help you with eliminating filler words and a shaky nervous voice. Also, because you have to talk louder, you actually open your mouth more, resulting in you smiling with amazing energy and connecting better with your interviewer(s).

According to David Woodford of BusinessKnowHow.com, “Power speaks for itself,

“And motivation of an audience certainly calls for the ability to increase the power of our voice. It’s the relative sound that counts from the audience’s side not yours! Here’s a suggestion. Read a few sentences out loud to some colleagues sitting some distance away increasing the volume (power) all the time, and ask them to raise their hands at the point at which it gets uncomfortable. I guarantee you will be in for a shock! That point for you will seem like you are shouting at the top of your voice! Why? Because when we hear ourselves talking, the sound has only traveled from our mouth to our ears — but a few inches. But for our audience that distance had to be measured in feet..”

Or on the phone.

4. Body Language

While your content and energy is extremely important, so is your body language. Sit up straight. Put your hands on the table and not under or in pockets as that can become creepy. Most office chairs swivel. Sit still.

If you are slumped over, not standing straight, what might the perception be about you? (Maybe disinterested, low energy, closed off and/or not confident.) Conversely, if you’re sitting with your legs elongated and your arm resting on the chair next to you, that could be perceived as arrogant or maybe too relaxed.  

To get an in-depth look about “Power Poses,” check out psychologist Ann Cuddy. Her 2012 TED talk about body language will give you an in-depth look about the importance of body language.

5. Eye Contact

Here is a good rule of thumb if there are more than two people in the room: You can talk as much as you want but you can only talk when you have a pair of eyes to look at. Would you trust someone who cannot look you in the eye? At the end of the day, a key component to a successful interview is CONNECTION. Interviewers need and want to feel they can connect with the interviewee. If you are looking at the ceiling or the floor, how can you connect? The best way? Eye contact. As per EverydayInterviewTips.com:

“Eye contact is one of the most common non-verbal cues we have. Eye contact says a lot about who you are. Making eye contact throughout the interview shows the employer that you have:  Confidence, Focus, [Are] Personable.”

And not making eye contact can make you look shy, distracted, or make you seem as if you’re lying. 

Eye contact tip: If you need to demo something on a laptop or whiteboard, no problem. Look at a slide. Write something. However, only try to talk when you have a set of eyes to connect with.

6. Record Yourself

Do not practice in a mirror as you will not be interviewing in front of a mirror. Instead, record your performance with a smartphone.

For phone interviews, I recommend you have someone record you from across the room with your back to them. You need to know what you sound like. For example, is your personal pitch (“Tell me about yourself”) engaging? Are your answers energetic or are you using fillers words?

For onsite interviews, have someone ask you questions and video record yourself. You need to know what you look and sound like. Is your energy and volume strong or are you low energy and monotone? If not, make the necessary changes until you do.

Here’s an additional TRUTH you need to know about performance: Adults learn quicker when we can see and hear ourselves. But most people do not like to hear or see themselves on camera. So leave those negative thoughts at the door. What you are looking for is content, energy and connection.

When doing this exercise, I want you to think about the rule of three. Typically, to learn a new skill it takes three times to become familiarized. Prior to any interview, make sure you are practicing out loud/recording yourself a minimum of three times.

7. Dress for Success

Do not listen to recruiters who say “dress casually.” You need to look good and be well-groomed for all onsite meetings.

To get an idea about corporate culture, go online and do a search for “XXX Company office” and look at their images. Get an idea of what the people who work there look like. Whatever they wear, dress one level up. If they wear jeans and a t-shirt, you should wear a nice shirt with slacks/skirt/dress and shoes. If they’re business “casual,” consider a more conservative outfit. Looking sharp never hurt anyone at an interview. Looking sloppy can hurt your chances.

8. Take care of YOU

and breathe

You are powerless over whether someone likes you or not. And you are “power-full” to bring your authentic self to the interview. It’s You who comes first during the interview. Breathe. Go slow. Sentences have periods. Bring water.

If you do not know an answer DO NOT GO SILENT. It’s creepy. If you have a problem with an answer, go through the following sequence:

  1. Repeat and rephrase the question. “So when was a time I failed and what did I learn?”
  2. Breathe and take a moment.
  3. Say, “hmmm…That is a good question. Let me think about this for a second.”
  4. Breathe and take a moment.
  5. Respond.

9. Follow up

thank you

Send anybody you interview a thank you note within one business day of a meeting. If you know their address, really impress them and send them a written note, too, which they will receive a few days later. This is something nobody ever does and it keeps you in their peripheral.

Haven’t heard back in a week? Send a super brief email.

“Hi Pat, just wanted to follow up on our meeting on XXXX. It was great to meet all of you and I do look forward to hearing from you. Hope you are having a great day.”

It’s short and sweet. They know what the email is about. You really do not need more.

As you go through the interview process, definitely love and take care of yourself. Leave the negative talk on the street where it belongs. You ARE enough just the way you are.

Good luck!!

Eli

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