How to Ace the Interview

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As a recruiter, part of what I do is provide candidates with the necessary information and tools to prepare for a job interview.

For example, I recently helped a young engineer get hired over other, more seasoned engineers that had the preferred mechanical degree. (This guy was a chemical engineer.) Aside from being extremely bright and mature for a male in his mid-twenties, he had a great attitude and prepared well for his interview. He effectively conveyed his interest and enthusiasm for the position by asking great questions that demonstrated that he did his homework.

Obviously it’s someone’s credentials and experience that get the attention of hiring managers. But the interview itself is an excellent opportunity to make a strong and positive impression.

Here are 5 tips that will help you stand out from your competition.

1. Enthusiasm is powerful. Walk in and leave the interview with energy and enthusiasm that conveys strong desire for the job and company. Come well-prepared and show confidence without being annoyingly cocky. Even if you are lukewarm on the job, go in there like you are going to get it. You can always decide if you want the job after you get the offer.

First impressions stick, so be positive and leave any apathy or negativity at home. Since you can’t predict the future, remember this: although the interview may not result in an offer or your acceptance of a job, always leave a positive impression. A more interesting opportunity may arise within the same company in the future and the people with whom you met during your initial interview could be influential in inviting you back for another one.

2. Tell them about yourself. How you answer the “tell me about yourself” question sets the tone for the rest of the interview. It should speak to your qualifications for the job, your interest in the position and company, and your confidence that you would add immediate value to their group. Plan to list your reasons too!

To prep for this, thoroughly read the job requirements and make sure you understand them. As you study the requirements of the job, read between the lines to decipher the challenges of the position. Multi-tasking and fast paced environment could indicate chaos and/or a team that’s under staffed. Strong leadership skills may suggest that there are some challenging personalities that need a different approach in gaining buy in. The interview questions should allude to some of the challenges. The more you can uncover about the position and/or company (actual difficulties), the better prepared you can be to cite examples of similar situations you encountered, how you responded and the results of your action.

After your due diligence, write down at least five of your strengths, related to the position.
When you write this information down, it will help you remember the points you want to make during the interview, which can be stressful enough. Next, use your notes to rehearse (get comfortable talking about your strengths) and, if necessary, reference during the interview.

3. Ask thoughtful questions that get to a higher level of understanding. Since you’ve done your research, this should be a piece of cake. As questions of genuine interest that demonstrate you’ve done more than just study their website. Find out what their competition is doing. Read anything you can find about their business and the industry.

Note: If, by the end of the interview, you’re not clear on the challenges, expectations or responsibilities, that’s a good time to ask.

4. Relay at least four accomplishments over the last ten years. Again, write this down to prepare. This exercise allows for reflection on your role and responsibilities and the value you bring. Be specific about the role you played and the results of the work. Any impressive quantifiable results should be on your resume.

If you’re struggling with siting major accomplishments, think in those terms of what gets you excited and gives your work meaning. As a recruiter, when I’m getting to know you, I’m interested in what you liked about your role and what you’ve done of which you’re particularly proud.

5. Prepare for the curve ball. During the interview, you may be asked about your greatest weaknesses or a project that did not have a positive outcome and how you handled it. This question is to see how you react under pressure. No one wants to talk about their weaknesses, especially when trying to make a strong impression. However, like with mistakes we make, it’s how we react in these situations that’s important. Prepare for it and you won’t get flustered.

Penelope Trunk, a career coach and author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules of Success, writes in her blog on this topic “It’s pretty certain that if you are not clear on your weaknesses then you are not clear on your strengths, and your value at the office will be questionable.”

Be genuine and positive. Be truthful and thoughtful in your answer. “Do not give a bullshit answer,” Trunk suggests. “Saying something like, ‘I pay too much attention to detail’ is actually a terrible answer for someone who is getting hired to do detail work. It means you have a deficit in the exact area you’re trying to get hired for. The best answer to the question is when you tell a truthful answer, because it’s very unlikely you will be hired for the thing you are most weak at doing.”

Since you have done your research and know the requirements of the job, this will ensure you don’t mention a weakness that is critical for the role. There are many effective ways to answer this question. One way is to reference a weakness not critical to the job but then focuses more on a strength. For example, as an engineer you could say “I’m not so great in finance, but I work with numbers and data regularly. I’m very analytical and love using data as a driver for trouble shooting and root cause analysis.”

Another twist to this question may come in the form of asking about a project that did not have the desired result or a difficult employee that you had to manage. These are opportunities for lessons learned and in learning about ourselves. They also speak to your personality and behavior. Their looking for how you handled a situation, what you did to correct or improve it and the steps you have taken to mitigate the risk of repeating the mistake.

Have a real example ready that is short and concise. Briefly explain the situation and how you would handle it differently today.

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If you are properly prepared for a job interview, your confidence will show. Once you get off to strong start, the rest will come naturally.

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Uli Stewart is the recruiting manager at Vantage Point Recruiting.

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