Thanks to a mom who refused to let me sit on my ____ in the summertime, I began interviewing in junior high school, before I really understood interviewing. I just knew that I needed to make the program director say yes to me, so I didn't get in trouble, which I worried would happen if I came home with news I had no summer plans. And so I was tentative, hesitant, anxious. I answered questions, trying to sound impressive, while simultaneously giving eye contact, which I wanted to read as "I'm qualified, I'm awesome, accept me." Sometimes it did in fact read that way. And sometimes, I just looked crazy to whoever was interviewing.
After a few years of trying, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and with job experience under my belt, I began to look at interviewing in a new light. It was no longer about saving myself from my mother's glare if I failed (note: she never punished me for failing, that was an irrational fear in my head). It was now about finding the right fit. It was about articulating my value in a way to make companies want me. And it was about asking the right questions to make sure I would be happy waking up to spend 40+ hours there every week.
Interviews can be daunting (read: anxiety causing) whether on the phone, in-person, or over Skype. Preparation is like the anecdote to that anxiety. If you know how to package yourself, have practiced answers to difficult questions , have formulated the questions you want to ask, you get the opportunity to replace a lot of your fear with confidence. What is there to be afraid of when you already know what's ahead?
So what does preparation look like, agnostic of any role you might be interviewing for?
Research Like A Professional...
Go beyond the basics. Know the names of the C-Suite and department heads, especially the head of the department you're interviewing with. Also take a look at them - Are there women? People of color? Out LGBT individuals? How old are they? How long have they been in their roles?
What is the company in the news for lately? What about their competitors? Are they at the forefront of innovation? Or are they more traditional and playing it safe? Are they adding new roles frequently due to growth? Or are they struggling with lay-offs?
Speak to people who work there! Use LinkedIn, Social Media, your school's alumni network, etc. to find current employees and learn about their experiences. Are they happy? Do the values on the website match the culture in practice? What are the benefits to working there that aren't advertised? Who is successful there?
Understanding company culture can also help you understand how to show up and determine the right outfit and right demeanor. If a company values being casual at work, your best suit may not be it.
The "Why do you want to work here?" question is still almost guaranteed to be asked, so your expert digging will help you have a compelling response. It also helps you to decide if you truly want to work at that company. It tends to be more sustainable when you have a key interest in the work you'll be doing vs. changing jobs to get a salary bump or just anything to pay the bills.
Knowing Your Story and How to Tell It
"Resume help" will source over 200M results on Google in under a second. It's amazing how we live our own experiences, but don't know how to put them on paper, or more importantly, talk about them aloud. In "Pretty Hurts," the pageant judge asks Pageant Bey her aspiration in life, and she does that thing most people do when they don't know the answer to a question (repeating the question to give yourself extra time to search for the right answer). In a pageant, interview, application, there are generally time limits, deadlines, character constraints, etc. and that is purposeful. You should be able to tell your story in a concise way. That requires knowing your experiences and understanding what you want.
So you know your experiences right? They are yours. You've lived them. But do you know how to talk about them? Are you comfortable highlighting your successes? Do you know how to quantify your results? Can you discuss your journey as a story? Looking back, how did one experience affect the following decisions? How have you added to your skills and value with each move? If you aren't comfortable doing this yet, practice, in the mirror, or with a mentor until you get comfortable.
If like Bey, you pause when asked your aspiration in life, or your plans for the next 5 years, it's time to get clearer on what you value. You can start by "backwards planning." What would you to look like at 50? at 40? Are you managing people? Are you an independent contributor? Do you need a certain salary? Are there pets involved? Children? Elderly family members? What do you need to do between now and then to achieve that vision? This all will give you a good idea of what's in it for you and help you tell your story in a more meaningful way.
Asking the Important Questions
You've worked hard to research the role and package your story. You know the value you bring and you are coming to this interview with purpose. You have power here!! Even if you think this is your dream job, you should be asking questions to assess if the fit will work for you and if you will be eager when you jump out of bed to come to this place every day. What are your values? What do you need from your next role? What do you need from a manager?
Ask questions that help you identify if the environment will be a successful one for you, based on your values. You can ask questions like:
What does an average day look like for someone in this position?
What are your metrics for success for someone in this role?
What resources will I have to meet and exceed those metrics?
Why is this position open now?
(If the role was previously filled) What happened to the person who was in this role?
(If speaking to your potential manager) Have you managed before? If so, where are the people you managed now? (e.g. Are they still on the team/ with the company? Have they been promoted?)
What are the skills/personality traits that someone has to have to do well on this team / at this company?
Bring a notebook (or a really hot resume portfolio) to the interview. Bullet the key points of your story that you want to remember at the top of your page. You can also jot down specific points that stand out to you to strengthen your thank you / follow-up.