Let's face it, interviews are tough. They are also the key to landing the right job. The problem is, they do not always make sense. The best people for the job are not always the chosen candidate. Sometimes the best interviewer gets the job. In other words, the best actor or conversationalist might end up getting hired over the best candidate.
As someone who has sit in on hundreds of interviews, this still boggles my mind.
The fact is, there are so many factors involved in hiring decisions. Hiring managers are looking for all sorts of characteristics. Assuming technical skills are all equal, there is “fit,” or how well someone will mesh with the culture. It is extremely important but very hard to measure or describe. Fit is more akin to a good feeling.
There are also biases. Everyone has them. Some are hidden, others are explicit. Managers' hidden biases are in their subconscious, so they are naturally harder to identify and understand. For example, people tend to be naturally drawn to people that are similar to them. At the same time, there are those explicit, or conscious, biases. These are beliefs that managers are aware that they have.
An example of an explicit bias is a manager may favor candidates with engineering backgrounds. There could be good candidates from different backgrounds, but based on that manager's experiences and preferences, he or she would have to work to see past that bias.
The point of bringing all this up is that there is a lot going on under the surface in an interview. There are so many factors outside a candidate's control, it is important to focus on what is in their control. A lot gets written about interviews, but this article will focus on preparing and debriefing from the interview experience.
Like most things, people get better at interviewing with practice. Through preparation and reflection, that improvement may lead to job offers.
There are a lot of different ways to prepare for an interview. One must first determine where to spend time and energy preparing. Where are the weak spots in your presentation, and more importantly, where are you strong points? Most people cannot turn a weakness into a strength in a short amount of time, but they can make it a less glaring weakness. Generally speaking, our strengths usually carry us.
In preparing for an interview, think of a few different areas:
- Work experience
- Work habits and relationship skills
- The organization
- The industry
By breaking the preparation down by each one of these areas, the process seems less daunting.
Work Experience - Reflect back on your career, looking at past successes and failures. Understanding what your role was on different teams with which you worked is important. You never want to take too much credit for the good, and deflect all responsibility for the bad. It is hard to come up with examples on the fly, which is why thinking about them beforehand is a necessity. In an interview, you want to be able to give an honest assessment of what you have done, learned and where you want to go in your next venture.
Work Habits and Relationships - Most people have a professional identity. They generally know how they work best—the type of environment and workplace relationship dynamics. Most people have clear preferences based on their past experiences. Step outside of those comfort zones and you could be in uncharted waters. It does not mean you have to always look for the types of environments you have always worked in, but it does mean that you have to prepare yourself mentally for a different environment. You have to think about how you will make that adjustment in order to be successful.
In terms of relationships, reflect back on bosses you have worked great with and others that left something to be desired. Think about the teams you have been on and what made them succeed, fail, and the ones you enjoyed working with the most.
The Organization - A huge mistake applicants make is that they do not research the company with which they are applying enough. You could potentially invest a large amount of time and energy there; are your values aligned with their business? Sure, you will be compensated, but for most people, they would prefer to work toward something greater than a paycheck. Find out as much as you can about the company by exploring their website, reading any news about them, reading reviews on Glassdoor or other employment sites, and talking with any people you know that work there. You will not only have a better idea of the organization and its culture, you will likely impress your interviewer(s) if you are able to ask relevant questions or make meaningful connections during the interview.
The Industry - Find out as much as you can about the industry you are entering. Similar to researching the organization, each industry has its own issues and pressures it is facing. Understand what the emerging trends are and how companies are adapting to them. Again, being able to relate your understanding of this macro view during your interview can give you a leg up on the competition.
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