I dabbed vigorously at the coffee drips on my tie as I glanced up at the clock. It seemed to pound in slow motion in my eardrums with every tick of the second hand, or maybe that was just the rush of blood trying to burst through the walls of my veins. I let my breath out slowly trying to silence the questions swirling around in my mind. Am I dressed too casual? Too formal? Will they like me? Will they see any potential or value in my skills? Will they even consider hiring me? The call of my name interrupted my thoughts. I looked up to see a man and a woman, each professionally dressed and clasping a clipboard in their hand. I gulped and tried to swallow my anxiety. It felt as if these two had the power to change my life forever.
Job interviews can often feel incredibly overwhelming, and your thoughts can spiral quickly into irrational anxiety. Yet with a little forethought and planning, you can walk into your interview with confidence. There are five things to consider when preparing for an interview:
· What you want
· Your brand
· Their return on investment
· The company history
· The five most common interview questions
#1 Know What You Want
Before you can fully embrace confidence, you’re going to need to know your purpose. What do you hope to accomplish by interviewing for this job? If you are hired for this job position, what do you want your title to be? What kind of growth do you hope to achieve as you apply yourself to this job? Where do you see yourself in three to five years? Do you have a desired professional trajectory?
If you can’t answer these questions, you shouldn’t be interviewing. It is imperative to your career success for you to know your goals and dreams and plans. It’s not enough to simply want a means of income. Know why you are interviewing for this particular job and how it fits into your career path.
#2 Know and Align Your Brand
You may have heard professionals talk about building your own brand, but have you really thought about what that means? Your brand is an atmospheric representation of who you are. It’s a swirling blend of your personality, your style, your values, and your skills.
Think for a minute about coffee shops. All coffee shops have coffee. All smell like coffee. All usually have chairs and tables. That’s what makes a coffee shop. Now think about the differences in coffee shops.
Imagine yourself walking into the most popular coffee shop in the nation. Nearly every chair in the small shop is full. The sounds of the blender and espresso machine and laughter and chatter wash over you. You stand in line beside a tall shelf full of bags of coffee and mugs available for purchase. Your coffee size is large, no matter which size you order because grande, venti, and tall all mean the same thing. When you are handed your coffee, your name is written in Sharpie on the side. The entire atmosphere is the Starbucks brand.
On a side street of downtown Spokane, across from a shop full of old books, stands my favorite coffee shop of all time: Madeline’s. A chalkboard with swirly handwritten coffee flavors stands just inside the door. Light pours in through the store front window spreading like a blanket across the old wooden floor and the wooden tops of the few small tables that line the middle of the shop. On the right side of the tables is a line of booths, each with a different dainty light fixture hanging over it. To the left of the tables, an old glass display case shows off several cakes and cookies and pies. Your coffee is served in a large porcelain mug, with the cream swirled into a heart floating atop a light brown sea of deliciousness. The entire atmosphere is the Madeline’s brand.
Just as it is more than the presence of coffee that creates a coffee house brand, it is more than the presence of skills and talents that creates your brand. It’s how you naturally present those skills. It’s the atmosphere that you naturally create. It’s how you do your best work.
Know your brand. When it comes to leadership, what is your style? Do you allow everyone to throw out ideas and then let it all shake out naturally? Or do you value relationships and building trust? When it comes to accomplishing tasks, is your focus on speed and checking off lists as quickly as possible? Or do you tend to take a little longer in order to put an emphasis on getting it done right? What about your personal appearance? Do you tend to dress super trendy and eclectic? Or do you dress more neutral? Once you’ve come to understand your brand, evaluate the brand of the company you are interviewing with. Adjust what you need to in your personal brand to align with their brand. If it differs greatly, perhaps this company is not the place for you.
#3 Consider the ROI
As you sit down and the first word is uttered, remember that the interview is actually a sales meeting between you and the employer. Both of you are the seller and the buyer. You are selling yourself. They are selling the open position. Both you and the employer must decide if it is a good fit.
All sales people know that any business deal must have a good return on investment (ROI). What is put into it must come out of it and multiply. As the employer is interviewing you, they are analyzing the amount of investment they must put into you, as well as what they will get in return. They want to be sure that you are a good investment for their company. They are looking for someone to that can fill the open position while saving them time and money and increasing the company income. Take a look at the role you are applying for and consider how your unique brand can give them a good return on their investment in you.
In the process, also consider your return. You are on the verge of investing a large part of your life to this company. What will you get in return? Know your value as well as the going rate for this role, but don’t be satisfied with a simple paycheck or even good benefits. Ask yourself what you will personally gain from this, both from a career trajectory focus as well as for your brand and personal life. Once you and the employer are sure this is a good fit for you, you can discuss compensation and benefits.
#4 Learn the History and Brand of the Company
There is no better way to show your interest and willingness to invest in the company than to do your research. Scour their website. Ask around. Learn all you can about the company. Not only will this allow you to ask the right questions and drop the right comments, proving that you know the company, it will also verify in your own mind that this company is one that you wish to work for. When that emotional connection is made in your own mind, you will radiate strong confidence in the middle of the stresses of the interview. And there is no greater selling point than confident passion.
#5 Prepare for the Five Most Common Interview Questions
While you can’t always know exactly what will be said and asked during a job interview, you can think ahead and plan your answers to the five most common questions.
“Tell me about yourself.” This is not the time to go into your family ancestors and number of pets you’ve had in your lifetime. This is a business question, so describe yourself and your history in a business format. Try this formula or something similar: “I am a (adjective), (adjective) (title), specializing in (your specialty). I use my skills to (action and ROI).”
If you’re an office manager, it might sound something like this: “I am an energetic and systematic office manager, specializing in process implementation. I use my organizational skills to assist companies in identifies what changes need to be made in their everyday processes to achieve greater efficiency.”
“Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?” This question is twofold. Firstly, they do not want to invest the time and money in your training if the open position is only a very short stop on your career journey. They want to know that you intend to truly apply yourself and give them a return on their investment. Additionally, having a plan for your career future shows vision and initiative: two very important values in any employee.
“Tell me about a time you failed on the job?” This question can cause some discomfort, but there’s no need to feel like you’re tattling on yourself. The employer understands that no one is perfect. They simply need to know how you handle situations when you do make a mistake. Do you take responsibility and do everything possible to make it right? Do you shift blame to other people and expect others to fix it? Do you cower and freeze, unable to make coherent decisions? How you handle failure tells a lot about your values.
“What did you least like about your last job?” Your answer to this question gives them insight into your expectations of the workplace. It points out to them the things that are important to you. It’s simply another link in knowing if you are the right fit for their company.
“What are your weaknesses?” Again, the point is not to tattle on yourself, but rather to be honest about the areas you may need extra training in or may need to apply yourself to improving. And you’re always free to talk about some of the ways that you’re currently shorting up your weaker areas.
Remember that this interview is as much about you knowing if this company and position is right for you as it is about them finding out if you are right for them. Come with your own set of questions for them. What about their company do you want to know more about? Do you need them to clarify the exact expectations of the role you would play in their company? Know what’s important to you and make sure you are clear on those topics before leaving. If the interview seems to have gone quite well, you may want to end with a question that clarifies the next step of action. Perhaps you could ask, “If we were to take this conversation to the next level, what would the next step be?”
Now that you have your interview preparations ironed out, you can skip the anxiety. You can walk into that interview room with your back straight, your shoulders square, and your words steady.