Modern Interview Preparation Advice.
What year is it?
Fact is, too many people are treating their job search, especially the job interview preparation, like it’s 1999. What do I mean? They are going into interviews under prepared and missing out on opportunities to win the job. Can I be completely transparent with you? If you are not studying the company, the people interviewing you, the competition for the company you’re interviewing with for and checking out their culture then you are behind the times.
If you want to win, you must change your approach to utilize the modern tools at your fingertips.
Certainly not everything can be found out easily online and you might have to crash course your research if you get a quick response to a resume submission and ask to interview in a short time, however, much can be done.
No Offense Intended!
My objective is not to make you defensive, or to offend you. I’m here to whip you into shape and help you excel at the next interview, so you can land the job. Are you ready?
First, just by getting asked to interview, you should know that you are a serious candidate under consideration. Three things can derail you, two of which you can control. Let’s get the thing you cannot control out of the way first…which is that you cannot control if they pick another candidate who is a better fit. They might be an internal candidate, someone asking for less money, one who has a personal relationship with someone in the company or even a candidate with a personality that gels with the interviewer. Therefore, I advise everyone no matter how well an interview went, continue looking for other opportunities until you have a signed contract in front of you.
Avoid Being Derailed
Next, remember that an interview is a two-way conversation. You are expected to have intelligent questions that help you determine if the company you’re interviewing with would be a good fit for you. These well thought out questions help show you are interested, which is the second of the three things that can derail you, but the first you can control. If you show up unprepared, act unprofessionally or appear to be noncommitted to the process, I assure you will likely be derailed as someone else will convey their excitement and desire for the opportunity to fill that position.
We will come back to question preparation.
The third thing that can derail you in an interview is if you’re asking for a significantly higher amount of compensation than the position has budgeted or what others in the area are willing to work for. Fact is that companies are not cash machines. They have budgets and must consider the cost of running their business in the hiring process. Part of your homework then, is to find out what the going rate for the job you’re applying for should pay in the market. You also need to analyze your cost of living to make sure that the job can support you. If it cannot, then you might have to think about applying for other positions or even moving to a market where your cost of living is lower. I personally have relocated several times for that reason.
Interview Preparation Check List:
1: Company History and Overview
2: Management Style and Ownership Type
3: Company Culture (also office culture if not the HQ)
4: Hiring Manager / Interviewer Research
5: Competition (who they compete with)
6: Financial Market (how are they doing on the market) or if privately held, how is the ownership group doing?)
7: Annual Revenue and Trend for both company and industry
8: Questions for Interviewer
9: Informational Interview (with outside sources)
10: Salary Request
Company History and Overview:
There’s no good reason you should walk into an interview and not know what the company does, when it was founded, where it’s headquarters are, approximately where all the locations are, how many employees (roughly) they have, their annual revenue, who their competitors are, if they’re public or private, and the year they opened. There are no ifs ands or buts here. You are reading this article on the internet and you can find out everything listed via a company’s website, their social media pages, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and other sources almost instantly. Spend time like an investigative journalist finding out the who, what, why, where and how of the company. Go in knowing these answers and you can work them into your answers. Take that knowledge and help show your interest. It’ll impress most interviewers if you know the details of their company before you’re trained.
Management Style and Ownership Type
Why is this important? How a company is owned and managed makes a huge impact on everything from employment culture and stability to what drives a company? A privately held company might place something over profit, but certainly most publicly traded companies must keep a mindful eye on revenue projections/performance to keep the stockholders happy. Privately held companies usually have more flexibility in compensation where publicly traded companies might have more overall benefits and even potential promotion opportunities.
Easiest thing to do is to find your potential employer on social media, and look at what activity they have on the page. Is the marketing team fun? Do they get a lot of engagement from employees and their customers? Once you finish that, look at the list of employees who work there. Scan their posts. Employees posts can help you see the who you’re going to potentially work with and give clues as to their overall happiness in the job. If you notice they’ve got a lot of long tenured employees and there’s not a lot of “I hate my job” type posts, you can be on the right track. It also can give you a great idea of the temperament of the people you’d be working with.
Further, check out their review on websites like glassdoor, their rating on sites like Google. Culture is more than just an attitude. Find out about the dress code, the fringe benefits that might be a part of the company, like outings, workout facilities, tuition programs, retirement packages and more. Some companies pay a high wage, but nothing more. Others pay less but have a lot of other things like family medical coverage included in your salary that can make your quality of life better. Maybe they wear casual clothes on Fridays or allow you unlimited unpaid personal time.
Fact is, the world is changing, and many companies have adopted different ways to try and appeal to their staff. What is the culture like at the place you’re trying to interview? You should be able to find out, or at least have a good idea before you walk in the door. Anything you can’t find out, can be addressed as a question you prepare for the interviewer, as part of your interview.
Hiring Manager / Interviewer Research
If you’re given the name of the person interviewing you, you should look them up on LinkedIn, then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and any other social media sites you might find them linked to. Google them. Why? Because you can learn a lot of clues about the person you’re going to be grilled by, to help you prepare for both their personality type, their likes, dislikes and even hobbies or points of interest to work into the conversation for rapport building. If you don’t hit it off with your interviewer, you’re far less likely to get the job.
Want to win? If you go into the interview knowing they are a baseball fan, married with kids, from NY and politically liberal, then you can be mindful not to talk about the Res Sox, how great you think George Bush was and why you will never have children.
You don’t have to fake who you are; but it’s wise to understand how to put your best foot forward while appealing to the person who holds your fate in their hands. I’ve won interviews with this information. You can too.
Why study the competition before you get the job? Two reasons, you’ll understand more about the challenge the company faces and you might find that you would fit with them better. Look, not every company is built to win. Some companies are over matched, some can win but it’s a David vs Goliath scenario and sometimes the company hiring you has the dominate position and is the best option. If you want to do well on the interview and have piece of mind, look into it. Again, if you work into the conversation how they are better than their competitor or the advantages they have in a segment over their competition, you will show you understand them, the industry and win points in the process. It also will allow you to catch and/or understand any references they might make to a competitive product or competitor in the interview.
This review is to show you how strong they are financially. You should look at the past 3-5 years and see what the high and the low was. How volatile are the ups and downs? Do you see a steady increase, decline or are they sitting on a plateau? Getting hired by a company on the fast rise can be great. Getting hired by a company on the downward trend can be scary as you might not know how secure the company is, and how long they might be in business. Mostly though, I prefer to go to companies that are on a plateau and looking for new talent to help push them up. A company on a plateau is more likely to listen to fresh ideas and make changes to try and increase results/performance.
Private Held Company
If you’re looking at a privately held company this information is not available obviously, but you might be able to find out the annual revenue of the company in a Book of Lists or other published articles. You can also check the net worth of the owner/ownership group with the help of Google. Again, we’re looking for stability or upward trends. Downward spirals are not usually the entry point you’re looking for unless you’re in high level management and can help course correct.
Annual Revenue and Trend for both company and industry
Much like the financial status of the company, you want to look up and understand how the industry as a whole is doing, and then compare how the individual company you’re interviewing is doing. Why? Well maybe they showed 8% growth year over year, but the industry average showed a decline. That is a great company outperforming the market, even though they have single digit growth. On the other hand maybe, they have 8% growth but the industry average was 17%. That’s a red flag you might want to investigate a little bit closer. You could even ask about it in the interview. It would be a smart question, show that you understand where they are in the market and give them a chance to explain a management choice that might have adversely affected revenue. There are some answers that could be good in this scenario, such as using local vendors instead of buying from a foreign market or having extended paid time off for the company. Asking the question might help you find out something you like or a red flag to help you make the decision if you’re right for them.
Questions for Interviewer
You want to know why the position you are interviewing for is open. You should ask what the timeline for the decision to make the hire is? How should you follow up with them and when? Some people prefer phone calls, some prefer emails, some offer to call you. You should ask for their contact information. Don’t leave an interview without knowing how to follow up and when they expect to make the hiring decision.
Other great questions to ask include:
What brought you (the interviewer) to the company?
Based on my resume and our conversation so far, what do you think I would do best at in the position?
What is the single biggest challenge facing the department right now?
What style of management do you use?
When did you (interviewer) start with the company?
How does the company handle promotions and raises?
Can you tell me about the benefits and vacation policies?
What three things could I do after starting to help make your job easier?
Anything I can do to prepare myself for my first day?
An informational interview is something I recommend if you’re vying for a step up in jobs, or if you’re going to work in a new region, or if you’re entering a new industry. This simply entails meeting with someone outside the company you’re interviewing for and asking them questions to help you. You want to pick their brain and ask them everything from what it would be like, their recommendations, perhaps about their journey into the business, how much they make or what you might expect to make and more. This is kind of like talking to a mentor. You can be more transparent and open with them, as they are not in the hiring process for you and you can use all of the information you collect, to help you formulate a good game plan for your actual interview.
The final step in the process here is to prepare for the question you know is coming. How much! I don’t care what anyone says, this is always a part of the consideration to hire. Should a company go with an internal promotion or look outside for new talent, in any case, they will likely have multiple candidates to chose from. Who will they pick?
You should ask how promotions and raises are addressed in the interview. Most companies are stingy with raises, so you need to know up front that what you get in the salary negotiation is likely to be it for a while. Don’t settle for the bare minimum or worse, less than you need to survive and pray for a raise if you know they don’t give them very often. How much does it cost to live, after all deductions and taxes are taken out? Make a budget…include both your essential and discretionary items, rent, car, phone, food, entertainment, tithe, don’t leave anything out. Add that up and then consider adding a buffer for emergencies and retirement. That’s what you need.
Now in your research you need to figure out what the going market rate is. Perhaps you cannot expect to earn what you need from one job with your experience/education in the area you live. For example, living in the San Francisco Bay Area is tremendously expensive, so a single income to cover all expenses is not realistic for most of us.
With all the research and knowledge of your needs and the market expectations, you can ask for a number slightly higher than you think is fair, to give yourself room to compromise and appear flexible. Asking for an appropriate number also helps strengthen your hand as someone who is qualified for the position. If you ask for grossly too much or too little, odds are you don’t belong in that position. Employees want to make as much as possible. Employers want to pay as little as possible. Remember that asking for too much is one of the ways you can derail yourself in the interview process. Make sure to be diligent in this part of your preparation, then when it comes up, ask for what you deserve, confidently.
You Can Win This Job!
Remember that people no longer bring in fringe candidates for interviews. Why? They are too busy to waste their time and there are no shortage of employee candidates. Companies have more options and less time, meaning if you’ve been asked for the interview, you are under serious consideration. Make sure you prepare as I’ve suggested. The preparation will give you confidence because you’ll be ready. You can win the job. Please don’t wing it. I’ve given you a deep dive into how to prepare. Now go and earn that job.