The advice given in this article was provided by Job Finder, Writer, Blogger and Team Leader Connel Valentine. Connel’s goal is to help you beat the competition with a standout résumé, effective networking strategies, and a brand that resonates with your market. You can find him here and connect with him here.
When I ask people how they prepare for an interview, some of the responses I get are…
- ‘I make sure my clothes are ironed the previous day’
- ‘I keep at least five copies of my CV with me’
- ‘I plan out my route in advance so I can arrive 30 minutes early’… and so on
Commendable, but quick fix preparation steps like these won’t get you the job, they’ll just get you to the interview on time, along with several other candidates who are probably prepping themselves in the same way.
I recently applied for an IT Operations Manager role within my own company. It was an internal opening at a bigger department. Statistically, my chances were slim. Internal moves are mostly parallel at the same level, but for this ambitious application I would be attempting to move from a grade five to a grade six position. Still, nothing is impossible until somebody says ‘No’. I gave the application the justice it deserves (as with every application, if you’re serious about it), rolled up my sleeves, and got to work:
STEP 1: I CONSUMED MYSELF IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION
The job description (JD) is your guide to what’s likely going to be asked in the interview. Although you won’t be asked every point in detail, it’s the top 50-70% of the JD you need to pay close attention to. It’s like a shopping list; what’s at the top are the ‘must haves’ of the job, and the list items towards the bottom are the ‘nice to haves’.
I reviewed the responsibilities section at least five times throughout the interview process, giving it another scan before each subsequent interview. The helped me focus my attention in the right areas for the remaining steps.
STEP 2: I REHEARSED, OVER AND OVER AGAIN, THE INEVITABLE FIRST QUESTION
‘So why don’t we start by telling me about yourself.’ This question will be fired at you early on in the interview. You now have the spotlight to give your elevator pitch. Most people believe this is a one-size-fits-all answer. This approach, just like a one-size-fits-all-resume, is ineffective. As this post explains, your introduction should be tailored for every job you apply for, once again using the job description to clue you in on how to customise it. For me, I rehearsed the pitch and recorded it on my phone. It must have taken 10-15 takes before it sounded natural and unrehearsed.
STEP 3: REVIEW MY EXPERIENCE
I keep a journal of my experience. All my noteworthy accomplishments are categorised in this notebook under a specific soft skill. To me, an ‘accomplishment’ is not just a shiny new certificate or successfully completed project – those are tucked away in my LinkedIn profile. In fact, it’s the week-by-week challenges that I face and fires that I put out during my daily 9 to 5, where I apply my strengths and skills to get the job done. I note them down using the S.T.A.R. methodology, a common interview approach. For this job I was applying for, ‘problem management’ was a keyword that repeated itself many times in the JD. I reviewed all the S.T.A.R. stories under that soft skill, and put a mental pin on each ready to pull it out when asked the question at the interview.
STEP 4: I REVISITED HISTORY WITH AN OLD COLLEAGUE
My past experience from my previous company was relevant to this new position. My journal updates was a fairly new process, and I was certain there were critical old stories from my recent past that would be valuable to the upcoming interviews. I reached out to my old colleague, Mohamed, and we chatted about the good ol’ days and problems we solved in the past over a jovial Skype call. I added more S.T.A.R. stories to my arsenal.
STEP 5: I PREPARED MY FINAL QUESTIONS
Interviews always conclude with the same question from the interviewer – ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ The interviewer is assessing your interest in the job and more importantly, what areas of the role you’re focussed on, now that you know the nitty-gritty details. ‘What’s my pay increase going to look like?’ is NOT the right question at this stage, or anything related to your benefits – you don’t have the job offer yet! Instead, I prepared intelligent questions that focussed on the main points this role would solve:
- ‘What are the biggest challenges your team are currently facing?’
- ‘What’s the first problem you’d want me to solve?’
Hanging on every word the interviewer said, it was mentioned that my role was part of ‘Transformational Change’. I picked up on that, and asked an intelligent question on the fly:
- ‘You mentioned transformational change. How will this role help make that transformation a success?’
SO, HOW DID THE INTERVIEW GO?
Three interviews were set up one week apart from each other, with my soon-to-be manager, with the director, and finally with the senior vice president. Every interview was different, with each interviewer having their own style; one spoke very succinctly, another did most of the talking, and the other was extremely structured and to the point. Thanks to my five step prep work, I was ready for anything they threw at me, and that confidence even helped me answer the questions I did not prepare for.
Finally, even though I knew this department had a casual attire culture, I gave the interview the respect it deserves, sprucing myself with a formal blazer and a sharp tie for every round. At the end of my final interview with the senior vice president, he firmly shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘By the way, I love ties, so thank you for wearing one!’
My prep paid off – I got the job! Were the hours I invested prepping for this interview worth the increase in salary? You bet it was! Hopefully my journey can inspire you and help you achieve your career dreams.