“Make sure you get prepared for next week’s interview” This is probably the piece of advice I’ve most frequently given to candidates over the course of 15 years in recruitment. No matter what your field of expertise or your operating level is, failing to prepare for an interview is indeed the best way to prepare for failure. And if you think you’re good at interviews just because you work at strategic level, well… you’re wrong. There are countless brilliant candidates out there who struggle to make a good impression during job interviews. Mostly because they don’t have a lot of practical experience at conducting interviews and/or because they failed to prepare accordingly.
I think I’m not writing anything groundbreaking by stating that a candidate should reflect about his/her motivation for a particular role and employer or about his/her strengths for a certain position or assignment, making him/her the most suitable candidate for the job. Making sure you are capable to express how well informed and motivated you are is fundamental for a successful interview. However, this kind of basic preparation won’t give you an edge over other applicants. Therefore, the question needs to be raised: “how can I prepare better and smarter”?
First of all, don’t exaggerate in your preparation. Yes, you can overdo! Overwhelming your contact person with too detailed information will quickly give rise to a creepy feeling. And once you reached that point, there’s no way back. Also, over-preparation will affect the spontaneity of the dialogue. Never forget that an interview is an exchange of information and impressions between two or more human beings. There will be an objective as well as a subjective assessment from both sides afterwards. Hence, your preparation should enhance the quality of the conversation without impacting the easiness of the contact.
A better preparation means a smarter preparation. In order to do so, you need to have a thorough understanding of the general context and needs. What are the hiring manager’s needs and priorities? What are the company’s values and how can the culture be defined? What are the department’s objectives on the short and longer term? What were /are the predecessor’s flaws? What does the company need in order to roll our their plans? These are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself. Your recruiter or headhunter needs to give you a detailed briefing, containing all these and other elements. A good comprehension of the hiring manager’s needs should allow you to identify your unique and personal assets for the role. During your preparation you should identify a certain number of personal qualities or competences that are essential in this particular context. These qualities are your aces that you will put on the table during the course of the interview, nicely spread over the hour (and a half) you’ll have.
The key is to answer open questions that you are deemed to receive with targeted answers. Some topics are generic, no matter what kind of roles you apply for. Your motivations, achievements, career choices, failures, learning experiences and personality traits, to name some, are most likely to be discussed. These topics will most likely be addressed with open questions like “which previous achievement makes you still proud today?” This is an open question that can be answered in various ways. However, if you have a good understanding of the context and the needs, you can choose to mention an achievement that is highly relevant for your interlocutor. If the recruitment procedure you are engaged in has the aim to replace a director underperforming in terms of people management, you should emphasize your competencies and achievements in that area. If you are applying for a senior expert role, it has no point in highlighting former team members’ developments, even if it still make you really proud. Smart communication is key, both in content and in form.
Also, you should prepare a limited number of relevant questions yourself. Enquiring about the strategy of the company, the challenges of a certain department or the growing opportunities for employees, shows interest and desire. Discussing previous strategic decisions, the evolution of market share or the integration of acquired business lines are signs of a critical mindset. Whichever the topic you’d like to raise, don’t loose the opportunity to end the interview with a good exchange of ideas.
The best interviews are the ones for which you have identified your aces beforehand. During the discussion, you put your cards on the table, one by one, while answering open questions. And then you wrap up with smart questions that might help you making your own assessment. Ideally, you shouldn’t have the feeling after the interview that you missed out the opportunity to share a relevant piece of information. This way, you’ve literally put your cards on the table. You gave your best shot. And if another candidate is chosen, then you shouldn’t have any regrets.