Interviewing is a performance and to do it well you must practice. In the arts it’s called “woodshedding”. It’s imperative to spend time out in the “woodshed” preparing for your performance. I know right now you are saying,
“An interview is not a performance!”
I’m going to say, “But, it is.”
I’ve prepared all sorts of people for interviews over the past 25 years. Some were high school students about to get their first internships. Other’s were Peace Corps Volunteers, after 3 years of field service, and about to re-enter the American workforce. I’ve done workshops for grad students as they launch their careers. Professionally, I have coached 100s of people through the years as they prepare for phone or in-person interviews.
Here’s a comprehensive prep for interviews that you can check out from an earlier blog, Demonstrating Value on an Interview, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/demonstrating-value-interview-melissa-reitkopp/.
Focus on the Presentation
You can do research, you can prep, you can practice, but if you don’t deliver you won’t get the offer. The goal of any phone screen is to obtain an in-person meeting. If it’s a full day of interviews, the goal is to receive an offer. Once you have an offer, you can decide if you want the position, but otherwise you don’t have any power in the situation.
When you are interviewing, you have the company’s wish list in front you of you. The quality of a job descriptions can vary depending on who wrote it. Some are very detailed and include enough responsibilities for three people. Others are barely there and it’s hard to even figure out what a company wants. You can do your homework on the company and the people you will meet with for the interviews. These are the basic things that most people know to do as they prepare for any interview.
The bottom line though is there may be three highly qualified professionals interviewing for the same position, and they will hire the person they like the most. What this means is that having the skills is important, but connecting and presenting yourself is even more important. I’m not saying be disingenuous. Don’t ever misrepresent yourself. But be aware that you only have 30 secs to capture a screener’s attention on a resume, or 20 minutes on a phone screen, or 90 minutes to really show who you are during a face to face.
My first interview after college was a referral from my internship. I didn’t have any tattoos at the time or other unusual marks/piercings, but I did have an asymmetric hair cut and a pretty serious outlook on life. I got the job, based on recommendations. Later my first boss told me,
“I almost didn’t hire you because you didn’t smile once on the interview”.
I responded, “Interviews are serious things, why would I smile? And besides, I was really nervous!”
So how do you let your personality come through on an interview in the right amounts without sinking your own audition? Interviews are very much like auditions. The company is trying to see how you fit in with it’s people and corporate culture as well as be able to accomplish the required tasks. How do you present your skills in an interesting way?
As I coached people over the years, I’ve found that “tooting your own horn” or talking about yourself is something that is very hard. Some feel it’s like bragging, others have a hard time expressing themselves. I would argue that your ability to respond to questions with specific examples that demonstrate your abilities to accomplish the goals, is critical. Additionally, turning an interview into a conversation where there’s give and take so the participants connect is crucial. No one-sided monologues, please.
I spend 4-6 hours on the phone with clients and candidates most days. If the conversations were all stiff and formal, I would probably lose my mind. Plus, careers and hiring professionals for a company is a nuanced process. Despite what most people believe, the person hired for a new position is not the most qualified, it’s the person who has the best chemistry with their future employer. For me to discover the interpersonal style and corporate culture of a company, I need to be able to learn more about each person than the formal professional exchanges. When my kids hear me talk to people on the phone, they often can’t tell if it’s a personal or professional call. I take great pride in this observation. But it’s not a fully truthful statement.
Getting to know people in a professional setting is different than in the personal arena and there are some strong boundaries that need to be recognized. Know the difference.
Professional vs Personal
Friendly is fine, TMI is sharing too much personal information. There’s truly a difference between surface sharing and divulging deep personal believes or experiences. Additionally, in the career world, there are do’s and don’t’s about what can legally be discussed.
To find common ground is ideal and a great place to start a conversation. Typically, identifying where someone comes from, if they have kids or animals is easy. When I was in an open bull pen office, my colleagues used to say that they knew all about me. They knew how many kids I have, that we were big soccer fans, and that we had lived and traveled all over the world. The reality was that these are three things that people can connect around and talk about without getting too personal.
Politics, personal life beyond basics stats, partying, imbibing habits, not so hot topics to share. We all have such decisive lines drawn around many of these subjects. It’s really important to find the common ground first. To warm up with casual chatter and then circle back to the job, your interviewer, and the company is key.
Remember smile, speak clearly, look into someone’s eyes when you speak. Your comfort level may be mixed, but fake it, be confident and if you prepared enough out in the wood shed, your performance will be delivered effectively and with aplomb.