From Social Networking to Preparing for the Face-to-Face Job Interview
Social media is an indispensable means for job seekers when it comes to making connections and creating interview opportunities. As a job seeker, you must focus on consistency between your social profile and how you present yourself in person.
After all, it would be a shame to invest weeks, months, and years of making connections by not being able to capitalize on them with a fantastic face-to-face interview. Unfortunately, this is all too common. When we speak to recruiters, we are told that an amazingly high number of candidates interview poorly. This is even true of highly educated and experienced individuals. Recruiters report that many candidates simply don’t know how to prepare for an interview. They expect the recruiter to do the heavy lifting of making connections between the candidates’ qualifications and the job at hand.
It often seems as if many folks have the notion that all you need to do for an interview is to show up on time, dress and behave nicely, and answer questions off the top of their heads as best they can. In a tough job market, that doesn’t cut it. So here are some helpful tips when it comes to preparing for a face-to-face interview:
1. Use your contacts to help you prepare for the interview.
Too many times, candidates prepare by doing no more than checking out the company’s website. Think about it: If the contacts that you’ve made through social media and in person have such an impact in ensuring that you get an interview, just imagine how helpful they can be in preparing for your interview!
If you have a good contact with a company, you may very well be able to obtain some invaluable inside info on the job. Here are some questions you can ask in advance:
“I’m interviewing with Mr. X in Department Y. Do you know anyone I could talk to who knows Mr. X or what it’s like to work in Department Y?”
“What kind of person tends to be a good fit for this organization?”
“What do employees like most and least about working in this group?”
“Do you know anything about how the interview process usually works with this manager or with this company in general?”
At worst, showing that you did some homework prior to the interview will reflect positively on you as a proactive individual who really wants the job. At best, you may obtain some information that leads you change your strategic focus dramatically or perhaps even know what you’ll be asked in advance!
2. Spend more time on researching the job description than you do on researching the company.
You may or may not get asked a question to see how well you really understand what the company does and what the job entails. Obviously, you need to have a fundamental idea of the organization’s mission. Asking a question such as “So what is it that you actually do here?” can be the death knell for the unprepared candidate.
However, job seekers who spend hours poring over a company’s facts and figures and managing to memorize them are investing a ton of energy in doing the wrong thing the right way. Unless you’re applying to be a Chief Financial Officer of a company, you probably don’t really need to know the exact amount of revenues or profits that company reaped last year. If you’re going after an accounting position, memorizing the whole product line won’t really help.
It’s far better to invest your precious time in researching the job description itself. Do you really understand every term and each software application mentioned on it? If not, you’d better do some work. Let’s say that an information technology job description says that “Knowledge of Symantec Ghost is preferred.”
Who would you rather hire: The candidate who says “I know nothing about Symantec Ghost, but I’m willing to learn,” or the job seeker who says “I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Ghost, but from my research I know that it’s an application that useful when you’re attempting to migrate an end user from an old machine to a new one without making them redo their desktop configuration from scratch.”
3. Prepare a notes page if you fear blanking out.
Some candidates worry that they will suddenly go blank in the middle of an interview due to nerves. Even if that’s not the case, it’s not a bad idea to have one page of notes in front of you during the interview. Here are some pointers:
Make the font quite large, so you can glance at them without minimizing eye contact.
Having notes makes you seem more prepared… unless you read them, which has the opposite effect. Keep them simple.
Your notes such include three or four strategic selling points, supporting stories for those points, key research that you want to incorporate, and great questions you want to ask at the end.
Limit your notes to one side of one page to avoid distracting the interview by flipping pages.
4. Develop a pre-interview routine that gets you into the right mindset.
This can vary dramatically from one individual to the next. If you’re the kind of person who gets nervous, the best idea is to embrace and welcome that nervous energy rather than fighting to stay calm. Nervousness is just energy, so use it to project enthusiasm and to focus closely on what the interviewer is saying.
Another idea would be to exercise vigorously a few hours before the interview if possible. Others may prefer calming meditation. Either way, you can simultaneously visualize the interview, focusing on how you well address various questions that are likely to arise. If you envision yourself feeling confident and doing well, you are more likely to make that a reality when the moment comes.
5. Spend time in advance planning how to answer questions that are likely to arise.
You should never be surprised to hear any of these questions:
Tell me about yourself.
Why should we hire you for this job?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Tell me about some of your top accomplishments in your last job.
You should have answers ready to go for any of these straightforward questions. Bear in mind, though, that HOW you answer each question may vary dramatically from one interview to the next. Whether it’s an open-ended question or a specific one, the REAL question is ALWAYS “Why are YOU a good match for THIS job?”
Many candidates just don’t understand this. If you’re applying for a job in which you’ll be sitting by yourself in a cubicle all day—or out on the road as a sales rep working a territory—then why say that “being a team player” is one of your strengths? If you’re applying for a job with a Fortune 100 company, it’s not going to do you any good to announce that you see yourself working as a consultant in five years. While you always need to be honest, you always want to provide answers that show that you are a fit for the job at hand.
Many candidates fear the weaknesses question. The main idea is to offer an honest but non-fatal weakness. For example, a software developer could admit to a lack of confidence when it comes to public speaking skills. A marketing professional could acknowledge that her computer skills are solid but that she lacks advanced knowledge of sophisticated databases such as SAP or Oracle.
As with every other aspect of your job search, preparation and research for the interview can be the secret to your success.
Sherrie A. Madia, Ph.D. is an educator, author, and trainer. Her most recent books include The Social Media Survival Guide (Also available in Spanish), The Online Job Search Survival Guide, and S.E.R.I.A.L.PRENEURSHIP: The Secrets of Repeatable Business Success. She is frequently cited by the national media as an expert in social media. She is Director of Communications, External Affairs, and a Lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.