Step 1: Know yourself and what you can offer
The initial step in preparing for an interview is a self-assessment to determine what you have to offer an employer. It’s very important to develop a complete inventory of relevant skills, experience, education, certificates, and personal attributes that you can use to market yourself to employers during the interview process.
Know Your Resume Inside and Out
In establishing this inventory list, it’s best to look at your resume. Remember all your interview answers must coincide with your marketing document—know it inside and out. Your detailed lists of accomplishments (past jobs, extra-curricular involvements, volunteer work, school projects, etc.) make it easy to identify your skills. Go through each item on the list, and ask yourself, “What did I learn by doing this?” “How did I save the company money?” “What expertise did I gain?” “What did my teachers or supervisors say about my talents?”
Types of Skills
Remember skills fall into two groups: tangible and intangible. Tangible skills are the skills required to do a specific job. For a website project manager, tangible skills might include knowledge of multimedia authoring and graphics development tools and lingo programming. Intangible skills are valuable to many positions and work environments. The following list are the twelve most marketable skills. They are generic and are very important:
- Enthusiastic & High Energy
- Communication Skills
- Knowledge of Company
- Knowledge of Industry
- Intuitive, Problem Solver
- Team Player
- Friendly & Outgoing
- Flexible & Multi-Talented
Use Skills From Other Experiences As Well
Often when people think of skills, they think of those they have developed in the workplace. Remember those skills you acquired through school, volunteer work, raising children, and organizing the household. If you’ve researched and written a paper or essay, you have written communication skills. A “Brownie Leader” or “Minor Hockey Coach” are excellent opportunities to develop the skills required of a team player and leader. Don’t neglect any relevant skills and abilities you may have. When doing the research, identifying your experience and skills is important, but not all you need to prepare. Consider the answers to other questions such as:
What are my greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
Why should this employer hire me, what can I offer them? What kind of work setting do I thrive in? (I.e. supervised, unsupervised, fast-paced etc.) What makes me happy?
Step 2: Know the position
The next stage in preparing for an interview is to research the position. This helps you to present a convincing argument that you have the experience and skills required for that job—but you need to know what those requirements and duties are. You can then match the skills you have (using the complete skills/experience inventory you have just prepared) with the skills you know people in that occupational field need. The resulting “shortlist” will be the one that you need to emphasize during the interview.
Check out comparative salary for the position—even though you’re not going to discuss this in the interview. The Internet offers a great deal of information about salaries; there are some links on my site: http://canadian-resume-service.com that can help you.
Try to obtain a copy of the job description from the employer. If you belong to a professional association related to the occupation, use its resources. These associations often write informative newsletters and give seminars or workshops. It’s also a great way to network with others working in the industry. Conduct information interviews with people working in the industry—this is a great learning method. Read articles about others in a similar position. Sources include: trade publications, newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and the Internet. Find out what the future trends or technological changes are in the area.
Step 3: Know the company
The more you know about an organization, the better prepared you will be to discuss how you can meet its needs. Some of the characteristics that you should know about an organization are:
• How many locations and where are they located?
• How big is it, is it a public company?
• What are its products or services and who are the customers?
• How is the organization structured, is it a non-profit organization?
• What is its history, when did it start-up, who is the CEO etc.?
• Have there been any recent changes, new developments?
Most medium to large-sized organizations publish information about themselves. You can access this information easily in a number of ways:
• Companies and business directories
• Websites, which can be located by searching either by industry or company name
• Visit or phone the organization and request some information on their products, services or areas of research
• Network with people in the industry
• Corporate Technology Directory by CorpTech
• Business Week’s “100 Best Small Companies” and other publications by Forbes, Inc., and Fortune
If the organization is new or relatively small, there may not be a lot of information you can obtain. In this case, it is imperative to conduct an information interview. Contact someone within the organization, introduce yourself, and explain that you are considering a career in the field. Ask to meet with them to inquire about the company/organization and what the position would include.
Step 4: Prepare for tough questions—practice makes “close to perfect”.
Having completed your background research, you are now ready to prepare questions to ask the interviewer(s). Try to think of questions with answers that are not available in company literature. Intelligent, well thought-out questions demonstrate your genuine interest in the position. However, asking too many questions may imply you feel the interview was not successfully administered. Select questions with caution—this is a chance to gather information, so ask what you really want to know. Avoid sounding critical by mentioning negative information you have discovered. Questioning is one of the most effective ways to compare different employers, so for issues of particular importance to you (for example, whether they have education assistance), you should ask the same questions of each employer. Some sample questions are:
• What are the most significant factors affecting your business today?
• How have changes in technology most affected your business today?
• How has your company grown or changed in the last couple of years?
• What future trend do you see the company captivating?
• Where is the maximum demand for your services or product?
• Where is greatest pressure experience from increased business in the company?
• Which department feels it the most?
• How do you vary from your competitors?
• How much responsibility will I be given in this position?
• What do you like about working with this organization?
• I would like to know more about the training program.
• Have new services or product lines recently been introduced?
• How much travel is normally expected?
• What criteria are used to evaluate performance?
• Will I work independently or as part of a team?
• Are there opportunities to advance in the position?
• When can I expect to hear from you regarding this position?
It is very important to ask the last question, employers want to hire individuals that are genuinely interested in the position, and asking this question demonstrates this. Exercise discretion when asking questions, for example, when being interviewed by a large company that has a high profile, one would not ask the question: “What is the company history and how was it started?” You can find the answer to this question in the company’s annual report or articles in magazines/newspapers. Small and medium-sized companies do not always produce publicly available annual reports and it may be difficult to access information on the company and its role in the industry. This question is suitable if you have exercised all other methods to discover the answer.
Hire a professional to create a dynamic, powerful resume that does what it should, which is to grab the reader’s attention and be placed in the “YES” pile. I have helped numerous clients with career planning, interview coaching, and company research—remember your first impression could be your “LAST” impression.
Need additional help? Reach out to Candace to learn more!
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