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The Ultimate Guide to Acing Your Job Interview

In Personal Development on May 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I recently had a meeting with the Assistant Dean of Admissions & Recruitment at Binghamton University Graduate School to discuss potential job interests. In what I thought was going to be an interview turned out to be more of a coffee shop roundtable or personal assessment. These meetings are just as important as a direct interview, and the miscommunication was my error. It’s easy for me to toss it up to a poor judgment call, but what benefit would this serve? After close inspection, this mistake suggests: there is no value to inaction—only blindness. And going into an interview or meeting blind illustrates a lack of preparation. (I thought I was prepared.)

Researching and Developing Your Strategy
There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the Web that attempts to prepare you for job interviews—entertaining specific questions, grooming and what to wear, paying attention to body language, overcoming your fear of public speaking, etc. They’re important to read-up on, but what should you read? I recommend the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. Both organizations have excellent blog networks.

I address the job interview concerns listed above with a single method that I call interview cross-training.

Defining Your Strategy.
Cross-training is: to engage in various sports or exercises especially for well-rounded health and muscular development. You can see why this concept applies nicely to the approach required to land your dream job. Think about your favorite professional athletes. They talk to scouts, attend columbines, workout, practice, study tapes, and simulate real-time experiences—all in preparation for the one thing that matters: making it count in the recorded game. Find ways to be like the pros: talk to employers, attend webinars, read articles, practice speech in a mirror, and study the behaviors of others. Don’t be like Allen Iverson …. Practice, practice, practice.

Embrace the present, as this is where your virility lives and breathes, to project the future. Your track record will make clear its value and defense.

Implementing Your Strategy
Common knowledge suggests knowing your resume inside and out, and being prepared to talk about past work experiences and how they apply to the opportunity at hand. The difference is in how you gather your ingredients to create a recipe for success. What’s frequently overlooked is the mentality of a successful applicant. The mind is at the center to building a quality recipe. And tracking your goals, with concrete measurements, is one of the nine things successful people do differently as Heidi Grant Halvorson explains.

Here’s an example:
Rehearsing lines ad nauseam is a common misconception in successful interview planning. You’re flogging a dead horse. Why? Because this method encroaches on the ‘prepare for the worst’ or ‘work as hard as you can, that’s all you can do’ mentality—an underdeveloped call to action. A caveat of this mental process is: there isn’t a limit or end in sight. There’s no documentation for your efforts—you’re just running in one direction, which makes you think you’re going somewhere. Fact: you are, but it’s not only about how far you can run. Personal trainers recommend keeping a progress log to people who are serious about losing weight or gaining muscle mass.

Are you serious about your interview?

Then the same goes for your job. To get in better shape, you must measure and keep track of your development. So keep a detailed record of your definition, progress, and growth. It’s OK to rehearse, but act with purpose. This proved to be my downfall: I was ready to talk but I didn’t know how to apply it. (I will talk more about voice and presentation in the roadblocks section, later on.)

One way to curb over-rehearsing, or figure out how to apply your experiences—what I think is the best approach—is to ask for direction. I could have created a better experience and saved some time with a simple inquiry. But you live and you learn. (Also, more on this later.)

With regards to my higher education meeting, I jumped right into analyzing my Curriculum vitae, researching their web presence and goals, reviewing job specifics, and tailoring that information to the interview opportunity. I missed a critical step in the process: to simply ask for direction. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask questions as the interview approaches—just give them enough notice to respond and enough time for you to cross-train. Rather, it’s insight into more than what your qualifications or a piece of paper can offer the interviewer. Directly asking for details concerning the interview process tells them what type of person you are.

  • You have a keen eye for detail
  • You are direct
  • You are results driven

These values have a rightful place in any work culture. The attributes listed above are particularly valuable in the marketing and business industries. Note: consider the industry, your relationship with the organization and contact, and job specifics when using the direct approach.

Analyzing Your Strategy.
My close friend Pete, who works for the New York State Senate, said to me, “Regardless of how it goes you should treat every interview as a learning experience.” This optimism is another character of successful people. They analyze and engage experiences to measure results. Your primary concern may not always be getting the job as long as you’re improving, developing, and growing. Michael Schrage offers a fierce perspective on this in Projects Are the New Job Interviews.

Being a sour grape will only hurt you, and the fruits of your labor will continue to spoil—seek the value. Lastly, even if you don’t land the job it is a good idea to stay connected. People who interview generally have a higher level of authority in the organization. Keep casual contact for idea-sharing and development, and future offers.

Overcoming Roadblocks in Your Strategy.
Overcoming roadblocks is the key to unlocking a powerful cross-training regimen. Discover what your roadblocks are and overcome them–nothing will be able to stop you. An umbrella topic of this discussion is fear, specifically the pressure people feel from interviews. It’s a difficult fear to escape. I really enjoyed JD Schramm’s article How To Overcome Communication Fears. In his assessment he writes:

Jerry Seinfeld made famous the line about funerals and public speaking: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Move over fear! Here are some tips of the trade you can practice to frame the situation, internally, and push fear to the side. If not genuinely, you can “trick” your mind and still provide a great performance:

Live The Culture. Successful job applicants know their craft inside and out, which comes from immersion in the culture. Peter Bregman provides sage insight in The Interview Question You Should Always Ask. A great applicant is passionate and obsessed with the ethos and innovation of a particular niche. It’s about possessing insight that’s greater than prepared answers can drub out. It’s easy to develop responses; it’s difficult for people to be (or appear) honest, sincere and passionate in the boardroom when this roadblock is applicable. Living the culture comes from deeper places.

Hone in on your presentation skills. Remember that it is easy to talk, but in an interview you need to persuade and captivate. My favorite way to explore voice, meter, and style is to look at those who have had success before me. Motivational speakers and keynote speeches are great resources. Personally, I enjoy stand-up comedy. Gather a wide range of perspectives, but pay attention to your field and how to convey those best practices in your area of expertise. At the 4 Hour Blog, Tim Ferris shares two of my favorite speeches in Neil Gaiman – The Best Commencement Speech You May Ever Hear. Communication skills are necessary to participate in any workplace, digital or physical. Always work on pushing your presentation skills forward. And don’t be afraid to endorse your brand. You want to present a vibe and aura during the interview—a subset of behaviors—not just experiences.

The interview process is a conversation, not an interrogation. The structure of the interview is a daunting proposition that promotes fear in the process. The interviewer-interviewee relationship promotes an uneasiness because it is interpreted as a catch-and-release function of conversation. The same can be said for the question-answer paradigm, which is a stale thought process. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself–it’s reductive and crippling. It’s best to remember: this is a conversation and conversations are fluid and dynamic. Approaching an interview as a conversation presents a more comfortable environment with mutual goals and objectives. The best way to do this is to get out there and gain experience. Nothing satisfies this point more than exposure to the process.

Don’t practice specific questions. This is a subset of the two previous tips. (Remember: optimism is paramount.) The question/answer strategy will prepare you for specific situations of greatness rather than projecting greatness. And this will only get you so far, with luck as a crutch. Don’t succumb to a single thought process. It’s possible—and I know first-hand—that you won’t address the question to the best of your abilities when taking the Q&A approach. Familiarize yourself with your experiences, with Q&A as a component of the process.

Offer an insider perspective. Discuss experience as an insider, but take the outsider approach, to see how the person you will be talking with will view your experiences. This also prevents mundane details from spuriously making their way into the conversation. It’s a nice tip to make sure you run a tight track in applying your past experiences and current developments to the job opportunity. Remember: a great job applicant won’t have competing interests–a common deal-breaker. Here are some questions to help discover mutual interests shared at the beginning of your relationship:

  • Who is the organization looking for to fill this position and to help achieve their goals?
  • What knowledge does my interview contact gain from learning about my experiences?
  • Where does my role start and stop in achieving their goals?
  • Why are you and the business (we) a great match?
  • When should I apply my experiences to the conversation?
  • How can I remove interpretation from the process?

Inject passion every chance you get. One thing I do during my job hunt is inject my passions into conversations, which comes naturally to some but not for all. Talk about current projects that you are working on with friends or colleagues. Or better: random strangers. This will get you into the carefree habit of talking about yourself …. And how to do it well! You will develop: (1) transparency in your voice, (2) authentic confidence in your delivery, and (3) understanding for where your voice needs to be to capture the listener—without sounding like you’re trying to pull a fast one, intentionally or not.

The cross-training interview strategy is a microcosm of a larger concept: lifestyle design. Beginning preparation only when you know you have an interview is the most common cause of injury and performance deficit. Preparing for an interview is about consistently carrying out a regimen to promote your lifestyle. Use routine workouts and exercises that bulk-up your strengths and target your weak muscles to improve performance. So when the job interview does come around you won’t break a sweat–unless the A/C is broken in the building where your interview takes place. Still, you’re already in shape to throw down the gauntlet. How do you stay lean?