Want to Ace Your Next Interview? Step into the Driver’s Seat.

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Congratulations, your resume has attracted the attention of a potential employer. You’ve successfully achieved the first step, getting your foot in the door. If you’re like most people, you’ve gone from the initial euphoria and excitement at securing an interview, to feeling nervous about how to prepare for your interview.

Despite everything that has been written about interview preparation, it always amazes me that candidates are caught off guard during the interview process. If you really want to ace your next interview, you need to change your mindset using the top 5 interview tips below:

Interview Tip #1: Step into the Driver’s Seat

READ THIS TIP CAREFULLY — You are the one in the driver’s seat and you are the one conducting the interview! It’s worth repeating, the most important job hunting tip is to remember the interview is not a one-way evaluation by the employer of you, where you are expected to answer question after question posed by the interviewer. Instead, you should consider the interview a two-way conversation where you are evaluating whether you want to take your skills and talents to the potential employer. Does the role offer the challenges you are seeking? Can you be successful in the organization?

Interview Tip #2: Provide Concise Responses

Remember, the interview is not the time to tell your life story. I’ve witnessed many solid candidates implode when they provide too much information about why they left their job, how they recently moved, the problems they encountered with their former boss etc. Be as brief and concise as possible and let the interviewer probe for more detail. If you left your job under less than favorable circumstances, keep it simple, by indicating that is was time to seek new challenges. And conversely, you don’t want to appear to be avoiding questions by responding with abrupt answers that make you seem closed off.

Focus on your achievements, not responsibilities. When asked about project management skills, some candidates respond in this manner:

Poor Delivery:

“I’m very organized and I’m good meeting with clients.”

Preferred Delivery:

“I’ve been a project manager for over 10 years, managing projects up to $3 million involving multiple departments locally and in other geographic regions. My peers have consistently told me they have a high degree of confidence when I’m leading a project. In my last project, I created a project web site to communicate the project status and a feedback loop to increase employee engagement. I’m at my best when there are a number of variables at play.”

When asked about business development/sales skills, some candidates respond in this manner:

Poor Delivery:

“I generated a lot of revenue for the company and won an award.”

Preferred Delivery:

“I was awarded the top salesperson of the year award for increasing revenue by 25% over the previous year. My success was the result of an innovative sales strategy, in an untapped market, that had not been pursued previously. My quota was increased and my territory expanded after closing one of the biggest deals in the company history. I was asked to take on an under-performing team in my office to mentor the young sales talent.”

Your goal is to ensure the employer recognizes a pattern of achievements and sees the benefits of your contributions. You should consistently demonstrate how you’ll contribute to the success of their organization too.

Interview Tip #3: Do your Homework and Demonstrate Professionalism 

There is no excuse to be unprepared for an interview with easy access to information available on the Internet. At a minimum, you should be aware of the company’s management team, the products and services, key customers, recent news or developments (news releases) and any other timely information. You should be ready for the most common interview question, what do you know about our company? Do your homework, look knowledgeable and demonstrate your interest in a particular area of the company’s operations.

Interview Tip #4: Self-Promotion is Essential – Tell the Employer Why They Should Hire You

By understanding what the company is looking for, you should be able to easily match your skills and talents with the job requirements. Consider:

  • What are you good at?
  • What would your peers, colleagues and former boss say about you?
  • What do you do better than anyone else in your line of work?

The interview isn’t the time to wing it and hope for the best. You should be prepared to answer the most common interview questions, such as:

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • What is your best accomplishment in your last position?
  • What is your biggest achievement at work?
  • Why do you want to work here?

Create an outline with responses to each question. Practice with a friend or family member and accept constructive feedback. Focus on the content, rather than trying to memorize pat answers.

Interview Tip #5: Avoid Common Mistakes and Separate Yourself from the Pack

The surest way to get escorted out the door of an interview early is a lack of preparation. Even if you are not sure you’re interested in the company, consider every interview as an opportunity to showcase your skills. You never know who that person knows and you should appear professional at every meeting. In addition to the questions above, you should be ready to respond to the following:

  1. What skills do you bring to the table?
  2. What are your key strengths? Weaknesses?
  3. How do you make important decisions at work?
  4. What are your computer technology skills?
  5. Have you ever managed anyone?
  6. Why do you want to work here?
  7. Why should I hire you over other candidates?
  8. Why do you want to leave your current job?
  9. Are you still employed and if not, why not?
  10. Where do you see yourself in 3 years?

How would you respond to these questions?  These are pretty basic questions, however many job hunters fail to prepare sufficiently. The actual interview is not the time to consider your responses….long pauses create uncomfortable silences and make the hiring manager feel like you are not prepared. Take the time to review each question and prepare a response.

Be prepared to pose intelligent questions, demonstrate your knowledge of the company and show how you can add value. For example, a great question to ask is, “How will I know if I’m successful in the role?” This question illustrates you are goal-oriented and keen to make a contribution.

All the preparation in the world ultimately comes down to whether you make a connection with the hiring manager. Many recruiters will make a decision within the first 5 minutes of the interview based on your appearance, manners, body language and attitude.

Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You best offense in an interview is to remember you are in the driver’s seat and you get to decide where you take your talents. You have approximately 30-60 minutes to convey to the employer that you will be a solid hiring choice. Be yourself, be confident, and be prepared.