Tuesday, January 28, 2014

C#3: Crushing the Interview Like You're the Boss

Hello again and welcome back to the third and final installment of my job prep blog series!

Now that you have polished your resume and written a fantastic cover letter, it's time to crush that interview. This is generally the most nerve-wracking part of the application process. No one understands the satisfaction of hiding behind words as much as a writer, so trust me when I tell you, I get it.

The interview is where the big money happens. You've got to look your best, smell your best, and speak your best. Heck, I put more effort into dressing up for an interview than I do for a date. The interview matters, and you've got all the tools you need to crush it!

So how do you get over your nerves and crush the interview all at the same time? Here are my 4 brilliant life hacks:
1. Anticipate:

The best way to prepare for an interview is to follow the advice I mentioned in A#1 about your resume: Anticipate your boss's moves. Just like a waiter who fills your glass before you ask for a refill, fill in answers to the interview questions before they are asked. Put yourself in the boss's shoes and guesstimate what they'll be hoping to find in you. Google "Interview questions" and print out a set that covers the basics. Prepare answers to each of the questions.

Also, take some time to brainstorm field-related questions that aren't on that list. For one job, I thought about what book/reading questions I might be asked. Something as simple as "What is your favorite book and why?" stumped me. I found I really had to think about which book it was and why I loved it so much. Luckily, because I had anticipated this question ahead of time, I wasn't left stumbling around for an answer during the interview (which, as it turns out, included that very question!).

Take this idea a step further and anticipate the work environment at the new office. If you know you'll be working in a group, think about what questions you may be asked about your group work ethic. Consider, even, anticipating the time of day of your interview. Will your interviewer be returning from lunch? Or will it be the end of a long day? How might his/her environment affect your interview and what can you do to swing it in your favor?

Walk through the entire interview from beginning to end in your head. From getting out of your car to getting back in it. Consider sitting in the waiting room, the initial handshake, how you'll be sitting in the interview room, what questions you'll be asked, and how you'll say good bye. Think about the variety of options for each of those times in the interview and anticipate what may happen.
2. Prepare:

Now that you have a list of questions in your head to practice, it's time to think about what you need to ask them. There are some obvious ones like, "What does this job look like on a day to day basis?" and "What are the next steps in the interview process?" but let yourself branch out and ask something that will tell you more about whether or not you'll like the job or be good at it. Here are some great questions to ask:
  • "Who will be my direct supervisor and what is his/her leadership style?"
  • "What vision does this company have for expanding in the next five or so years, and what role does this position play in supporting that vision?"
  • "What qualities should this position's employee possess to be successful?"
Once you've got your list of questions (I recommend having about five), type them up with some professional page headers and print them. Stick them in a portfolio (or have them on your tablet) and take notes as your interviewers answer them. This will not only make you sound intelligent, but you'll look prepared. This is a great way to show the interviewers that you are responsible enough to be working with them and creative enough to bring something useful to their company.
3. Practice:

Before you panic about all the elements of the interview that you're now thinking about, I've included this handy #3 to help you stay calm. I've know you've heard it before, so let's dig into it briefly and talk about how to practice for an interview.

First, tackle those questions. Stand in front of a mirror and answer each question (I know, I know, it's super awkward to do this, but I PROMISE it helps by helping you get over yourself and fizzle out those creepy awkward feelings on your own rather than with an audience). In round one let yourself talk and talk for each answer. Get out everything you could possibly say. In round two ask yourself the same question, but shorten your answer to the most pertinent information. Self-edit yourself. Also, provide real anecdotes that illustrate your answers. Don't say things like "I'm good at working in groups because I'm organized." Instead, pick a group project that you've worked on and explain what made you successful in that group.

Example: "I'm good at working in groups because I'm organized. For example, my capstone project was a group project. My group needed to create a cookie that was marketable and delicious. My role was to be the taste tester, so twice a week I drove to bakeries and sampled cookies. I then distributed my findings to the group during class so we could choose three cookies to present. I was always on time with my sampling, and I created a color-coded chart with my findings each week." 

This anecdote is short, informative, substantial, and useful. By practicing your answers to as many questions as you can anticipate, you'll avoid awkward silences. And, if a question comes up that you hadn't anticipated, you'll have an arsenal of answers you can work in.

Next, tackle your image. Prepare an outfit that is professional and non-distracting. Avoid jewelry that will catch on a chair or get stuck on your blouse. Don't wear a tie with a weird pattern. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and easy to walk in (especially because they might take you on a tour of the office). Practice your handshake. Practice having relaxed, yet attentive body language when you stand, sit, and walk. Practice taking notes in a portfolio or your tablet. Think through the entire interview like you did in #1 and practice any part of it that makes you squirm.

Continue to practice these techniques until you feel at ease with them. I've found that I can easily practice answering questions while driving (no one's around to hear you talk to yourself and people will think you're just singing along to the radio). Or, call a friend and have them listen to your answers. They'll be able to give some feedback that you won't get from your mirror.

Interviews, for most of us, are outside our comfort zones, so the more we practice them, the more comfortable we'll be. As we expand our comfort zone, we'll find that interviewing becomes more regular and less stress-inducing.
4. Wait:

That's right.

Wait in your car.
Wait in the lobby.
Wait in the office.
Wait before you answer.

There is never an excuse for being late to an interview (unless a true emergency). Remember when we talked about anticipating the interview? This is your time to shine. If you're going to be arriving around rush hour, be sure to give yourself extra time to be stuck in traffic. Check the traffic conditions on your phone before heading out (heck, check the traffic conditions for several days before the interview to get an idea of what the average travel time should be). Have a backup plan in case there's a wreck or road construction. Leave 15 minutes sooner than you plan to. Park away from the front door of the office. Wait in your car until about 10 minutes before the interview start time. Straighten your outfit before walking into the building.

And most importantly, wait before answering any questions. Give yourself an extra second to take a deep breath and choose an answer in your head before speaking. Take a sip of water if you want (I recommend bringing a water bottle if you can, which makes you look even more prepared. Guys, I know this is harder without a purse to help ya out, so just don't knock over an open cup if they offer it to you.).This will keep you focused and help you sound prepared and professional. Remember, an interview is your time to shine so you want to do whatever you can to stay calm, cool, and collected. At the end of the interview, walk slowly out to your car and drive away calmly. Don't let your guard down until you are out of eyesight of the building.

Then, go bananas 'cause you just CRUSHED that interview!!

BRILLIANT HINT: I started this blog series with a Brilliant Hint, and so I'll end with one too. Sometimes, even with all this preparation, interviews are still nerve-wracking. As someone who has given many presentations, gone to many interviews, and even auditioned for many musical groups, I understand what it's like to be nervous. But I've found the Holy Grail of overcoming it. And that Holy Grail was found in my tenth grade World History class:

That day, we were supposed to be giving presentations on something. I had mine ready (because I had #2. Prepared) and as my turn drew nearer, was starting to feel nervous about speaking in front of all the cool kids in class. As I looked around to see their faces of judgement on the poor soul who was currently presenting, I saw something entirely different. The two girls in the back row were whispering to each other. The kid behind me was doodling in his notebook. The kid next to me was doing homework for another class. As I looked around, I realized not one damn kid was paying any attention to the presentation.  And they weren't going to pay any attention to mine, either. I realized I was nervous because I was afraid of their judgement, not because I thought I'd fail. I knew I had the right information for the assignment. I just didn't want to be seen as a dork. Once I realized that the only person paying attention was the teacher, who would give me an A, (because once again I had #2. Prepared), I calmed down immediately. I have since never gotten nervous for another presentation, public speaking occurrence, interview, or audition.

So how does this help you? Realize that you've done the assignment well! You have the qualifications for the job (either because you really do have them, or because you have the enthusiasm to learn the skills. And if you don't then why are you there?). You've prepared answers to all the questions. You look good, and you showed up on time. The only person paying any attention to you is hoping you'll succeed. Interviewers want to find a new employee, and they hope it'll be you! No one is hoping you fail. So as you sit down in the chair with the interviewer across from you, just remember: you did your homework, you came prepared, your interviewer wants you to succeed, and no one else is paying any attention. So take a deep breath and show 'em what you've got!

Miss out on Part 1 or Part two of this blog series? Follow these links to brush up your skills!
A#1: The Resume
B#2: The Cover Letter

Did you know? I offer resume and cover letter editing as well as interview coaching. I've helped lots of people prepare for their interviews, and I'd love to help you, too! Check out www.LMEditing.com for more information.

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