Jennifer Whitten
Jennifer Whitten: “Think of the interview as a conversation and most importantly, be your authentic self” © Scott Mitchell

Although a job interview is a nerve-racking process, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a match for the organisation’s culture and job function. The best prepared candidates are the ones who have done their research. Here are some tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

What research should you do?

Before the interview look at the organisation’s website and social media presence to research and understand its mission, principles, products, services, financials and culture. Take note of the items that resonate with you and your experiences that align with the strategic goals. For example, if a company wants to broaden its global reach, and you have international work experience, then express how this would help the company to achieve its aim. This will help you to differentiate yourself.

In addition, you can review LinkedIn profiles of staff who work in positions for which you are interviewing. This can help you highlight any skills and competencies you have that are critical to the role.

What logistical information should you know about the interview?

Before the meeting, find out who will be interviewing you and their position, as this will allow you to come prepared with questions he or she can answer. This also shows your interest in the job and the fact that you have done your homework.

Do not forget to ask if you need to bring any additional materials, such as a portfolio, for the interview committee as well.

Find out more about the recruitment process to reduce the number of surprises lined up for you. Will there be a series of interviews and a panel? Will the interview be by phone or a virtual one, such as via Skype or Google Hangout? In these cases, make sure you clarify the timezone if necessary.

How can you make sure the interviewer gets to know you?

Remember, an interviewer is typically evaluating you on whether you can do the job and whether you are a person with whom he or she could work with on a day-to-day basis. Think of the interview as a conversation and most importantly, be your authentic self.

Greet the interviewers with a smile; start off the conversation with a hello and a thank you. Build rapport by asking the interviewers a question about themselves, such as how their day is going or where they went to school. You can also move to good standard small talk, such as the weather.

If you find yourself getting very nervous before the interview, take 10 minutes to focus on something that makes you happy. Maybe listen to a song or look through pictures of your family. Taking a break from your interview preparation should calm your nerves.

What questions will you be asked?

An interviewer is likely to ask you questions about functional job experience and fit. During your research you should have gathered information to help you answer these role-specific questions. Start by identifying your unique value proposition. For example, if you discover that they value initiative, think about two to three concise examples demonstrating that you have this quality, either from your degree or work experience.

If you struggle to come up with examples, think of your top five strengths or competencies and write two stories where you have demonstrated each one. Ensure you include details, such as the context, your role in the task, your actions and the results. After this process you will have a solid understanding of what you can bring to the organisation.

You may face a difficult question or one for which you do not have experience in that specific functional area. If so, you can share a related experience, or what you would do if you were in that situation.

How should I close the interview?

At the end of the meeting, usually an interviewer will ask if you have any questions. This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the organisation and to learn more about it.

If you are interviewing with a human resources professional, then you could ask about the organisation’s culture, career paths and hiring process.

If you are interviewing with a functional manager, then you can ask questions about the role, strategic goals and challenges.

After asking your questions, communicate your enthusiasm for the position and explain how you believe you can contribute. Last, but not least, do not forget to get the interviewer’s business card and email address, so you can send a thank you message within 24 to 48 hours of the interview. In the email, state what you feel would be your strengths in the role and reiterate your interest in the job.

Jennifer Whitten is the director of the graduate career centre at WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in the US.

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