Get the job like I did. How to prepare for an interview.
While ShelleyPiedmont.com is a business that I am passionate about, it is not the only thing I do. My full-time gig is as an HR professional that does talent acquisition, employee relations, and other important HR stuff for a Fortune 200 company. Recently, I was asked if I would be interested in taking on another role, one with much more responsibility within the company. While I obviously had a track record that people within the organization knew, I still I had to sell myself to the people I was interviewing with. The leadership needed to feel comfortable that I could do the work required in this new position. I was asked to interview with the President of my division and three senior leaders in a panel interview. I also knew that I was not the only candidate being interviewed, so there would be competition. So, taking the advice that I give to my clients and found here in my blog, I did the tasks that are important for prepping for an interview.
1) Developing My Selling Proposition
Every candidate is selling what they can do to an audience that is looking to buy. Like cars in a dealer showroom, they all are transportation, but each has different features that are needs or wants for different audiences. Your job as a candidate is to figure out what you can do and what “features” you have that would be of interest to the buyer, which in my case was my company leadership. So, I had to figure out what I could sell that would be of interest. In my case, I could sell that I knew how the company worked, I knew the leadership as well as the rank-and-file employees, and I was already a trusted advisor. That was unique to me and differentiated me from other candidates. Other people would have a different selling proposition with different skills and attributes they could offer. Everyone going into an interview must know what they offer that is unique and appealing to the hiring team.
2) Learning About The Company
Even though I have worked for this company for five years, I do not know everything about it. You tend to know your area well and less about others. That is natural. In an interview, though, you need to be able to speak about the company in general and in my case, since it was an HR job, I had to be conversant about what was going on in other parts of the organization since that impacts the people in those areas. So what did I do? I went on the company intranet and learned more about each of the departments, what they were doing, what did business look like, etc. While I had the advantage of internal tools not available to the public, that should not discourage you to find out as much as you can about a company. The first stop always is the company web site. Read all the pages there. Look for articles written about the company or by company representatives. These can give insight into what the company does well and maybe areas of opportunity. If the company is public, they have to report all the financials, and while you may not want to review financial statements, you can read any commentary to find out what is currently happening and about long term plans. Facebook or LinkedIn pages and Twitter feeds can also provide information about what the company is like and what they feel is important to put out into the world. Also, do not forget Glassdoor. Look not at one good or bad review but the trends. This should give you a sense of what you might face, both good and bad, working for this company.
3) Preparing My Answers
Do you think I “winged” it during the interview? Absolutely not. First, I thought about questions I would likely be asked. Some of these included “Why are you interested in this position?” and “What do you think are the most important issues that you would need to tackle?” So knowing those questions were likely coming, I practiced how to answer them. I sat in the leadership’s shoes and thought what would they want to hear and would make sense to them. Yes, answering my priorities question was easier knowing the company, but it also meant that my answer had to be more insightful than others. If I did not know the HR priorities (or had different ones than the leadership), that would call my judgment into question. I bullet-pointed the main themes of the answer I would give and came up with an introductory first few sentences that I could say to help me ease into my answer.
Something else I did was ask people what they thought might be asked in the interview. I asked people both inside and outside of the company. One potential question was brought to my attention that I had not even thought of being asked. With that knowledge, I did prepare an answer and sure enough, it was asked. I was relieved to have had thought through an answer and not have to come up with one on the spot. I obviously had peers within the organization that were eager to help me, but you can use your network and tools to do as I did. Do you know anyone that works, has worked for the company or has some affiliation to the company, such as a vendor, association member, etc? Use them as a sounding board as to what they know about the company (see #2 Learning About The Company) as well as what they think might be asked. If you cannot find anyone that has company connections, do you know anyone in the same field? Ask them what types of questions you might expect based on their industry experience. Also, Glassdoor may have information about the types of interview questions commonly asked. Gather as much of this intelligence as you can. Also, you can look up common interview questions and prepare answers to those. Most interviewers are not very innovative when it comes to asking different types of interview questions, so more than likely most of the questions that will be asked of you will come from this type of list.
4) Interview Outfit
Even though the people that interviewed me have seen my wear anything from business casual attire to jeans and sneakers, I dressed up for this interview. I wore a suit jacket with a nice sweater underneath it and dress slacks. Do I wear this type of ensemble every day? No. In fact, I never wear these clothes unless I am doing a presentation. I wore this outfit because I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted the leadership to know that I wanted the role and was making an effort to demonstrate this. The lesson here is dress one step up from what everyone else is wearing. The company’s usual dress attire is business casual, so I dressed one step up. If you do not know the general attire, ask the person who is scheduling the interview with you. If it is a jeans and sneakers atmosphere, then dress one step up to nice jeans and a collared shirt or nice blouse. If it is a shorts and flip flops atmosphere, then generally jeans or pants, casual shoes, and a nice t-shirt or wrinkle-free and clean shirt will do fine. This is not something you have to wear every day. It just set the right tone and will give you a positive impression.
5) Panel Interview Etiquette
I was part of a panel interview which means I had four people in the room interviewing me at the same time. When I came in, the group was pretty much seated at a long conference table. I sat down opposite the President. Now you may not have an option of where to sit, but if you do, try to be in the direct line of sight of the decision maker if you can. In my situation, the President was not going to be my boss. But he was going to be a major decision maker, and as the role requires a good working relationship with him, it was important that he felt comfortable with me in this role. Sitting opposite to him helped me be able to address him directly as well as gave me good insight into his body language during the interview. As each person in the room asked a question, I would address that person but also look around the room to see how others were reacting and if there were additional questions or if there appeared any concerns in the body language of each. Panel interviews can be hard but this is where you need to use your skills of reading body language to assess what was good or not good about what you have said and make changes accordingly.
6) Prepare Two Good Questions To Ask
I had to think about good questions to ask when inevitably the interview started winding down. In my case, many of the standard questions about company culture or how my boss manages would not apply since I already knew the answer. So, I had to think of a question was insightful and actually provided me with more information about the organization than I had before. One of the questions and a particular favorite I encourage my clients to ask is “What keeps you up at night with regard to X?” where X would be your area, such as accounting, marketing and in my case people concerns. This is not a usual question for most interviewers, and you get really interesting responses that can provide a lot of information about the company and its challenges. Make sure you have a few of these thought-proving questions in your back pocket to ask. If I had said I didn’t have any questions to ask, I would have been looked upon as not curious, not prepared and as a result, not the right person for the position.
7) Say You Want The Job
At the end of the interview, I said to the group something that elicited a chuckle. I told them that I always advise my coaching clients to say, at the end of an interview, that they want the job. So I said to my interviewers that I wanted the job. Not many people make this declaration at the end of an interview, but it is powerful. It is often the last thing that you will say to an interviewer, so it leaves a lasting impression. The interview doesn’t have to guess, they know you want to work at their company and with them. It ends the interview on a positive note.
So, yes, I did get the job. I was able to demonstrate that I was the best person for the role. Would I have gotten this role without all the preparation? While internal candidates have an advantage, I know in my organization that each candidate is judged on his/her individual merits, which includes how they articulate what they can do in a new role. This job was not given to me. I had to prove in words and deeds that I was the best person for the job. Therefore, doing the interview preparation helped me better articulate what I have done and could do in this new role. It helped me to best sell myself and my unique features to the team.