When I was seventeen years old, I had my very first interview for a sales position at a sports retail store in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m embarrassed to admit that I strolled in to that interview ten minutes late, wearing jeans, and with no resume. Even though I somehow managed to get that job (thank you, Rick, for giving that young kid a chance), I have thankfully learned a lot since then about preparing for interviews.
Like many things, interviewing is a skill that you can build with practice and preparation. Over the past couple years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to be the interviewer for a change. So in this post, I would like to share a few insights I’ve gained from being on the other side of the table.
1. Relax and be yourself
While interviewing is often quite stressful, it doesn’t have to be. Interviewers understand that not all personalities or skill sets are highlighted in a standard interview setting. If a typical one-on-one interview is not your strength, that’s OK. What’s important is for you to be your genuine self and to stay as relaxed as possible. It is hard for interviewers to evaluate you as a candidate if you’re talking too quickly because you’re nervous. So if you find yourself starting to panic or your heart is racing, try taking a deep breath and slowing down. There is no need for you to rush through answers and it’s definitely OK for you to take your time. I personally don’t mind it when people ask for a brief moment to think or ask me to repeat a question. Within reason, do what you need to do to stay calm and answer the questions to your best ability. If you don’t think you answered a particular question perfectly, try to bounce back on the next question.
2. Come prepared
This may seem obvious, but I’m often surprised by how many people overlook this step. It is important to come with a good understanding of the organization, its mission, and the position that you’re hoping to be offered. Nonprofits are mission driven and we are looking for candidates that have clear connection to our mission. So be sure to do your research and come prepared to show what drew you to our mission. In addition to the organization’s website, social media accounts are another great place to check out prior to your interview.
3. Is this a good fit for YOU?
While it’s important for an organization to find an employee that will be a good fit for them, it is even more important that you find an organization that is a good fit for you. So if you’re given the opportunity, ask some good questions. Asking your own questions at an interview not only demonstrate your preparation and sincere interest, but it is also the best way for you to figure out if this is a place where you would actually like to be. Here are a few example questions you could ask:
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- How is job performance measured for this position?
- What tips do you have for being successful in the first couple months in this role?
- I read that your strategic plan includes…can you tell me more about…?
Be sure to come with questions and leave with answers. If you’re not impressed by the interviewer’s responses or you hear something concerning, consider what that means to you.
4. Find a way to stand out
Interviewers often speak with a lot of applicants for a particular position, and we ask them all similar questions. As an applicant, you need to figure out how you can stand out from the rest of the pack. What’s the best way to do that? Memorable stories and clear examples are great ways for you to leave an impression. Instead of saying you’re innovative, tell a story about a time where you came up with some new ideas to solve a challenge you or your organization was facing. Remember, organizations will likely be interviewing multiple high-qualified candidates. So we want to know what makes you unique and why we should chose you over another, equally-qualified applicant. The P.A.R. technique is a great way to organize your experiences and talk about them in a compelling way.
5. Stay positive
If you don’t get offered the position you interviewed for, please don’t start to doubt yourself. It can be easy to go down the path of self-doubt and wondering what you did wrong or what you’re missing. I, for sure, had these thoughts while on the grueling job hunt. The reality is that more often than not, you did nothing wrong. Employers need to make tough decisions on who to hire and that often means declining a highly-qualified applicant. So if we don’t choose you this time, it does not mean you bombed your interview or that you wouldn’t have been successful in the role. The best thing you can do is learn from experience and move on to the next opportunity.
I hope these tips are helpful in your preparation for your next interview. As either an interviewer or interviewee, what are your thoughts on interviews?