The successful job interview: One tip that makes a big difference

It’s nearing the end of our semester, which means some of my advisees are leaving and headed for their first jobs. There are lots of aggregations of interviewing tips, but I thought I’d share the one thing I’ve seen that, in my experience, makes a world of difference.

It’s not about you. It’s about the employer.

Think about it. They aren’t hiring to give you an opportunity because they believe in how awesome you are. They are hiring you to solve some kind of problem that they have that requires manpower as the solution. You may be awesome. I don’t know. But if you can express your awesomeness in terms of the way you are going to solve that problem for them with a minimum of pain, you win.

Solve that problem means that you, as the interviewee, first recognize what the problem is that you are expected to solve. Deconstruct the job ad. But do more. Take the time to find out exactly what that kind of position does in your industry. If you did informational interviews, which you almost certainly did, if you now have a real one, now is the time to bring in everything that you have learned. If you haven’t, industry web sites, job ads for other, similar companies and the U.S. Government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook can be helpful.

Next, you must be able to demonstrate that you are a solution to the problem. If you’ve ever been in a writing class with me, you know that specifics are more convincing. For the different aspects of the problem, have specific examples of things you have done that have solved similar ones. Does the job require handling money? What was the daily transaction value for your register in those summers you worked at the department store? Does the job require dealing with difficult people? How about that technique you developed for dealing with homesickness in summer campers? How did you figure out what was wrong and how to fix it? Just telling your interviewer “I am great with people” is much less convincing than a story about something you did that shows that you were great.

Finally, give the interviewer confidence that you will not cause a lot of pain in the organization. I moderated a panel at a professional conference last spring about figuring out new grads and how to integrate them into your business. And one of the most popular articles on Time Magazine’s web site in November, 2013, is about why new grads are having trouble getting jobs. It’s not because college isn’t teaching them technical skills. It’s because life hasn’t taught them the soft skills like problem solving, working with others and behaving yourself like a cooperative member of an organization. Your application told them you have the technical skills. The interview lets you show that that you are the kind of person they would like to have around. The kind who respects them by showing up on time, prepared for what is going to happen. The kind who has done his or her homework and is prepared with meaningful questions and examples that relate to your problem. The kind who pays attention and is genuinely interested in the organization, not just in having a job. The kind the organization wants to hire.

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