I was reading a post written last September by a friend, Tara De Francisco, called, Auditions/Auditors: Spoilers from the Other Side of the Table. In that piece, she offers advice to people who are auditioning for improv gigs, hoping to up their game. She knows the process well, as she’s a huge success in the improv world in Chicago, where you can see her perform almost nightly.
All of this got me thinking about job interviews, and how they’re similar to auditions. I’m taking it one step further though. These tips apply to pitches or any situation in which you are trying to convince someone to hire you, buy your product or pick you. So forgive me for borrowing a portion of Tara’s title (OK, most of it), but here’s what I’ve learned over the years as I sat on the other side of the table:
- Interviewers want to like you. It may sound crazy, but we (the interviewers) want to like you (the candidate). We want to find the next great employee/product/venture, and we’re hoping you’re the one. The problem is that some of us have difficulty demonstrating that fact. Sometimes, we get caught up in our own drama – power or what have you – and we forget to make sure you know we’re on your side.
- Act Like You Want The Job. Nothing is more depressing than walking into an interview to find a candidate who has lackluster enthusiasm for the job. We have made careers in our field and sometimes in our companies. It would serve you well to act like you like the company, us, and the position. In fact, you should be the most excited person in the room.
- If you don’t know the answer, just say it. Most of us will respect your honesty. Honestly, you really don’t want to work for those of us who do not. With that being said, don’t make yourself sound completely stupid. TIP: “I’m not certain” or “I’d have to spend some time on that to get up to speed” are both acceptable responses. “I’ve never heard of that before” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about” are probably less likely to yield a positive outcome in the interview process.
- Do your homework. If we have to read your resume, recommendations, etc. to learn about you, it’s only fair you should read about us and the company we represent – ESPECIALLY if you want us to hire you. You don’t have to be an expert on the company, but when we mention a fact that is public knowledge, you shouldn’t drop your jaw in awe, which suggests you did not read the Homepage of our website. TIP: LinkedIn is a great place to find more information about the people with whom you are interviewing. You may even realize you know someone who they have worked with previously / are working with currently.
- Dress as if you want to impress us. To do this, you have to do a little more homework. What is the daily work dress code? What is the culture? What are the expectations? The norms? Whatever you do, hit the target. Going above and beyond may be appropriate for some businesses, but it may look forced in other situations. There is a difference between interviewing for Abercrombie and Interviewing for Proctor & Gamble. If you don’t know it, you haven’t done your homework.
- There’s a formula to interviewing well. Know it and use it. Any good interviewer will ask you to speak about your past work experience as it relates to the current job. Look at the job description. Be prepared to respond to questions like this:
- What are the skills and knowledge – or functions – the job requires?
- What experiences do you have that have allowed you to gain the necessary knowledge and skills?
- What repeatable evidence can you offer that suggests you will be successful in this position?
TIP: Here’s the formula:
- Start with a SCENARIO or SITUATION. Describe what happened.
- Describe the ACTION or ACTIONS you took.
- Tell them what RESULTED from your actions.
- Describe what you LEARNED as a result of the experience.
- Tell them how you have APPLIED that information to your current work? How you will APPLY it in the future?
- If you put it on your resume, you should be able to talk about it fluently. If you stammer and stutter and pause to think, it makes us think you really didn’t do as much as you are suggesting. Coming prepared for the interview means being able to talk off the top of your head – in coherent sentences – about your previous work experience, ESPECIALLY if the work experience is a pre-requisite to the position.
- Numbers matter. If you indicate you grew your company’s customer base by 200%, that really only has meaning when we know where you started. If the company had 1 customer, and you grew it to 3, that would be 200%. However, if the company had 1,000 customers, you would have to grow it to 3,000 customers to reach the same goal. The second one impresses. The first one, not so much.
- Be brief, or you’ll be gone. Most interviews last 30-60 minutes. You have things you want to convey. The interviewer has information s/he wants to collect. If you take 15 minutes to answer the first question, chances are the interviewer won’t get as much information about you as some of the other candidates. TIP: Develop sound bites. Give the interviewer enough information to allow her/him to probe deeper if s/he chooses. If the interview ends, and the interviewer does not have the information necessary to evaluate your candidacy, it reduces your chance of moving on in the process.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. Connect with people you know who have interviewing experience. Give them the job description and ask them to do a mock interview with you. Just like a seasoned performer, you wouldn’t want to go to the interview without any rehearsal time. TIP: If it’s been a while since you interviewed, perhaps you should apply for a few jobs that you are less invested in, so you have some recent authentic experiences. This will allow you to assess your skills honestly without the risk of losing your dream job.
Whether you’re trying to secure your next position or your next big client, the process will never stress-free, but with a little preparation and these few tips, you can reduce the tension and increase your chance at moving on to the next round. What other tips can you offer each other to help increase success?
Photo credit: PBSUSF