Every job interview is different–but there are some general principles that can guide you in just about any interview, for any job. When you’re talking about yourself and your experience, keep the following six points in mind.
1. Be the Solution
Companies fill or create positions because they have problems they want to solve–for instance, ineffective advertising or long customer-service lines. So prepare for an interview by identifying the problems hinted at in the job ad (if there’s no job ad, do some research into the company and industry) and then preparing examples of how you’ll solve those problems–and how you’ve solved similar problems in the past. Practice telling stories about specific results you’ve achieved.
(And if you’re changing careers, keep in mind that many problems are not industry-specific–for example, a lack of effective project management or a breakdown of teamwork. Offering solutions to these problems is a great way to overcome a lack of directly applicable experience.)
2. Be Specific
Avoid empty cliches–be prepared to back up your claims about your skills or characteristics with relevant and specific stories. For example, don’t just say you “work well with others”–talk about the types of teams you’ve worked with, and what you’ve learned from them. Or if you’re going to say that you’re “detail-oriented,” come to the interview prepared with a story about how your attention to detail saved a former employer money (or otherwise saved the day).
3. Be Positive
Avoid complaining about a former employer or laying blame at a former manager’s feet–doing so will likely make you seem difficult to work with (or just disloyal). Even if you quit your last job in a rage because your manager was incompetent, saying something like “I felt I was ready for a more challenging position–like this one seems to be” turns a potentially interview-killing situation into something that makes you look very attractive to a hiring manager.
4. Prepare Sound Bites
Prepare three or four effective sound bites that highlight your past successes and your skills. A sound bite is succinct and direct, so it’s catchy and easy to remember–“I’ve designed logos for three Fortune 500 companies,” for example, or “My efficiency plan decreased product-delivery times by 15 percent without costing the company one cent.”
When you’re coming up with your sound bites, ask yourself, “What were my greatest achievements at my most recent job?” and “What sets me apart from other candidates?”
5. Prepare to Talk About Your Resume
Your resume and cover letter will likely form an outline for at least part of your interview. Because a resume has to be brief, it probably says many things that could be elaborated on or explained in more detail. Often a resume explains the “what” (for instance, “supervised two people”). Use the interview to talk about the “how,” as well as skills you gained, praise you received, and so on.
6. Be Aware of Nonverbal Communication
You “say” a lot about yourself with nonverbal cues: your posture and your facial expressions, for instance. Sit up straight–leaning forward can make you seem closed off, as can holding a briefcase or purse in your lap. Maintain eye contact when answering questions, and smile frequently. Also, practice your handshake with a friend: an overly aggressive handshake can be as off-putting as a limp one.
Charles Purdy is the senior editor of Monster+HotJobs and the author of the book “Urban Etiquette.” He blogs regularly at the Monster Blog.
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