HAPPO Interview Tips from Jolie Downs

My business partner, Jolie Downs, at Paradigm Staffing wrote a guest post for Mike Schaffer’s blog for HAPPO. I like to think of her as the “Queen of the Interview Prep.” See the full post on Mike’s blog.

All of these tips are a good refresher for anybody in any industry preparing for an interview.

Arrive early: Arrive five to ten minutes early, but not more than ten. Hiring managers are taking special note of when you arrive and getting there early sends a message of strong interest and professionalism.

Chemistry is everything: You wouldn’t be interviewing if you weren’t qualified. It’s not the most qualified person that gets the job, it’s the person who is the best interviewer and shows the most excitement about the opportunity. This is even more important during this downturn. Hiring managers have experienced an endless string of candidates who want a job, any job. A company wants to find someone who is excited about their opportunity and their company. You must be able to articulate why it is you find their position interesting.

First impression: Within the two first minutes you walk in the door, the hiring manager will make a quick decision on whether or not they are going to hire you and the rest of the interview will be spent justifying that decision.

There are simple things you can do to create the best first impression. You may think these should all go without saying but candidates make these simple mistakes every day.

  • Dress to impress. Always wear a suit or other appropriate/impressive outfit to an interview. It shows your interest and professionalism. Studies have shown that 84 out of 100 executives admit that their companies have rejected applicants based solely on how they were dressed.
  • Avoid strong cologne or perfume.
  • Turn off your cell phone!
  • Stand up and greet with a smile and a firm handshake.
  • Make direct eye contact while talking, smile often during your meeting and keep your head up.
  • Avoid nervous gestures – clicking a pen, fidgeting with your hair or in your chair, etc. You want to convey confidence, self-assurance and professionalism.
  • Many hiring managers are very friendly and easy to speak with so be careful that you don’t become overly familiar with the employer and share information or stories that are not appropriate for the interview process or do not justify your cause.

Accomplishments: Have at least five accomplishments that you can discuss in the interview process. Remember that the hiring manager is scared of making a hiring mistake. Your job is to reduce his/her risk. Give information that provides assurance that you can do the job, that you are interested in the job and will fit into the company culture. Do this by giving your “accomplishment” stories telling about situations where you applied your skills required for this job.

Format your accomplishments in three parts.

1.   This is the problem I was trying to solve or the goal I was trying to reach.

2.   This is specifically what I did to solve that problem or reach that goal. Remember they aren’t interviewing the “we” on your project.

3.   This is how it directly benefited my client, company, or team (i.e. major hits, increase in sales/exposure, under budget, ahead of schedule, award winning).

Research: Do as much research on the company as possible. Do they have a company blog? Has anyone on the executive team published a book?  Find articles written about the company or by company employees. Learn as much about the clients you may handle. There is nothing worse than not knowing about the company. Hiring managers are turned off by questions from candidates that could have been found easily on their website.

Be prepared for standard questions:

  • Tell me about yourself. Remember, they want to know about your professional history, not where you were born or where you went to high school. (Yes, many people have started their answer from birth).
  • When asked about your long term/short term goals or what you are looking for in your next opportunity be very specific about what you want and make sure it is in line with the opportunity you are interviewing for. You want the company to be able to see you working in their organization five years down the line. Too many people have interviewed with a PR agency and told the hiring manager that they saw themselves going corporate within five years. Immediate reaction by hiring manager – Next!

Always ask good questions: Asking smart questions shows your interest and your intellect. Hiring managers are turned off if a candidate asks zero questions. Make sure to ask the questions that are important to you so you know whether or not the position is right for you.

Ask questions about the company: Everyone has different things that are important to them, so ask what you need to know. You could question them about their business model, previous growth, future growth, strategic initiatives, advantages over their competitors, challenges in growing their business, philosophy on training and much more.

Ask questions about the position: I think these are the most important as the answers the hiring manager gives you are exactly what they are looking for. Make correlations between their answers and your own experience. Be sure to ask questions so you can find out what problem they are trying to solve by making this hire. Ask them about their current projects, future projects, what they expect you to accomplish in the first six months, and most difficult aspects of the position. Most likely you have had experience with what they are trying to do and you can highlight specific accomplishments that will be of most interest to the hiring team.

Ask questions about the hiring manager’s background: Find out how long they have been with the company, why they chose to work there and why they stay. This will give you an idea of why they like their job and the culture within the company.

Avoid the “what can you do for me” type of questions: Be careful not to interrogate with your questions. Keep a nice flow of conversation.

Conversation: Make sure you have a 50/50 conversation. Don’t be the one who does all the talking. On the other hand, do not talk so little that the hiring manager feels like they are pulling information out of you.

  • Be sure to make answers clear, concise and to the point. I have had people not hired because they are asked a question, then they talk for ten minutes and never answer the question. Be sure to listen to the question and that you understand what is asked before answering.
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Negative comments leave a negative impression. Don’t make disparaging remarks about your previous employer, manager or co-worker.

Compensating Asset: When a hiring manager asks about a specific experience that you may not possess, you should always be honest. However, follow it up with an example of a time when you had no experience with something but went on to master it. Use this as another opportunity to share an accomplishment. This will leave the hiring manager with a positive thought rather than a negative one.

Strong close! It’s important that you let the people you are interviewing with know that you are interested. The number one reason people are passed on in interviews is this reason: There was no interest, no enthusiasm, no fire in the belly, they were flat, etc… At the end of the interview with each person reiterate your interest and tell them why you think you are a good fit. Ask them what the next steps are. Where do we go from here?

Thank you note: Send a thank you note immediately to each person you speak with. This can be sent via email. Keep it short, sweet and to the point. Again, reiterate your interest and let them know you are looking forward to hearing from them. Be sure to make each thank you email different when sending to multiple people in one company.

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