To pull off a winning interview performance, having the basic skills required of the job and wearing your best suit are just not enough.  You must approach every meeting ready to demonstrate your talent and knowledge, with the ability to present yourself as an exceptional leader and a valuable asset.  It takes a well thought out strategy, proper mental preparation, and insight into the needs of the prospective employer.  In order to know what your strategy should be, which skills to emphasize, and how to present yourself, you have to know how you will be judged and how hiring decisions are made.  It is easy to fall into the trap of concentrating on what you think the employer is looking for rather than finding out what he or she really wants.  Only when you know the decision-making criteria for a given position, can you shape an effective interviewing strategy.

You must know the industry and organization – gathering background information on the industry, organization and stakeholders is crucial to successful interview preparation.  The quality of your research will separate you from the other candidates.  You will need to be prepared to answer the questions, “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”  Knowing as much as possible about the company’s past performance and future plans can also help you better explain how you can add value to the organization.

Review the company’s website, investigate industry associations, determine the company’s vision and mission, identify key decision makers and learn what you can about their backgrounds.  You can often learn about company culture by reviewing the HR section of the website.  Recent press releases may provide insight into the organizations initiatives and future business plans.

Virtually every interview begins with the question “Tell me about yourself”.  Be prepared to provide a short introduction, and brief career summary – no more than a few minutes.  Use this summary to sell yourself, and highlight the value you bring to the table.  You cannot afford to wing this answer, as it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Focus and practice.  What do you want the interviewer to know about you?  The strengths you have that are pertinent to this position.  Prepare your story to include the information you want to convey. Begin by talking about past experiences and proven success, then mention your strengths and abilities. Practice telling your story until you feel confident, but you shouldn’t memorize it—you don’t want to sound stiff and rehearsed. It should sound natural and conversational.  Even if you are not asked this question to begin the interview, this preparation will help you focus on what you have to offer.

Behavioural interview questions should be answered with concise, well thought out accomplishment stories.  Give examples of how you have solved problems in the past, met challenges, overcome obstacles, reached goals, and otherwise achieved success.  An effective technique you can use to develop your stories is the O.A.R. formula.  O is for the Opportunity you faced to demonstrate your initiative or that required exceptional performance.  A is for the Action or approach you took to solve that problem, or innovatively face the challenge.  R is for the Result that was obtained – how you resolved the issue, and here you should use quantifiable facts and figures, $ and #’s – sales and cost savings – to show how your unique contribution positively affected the organization.  However, when outlining your accomplishments, don’t exaggerate or brag.  Be confident, not boastful.

Know what is on your resume!  The interviewer will likely refer to your resume during the interview, so make sure you know the start and end dates of all the positions that you have held, as well as the details of any special projects or accomplishments. If you hesitate, or can’t recall specific facts and figures, you may appear to be less than truthful.

During the entire process, treat everyone you encounter with respect.  From the moment you step on the property, you must make a positive impression, make eye contact, remember to stay positive and smile often, as your personal qualities, values and behaviours should demonstrate cultural fit to the potential employer.   Exhibit positive interpersonal skills to show that you can connect with and positively motivate staff and coworkers.

In an interview you must take the initiative to communicate all that you have to offer.    You might comment, “Before we end, I’d like to share one more thing with you that I think is important to the position and also demonstrate my fit within your organization.” Then proceed with the information.  If you are asked how long it would take you to start making a contribution to the organization, focus on achieving immediate results.  Show the organization that you can hit the ground running!

Strategic interview preparation is key to ensuring you are well positioned to consider, evaluate, negotiate and accept a first rate offer of employment!


Author: Cathy LeBrun