Part III: Finding your Dream Job
My last few posts focused on understanding when it’s time to move on from your current role to discovering what you want to do next. Today, I’m going to zero in on what you need to do to nail that job interview once you’ve found your ideal job / target company. One very important point candidates sometimes miss: Your Goal here isn’t to land the job. It’s to get them to like you enough to get to the next round of interviews. The more you interview and the more time the company invests in you, the better your chances of securing that offer.
Before we dive into how you should market yourself though, there are some basic things you need to understand in terms of what every and any hiring manager or HR team wants from an ideal candidate:
Someone who can do the job. Preferably someone with proven skills and a track record of having done this job before. If you come recommended by someone within the company, that’s a BIG plus.
A person who can hit the ground running from day 1. The smaller the company, the more important that becomes. If you can show you can hit the ground running and start selling, coding or solving problems quickly, you’re on the right track.
Somebody who will fit in with the culture of the team and the company. For some companies, particularly startups, this is more important than in others but you should really understand the culture of the company and see if it matches how you operate and whether you’ll fit in (more below). Note: If you’re not a fit don’t force it. HR or management will usually spot this and it will catch up to you sooner or later. I’ve made this mistake before and sooner or later both parties realize their error. If your gut feeling tells you it’s not the right fit, don’t pursue it.
An employee that is excited about the company and the role in question. This can be a deal breaker if the company has to chose between two candidates with similar skills and experiences. Don’t be afraid to be excited and to show that excitement during the interview (within reason). As a manager, it’s always a big plus if I know a candidate is thrilled about the job we’re discussing. Energy and passion usually mean the person is really committed and will also attempt to overdeliver or deliver quickly — both of which are things organizations typically want.
An individual with a strong capacity for growth. The more successful the company or the better the management, the more important this criteria becomes. Good companies hire people who can not only do the job but who also have clear growth potential and will be able to take on additional responsibility, grow, develop teams around them and make an impact.
As someone who’s hired and interviewed a lot people, there is nothing more frustrating than a candidate who hasn’t prepared for the interview. Here are the essentials you need to understand before you go to any job interview:
Know the business. If you’re at all serious about this job and are going to spend your valuable time and that of the interviewer you need to understand the company, its products and competitors. The more you can demonstrate this knowledge the better off you’ll be. I recommend looking at the company's website / products, reading product reviews, using the product yourself (maybe even coming up with 1–2 suggestions on how it could be improved), checking out the company’s Glassdoor page (I once opted out of an interview process when I read a number of negative company reviews on Glassdoor) and even speaking with existing customers and /or former employees. The deeper you know the company the better off you’ll be in the interview and the more confident you’ll be that this is the right role / place for you.
Know the role. It sounds obvious but I’ve had people come in and either not really understand the role or actually attempt to use the interview to angle for another role they’re better suited for. If you want to kill your chances this is a great way to do it. Focus on this role, why you’re a great fit, the skills you bring, how quickly you can deliver and why you’re unique. If the role isn’t an exact fit based on your skills and experience you should speak with people who have that role to ensure it’s right for you and also be well prepared to explain why you could do that role and how your existing skillset and experience will help you be successful.
Sell yourself. You’re a product and your customer is the recruiter. Why should they hire you? What makes you special? Think of your core 2–3 strengths and how they would apply to this role. Think of 1–2 things that make you unique compared to other candidates (I worked for 6 months in Spain! I built a robot in my spare time! I’m a championship chess player!) and don’t be afraid to share those. Consider how you would impact the business and what you could accomplish in the first 30 days. I once had a candidate come in with a powerpoint slide deck with what they would do in the first 30 days on the job and how that would impact marketing. She made a very good first impression and we eventually made her an offer.
Beware Interview Killers (IK’s). Always be aware of your weaknesses. Do you have a 6 month gap in your resume? Be prepared to explain it and share how your 6 months traveling in Indonesia contributed to you being a better writer (for example). Were you only in your last job 3 months? What happened and why didn’t it work out? If the recruiter asks you what your weaknesses are, have a clear and honest answer. Structure these as areas of “self improvement” and be prepared to discuss what you’re doing to improve in these areas. Also, don’t try to take a negative and spin it into a positive (“I’m really impatient about closing deals”). Most recruiters or managers will see right through this. I can’t stress how important this is. You have to be able to be honest with yourself about your experience, successes and missteps. Keep in mind that sadly, especially at the screening stage, most recruiters are looking for a red flag to get you out of the process not keep you in. I know this sounds a bit cynical but when you’ve got 100 resumes in your inbox the tendency is for people to look for red flags so they can narrow down the options. Be aware of your own red flags and be prepared to explain them. If you can’t be honest with yourself you can’t be honest with a future employer.
The Day of the Interview
Dress Appropriately: Even if you’re interviewing for a startup, don’t show up in shorts and sandals. Seriously. You might be awesome but if you show up looking like you just rolled out of bed you’re sending a message: “This is me and I don’t care what you think I look like.” That’s not a good way to make a first impression. Business is business. Leave the COD T-shirt and flip flops at home.
Be on Time: Sounds obvious but you’re only as good as your word. If you know you’re going to be late call, email or text the company and make sure they can still see you. There’s nothing more important than that first impression.
Bring leave-behind materials: Bring printed copies of your resume and any work you think might be appropriate. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, bring your best work. If you’re a writer, bring an example of your most successful posts. If you’re an aspiring marketer, bring a draft of a marketing plan for the company’s product. Remember, anything that can help form a positive impression helps set you apart. Don’t be shy.
Be at your peak: Get a good night’s sleep. Have breakfast (to ensure your energy level is high) and preferably do some exercise in the morning (10–15 mins walking, running, yoga, cycling or just something to get your body awake). If you can schedule the interview to coincide with when you’re at your peak energy level that’s even better.
Short and sweet wins the race. Many people are tempted to talk on and on. Try to keep your answers short, concise and to the point. Remember, this is your chance to make a good impression and to help the company get to know you. If you have questions try to keep them until the end unless you’re specifically prompted. The goal is to sell yourself and secure the next round of interviews. The best way to do that is to get them excited about you as a candidate.
In top companies you're going to face three different question types as part of the interview process and it's important you understand the different objectives of each type of question and have an idea of what these questions might look like.
IQ Questions: These are the meat and bones of the interview. IQ questions are geared with only one goal in mind: To understand whether you can actually do the job. You should anticipate questions that are precise and structured towards understanding your ability to solve the problems that will be associated with your work. Some things to keep in mind with IQ questions:
Tie your skillset directly to the question being asked. When asked how you would solve a particular problem, make sure you associate a skill you have to solving that specific problem.
Always answer the question being asked. If you’re unsure if you’ve answered the question completely don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer “I hope I’ve answered your question but please let me know if you feel I missed something.” If you need more time to think, ask the interviewer to repeat or explain the question. Keep in mind that in some cases it’s OK to take a minute or two to think through your answer.
Use examples from a previous job or project to answer a question you’re being asked. “In my previous job we faced exactly the same problem. Here’s how the team and I tackled this and how it turned out.” This demonstrates that not only do you understand the question being asked but that you’ve dealt with this type of issue before and have a ready response to deal with it.
Be specific about the results you achieved in your previous job and use metrics the interviewer can relate with. For example, if you worked in sales you should be talking about your sales forecast, number of leads generated, revenue earned compared to plan etc. The more you can quantify your past success and tie that back to the question being asked the better.
EQ questions. Emotional intelligence questions can be much trickier to answer but are much more important if you’re interviewing for a management role or for a role that requires you to work with a number of different people across different teams or with external clients. These can be interview killers if you’re not careful so you should be prepared to answer these thoughtfully. Here are some question types you can expect:
Self development questions. Some companies might ask you questions such as “What was the latest book you read?” or “What course have you taken lately and why?” These questions are designed to assess your interest and level of commitment in developing yourself personally and professionally. Demonstrate to your prospective company what you’re doing to develop your skill set and why it should matter to them.
Self Awareness questions. Occasionally, you might get a question around a particular setback or failure you had in a previous role. In this case, the company isn’t so much interested in the setback itself but in how you handled the setback and what you learned from it. We all make mistakes. That’s part of being human. The problem comes when we fail to learn from our mistakes and risk repeating them again. Good companies want to make sure you embrace the world with a growth mindset (if you haven’t, read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset) and learn from your mistakes.
People management questions. If you’re going to be managing people, companies are always going to want to understand your ability to deal with complex people issues. As a matter of fact, the more senior you become in any organization, the more the challenges become people issues rather than ordinary operational issues. You should be prepared to answer questions such as “How do you deal with a high performer who fails to play well with the rest of the team?” or “Another team member comes and complains to you about the behaviour of a fellow team member. What do you do?” If you can tie your answers back to specific issues you’ve successfully dealt with in the past that will also help strengthen your case significantly.
Management style. Again, this one is particularly critical for managers. If you’re interviewing for a management role, often the most important person in the interview process isn’t so much the person you’ll be reporting to but actually one of the people you’ll be managing. Negative feedback from potential direct reports can be an interview killer. To assess management style companies will ask questions such as “What’s your management style?” or “How do you feel about team members who work from home?” or even “How do you encourage your team members to take calculated risks?” Understanding, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your own management style is crucial. Few people are perfect managers and some people will never fully be able to make the transition from individual contributor (IC) to manager. That said, you need to be aware of your blind spots so that you can share how you’re working on improving them with the interviewer if need be.
Culture / Fit questions. These questions can be challenging since some companies don’t openly talk much about the culture they have or are trying to create. Culture / Fit questions are designed to try and understand how well you might fit into the company’s culture. Although these questions aren’t always deal breakers at first, working in a company where you don’t fit in will sooner or later cause issues either for you or for the company. For example, if you’re a woman and you come across a company whose culture is very male, sales-driven and overly aggressive that might not be an ideal fit. It has nothing to do with your ability to do the job nor your gender or race but more to do with how you’ll feel working with others and they will feel working with you. In another case, you might be an older, more traditional executive looking to work in a small, fast paced startup with a young culture. Again, you’re most likely perfectly able to do the job but the company’s culture might clash with your more traditional way of doing things. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to do your homework on the company, speak with others who have worked there and try to find information on the company’s vision and mission (Glassdoor is generally helpful for this as well). The more you understand what the company’s core values are and how employees feel who have worked there, the more likely you’ll be able to anticipate and prepare for those types of questions. Here are a couple of possible examples:
I vs. We questions. In this case, an interviewer will ask how you dealt with a particular problem. However, they’ll be paying very close attention not only to what you contributed individually but to how you worked with others, included them in the problem solving process and how you solved the problem as a team. This particular company might be strongly wedded to “collaboration” as part of its company culture so if your answer focuses just on how smart you are and how you solved the problem single-handedly, you’ll miss a key component on what the company is looking for: Team-based problem solving and your ability to work with others to develop solutions.
Ownership questions. In this situation a company is looking to understand how you view responsability. These questions are particularly important in smaller companies where there is often too much work and too few people to handle the workload. A question might be something such as: “An irate customer calls to complain about a bug in the mobile app that we have developed. The customer service team is backlogged but the customer really insists on speaking with someone. How would you handle the situation?” What the company is looking for is whether you’re the type of person who will feel comfortable working outside their role or whether you’ll be more focused on your own tasks and delegate tasks outside your area of expertise to those responsible for them. You might have a perfectly valid answer either way but the company might be looking for a specific type of person who will behave a certain way more attuned to their values.
Phew — that’s a ton of information right? One last and important part of the interview remains:
What questions should YOU ask the company? This is usually reserved for the last 5–10 minutes of the interview but is often one of the most overlooked and underappreciated parts of the interview. There are usually two types of questions you can ask.
Questions that directly impact your ability to do the job. To be successful you need to agree with your potential employer what the measurable goals for this role are and ensure you’re going to have the resources to deliver on your goals. This is your time to ask questions around budget, headcount, your ability to hire people, and lines of responsibility between your role and that of someone else on another team. These questions are important because they’ll give you an understanding of the role and your chances of being successful in it. It might be your dream job or company but if you discover the role isn’t quite what you thought or that you won’t have the resources to be successful, you should seriously reconsider whether it’s right for you.
Questions that show you’ve done your homework and are special. This is your chance to set yourself apart from the pack. You might ask a question around product strategy, the company’s plans for overseas expansion or even competitive threats in the market. Keep in mind that asking these questions is one thing but you should also have opinion of your own on these questions as well. It’s one thing to ask a good question but you’ll risk looking foolish if you don’t have your own opinion on the subject. I would also recommend that you try not to stray too far from your area of expertise. If you’re interviewing for a customer service role it’s probably fair game to ask how marketing is positioning the product (since you’ll be on the tail end of that if the customer gets upset) but it’s another to ask what the company's financing strategy is or when they expect to raise funding.
Once all the interviews are finished there are a couple of things you should do:
Politely enquire about what the overall process looks like and next steps
Send thank you emails to everyone who interviewed you (if you don’t have their emails, request that HR forward emails on your behalf).
Thank the recruiting team for the opportunity to interview with the company. Reiterate your interest in the company / role and succinctly repeat why your experience, skills and personality would be a match for the company.
That’s it! Now the only thing you can do is wait. If you found this article helpful I’d appreciate a like, share or comment or ask questions. Please don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for other great job searching and marketing tips and make sure you also check out my YouTube channel.
Patrick ‘Mad’ Mork