Most jobseekers make the critical error of believing that their preparation for an interview begins after it has been scheduled. In truth, most interviews begin before the résumé has been customized for the position. It may have started months and even years ago. Really!
Terry finally got a call for a phone interview. She had been out of work for six months and was getting worried. When the call came in, she thought she was ready. But when the interviewer asked, “What have you been doing since you were laid off?” Terry drew a blank. With so many people in her situation, she didn’t expect that question. She had been looking for a job…what else would she be doing? Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Lesson learned.
When a second interview came up, she was asked about some certifications that were on the job posting. She said she didn’t have them and that ended the conversation. She would need a different answer for that.
Several interviews followed and finally, Terry was called for a face-to-face appointment with Human Resources. Now, after nine months, she felt she was getting somewhere.
In the first face-to-face, an unexpected question threw her off,
“What would the person who likes you least in the world say about you?”
Huh? Terry didn’t know what to say.
The one-year mark of unemployment passed. After several interviews Terry was getting better at managing them, but she still hadn’t made it through to a hiring manager. It seemed she was always defending herself; gaps in her résumé, changes in her career, salary requirements…didn’t everyone else have gaps, changes, and want a decent salary?
When do you begin preparing for an interview?
Most jobseekers I know begin preparing for an interview in earnest as soon as someone calls to schedule it. If that’s the case, it’s probably too late. That doesn’t mean they won’t win the job offer, however, early preparation can make the interview process a lot easier.
A look at the selection process may bring valuable insight.
How are you selected for an interview?
There are three ways candidates get selected:
- Through the online and/or in-house filtering systems.
- Someone refers them to a hiring professional.
- They are identified through social media, usually LinkedIn.
If the first point of contact with you is your résumé, then it will be screened to make sure you are a viable candidate. An HR Assistant may enter your résumé through the in-house software filters, or enter your information manually. It might be screened manually; i.e. someone quickly skims through your résumé.
If you seem to be a good match, then you will be screened further.
Your name might be searched on the Internet and your LinkedIn profile may be viewed as well. If they found you on LinkedIn to start with, then you may be contacted and asked to send a résumé. So at this point in the process, both your résumé and your LinkedIn profile are checked out. The information needs to be consistent. If your résumé gives different information than your LinkedIn profile, then that causes the hiring professional to wonder which one is correct.
Over the last four to five months a new trend has emerged where your references are checked before you are notified that you are being considered for a position. If you didn’t include contact information for your references, you may be asked to send that information. One of the questions that your references may be asked is, “Who else should we call?”
Finally, you get a call. You’ve been selected for an interview. Congratulations!
At this point, some jobseekers move into high gear. They learn everything they can about their interviewers and the company. At this point, the advantage is with the employer because they have already completed significant research about the candidate, and the candidate is just starting to prepare for the interview.
Is your interview a defense case?
Many people leave interviews feeling like they are always defending something: the gap in their employment, a career change, or perhaps an unfinished degree. Do you relate? If that’s the case, something is seriously wrong with your résumé.
Terry thought she was prepared for her interviews but opportunities were lost because her preparation, including her résumé didn’t answer key concerns.
For every concern that a hiring professional may have as they read your résumé, there should be an immediate response that pacifies that concern. Otherwise, they have a reason NOT to call? Further, IF you do get a call, they are going to question you very carefully about the issue. So then you are spending precious time defending yourself rather than talking about the value you will bring. Better to have a response that is truthful and simply confirm the matter during your interviews.
Is there a gap in your employment? Were you in school, taking care of an elderly parent, or recovering from an accident? Those are all reasonable responses. Give your response in as few words as possible.
No matter who you are, or how perfect your background and experience, there are reasons NOT to hire you. There are no exceptions.
Hiring professionals are going to ask questions that put candidates on the spot to see how they handle them and to ensure there are no hidden issues that might cause a bad hire. It’s their job to do so. It’s the jobseekers responsibility to mange this situation. It’s far easier to simply confirm what is already on your résumé than defend yourself during the interview.
So when does the interview really begin?
Your interviews have already begun. They include your online image, and especially your résumé. Even when you get a job, your interview for your next position is already in the works.
Interview-Prep Lessons Learned
- On LinkedIn: consider turning your activity broadcast setting to “off” so if you make small changes to your profile, it doesn’t send notify everyone in the galaxy.
(How? Under your name, Settings>Profile>Turn on/off activity broadcasts.)
- Your résumé and your LinkedIn profile have to bring a consistent message.
- Consider contacting your references and alerting them that they may be contacted. Let them know that one question might be, “Who else should we contact?”
- Conduct a thorough Internet search about yourself and know what hiring professionals will find when they look for you online. Negative online media is called “Digital Dirt.” Someone with your name might have done something questionable and you need to be aware of that. (There are four Marcia LaReaus in the U.S.) For additional help on this matter, consider the article: Digital Dirt.
- Prepare for standard questions and know how to answer the absurd ones. Consider reading this blog on managing strategic moments during your interview.
- Manage any reasons not to hire you on your résumé. Consider this article on managing résumé challenges.
- Avoid losing hard-won interviews to learn and practice the process. Practice hard questions and refresh your elevator speech. Contact your references.
- Your online image is critical and should be carefully managed for the remainder of your career.
Interviewing is a complex skill that takes practice. Minimize concerns online, and on your résumé. Do as much practice as possible before you get the call so that precious opportunities aren’t lost.