My worst interview ever was not a job interview. It was a college admissions interview. The interview lasted a total of 5 minutes. My dream was to be an architect just like my grandfather. That is how I found myself in the admissions office at the Cornell University College of Architecture on a beautiful fall day in 1977.
Admissions Officer: Can I see your portfolio?
Me: What’s a portfolio?
Admissions Officer: That would be a sample of your drawings.
Me: But I don’t know how to draw. That’s why I want to come here.
Admissions Officer: All prospective students need to provide a sample of their drawings.
Me: I see…
And that was the end of my dream of a long and successful career in architecture. That early experience at the age of 17 taught me a valuable lesson about winning in an interview. Research and preparation are essential. And a portfolio can mean the difference between success and failure. Now as a job search coach, I see that those early lessons apply equally well to the interview process for your next job.
In today’s article, I will cover the first topic of pre-interview research. In future articles, I will tackle strategies for interview preparation and developing a portfolio to display your talent and experience.
Success in the interview process is defined by advancing to the next step in the hiring cycle. It does not matter if that next step is another round of interviews or an actual job offer. Winning the interview means forward progress. And if you keep winning and advancing, eventually you will get the job offer. Research is one of the best methods to guarantee forward progress in your next interview.
In 1977, my resources for interview research were limited. Today, you have access to a vast array of strategies and resources to conduct essential pre-interview research and prepare for your best interview performance.
Self-Assessment: Before you start the interview process, you need to look yourself in the mirror and do an honest self-assessment. You need to understand your personality traits, sources for motivation, strengths, and weaknesses. You should complete this self-assessment before starting the job search process and review before every interview. It can be challenging to answer an interviewer’s questions about “you” if you don’t first know yourself. This article from Monster provides links to ten different (and free) online personality assessment tests and tools.
Industry and Company Research: In an interview, knowledge is not only power but also a source of confidence for you as the candidate. Think about how my Cornell interview might have progressed had I researched that drawing skills were an essential pre-requisite to a career in architecture! Start your research at the top with an understanding of the industry, company and potential competitors. This article from The Muse has some excellent suggestion on where and how to execute your pre-interview company research.
Position Research: It is virtually impossible to complete a project if you don’t first know the project requirements and the desired outcome or product you must produce. The same goes for the position for you which you will interview. LinkedIn recently added new a new Job Title Highlights feature that will give you details on the top skills, connections and valuable learning courses on the position title for which you are interviewing. O*NET Online is also another great free tool (sponsored by the US Department of Labor) that you can use to dive deep into the skills and requirements in the highest demand for your targeted position title. Finally, for the most specific research, you can use Jobscan to analyze how your skills line up to the position description. At a minimum, you already have some of the required skills because you got the interview. But a quick Jobscan analysis will tell you where you stand out and where you fall short. Then you can prepare your interview answers to highlight the strengths and position the gaps as areas of opportunity for future growth.
Interviewer Research: The interview process is a sales process. You are selling yourself as the solution to the problem of the open position, and the hiring manager is the buyer. A good sales rep wants to understand as much about the buyer as possible. In 2019, we have very few secrets, and our lives are online in a variety of social media platforms. Typically, you will not need to go any further than LinkedIn to better understand the target who will conduct your interview. Focus on articles and activity, career progression, education, outside interests, and common connections. If there are common connections, reach out to the 1st degree connections for any additional insight. Use this information to prepare two or three open-ended questions to ask in the interview. If possible, use one of the questions at the onset of the interview to break the ice, develop a common bond and allow you a moment to gather yourself and relax into the interview.
The famous scientist Louis Pasteur once said: “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” I doubt if today’s research tools would have made a difference in the outcome of my college admissions interview. I still can’t draw anything more advanced than a stick figure and suspect that will never change! But you can use research to better prepare for your next interview! Use this research to best position yourself above the competition, and you will win more interviews than you lose. And that is all that matters in your job search.
Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.