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Let Me Teach You How to Crush Your Interview
Written by Bre Cameron
Originally distributed via LinkedIn
I am back and ready to talk about the next step in the hiring process: Interviews! This was probably the most eye-opening experience for me after starting in Talent Acquisition. I quickly realized why I wasn’t being selected after the few interviews I did receive. It was because I really sucked at interviewing! You think it would be easy, it’s just talking, talking about yourself nonetheless. How hard can that be? But there is definitely a formula and successful way to answer interview questions. In this article, I am going to teach you a ton of helpful tips and tricks so that you can start going into your interviews feeling more prepared and confident.
It wasn’t until years later, well into my career in Talent Acquisition, that I realized I had never really interviewed for a role until after the military. I had a job working as the night shift supervisor at my local CVS before joining but I got that job when I was 16 because my cousin worked there and I all I remember doing was showing up at the store (I don’t think I even had a resume) and her boss asked “When can you start?” and I started a few days after. A lot has changed in the last 25 years (man, that makes me feel old) and the application and interview process for a lot of companies has changed to keep the process more compliant. For instance, almost everything is done online now. My guess is that it’s pretty rare for a company to still accept walk-in candidates with paper resumes unless it’s a small, family-owned local business. Even most interviews are done virtually instead of in person, as a result of the pandemic. Below I will break down the steps you need to take to prepare for any situation.
If you are a transitioning service member, veteran, or military spouse the first thing I want you to do after reading this article is to go and sign up for your three free mock interviews at Candorful.org. They are a great organization that helps you practice and prepare for your upcoming interviews. Plus, they will be brutally honest, which you will need! This may be the only time you receive feedback on how you interview. Another great thing about this organization is that you get to select whom you want to do your mock interviews with. This could be another veteran, someone in your desired industry, or desired field. This way you are getting tailored feedback that will help you with the specific roles you are interviewing for. It is also a great way to network! I have hired a few of the people I conducted mock interviews with.
Ok, so back to the beginning.
Scheduling – You just received an email or call to schedule your interview. Make sure you pick a time and date that work best for you. Be sure that you will be home or in a quiet place to conduct this interview, not on the road or running errands, cooking food, picking up your kids, etc. You want to be able to give them your full, undivided attention with absolutely no distractions. If something comes up and you can no longer be completely focused on your interview then ask if you can reschedule it. Believe me, this will dock points and make you look unprepared if you are not 100% focused on this interview. You want them to know that you are taking this very seriously.
Preparation – In the days before your interview make sure you are doing the following to prepare, especially if this is your dream company or position.
Research the company by checking out their website, reading their mission and core values, finding out what they do in the community, going to their YouTube channel, do a Google search for articles about their company or CEO. Take notes! Write down the stuff that stands out to you. If you can show that you have done your research during your interview it will speak volumes and show them that you are really excited about the possibility to work for their company.
Prepare for interview questions by printing off the job description. Next to each bullet point listed under Job Responsibilities and Preferred Qualifications, write down the best example you can give if asked about it. This should help you remember what you want to say and if you are doing a virtual interview you can use it as a reference during your interview. Basically, anything on that job description is fair game. Imagine each bullet point as a question by adding “Tell me about your experience doing …” at the beginning and a question mark at the end of that bullet point.
Virtual Interviews are more common than ever. Be sure to download the app you will be using and set up an account. The most common are Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams, but there are many more out there. Try logging in at least 5 minutes beforehand to allow yourself time to troubleshoot any issues, check your camera and sound, as well as add a virtual background, etc. If you are having any issues email the recruiter or hiring manager right away so they are aware. Always be prepared for a video interview, even if it doesn’t specify that on the confirmation email. Don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter for confirmation of whether it is just a phone call or a video interview.
In-Person Interviews are making a comeback! Now that the pandemic has eased up companies are feeling more comfortable, and often prefer, to have candidates come onsite at least once during the interview process. Give yourself plenty of time to make it to their office on time. Take into account traffic, road work, getting through security, parking, etc. Try to get there at least 5 minutes early. Kind of like in the military, if you are on time you are late!
Body Language – Be sure to make eye contact, smile, and shake hands (if in person). Try not to fidget and be aware of what your nervous habits are and try to avoid doing them during the interview. I know I mess with my hands a lot when I am nervous so I try to keep them folded in front of me. I also tend to talk with my hands a lot and so now I try to not go overboard with my hand gestures.
Dress – My advice will always be to dress for success. Try to look as professional as possible. Be aware that you may be more dressed up than the interviewer. Don’t let that make you feel uneasy. Chances are they are wearing what they always wear to work, and you may get to dress that casually when you work there too. There are some great resources out there that have free or discounted professional attire for veterans: Save a Suit Salute 2 Suit Boots to Suits Suiting Warriors Operation Dress Code and many others that can be found doing a Google search for dress clothes for male or female veterans, or interview clothes for male or female veterans in your area.
MOST IMPORTANT – Answering Questions – The whole purpose of the interview is to find out what you have done and what you can do. They will also be gauging things like your communication skills and will try to verify that you would be a good fit on their team. This part of the interview will all be about balancing professionalism, strong communication, and converseness. You want them to take you seriously but also show that you are not too serious. I know, it can be hard to wrap your head around this. To break it down remember the three C’s: Clear, Concise, and Conversational.
The format I recommend is STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Briefly explain the Situation and the Task at hand. What was the Action you took? What was the Result of your actions? For instance, the question is “Tell me about a time when you had a difficult customer. How did you diffuse the situation?” Your answer could be something like this: “[Situation] A customer came into the store and was upset that we were out of the item they were looking for because they needed it that day. [Task] I double-checked our stock room but we did not have any extra product waiting to go out. I called another nearby store to see if they had it in stock and they did. [Action] I was able to schedule a pick-up of the item so the customer did not have to travel to the other store. The customer came back later in the day to receive the product. [Result] The customer was very happy with the service I provided and began referring more business to our store.” This is the most basic of examples but I hope you catch my drift. Try to give only one example and avoid going off on tangents (like I tend to do). If you are using military lingo be sure to give a brief explanation of what certain things mean as the civilian interviewer may not be aware. Try to avoid being too stiff and try to relax. This is just a conversation and is as much for you as it is about you. Feel free to ask them questions too. You both will want to ensure that this is the best opportunity for both you and the interviewer. Remember, you will be spending at least 8 hours of your day at this company so you want to ensure you will enjoy being there and doing the work assigned to you.
Talk about YOU! – It is very common for veterans to want to give credit to their team and not take all of the glory for themselves. Talking about yourself can feel uncomfortable like you are being boastful or taking all the credit. During an interview, the interviewer is trying to learn more about you, not your team. Try to use “I” statements instead of “my team and me” or “we.” If it was a team effort then talk about what your contribution was. I also mentioned this in my last article about resumes, but be sure to not only talk about how you can do something but about how well you have done it. Give percentages, numbers, or any other data that shows how you positively impacted the situation.
What if they ask about salary expectations? – Simple, be honest and give a range. Always be prepared to talk about salary when going into any interview. It will come up eventually. Know what your numbers are: What do I need to make? What do I want to make? What is the standard for this role? It is also ok to ask during an interview “What is the salary range for this role?” and from there share if that was within your own range. If it is too low let them know that. There is no point in continuing with the interview if there isn’t a possibility to receive the pay you need to survive. Also, keep this in mind if your range is too high. Maybe you need to make at least $70,000 a year to cover all of your expenses but you would like to make $100,000. You’ve checked Glassdoor and it shows that the standard for this role is $85,000. Be sure to give them a range but if you can be flexible let them know. If you say “I would like to make $90,000 to $100,000 per year” but they come back with, “Well the range for this role is $75,000 – $85,000” ask yourself if that is doable, is this your dream company/role, are there other opportunities you are interviewing for that will pay more? Feel free to ask them about career progression and opportunities for promotions. If you are able to be flexible then let them know what your absolute minimum would be. Sometimes, for the right candidate, they may be able to submit a business case to offer more, although that is a rare occurrence. If you think you deserve more then tell them why, whether it’s a higher cost of living after relocating, that you recently completed your MBA, that you were making more at your last company, you would have to commute a further distance, and so on. Try to avoid being ambiguous about your salary expectations.
Stay Positive! – When answering questions try to give only positive results, or if that is unavoidable talk about what you learned from negative results. For instance, I was once asked about a time when I had a difficult boss. I went on a long tangent about all of the awful things my boss had done. The interviewer then followed up with “So what did you do?” and I answered, “Well I quit!” Please, please, please, do not give this type of answer. I cringe every time I think about that. I had plenty of examples of working with difficult bosses where I was able to turn things around, but in this instance, I decided to give them my absolute worst example. And as you probably guessed, I did not get that job.
When you get asked questions about difficult times, failures, and so on, they are looking at how you work through these situations. Try to give examples that ended positively. For instance, this is how I would answer that question today “I was once hired to take over a position that was previously my new manager’s position. We did not see eye to eye on many things and they thought I should do things exactly the way they had done them, whereas I saw some areas for improvement. I wanted to be sensitive to the work they had done as well as continue to grow what was already set in place. In order to earn their trust and get them to agree to make these changes, I began gathering data and showed them my proposal for the changes I wanted to make and why. Once they could see the impact these changes could make they began to trust my ideas and no longer questioned the improvements I was enforcing. As a result, I was able to exponentially grow our initiatives and increase outreach based on these changes. My boss was thrilled with these accomplishments and since I had gained their trust they began giving me more range to do the things I felt needed to be done.”
Another question you may get asked is “Tell me about a time you failed.” Be honest about your failure but also talk about what you learned and did differently afterward. The interviewer wants to see that you are able to accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. Another is “Tell me about your weaknesses.” Many people want to answer with “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.” Interviewers can see right through these answers so try giving an honest answer as well as showing that you have self-awareness and are working on this weakness. For example, “I tend to say yes to everything and overwhelm myself with responsibilities. This can sometimes cause me to feel frustrated because I am spread too thin and not able to properly focus on the projects I was already working on. In order to fix this, I have begun to share with the requestor that I have a limited capacity and let them know that as much as I would like to take on their project I am not able to at this time. I will then try to work with them on a different timeline that allows me to focus on the current projects I am working on and eventually work on their proposed project when I have the capacity to.” Ultimately, the interviewer will want to see that you can approach difficulties with a positive attitude and overcome adversity to create positive results.
What if I can’t answer their question? – If you get asked a question where you can’t think of an example or don’t have an example don’t fret. If your mind has gone absolutely blank just politely ask if you can revisit the question at another time. Hopefully, you can think of an answer in the interim. If not, don’t worry. Just apologize and let them know you are not able to think of an example at this time. It’s understandable to be nervous during an interview. If you get asked about something that you don’t have experience in then talk about your adaptability. Veterans and military spouses are some of the most highly adaptable people I have ever met! Give a very brief example of a time you had to learn on the fly. For instance, “I do not have experience using that tool but I am confident that I can learn quickly. For example, I was once tasked with doing XYZ and had no previous knowledge of that program. I did QRS to get up to speed and by the end of the week, I was teaching the rest of the team how to use the ABC program.” Chances are the others who are also interviewing will have more experience because they have been working in the civilian workforce longer. Your job will be to convince these managers that they can take a chance on you.
The most dreaded question: “Do you have any questions for me?” – Why is this question so hard to answer? Or, am I the only one that thinks that way? I always freeze up when I get asked this and my natural reflex is to say “Not that I can think of.” Always try to ask at least one question. Some examples are:
- “ABC Corporation seems like a great company to work for! What do you like most about working here?” Follow up with how great that sounds, if their answer resonates with you, and how you hope to land with a company that has X, Y, Z values/benefits/etc.
- “If I am hired for this position, what would be my first priority upon starting?” Briefly follow up after their answer with how you would approach those projects.
- “Is there anything about my experience that gives you pause?” This is an opportunity to possibly fill in some gaps or show how you would prepare yourself to take on these challenges.
- “How long have you been with the company and what has your career progression been like since starting here?” People love to talk about themselves. This also gives you a chance to follow up with your own career desires such as “That sounds great! I hope to continue to grow within the company and become a Subject Matter Expert / Manager / Team Lead someday.”
- Ask what programs/tools/software/etc. they use if not already discussed. This should give you an opportunity to share if you have any knowledge or experience.
Thank them for the opportunity! – I have had so many managers give feedback that the candidate didn’t seem excited about the role they were interviewing for. This is huge! If you seem excited to be there then they will feel excited to hire you! Be sure to finish up the interview by thanking them for the opportunity and expressing that you hope to receive a callback. You can even express “This is my dream job/company! I really hope to hear from you.” Let them know that you are open to further discussion if they have any additional questions about your background.
Thank You Notes – Be sure to send a thank you email to the recruiter or hiring manager, if you have their address, within 24 hours of your interview. These aren’t as expected any longer but are much appreciated when received. Try to list something that came up during your conversation such as, “It sounds like the launch of ABC Corporation’s new product LMNOP is going to be a game changer for the industry. I would be so excited to be a part of that!”
What to do if you don’t get selected after an interview? – This is one of the worst feelings when you got so far along in the process but didn’t get selected. It can be a real punch to the ego. Try not to take it too personally. Most likely you will not receive any feedback other than, “We decided to move forward with a candidate that better met the skills.” Believe me, most of the time that really is all it comes down to. I usually get feedback from hiring managers that they really liked Candidate A but Candidate B just had a little bit more of what they are looking for. If you do receive word that you were not selected feel free to send a polite follow-up note that says something along the lines of, “I am very disappointed to hear that I was not selected for this role but am honored to have been considered. I greatly admire ABC Corporation and all that they are doing for the DEF industry. I will continue to look for other roles that closely align with my skills and experience and hope to find a better fit at the company. Thank you again for the opportunity to interview with your team.” If you go on LinkedIn blasting the company after not getting selected you will never hear from that company again. If you are determined to get into that company then keep trying! I worked with some of my candidates for years before getting them hired. Sometimes it all comes down to timing and they agreed that the role they eventually got hired for was a much better fit than the one they had interviewed for before.
Other tips and tricks – Some other little things to refrain from when interviewing that have come up occasionally in feedback from managers. Avoid chewing gum or snacking during your interview. Refrain from cussing, discussing politics, or telling dirty jokes. Avoid dressing too casually unless the recruiter tells you it is ok. Don’t ghost or ignore a company if you change your mind, give them a head’s up if you have accepted another opportunity. Always tell the truth in your interviews, embellishing your answers may come back to haunt you later on. If you fall ill before your interview be sure to reschedule. Don’t cut the interview short unless it’s for an emergency, if you were told the interview would be an hour make sure you have that much time set aside. A lot of these may seem like common sense but it has come up! Make sure you put your absolute best foot forward.
This has probably been my longest article yet but it is also the most important step in the interview process. This is your chance to stand out from the other candidates, sell your great skills and capabilities, and show this company that you are the best fit for the role! Remember, it is just a conversation, and not getting selected for a role is just redirection towards something better.
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