June 29, 2018

Professional Development

Don’t Fall in the Homestretch: 5 Tips to Winning the Interview Process

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

When I ran distance races in high school track, I would often do a (very ungraceful) tour jeté as I neared the finish line.

As you can imagine, my track coach was very displeased with such shenanigans. But I assured him that my goofiness would never cost me a race. After all, the end was so close.

And so it goes with candidates in the interview process. In a candidate’s mind, making it to the interview means you’re in the homestretch. All you have to do now is finish the race, right?

Well, sort of. Remember, you’re not alone on that homestretch. Just over your shoulder is another candidate ready to take the lead if you stumble (or pretend to be a ballerina). And trust me: I see a lot of stumbling near the finish line.

Here are five ways to avoid a misstep in the final stages of the interview process.

Treat everyone as you would the boss
During your interview, there’s a good chance you’ll be interacting with some really important people. For instance, you might meet the president of the organization, a board member, or the receptionist.

Yep, that’s right. The receptionist is a VIP. Even if you don’t interview with the receptionist, you’ll no doubt interact with him/her, and it’s important that you treat the person with the same respect and courtesy you would anyone else.

Why? Because not doing so can easily cost you a job. Case in point, a client recently told me he did not hire a talented mid-level professional because of the way she treated the support staff at the organization. Her behavior implied that these critical team members were “beneath her,” and the organization had no tolerance for such arrogance.

Provide evidence that you can do the job
If I were a bettin’ gal, I’d wager a large sum of Monopoly money that you’ll be asked at some point during the interview to provide evidence you can do the job. This might take the form of behavioral interviewing (“Tell me about a time in which you…” or “Give me an example of your ability to…”). Or, it may be more straightforward: “Have you done X? Tell me about it.”

The best way to prepare is to have several good work stories in mind that illustrate your ability to handle the main responsibilities outlined in the job description. A really good story will speak to various skills and can be used to answer different types of questions. Depending on the specific question you’re asked, you can emphasize different aspects of the story to provide a relevant answer.

Not being prepared in this arena can be a critical misstep. A candidate I adore told me after an interview that he had bombed it. “They asked me several behavioral questions, and I totally blanked on good examples to share.” Sadly, he was right. The client liked him, but without evidence he could do the job, they opted for another candidate.

Be prepared to talk salary
I am shocked how many job applicants say things such as this during job interviews: “Oh, I wasn’t ready to talk about salary.”

What? Did a band of rouge garden gnomes fill out the job application for you and then bring you to the interview against your will? The horror!

Come on, people. If you’re on the job market, you need to be thinking critically about your salary requirements. Before you apply for a job (let alone walk into an interview), you should have already done your homework and have a good sense of where you need to be financially.

If you’re not prepared to provide a salary range when asked, you should hold off on applying for jobs until you can.

Ask for business cards and send a handwritten thank you note
As each of your interviews wrap up, make sure to ask the person across the table for a business card. Why? Because unless you’re Rainman, you won’t be able to remember everyone’s name. And even if you do, you can’t be sure of the spelling (he said “Joe Smith” but what if it’s spelled Throatwobbler Mangrove?).

And why do you need to know how to spell his name? Because you’re going to send a handwritten thank you note promptly after the interview!

I know what you’re thinking. It’s 2018. Won’t an email suffice? Maybe. But why take the chance?

From a client earlier this month: “We liked all of the candidates we interviewed in the last round. XXXXX was the only one who didn’t follow up with a thank you note. Since this role is focused on relationship building, we’ve eliminated her from the running.”

Keep in touch and remain responsive
After the interview is over, don’t just sit around and passively wait to hear from the organization. If a week has gone by and you’re hearing crickets, send a nice follow-up email asking if you can provide any additional information and reiterating your interest in the role.

While I believe the onus is on the hiring organization to make the next move, your proactive approach may help you stand out from the crowd.

I often hear things like this from clients: “We’re still deciding to whom we want to offer the job, but I’m leaning toward Suzy. I’ve been impressed with her follow-up; it’s clear she really wants the job.”

And if the organization does reach out to you post-interview, be responsive! I just witnessed a client withdraw an offer for a candidate because he had become unresponsive in the days following the interview. My guess is that the candidate was employing his old high school dating tactics (playing hard to get). Apparently that approach works as well now as it did back then.

If you’re wondering, my awful dance moves never did cost me a race. Maybe some pride or a prom date, but it was worth it.

This post first appeared on talentmarket.org.