Jump Start Your Job Search is a five-part blog series that shows you the best way to find and get your ideal job. Read Part Two—How to write a killer resume by learning four key ingredients.
Part Three: How to rock your next job interview—By nailing your Tell Me About Yourself story
I want you to think of the interview as a fluid, continuous action instead of a chore that you must do to obtain a job. I love giving good interviews. For me, it’s the best part of the entire job search experience. However, it is the make or break, pressure-cooker time, and you have to be on your game. As a friend of mine likes to say, you have to “show well.” But you have to show better than well, you have to be the best possible person for that particular position. So in order to be the BEST, here are some tips on how to rock your next job interview.
RESEARCH the company.
- Learn everything you can about the company starting with the person who is going to interview you. If you don’t know the person’s name (you should always ask if given the chance), you can figure out who may be conducting the interview by looking at the company’s hierarchical structure on the ‘About Us’ section of their website.
- Read about the company’s mission, current programs, upcoming initiatives, etc. Is there anything related to the job you want? What topics can you bring up during the interview? Most people never bother to do this level of research. You will stand out above other applicants if you do.
- Study their website in detail. Think of it as cramming for a final exam. Needing a job in real life is way more important than wanting an ‘A’ in college. Trust me.
RESPECT the person’s time.
- Confirm a specific amount of time prior to the interview.
- Do not be late, but do not show up too early either. Walk in the door no earlier than ten minutes before the interview.
- Do not overstay your welcome. You are (usually) in control of how long the interview lasts so do not stay one minute longer unless they insist upon it.
UNDERSTAND an interview is a two-way conversation.
- Do ask questions. If you don’t ask anything about the company, it appears as though you are not interested in working for them.
- Don’t interrupt the employer if they love to talk, but do find a way to ask your questions. Politely, of course.
- Observe the 50-50 rule of speaking and listening.
- Keep your answers short: 20 seconds – 2 minutes is ideal.
Remember! An interview is a lot like dating. Do they like you? Do you like them?
The dreaded Tell Me About Yourself
Unless you are talking with an HR Manager, I’ve found most employers are terrible interviewers. (You wouldn’t believe how many have overshared with me during an interview!) BUT their deficiency gives you the opportunity to control the conversation. Often, they don’t know what to ask so the Tell Me About Yourself (TMAY) serves multiple purposes:
- This ‘question’ lets them off the hook. If you answer it well, you will provide plenty of information for them to ask about for the rest of the interview.
- This question is kind of a test. Employers want to see how you respond to an open-ended, unstructured situation.
- If you respond with a question such as “What do you want to know about me?” you have FAILED the test.
- If you ramble, you have failed the test.
- If you provide unnecessary information, you may have failed the test.According to best-selling author Richard Bolles’ the unspoken question is (and I agree with Richard), what experience, skills, or knowledge do you have that are relevant to the job I need to fill? Employers expect you to know the answer to this question, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation. I think most people fail the question because they don’t know how to answer it and they don’t practice nearly enough times to be comfortable with their answer. Dos and Don’ts of a great Tell Me About Yourself answer
According to best-selling author Richard Bolles’ the unspoken question is (and I agree with Richard), what experience, skills, or knowledge do you have that are relevant to the job I need to fill? Employers expect you to know the answer to this question, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation. I think most people fail the question because they don’t know how to answer it and they don’t practice nearly enough times to be comfortable with their answer. Dos and Don’ts of a great Tell Me About Yourself answer
- Do write your TMAY story. It doesn’t matter if you type it or hand write it, but you must write it.
- Do keep it under two minutes while speaking at an average pace.
- Do keep the word count between 200 – 300 words, which should keep you under the two-minute mark.
- Do rehearse it until it no longer sounds rehearsed. For me, I have to say my TMAY aloud a minimum of 25 times before it sounds natural, unrehearsed, and off-book (i.e., not looking at my paper).
- Do practice in front of a mirror to catch any weird facial expressions.
- Don’t tell everything about yourself. Focus only on what is relevant for that particular job. Like a resume, your TMAY is a fluid document that will change. The bones may remain the same, but the muscle or meat of it will and should change as you tweak it for each job interview.
Remember! Practice, practice, practice your Tell Me About Yourself story in the mirror, in the shower, in your sleep.
Questions they may ask and questions you should ask
) Questions they may ask you after Tell Me About Yourself
- Why are you here? Meaning .. why are you applying to our company v. another company? This is where doing your research will pay off.
- What can you do for us? Meaning … what are your skills and how much do you know about the subject or field we are in? Again, doing your research and knowing why you applied for the job at that company will answer this question.
- What kind of person are you? Meaning … will you fit in? What is your personality like? These questions may be unspoken, but trust me, they are watching your body language and paying attention to how you answer the other questions.
- What distinguishes you from the other 100+ people applying for this job? For example, do you have better work habits than others? You must know what makes you unique. Be prepared for the what are your strengths and weaknesses question too.
- Can we afford you? If we decide we want you, how much will it take to get you? No matter what type of company it is, cost is always a concern.
- Check out Monster’s 100 potential interview questions. I recommend going through them and answering every single one. That’s right. ALL of them.
Questions you should ask (remember two-way conversation)
- What does this job involve? Often, the job post is outdated or incomplete. Get a true picture of what the job entails by asking specific questions.
- What are the skills a top employee in this job would need to have? An employer who understands the position should have no trouble answering this question unless it’s a newly created job in the company.
- Are these the kinds of people I would like to work with? Ask yourself this question. Observe as many people as you can. Are they happy? How’s the work environment? Trust your gut. If the environment seems negative, it won’t improve just because you start working there. Move on.
- If we like each other and we both want to work together, how can I persuade them there is something unique about me? You better know what is already unique about you. Seriously.
- Can I persuade them to hire me at the salary I need or want? If you read my previous post, you know I recommend Salary.com or Payscale.com to determine how much you are worth. There are many factors when determining salary:
- Most nonprofits and universities will have salary ranges posted for positions. Private companies rarely do but you can gauge what you should be paid for X job using the tools listed above.
- Keep in mind, the company has a standard of norms, organizational hierarchy, budget, and all kinds of bureaucracy you may not be privy to that will determine what they will pay for the job. If they have their minds made up in advance about the salary, they are unlikely to change it.
- Your previous salary matters. For example, let’s say you made $80K at a former job and due to circumstances, you now make $60K at your current job. But you apply for a job that pays $80K, thinking you made it before so you should make it again. Not in the eyes of an employer. They look at your most recent salary. I’ve helped a client navigate this issue, but it was tricky. Taking a pay cut is one of the worst things you can do for your career because it affects your potential future salary. (If money is not a concern, please ignore my previous statement.)
- Before you go into the interview, you should know how much you want and whether the position will pay what you want. If you do your research, you can find that information. Don’t waste their time, and more importantly, don’t waste your time.
Remember! Do not state the salary you want during the interview.
Fake it until you feel it
Pay attention to your appearance and personal habits.
- You should bathe/shower as well as brush and floss your teeth.
- Men: Freshly shaved or trimmed neat beard, clean fingernails, deodorant.
- Women: Natural makeup, styled hair, clean/manicured fingernails, deodorant.
- You should have freshly laundered clothes and polished shoes.
Avoid nervous ticks/mannerisms.
- Make eye contact.
- Give a strong handshake (even women).
- Sit up straight without crossing your arms (crossed legs are okay).
- Do not fidget with your hands, crack your knuckles, or play with your hair.
- Speak at an appropriate volume. If you encounter a low talker (the worst!), adjust your volume slightly. You don’t want to appear as though you are shouting.
- Deliver answers to questions without hesitation. If you have practiced with a career coach, family member, or friend, you will be prepared for most questions.
- Give real, substantive answers to questions; one or two words won’t cut it.
- Never, ever criticize yourself even when asked about your weaknesses. For example, in a job interview, I might say, “One of my weaknesses is I can be stubborn; however, I prefer to look at it as persistent. If I see a problem, I have to solve it. I’ve learned almost all of my computer skills through my persistence and determination to solve problems.”
Remember! If you look good and sound amazing, you will feel amazing.
Interview Dos and Don’ts
Don’t badmouth your previous employer.
- Even if you were fired, never say anything negative about a past employer.
- Legally, companies can only confirm limited information when they contact your prior employer including your salary, job title, and period of employment.
Don’t be inconsiderate of other people.
- Avoid any criticism about your previous employer, coworkers, or job.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages or smoking cigarettes during an interview (such as lunch).
- Be courteous to everyone (e.g., receptionist, secretary, waiter).
- Thank the person for their time as you’re leaving the interview.
- Enthusiastic about the job and the company. (If not, why apply?)
- Motivated, energetic, driven, and happy.
- Responsible, committed, organized, disciplined, and flexible.
- Someone who loves to learn.
My personal tips for ‘Giving Good Interview’
- You have done the research.
- You have practiced with a career coach, friend and/or family member.
- You look fantastic.
- You have arrived on time in the right location.
- Answer their questions.
- Ask your questions.
- Take notes. (Always bring a legal pad and pen with you.)
- Watch your body language: Smile a lot, make eye contact, and never cross your arms.
- Keep in mind — you are already qualified for the position or you wouldn’t be there.
- A sign things are going well is when the interviewer begins selling you on the job. That’s when you know the decision to take or leave the job is YOURS. It’s a great feeling.
- Follow up the same day. Some people will disagree with me, but you should always follow up by writing a hand-written, thank you card and dropping it in the mail the same day. Emails do not count. Anyone can write an email in two minutes. Writing an actual note shows that you care. I can’t tell you how many times employers thanked me for the “lovely” cards that I sent them. A handwritten note might even make the difference on whether or not you receive a second interview.
Remember! Mail a hand-written thank-you note within 24 hours after an in-person interview.
Help! I have a second interview. What now?
Awesome! Repeat the steps.
- Research: Is there anything else you want to know about the company or did they ask you to prepare something? (The latter has happened to me.) Who is interviewing you this time?
- Will you need to tweak your Tell Me About Yourself? If it is a new person for the same position, use the same TMAY but still rehearse it. It’s a cliche, but practice makes perfect.
- Think about what questions may have been missed by both parties during the first interview, especially if it was cut short or rushed for some reason. What else do you want to know about them? What else do you want them to know about you? It’s your second date!
- I didn’t go into the perfect interview outfit in this post, but always have a minimum of two perfect interview outfits. Just putting them on should make you feel beautiful/handsome, fabulous, and confident.
- They asked you to come back so the job is almost yours. Blow the competition (whoever they are — don’t worry about them) out of the water by ‘showing best.’
- Follow up again with another hand-written, thank-you note. Be sure to use different, yet sincere, language
Download our JSYJS How to rock your next job interview by nailing your Tell Me About Yourself story worksheet.
P.S. Are you unemployed? How much have you lost in wages? Download our FREE Salary Loss Tool to see why you may need to hire a career coach to help you find your next dream job.