Late Career Job Search Part VII: Interviews

By Scott Westerman (Guest Blogger)

“Someone receives a promotion, gets an important assignment,  makes a major discovery, or moves into the president’s office. An  envious person would say that he is lucky; He gets the breaks; they’re  always in his favor. In reality, luck or the breaks of life had little  or nothing to do with it… Success is not due to a fortuitous concourse  of stars at our birth, but to a steady trail of sparks from the  grindstone of hard work each day.”  –  Kenneth Hildebrand

THE ESSENCE: To get the job you want, you must do well in the  interview process. Hitting it out of the park is all about preparation.

In many ways, a job interview is the ultimate sales presentation.  It’s the Broadway stage where you audition your personal brand. How your  performance goes will determine whether or not you get a shot at the  role.  Here is an amalgam of the preparation and presentations from the  top job contenders I’ve interviewed over three decades. It’s a good  object lesson on how to win in a crowded field.

Before you show up for the interview:

Research the People – Find out who is on the interview team and study  their bios ahead of time. How did they get to where they are in the  organization? What are their roles? How will you relate to them when you  get the gig? What’s their interest in the interview process? This  exercise is especially critical for your potential boss. How do your  leadership preferences fit with what you know about her? What was her  road to success?

Research the Organization – Patricia Siderius, managing director for BPI group advises, “Go online and research the organization,  its business, product and service lines. Check the social media sites to  find out about the company’s culture.” ?Do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the  operation. What do they do well? Who are their competition? What are  their vulnerabilities? Try to learn what their current goals and  priorities are. How do they measure success? What do you imagine is  keeping the leadership up at night? Research recent news stories about  the organization. If they are publicly traded, read all their SEC  filings and review their quarterly analyst calls. If they are a service  organization, see how they rate in customer satisfaction. Talk to their  customers. Quietly seek out other employees you may know and get their  take on the team.

Digest the data and get advice – How will all you have learned impact  your ability to be successful? Where are the opportunities to improve?  Who on the team will be your allies? Who might be impediments? Share you  analysis with the friends and mentors you trust most. It especially  helps if these people have some experience in a similar company or  industry.

Envision yourself in the role – What would you tackle first? What do  you see as the low-hanging-fruit, the easy wins you can knock off in the  early months on the job? How would you conduct yourself in the day  today? What are the two or three big innovations or improvements you  could bring to the team? How does this fit into your longer career plan?  Tiare Romero, long time Human Resource professional says, “Take some  time to reflect and make note of key experiences you’ve had, how you’ve  handled situations in the past, career highlights, projects you’re proud  of and  challenging situations you’ve overcome. The interviewer will be  looking to see how your ‘past behavior predicts future behavior’ so  they’ll be looking for specific examples vs generalities and the ‘how I  WOULD handle a situation’”.

Create a 100 day plan – What will you do on the first 100 days on the  job? What tools will you require? How will you measure your success?  How often do you expect to interact with your boss? Write this all down  in as much detail as you can and then distill it into talking points.

Send information to the team ahead of the interview – If you are  lucky enough to be given a head start (like I did for our position)  answer all the questions and make the connections between your  experience and that of the idea candidate. Email this information to the  interview team. The risk is that the team will determine that you’re  way off base and cancel your conversation. That’s a good risk, because  you don’t want to work anywhere where the team doesn’t think you’ll be  successful. The greater likelihood is that your interviewers will  appreciate your insights and it will give you at least 20 minutes more  to dig into details, without having to go through the initial overview  of your credentials.

When you come for the interview:

Dress well – even if the company dress code is biz casual, this is  not the time to emulate it. Shine your shoes and wear your best business  clothing. Get a haircut.

Get there early – 15 minutes should do the trick. If they happen to  be running ahead, that’s more time you may get with the decision makers.

Talk about why the job interests you – Out of the chute, you should  show enthusiasm and energy.

Subtly show the team that you’ve done your homework – Reference to  what you’ve learned about them as individuals and the company as a whole  demonstrates that you cared enough about this opportunity to truly  prepare.

Keep it simple – Outline how you’ll fit into the team, share your  ideas on how to creatively attack what you perceive as their biggest  challenges, describe your leadership style – with examples, and talk  about how your most effective bosses interacted with you. Don’t get too  wordy. If you can’t say it in a paragraph, re-think your answer until  you can.

Listen closely to the questions you are asked – The interviewers will  give you clues as to what traits and experience are most important to  them. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have anticipated this and be  prepared with good responses.

Bring collateral materials – Show solid examples of your work in the  past and demonstrate how your accomplishments are relevant to the  objectives of the job at hand. Bring a hard copy of your 100 day plan.  Have a folder with this information for every interviewer on the team.

Ask your own questions – My friends over at MediaBistro  say, “One of the biggest interview killers is answering ‘No’ when  someone asks ‘Do you have any questions?’ Have a few smart questions  ready.” The interview is a dialogue. The kind of questions you ask will  tell the interviewers as much about you as will the questions they ask  you. This is also a great way to show how you will actually work when on  the job.

Ask for the order – If, after you’ve gone through the interview, you  are just as excited about the opportunity as you were when you walked in  the door, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the job. Here’s one way to say it.  “Now that I’ve had a chance to talk with you about this opportunity, I’m  more excited than ever. I’m feeling like this is a great fit. I think I  can add some real value and will have fun moving us forward. I’m your  candidate and look forward joining the team.”

After the interview:

Within an hour, send email thank you notes to each interviewer. Use  these notes as a way to reiterate your strengths and your interest in  the gig. It helps if you can personalize it by touching on something  that is particularly important to that specific person.

Within a day, mail a handwritten thank-you note. If the company’s  gift acceptance policy permits it, I  always add an inspiring book as a  gift  in the thank-you package, customized for the recipient. Nobody  does this and it can be very powerful.

How to be professionally persistent deserves a post of it’s own. The  key is to keep in touch until you are hired or blown off.

What to do if you don’t get the job:

When the call comes, listen closely to what they tell you. If the  interviewer calls you personally, that is a sign of real class. Don’t be  afraid to ask questions about how you might better prepare for the next  time around. Be magnanimous and exhibit true gratitude for the time.  And if the company is a place you still really want to work, keep the  interviewer contact info in your address book. Periodically send them  articles or links that you think might be helpful to them. Often times,  this will open other doors you may not know had existed.

And remember that practice makes perfect. Each time you get the  chance to interview, you’ll build your skill and confidence in your  preparation and performance.

These are some of the traits that will put you at the top of those  considered for the best opportunities. Most importantly, it will clarify  for you whether or not this opportunity is something you will enjoy.

And that’s what it’s really all about!

Have a great week!

Additional Resources: Getting a  Job After Graduation – The Spartan Podcast. How to prepare for a job interview – University of  Delaware How to prepare for the job interview – Wiki How The ins and outs of interviewing – MSU Career  Services Workshop Competencies Employers Seek in College Graduates –  MSU Career Services Job  interview tips – US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Feedback welcome to or @MSUScottW on Twitter.

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Originally posted on used by permission


Scott Westerman is the Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations/Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association. Scott joined Team MSU in 2010, coming to MSU from New Mexico where he  was an area vice president for Comcast Corp.’s West Division. Scott  received his B.A. in telecommunication from MSU in 1978. He has served  as president of the MSUAA national alumni board, and was awarded the MSU  College of Communication Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumnus.

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