Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eight Things Every Candidate Should Do To Prepare For An Interview

I can’t believe that in all my hundreds of posts, I never wrote about this before.  My apologies.

There are common things to do to prepare for every interview.  Some of these may seem to be merely common sense but should never be taken for granted.  For instance, I cannot tell you how many people have come in to meet me for an interview (yes, meeting a recruiter is a real interview) and have never looked at my website (www.gumbinnercompany.com) or read this blog, despite the fact that both or linked on my signature, making seeing them very easy and convenient.  Not looking at them shows indifference and a possible lack of interest – as it would with any interview with a potential employer.  Yet, so many people don't do their homework that, if I eliminated them all, I would have few candidates to send out!

Here is my list of best practices.

1.    Research the company
This is rule number one.  I have had candidates actually tell interviewers that they haven’t had time to go to their website.  It is a reason for immediate rejection.  Spend time on social media – all of it, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr.  Potential employees should be subscribing to those feeds those feeds for companies they will be interviewing with.  They can always unsubscribe later, but while interviewing they should and can read the company’s posts and blogs. (Corporate managers constantly tell me that they can always tell when a candidate has not looked at their website - for an example, see my post of March 31 on Interview Feedback). Google the company and spend time on its website. Find out if it’s senior people write on social media and read what they have written.  Familiarize yourself with their senior people on LinkedIn; if the person you will be seeing is on LinkedIn, familiarize yourself with her/him also.

And, even more important, research the trade press to see what has and is being written about the company recently.  What the trade press writes is good fodder for questions.

2.    Determine the background and interests of those you will be meeting
Between Google, LinkedIn and your friends, you should have a sense of who you are seeing long before you walk in the door.  The first rule of selling is to know your audience.  If you know something about the person or persons you will be seeing, it puts you that much further ahead.  Try to find out how long the person will spend with you so that you can time your responses and then you can talk to them about their interests.

3.    If it is for a specific job, try to obtain the job specs in advance
You are allowed to ask your recruiter or the HR person or the hiring manager you will be meeting with, if they have job specs (they often don't).  Getting them will allow you to know if you are really right for the job; it will also allow you to frame answers to questions so as to match the job description with answers that are relevant to the position you are interviewing for.

4.    Know how to dress for the interview
Believe it or not, there are many companies where a suit is still in order.  There are also firms, especially in creative businesses like advertising, branding or design where a suit would be out of order.  You want to blend in.  Once, many years ago, I had a candidate rejected at a highly creative ad agency for wearing a dark, somber suit - he was rejected for not doing his homework on their culture.

5.    Know where you are going and how to get there
You do not want to be late for your interview.  If you are unfamiliar with the location, better to take a practice run.  If you are taking public transportation, you may need to take a practice run to determine how long it takes. (An HR person at Ogilvy, which is now way over on Eleventh Avenue,  far from public transportation, told me that a huge percentage of people are late to appointments because they mis-judge where they are and how to get there.) If the meeting is out of town, a practice run is surely necessary; better safe than sorry. 

6.    Be on time
Showing up late, even by a few minutes, is a no-no.  Showing up more than five or ten minutes early is also wrong.  If you are too early, go buy yourself a cup of coffee, but do not bring coffee on the interview.

7.    Observe the people while in reception; read displayed company literature
Don’t get on your cell phone the second you are seated in the company reception.  Observe the people, the energy and measure the vibe. This is especially easy in open plan offices.  By observing the people and the level of activity and energy you will learn a lot about the culture and the demeanor of the company.

If there is literature about the company, read it (rather than looking at your cell phone); if it is an advertising agency and there are commercials on monitors or print ads on the wall, look at them.  (By the way, smart receptionists often report your actions while in the waiting room – so reading literature may be reported back as showing interest while looking at your cell phone may be reported as disinterest.)

8.    Prepare to ask good questions
Not asking questions is considered a sign of lack of interest.  You should have questions prepared (but for goodness sake, do not pull out a list).  Here are just a few:
    -       If I get this job, what could I do that hasn’t been done before?
    -       If I get this job, what problems need to be solved immediately?
    -       Is there anything in my background that we have not discussed that you think might be 
          relevant to this job?
    -      What would my likely career path be?
It may seem obvious, but do not take this advice for granted no matter what level you are or how many times you have interviewed.

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