Rocking job interviews: here is how

Whether you are terrified of job interviews, or not, getting properly ready to navigate this process can save you a lot of headache. I see the interview process as a two-way street – an organization is looking for certain qualities and skills, but the interviewee is, likewise, looking to ensure her worth is being met and her values matched. If we come into an interview playing a passive role, waiting for questions to come our way with little to contribute, we may miss important steps that could help properly qualify us. After helping a few hundred people switch careers successfully or step into higher level positions, here are my top 5 tips for rocking a job/position interview:

No1 – know a company’s guiding principles
When looking for a higher level position or a different role at another company, do the due diligence of learning the company’s core values, sometimes also referred to as guiding principles. We tend to be drawn to bold mission statements and lofty visions, but an organization’s culture is built from its core values. In essence, a company will treat its employees, and customers, based on what it truly believes. The tricky part, however, is that organizations rarely abide by their stated values. The interview process is your chance to make sure that what they say they value (the pretty sentences on their website) is what they really value on a day to day basis. You can formulate your questions for the job interview to verify how the stated values are embedded in the organization, and pay particular attention to whether or not, in the interview, you feel that these guiding principles are being used to judge you as a candidate. In my experience, many well meaning and successful individuals will take great risks moving to another company in the belief that the organization hinges on some key principles, only to find out that, once in the job, this is not true. This is unfortunate for the organization as well because it means it is attracting the wrong talent. Or, even worse, they are attracting the right talent but cannot retain them long term because there is a drastic difference between what the company say it believes and what it truly believes. I have also found that single words that are used to describe a value, like freedom or entrepreneurial, can be largely misleading. What a single word, a linguistic abstraction, means to one person may drastically differ for another. In my view, it is the interviewee’s responsibility to navigate this carefully being proactive by asking the right questions to confirm, or deny, the belief system of an organization.

I have helped a few organizations that are suffering the consequences of not clearly defining their own values. Getting clear about their values, will help these companies shift their interviewing process as well as what talent they attract.

No 2 – know your core values
Similarly, individuals must look within and get clear about their own core values well before applying for a job. I am always amazed at how little attention it is paid to values as individuals seek new job opportunities. Compensation, career type, position are all important, but if the company’s guiding principles are in direct contradiction to an employee’s own, long term this alone will lead to dissatisfaction and eventually resignation. When I hear complaints about an organization’s politics, the basis is often a contrast in values between the person complaining, and the organization. Knowing our own values, the things that feel like water  and air to us, is extremely important, not only when looking for the types of companies we like to work with, but also the positions themselves. Why seek a role that looks great on paper but that contradicts our personal value?

So how does that show up in an interview process? Once you identify your personal values, and then  the jobs that match these values, then again you should come prepared to ask questions that confirm any assumptions you’ve made about these values. I recall how disappointed I felt when I joined a company who stated schedule flexibility as being central to how they run their business, only to find out that what they meant by ‘flexibility’ differed drastically from my definition of it. Time freedom is a deep core value to me – I do not mind working 60 hours a week, but I do mind being told when I need to work. For this origination, time flexibility was subjected to approval and followed by no one, making me look like a fish out of water. Knowing this to be a  ‘must have,’ I sought different career options, and eventually became my own boss, because I was not willing to compromise. If I stayed, I would have likely become bitter, and consider my frustrations a political problem of the organization. I cannot underestimate the importance of knowing our values, for job interviews and any position where we desire to maintain a working relationship – and that includes all personal relationships as well.

No 3 – be yourself
Pretty obvious right? But, I have encountered countless situations where job seekers kept for themselves important personality traits that could have changed the course of my decision to hire, or not. Having been on the other side, interviewing candidates for positions when I was a partner at a small firm, I can say that interviews are like speed dating – we only have a bit of information to go from, and intuition plays a BIG role. But intuition gets tricked when key qualities are omitted. I failed to hire someone who clearly matched our company’s goals because she tried too hard to be what she thought we wanted her to be.

Being yourself means to share openly the very things we might at times few scared to share – the true reasons for career gaps in our resumes, the reason we left, or were let-go from an organization and again, the things we do value deeply. When speaking authentically we run the risk of being disliked for who we are, but have much better chances of finding a truly great match that will work long term. Look at what a company is looking for and make sure it is what you want to offer, but when being interviewed, answer the questions from your perspective and not the perspective that you believe the organization stands. It is hard to do, but worthwhile if work satisfaction matters to you.

No 4 – know your vision
I am not overstating when I say that pretty much 100% of the people I work with have very little connection with their long term vision when selecting a job, or applying for different positions. Most professionals will make decisions today about their jobs based on current conditions rather than ‘beginning with the end in mind’ as Steven Covey so wisely says. If we make decisions today that are in alignment with our future goals, we are then setting our sails in the right direction. If our decisions today are solely focused on short term outcomes, we are leaving it to chance or luck, for things to unfold in the way we really want, long term. Leaving important areas of our lives to chance is something I would not recommend. It would be as building a house without any blueprint or even a hand sketch!

Write down what you want your life to be in 3, 5 and even 10 years. How does this job fit into that?

No 5 – follow-up
My last tip is one I learned to value tremendously, specially as I transitioned careers and embarked into new ventures. Whether or not I get a job or get hired by companies to lead trainings and coach, I ALWAYS follow-up. I want to know what went well in the dialogue and what did not go well. I ask very openly if there was anything I said, or offered that in any way led to the decision made and I ask for specific feedback. More often than not, I am made aware of something about myself that I would not otherwise know; I am given an insight on how I present myself, and the blind spots which can either hurt or support my goals. Feedback is not just something I ask for after interviews. Feedback is a key ingredient to success, innovation and growth and it is my go-to for anything in life.

Many of my clients hesitate reaching out to companies after they have been rejected for a position. What they discover, however, is that most companies are happy to share their insight and give honest feedback that inevitably helps with their next steps. Do not waste this incredible resource: always ask for feedback no matter the outcome.

This blog is intended for those of you looking to switch careers or attempt higher level positions within the same organization, or elsewhere. Newly graduates, or those with less than 3 years of work experience, should follow different rules, If that’s you – my top tip is: be flexible and focus on gaining valuable, hands-on experience.