Whether it’s for your first job or a role change, interviews can be intimidating. You’re being put on the spot, in a high-pressure situation, for your performance to be evaluated. And if you really want the job, the stakes feel that much higher.
I’ve definitely done my share of interviews over the years. While I found them to be super stressful at first, once I learned some key tactics, I was able to gain more confidence. This helped me perform better at each interview, and show up as my best self.
In today’s post, we’ll dive into how to ace a job interview and better your chances of landing the gig. Here are my best tips.
First, make sure you actually WANT the job.
This may seem counter-intuitive. If you’re interviewing for a job, doesn’t that mean you want it? Not always. You may have felt pressured to apply or only skimmed the job posting before getting an interview.
My post Career Transition: How to Know if You Should Change Roles is all about this: looking critically at whether a particular move makes sense. It also offers some helpful questions to ask yourself in identifying whether a particular move is the right one.
If you decide that yes, the job is what you’re looking for, reflect on why (beyond the paycheque!) Is it because of the opportunity for further advancement? Is it to work with a particular manager or leader? Or more about the skills and experience you’ll get from the specific projects the role entails?
Getting clear on this yourself will help reaffirm your interest in the role and get you more excited.
Next, get clear on what they’re looking for.
Once you’ve reaffirmed your interest and reflected on why this role would be a great fit for your goals, it’s time to get clear on what the company is looking for. This not only helps you understand their objectives, but it’s a strategic move in helping you ace the interview.
Because the better you can demonstrate how you offer what they are looking for, the easier you make it for them to hire you.
You want to make it as easy as possible for them to match their objectives and criteria with what you are offering.
To do this, I’d recommend reading through the job posting and noting the following:
- Any words or phrases that seem to come up again and again. These are probably repeated for a reason – because they are highly important.
- The core tenets of the job. This will give you a sense of the components of the role and what you’d be working on. For example, if it’s analytics and reporting, those are two skills or areas of experience for you to dial up in your answers at the interview.
- Any key tasks, systems, or processes involved in the role. These are more minor as they can often be more easily taught, but it can sweeten the deal for the hiring team if you already have experience with some of the more specific aspects of the role. For example, if you know how to use a specific program or app, or if you’ve managed a similar type of project in a prior role.
Make notes of your findings. You may also want to jot down any questions that came up through this exercise, so that you can pose them at your interview.
Research the company and industry.
Now it’s time to research the opportunity more broadly. I’d recommend spending some time looking at the company more broadly, and then at the team or segment more specifically.
Let me explain!
Research the Company
This involves brushing up on some history! When was the company founded and by whom? Is it a public company or privately owned? What are the corporate values? Has the company been in the news lately? (You can search for them on Google News.)
If you know anyone that works there or has worked there in the past, you can also ask them some questions to get more of an insider perspective. Questions you may want to ask include what the culture is like, what qualities they value in employees, and any advice for excelling at the interview.
Research the Industry
If you want to really knock their socks off in the interview, do your research on the industry. This would include things like key competitors, industry changes, and any key challenges they may need to face in the future.
For example, if you were interviewing at a bank, it would help to know who their competitors are, some trends in the banking industry, and some tidbits around key challenges like how to keep up with technological trends while staying relevant with customers.
As you go through this research, make note of your findings and also pull together some questions you can ask your interviewers at the end of the session.
Prepare your “STAR stories”.
In most cases, your interviewer(s) will be asking you behavioural questions: questions about how you behaved in different situations in the past. The thinking is that this allows you to demonstrate your thought process, attitude, experience, and results. It also helps them envision how you may fare in the role in question.
This may sound a bit childish, but the concept of a “STAR” story is a great tool for remembering and articulating these answers. It’s something we were taught in business school, and it’s worked really well for me.
Essentially, you want to answer behavioural questions by summing up 4 key things:
S – Situation.
No, not Mike “The Situation” from Jersey Shore! The situation you found yourself in at work. This is a few sentences about the circumstances at play. For example: “In the middle of our busiest time, half our team left the company unexpectedly and we had to still finish all of the deliverables on the same schedule.” Do you see how that sets up the situation and gives some context?
T – Task.
This is the task at hand – what you needed to accomplish. So in our example, it could be something like “We had to complete business planning in 4 weeks, but with half the man power.” You would probably want to build on that a little more, but you get the picture.
A – Action.
Action is all about what steps you took to achieve your goal. And it’s important to focus on what you did, versus your team.
Going with our prior example, this could be something like “I took the initiative and set a team meeting to get everyone on the same page. I facilitated a working session where we outlined all of the tasks we had to accomplish and by when. And we then assigned different roles to members of the team to ensure everything was accounted for. Throughout the process, I facilitated twice-weekly status meetings to keep everyone on task.”
This shows your thought process, and the concrete actions you took in a particular situation.
R – Result.
This last part is all about the outcome. What happened at the end of your story? In our case it could be something like: “We ended up getting our business planning projects completed on time, despite having less manpower. They were praised as being some of the best strategic work done by our team in years. And leadership has signed off on our recommendations so that we can now move forward with our plans.”
I’d recommend writing down (even in point form!) 5-8 STAR stories from your past that you can draw on. These should be times where your action and result were positive or where you can spin them in a positive light. And ideally, your STAR stories as a whole should be able to speak to different potential questions.
Lastly, you may want to also jot down what types of strengths or skills each STAR story applies too. For example, next to a story like the example above, you may write “Resiliency, working with fewer resources, taking ownership, leadership”. This will make it easier for you in the interview itself, once you get a question, to decide which STAR story to share as your answer. And it showcases how you can use that same answer to a number of different questions.
Prepare answers to other common questions.
In addition to preparing STAR stories, it’s a good idea to also have answers to other common interview questions. These would include things like:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why are you interested in this role?
- Why are you looking to leave your current role/company?
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your biggest weakness?
This article from Inc. includes a list of common interview questions and advice on answering them.
Once you’ve completed your research and you have your notes ready, it’s time to practice! You can practice alone, or have a friend conduct a mock interview with you. This is particularly helpful for getting the swing of answering confidently, especially when it comes to your STAR stories.
Get in the zone.
The day of the interview, I’d recommend spending some time getting into a good mindset. This can include meditating, visualizing success, listening to empowering music, and power posing, to name a few.
(And if you’re looking for more confidence-boosting techniques, grab the first chapter of my book, The Confidence Toolkit, for free when you sign up for my Resource Library!)
(Once you enter your name and email address, you’ll be sent an email with login details. From there, access the Resource Library and download your free chapter in the Personal Development section.)
Some other ways to get in the zone are wearing a sharp, interview-appropriate outfit, and getting to the interview location early. This will help you feel confident and ready to go.
Once the interview is over, you’re not quite off the hook! Send thank you notes to your interviewers within 24 hours, and try to make them personalized. For example, you can mention a particular part of the interview or their mandate that impressed you.
Those are my tips for acing the interview! Do you have any success tips to share? Let us know in the Comments section below!