Research and Preparation
Louis Pasteur, the famous French scientist, is quoted as saying, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” Nowhere is that truer than in the heat of the moment in an interview. Because of the great work you have done in crafting and honing your message in the previous lessons, you can go into an interview with a high level of confidence about yourself and your qualifications. And while this is particularly important, at best it is half of the story.
The rest of the story is not about you; it is about Them - the company and the people you will be interviewing with. The reason they are interviewing you is they have a problem to solve and they are hoping you just might be the solution. The key to acing this is in your Research and Preparation.
Here is a list of resources to arm you with timely and relevant insights about the company and people you are interviewing with:
- For a public company, go to Seeking Alpha and listen to or read the most recent earnings call transcripts. On these, the CEO will be telling investors what is most important for the company’s success, what key strategies they are deploying, what innovations they are working on – all gold for you to be on the same page as the company.
- Google News Alerts – hopefully, you are already using these on your most important target companies and contacts. Really simple to set up and free.
- The company’s website for blogs, news releases, PR, etc. Here the company is offering insight into their thought leadership and latest developments. With the blogs, you may even find yourself interviewing with one of the authors so what better way to start off an interview with, “I read your post on how COVID has impacted eCommerce, really interesting!”
- LinkedIn profiles on the people you will be meeting. Everything from their current and past roles, articles and posts, to shared contacts, can give you context and credibility, as well as form a more human connection. Facebook and Instagram also help you see their non-work persona. Just be careful, you don’t want to be a creepy stalker.
- The job description. We will cover this in more detail in the next section, but the job description is giving you massive clues as to how they see the role you are interviewing for contributing to the company.
- Informational interviews with former employees. You can find out about the culture and other issues so when it’s your turn to ask some questions, you can be even more precise.
- Glassdoor – immensely helpful for culture, compensation, interview process
- Business Source Premier – SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on public and larger private companies. This online service is available for free from most public libraries as well as university libraries. See Appendix for an example on Colgate.
One of your greatest sources of information will be the people you have already interviewed with previously. You will hopefully have picked up on topics, lingo, technologies, KPIs, etc. that you can leverage in your next interview. Ask if it is OK to take notes (unless there is something being discussed that is highly confidential, I’ve never seen this be a problem). Review your notes intently and look for recurring themes, key words, important names, and other cues to make you look even smarter to the next person you will be speaking with.
If you will heavily invest in gathering as much information as possible, you will become the one whom “fortune favors”. You will be speaking with a confidence (not arrogance) by having learned as much as you can so it won’t feel like walking into a dark room not knowing which end is up.
In Lesson 9 we will spend a good deal of time on how to tell the stories that will get you the job. In the meantime, there are a number of standard questions you should have prepared responses for. My encouragement to you is to not memorize them word-for-word necessarily unless you can do it in a way that feels natural and not rote. For example, “Why did you leave your last position?” is a standard question and can probably be answered quite consistently. Conversely, “Why do you think you would be a good fit for this role?” is specific to that company/role and it would sound forced to have a memorized answer to that. Classic interview questions and topics you should absolutely be prepared for include:
- Tell me about yourself
- Why did you leave your last role?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict (or a difficult person).
- Tell me about a time when you had to exhibit leadership.
- Tell me about a time when you had to work as a team.
- Tell me about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle (or went above and beyond).
- Tell me about your greatest achievement.
- Why do you want to work here (or are a good fit for this role)?
A special note on qualifications
No one is great at everything and very rarely will a candidate tick every box a job description details. Knowing which qualifications are being requested where you may not have the desired experience is important. Being proactive in addressing those, rather than waiting for the hammer to fall at some point, can be a successful strategy. There are two highly effective ways to deal with this:
- Reframing – For one of my clients, one of the most important qualifications was prior experience selling enterprise SaaS solutions. The trick was getting at the underlying motivations for the desired experience (e.g., selling to large, complex clients; requires an understanding of technology, asking for orders of certain dollar amounts). My client demonstrated that she has done all those things, just with a different kind of solution set, and thereby satisfied the requirements. It demonstrated an understanding of the critical selling behaviors which was really what the company wanted all along.
- Reprioritizing – this is a way of saying, “Yes, that’s important but I believe this may be more important and here’s why.” Again, showing an understanding of what’s required for success in a role, coupled with an appropriate level of confidence, can help persuade a hiring manager that there’s more than one way to solve the problem.
Questions for Them
The interview should never be a one-way street where you are being interrogated and only speaking when spoken to. Your preparation will play a big role in informing the conversation you want to have and the questions you will be asking. It can start with the icebreakers at the very beginning (“I read your blog post on eCommerce, I didn’t realize it was growing at a 55% percent rate!”). It shows engagement and creates an atmosphere of two people having an intelligent conversation, not a parent grilling a child. Perhaps even more important is for you to gain information while simultaneously distinguishing yourself from the other candidates by the questions you ask the interviewers.
You want your questions to be both relevant and differentiated. Here are some examples:
- Highly relevant, highly differentiated
- “I was listening to the most recent earnings call and the CEO spoke at length about the company’s commitment to sustainability. How do you see this role contributing to that?”
- “What are your personal KPIs and how does this role contribute to you achieving them?”
- “If this role massively over-delivered, what would that look like?”
- “Which of your personal values do you get to most live out here?”
- “How are you measuring the costs of not solving this problem?”
- “What do you feel might be the obstacles to solving it?”
- “If you could do one thing to positively impact the situation what would it be?”
- Having gone through this lesson, can you think of previous interviews where perhaps you could have been more prepared? What would you have done differently?
- If not too much time has gone by and the role is still open, you could try something along the lines of, “Susan – as I’ve been reflecting on our discussion, I’ve gone back and listened to the company’s last three earnings calls. I’m struck by the consistent emphasis on driving productivity. I can see the role we have been discussing contributing to that significantly by X, Y, and Z. Do you think we could find a few minutes for a call over the next few days?”
- Which of the suggestions in this module most resonate with you and why?
- Do you have good responses to the standard questions?
- If you have a career coach or trusted friend, practice your answers with them
- Thinking about an upcoming interview, how do you see yourself preparing more diligently now?