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First, Know Thyself

Part 3 in our Series on Preparing for an Interview

In Part 1 of our series, we discussed what you can do to be prepared before an interview even gets scheduled. In Part 2, we discussed doing research on the company. Today we’ll discuss one of the most overlooked areas of preparation for job seekers – themselves.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to buy something – maybe a new appliance or car – and the salesman has no clue about the product? It drives me crazy when the person I'm counting on to answer questions about a product has not even the basic knowledge.

Product-knowledge is key to any sales transaction, especially with expensive purchases where the buyer has specific features they need. Hiring a new employee is akin to a complicated sale where the consequences of “purchasing” the wrong product (i.e. hiring the wrong person) are expensive. To be successful in an interview, you must have complete knowledge about yourself to sell yourself to the employer.

To put your best foot forward, here are several areas to focus on:

Your Resume

If you are actively hunting for a new job, chances are you have several versions of your resume floating out there. Spend time reviewing the version the employer has for you. You’ll look like an idiot at best, or a liar at worst, if they ask you a question about something on your resume and you don’t understand what they are talking about. Even worse, talking about something that is NOT on your resume like it is there in black and white. “Oh, sorry, you have a old version…” is not received well in most circumstances.

Your work history

Be able to talk about the flow from one job to another in your work history, focusing on the most recent jobs. Interviewers are interested in learning how you think – what you learned in your various roles, and why you left to pursue another opportunity. If there are obvious gaps or short tenure at some jobs, the interviewer might notice but not ask. If there is a simple explanation, you can bring it up. Example: “Unfortunately, right after I joined the company, they were acquired, and the new owner shut down the operation.” Be careful you don’t torpedo yourself by voluntarily bringing up any issues you don’t need to.

Come up with some “war stories”

Most interviewers will ask behavioral interview questions – “Tell me about a time when…” questions. Go through your work history and think about 6-8 scenarios that might be applicable to the job. If you can relate actual work experiences that are applicable to what you’d need to accomplish in the new job, it will help you be a stronger candidate. Also come up with a few examples of things that did not go well – and what you learned and what you would do differently in the future.

Practice the STAR format

One of the best ways to tell your “war stories” is in the STAR format – Situation, Task, Action, and Result. If you answer the “tell me about a time when” questions with relevant examples of your work history, then you’ll be able to prove you have the experience they need. This is especially critical if you are changing industries. You can relate the applicability of your experience and capabilities to the challenges of the role.

Here is an example:

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to juggle competing priorities?”

SITUATION: “Yes, when I was the Director of Logistics at XYZ Company, we were in the middle of our busy season while trying to do an implementation of a new Warehouse Management System.”

TASK: “I was responsible for ensuring all of our orders got out the door in a timely manner while maintaining the timeline for the implementation.”

ACTION: “One of my Logistics Managers had previous experience with implementations, so I pulled her from her normal duties to lead the implementation team and shifted the other mangers to cover her.”

RESULT: “We were able to maintain a 98% on-time ship rate, which was the best in company history, and went live on the new system two weeks ahead of schedule and with only minor hiccups.”

Your examples should not be 20-minute monologues starting when the earth first cooled and ending with the present. Be concise and be sure to cover the results of your actions. Many candidates will get started on a story, and don’t wrap it up with the results. It is important.

Know your motivations

Most employers are trying to get a feel for how you think and what motivates you. Be prepared to talk about what interests you in the job, leaving your current company, and why you have made the career choices up until now. The best candidates are driven, action-oriented, and are clear in why they are interested in the job. Be politic in your answers, however – if you need a new job because your boss is a tyrant, the rules don’t allow you to bad-mouth your employer or manager.

If you have a strong understanding of yourself and what you bring to the table, you will be much more effective in proving your case to an employer – and “close the sale” and get an offer.

Thanks for reading. Our last post in this series will continue to explore how to prepare for an interview. Consider subscribing so you don’t miss it.

If you need help in your job search, we can help and would like to hear from you.

Feel free to comment below. If you like what you read, kindly consider sharing with your networks.

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