Bill, a Hi-Tech recruiter, and I were discussing our experiences from interviews we had been engaged in the past few years. Of course, we started off having some jokes about the worst interviews. I feel composed to share just two of them as they are funny.
One interviewee took notes on his bank statement because he forgot a piece of paper (or maybe trying to tell us that he really needed the job).
One interviewee came in with white socks and tennis shoes with a black suit. Not the worst thing, but when you are interviewing for a position where public presentations are part of the job, this is not your best foot forward.
Each of these candidates never prepared properly. If they had followed some simple steps for interview preparation, they would have performed much better.
We later started talking about one particular position we struggled to fill. After many interviews with various candidates, we just felt everyone was the same and unfortunately no one had impressed any of us. While everyone possessed the right skills, they just did not differiate or distinguish themselves from the others. As we reviewed each candidate the interview team had similar feedback: they could recite their experiences like reading out of an encyclopedia, but that was it.
We went on to discuss our experiences about great interviewees, how they sold themselves, and how they differentiated themselves from other candidates. Here is a shortened version of our conversation.
Start with a strategy to differentiate yourself. Great interviews start with interview preparation including your differentiation strategy. Look to your experiences, knowledge, schooling, connections, whatever it is to differentiate yourself. Think about what the interviewer wants to hear: they want somebody they can believe in, stand by and promote. When you differentiate yourself, you give them reason to believe in you.
Do not generalize or try to be a Swiss Army knife. This is the most common fault of all interview preparation. This most often leads to boring interviews or worse these leads to overselling and credibility issues. Often, I would comment to myself "if you have done all of these things so well, why are you interviewing for this position? You should have my job or my boss' job."
Tell a story and be specific. Being specific gives you more information to convey, a story to help make it stick, and something for the interviewer to engage. To prepare for an interview, you need to be thinking about the story you are going to sell. Here is an example. I recently interviewed marketing writers. Compare these two responses when I asked them about their work history:
Interviewee # 1: I have worked for many leading companies in Silicon Valley, including A, B, and C. I have expertise in product specifications, product documentation, sales presentation, press releases, product training, and sales collateral. I have done this successfully for the past 10 years. At company A, I did X, Y, Z.
Interviewee # 2: I have 10 years experience in creating marketing collateral. My biggest success came most recently when we wanted to improve our awareness in the market. We sold safety equipment. Most of our customers bought our products on a schedule and safety concerns were not a top of mind issue. To help generate more interest, I wanted to use the major publications in our market to assist us with our sales efforts. My boss hated the idea because making buzz about safety has negative implications. No one wants to buy from the company saying there is a safety problem. Instead, he felt we needed to focus on the sales people. I still thought this was a good idea, so I set out to be included in 3 of the 5 major publications in our market with my boss' approval. I focused on current healthcare costs in the market and related our safety products to reducing healthcare costs. The sales team loved the materials because they could relate to them and so could their customers. I then contacted the publications inquiring about articles related to safety and healthcare costs. In our discussions, they learned what we were doing and wrote articles about us. In the end, I exceeded my goal with 4 of the 5 publications writing about us and the sales team went crazy to get the articles so their customers could read about us.
Hopefully, this helps guide how you approach the interview. Remember, you need to standout. Most interviews are a blur. When you prepare for an interview, create a story or something people will remember you by so you are elevated to the top of the list.