NEWS + ADVICE
3 Interviewing Tips for Your Job Search
When you are looking for a job, getting an interview is a great step forward. And for most people, a scary one. Interviewing is a specialized dance, one that has been re-invented since the last time you went dancing. And it is often even more difficult for people in IT, intel, accounting, or those transitioning from the military.
First, you need to understand that any interview is a two way street. Each side has something of value to offer and each side has needs the other side can fill. This column is going to talk about how you present yourself and demonstrate your value. A follow-up will talk about how you learn enough to know if you are interested in the job and the organization.
So how do you ace the interview?
Tip 1: Your Basic Introduction Needs to Demonstrate Your Value
Have a basic paragraph or two about your skills, knowledge, and street smarts (known in business as soft skills) ready. At some point you will be asked, “tell me about yourself” or “tell me who you are.” This mini-bio sets the stage for the interviewer to understand and appreciate what you offer. It makes it easier for both sides to have a productive discussion. This is an expanded version of the introductory/elevator speech you have been using in your job search.
Skip years and job titles – talk about achievements that show your abilities.
Use the language the employer uses. Take the words from their job ad or website and make them your own.
“But, all my work is classified.” Well, no it is not. While the context of what you do may be classified, much of your work can be discussed. Are you “known for my abliity to take data from multiple sources and turn it into actionable information”? Do you “present regularly to national level executives”? Have you “maintained secure telecom capabilities in temporary sites”? There are always aspects of your work you can talk about. And the right government contractor will understand.
Don’t just mouth platitudes. Never say “I’m a good manager”; instead, say “I am known as a demanding but fair manager. I consistently get people promoted, and many have stayed in touch with me for years after they moved on.” Everyone is a great team-player, so you say “I have been tapped repeatedly to take over poorly performing groups and get them working effectively again.”
Tip 2: Show Your Value in Their Terms
When you are selected for an interview, you need to recheck all your research and then see what else you can learn about the specific employer and function. At best, you will find someone in your network who is or has worked there for some insight. But if not, you still can learn a lot about them by doing online research, reading their own materials and website, and seeing who they are hiring or letting go.
There are some terrific web tutorials on doing research on organizations. But your local public library’s reference librarian has the best knowledge you can tap into for help without spending a fortune.
As you do your research, look at how the organization presents itself. What do they say about their culture, their values and mission, new or continuing work, and the way employees succeed. And look at what external sources say also, to see if it matches or not.
Then when you are talking to the interviewers, use the organization’s words and their values. If they have talked reliability, you talk up your own record of reliability. If they talk mission-driven, you talk about their mission and how it has been demonstrated in your work. Or you talk about mission-driven in your military career and how you see that carrying over to their mission.
Tip 3. Brag
Not all of us are comfortable about talking about ourselves in obviously positive terms. But in an interview, you are in sell mode. You need to be able to talk about your achievements. You need to show the results of your work in terms the potential employer will understand.
This doesn’t mean talking on and on or falsifying your record.
It does mean that you need to concretely demonstrate some of your relevant successes. In pharmaceutical sales, candidates are expected to have a ‘brag book’ with records of big sales, client commendations, quota performance, awards, and such. Writers are expected to have a collection of published clips or internal examples of their work. A new college grad is expected to have relevant courses or major papers, a good GPA, extra-curricular successes, and internships or some work experience.
All of us are expected to have a record of achievements that we talk about in terms relevant to the employer.
Yours might be successful data architecture projects or winning proposal writing or the ability to save a failing project. Whatever your successes, you want to be able to talk about them in concrete terms that show what the situation was, what you actually did, and the results.
When I talk about my work, I talk about how an organization can succeed by creating conditions for its people to thrive. But if I do not back that up with concrete information about how I have done that with others and how that directly relates to the need of the CEO I am talking to, it is so much hot air. When you talk about being a Ranger in Afghanistan, many interviewers might not see the relevance to their needs. But if you talk about the efforts needed to graduate from Ranger school plus, say, the teamwork and communications skills and leadership aspects needed to succeed as a Ranger in a combat zone, you can make your case.