In 5 Steps: This is Exactly How You Ace the Job Interview

knock your socks offAs part of my research for a book, I interviewed many recruiters. And in one of them, with the head of recruiting for a technology company (we’ll call him “Joe” in this post), it was emphasized that the biggest problem for job seekers is the actual job interview process.

Unfortunately, Joe frequently sees job seekers who have done all the right things to get to the interview, but then they blow it in their interviews.

They get up to bat (the interview), but they strike out rather than hitting a home run.

How does a job seeker avoid striking out? By following this 2-step process:

1. Thoroughly Research the Company

Yes, everyone says this… yet almost no one does it well.

Preparation is a crucial part of being impressive in the interview. Demonstrate interest in this employer and this position by being well-prepared for the interview, hopefully, better prepared than any other job seeker. This can also be a good way to determine how good a fit the new employer might be for you, so keep that in mind during your research.

This means looking at the employer’s website, and more. Lots MORE.

  • What do they do?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • How big are they?
  • What are the names of the products and/or services?
  • How do they present themselves?
  • Where are they located?
  • Who are the officers and managers and other people visible on the employer’s website?
  • Do they have jobs posted on their website? If they do, what are they?
  • Are they hiring in a specific function or location which seems to be growing? (If there is a function or location which seems to be growing, see if you can figure out why… or add it to your list of questions to ask in the interview)
  • Do they have high turnover or low? (Low may mean others really like working there; high turnover may mean the opposite)
  • What press releases have they distributed lately, and what were they proud enough of to send them?

Look for a LinkedIn Company Profile (using a “Companies” search). The LinkedIn Company Profile will usually show a summary of contact and industry information including company size (number of employees), industry, headquarters location, and where employees are located. So offices across the globe are highlighted with the number of company employees who are LinkedIn members in each country, region, or city.

Finally, put a search engine to work:

  • Look for clues about the company’s reputation. Search for “(company name, product, or service) launched” and “(company name, product, or service) announced” for good news. Look for bad signs by searching on “(company name, product, or service) closing” or “(company name, product, or service) discontinued.”
  • Who are their competitors? How are they different from/better than their competitors? Search on terms like, “better than (company name, product, or service)” and “similar to (company name, product, or service)” to find that information.
  • How is the organization doing financially? If it is a company with stock traded on a stock market, there should be an annual report plus quarterly financial reports which will show both sales and profitability. So search on terms like “(company name) financial results announced” and “(company name) improved (or declining) profits.” Going to a company in shaky financial circumstances may mean a new job search too soon if the company doesn’t survive or if it begins laying off employees.

Can you see any opportunities – or challenges – that you might be able to help them address? When the opportunity arises, can you slip in a reference to a weakness in a competitor’s product or service, for example, and how it might be exploited?

2. Research the People

Joe always provides the names and titles of the people who will be participating in the interview process. So, at the very least, he expects job seekers to check the LinkedIn Profiles of those people. He also says that if the recruiter doesn’t volunteer those names at the time the interview is scheduled, ask.

Of course, LinkedIn will show the job seeker any common “connections” to the people named, as well as others who work for the employer, and the degree of connected-ness with these people (1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree).

Then, look at the individual LinkedIn Profiles of those employees to learn more about them, hopefully to discover ways to “connect” with the people in the interview process:

  • Do you share a former employer, job, or accomplishment with one of the interviewers?
  • Do you share a college or grad school experience or the same degree and a major?
  • Are you in a LinkedIn Group with current or former employees – perhaps a group for a relevant industry or professional association or  a hobby or interest (like a Red Sox Nation fan club or a local biking group)?

The quickest way to establish rapport with one or more interviewers is by mentioning a common background, experience, or interest.

And, again, the LinkedIn Company Profile offers invaluable information about the LinkedIn members who work at the company, including  where they worked before working for this company. It will also show where employees who left went for their next jobs.

3. Prepare Questions

Without a doubt, some questions will develop as a result of the research into the company and the people. Also have some other questions ready to ask. For example:

  • What’s the best part about working here?
  • If you could change one thing about this company, what would you change?
  • Where do you see this company in 5 years?
  • What is a typical day, week, month, or year for the person in this job?
  • What would be the typical next job for the person who has this job?  Is there a “career path” for people in this job?
  • (My personal favorite) Where did the last person in this job go – promotion, lateral, or out?

It’s important for job seekers to remember to ask about things that are relevant to their job satisfaction.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s very painful to go to a job for an employer where you discover you are unhappy working – the culture, the people, the ethics, or the location are just wrong for you. The job interview is a good place to discover how the employer measures up to the job seeker’s requirements.

4. Be an Engaged and Focused Interview Participant

Joe mentioned several times that a job seeker who shows up for an interview without a notebook or some way to take notes makes a very bad impression. Joe and the people in his company expect job seekers to take notes and list questions they’d like to ask later in their notebook (or iPad)… especially since the interview process can last an hour or more, including discussions with different interviewers.

Also, be thoroughly prepared  for the standard interview questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • Tell me a little about yourself?
  • So what do you know about us?

And, of course, the usual advice: turn off your cell phone – or put it on “silent” – before the interview starts, don’t trash a former employer, don’t use bad language, etc.

Most important: demonstrate what an excellent, focused, smart, hard-working employee you will be.

5. Close the Sale

Joe felt that closing the sale (asking for the job) at the end of the interview was expected of someone seeking a job in sales. But, he seemed to hope that other job seekers would be similarly interested in getting a job offer at the end of the interview with the hiring manager or at least finding out how well the interview went.

For Joe, closing the sale translates into saying, as the job seeker is preparing to shake hands and leave, something like this “Based on my research and what I’ve learned here today, I am very interested in this job, working for you. What do you think of me?  Am I your top prospect?”

If you are not comfortable closing the sale or the response is not as positive as hoped for, ask what the concerns are (or might be) to see if you can clear up any confusion or miscommunication that may have occurred. And, make note of any concerns so the concerns can be addressed in the follow-up thank you messages.

Ask about the next steps in the process – when they expect to make a decision, and how many other applicants are being – or have been – interviewed. Then, clarify who is the best person to stay in touch with and what is the preferred method and timing for staying in touch, getting the appropriate email address and phone number.

Job seekers who comment here on Work Coach Cafe about post-interview problems often reference not having the appropriate contact information when they get home, complicating the follow-up thank you notes process. So, to  avoid that problem, collect a business card from each person – or take the time to make a note of email addresses and phone numbers to use during the follow up process.

Not every recruiter is Joe and not every organization expects what Joe and his company wants from job seekers. What is clear from Joe and all the other recruiters I’m interviewing, however, is that smart job seekers bring their “A-game” to their job search, and, particularly, to an interview.

Bottom line: be prepared – to impress!





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Work Coach Cafe!



About the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


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