Dear Sam: I was wondering if you could provide some general information to orient me to interviews. I have not interviewed in more than 20 years, so I feel a little lost about what to expect. — Robert

Dear Robert: Absolutely! I hear that comment every single week from clients who have also not needed to conduct a job search in quite some time but now find themselves in uncharted territory, especially considering the number of COVID-related furloughs. Let’s review some of the basics.

Research your prospective employer – before the interview, take some time to review the company’s website, reading the “about us” page, and, if available, press releases, financial statements, and strategic plans. Try searching for the company’s references online to see if you can glean any additional details about the organization. Don’t forget to check LinkedIn and read profiles for current and past employees to provide insight into how long employees stay at the company, not to mention if there appears to be a lot of recent transition. Once armed with this information, begin to review your background and how specific skills, experiences, and achievements would translate well based on your prospective employer’s current situation.

Prepare for the tough-to-answer questions – are there specific questions you have had difficulty answering in the past? If so, script strong responses and practice answering those questions before the interview. A couple of questions candidates often express are most difficult for them include “Tell me about yourself” and “Tell me about a weakness.”

When a prospective employer asks you to tell them about yourself, what they are asking is, “What in your background positions you to excel in this role.” If you developed a qualifications summary for your resume, you have taken great strides in your ability to answer this question succinctly.

To prepare for this question, review your background and identify your core value messages. These messages should comprise the skill you offer and the benefit of that skill to the prospective employer. Think about where you have gone above and beyond, when you have addressed a challenge and driven strong results, or when your specific strengths have added value to your employer. Remember, you don’t just want to tell an employer what you can do; you want to show them what you can do by presenting value messages, including a combination of your actions/skills and the results/benefit of each. Let’s look at some examples:

Don’t say, “I have great organization skills.”
Do say, “I have repeatedly increased department productivity by streamlining processes, reducing redundancies, and improving workflow.”

Don’t say, “I manage people well.”
Do say, “I have a proven record building, training, and motivating top-performing teams that have surpassed aggressive performance goals.”

By presenting the result or benefit of your action or skill, you provide the hiring manager with crucial insight into how your skills and experiences can transfer into their organization, leaving a stronger impression of you as a candidate.

Next week I will review how to best answer the second most challenging question, “Tell me about one of your weaknesses.”