3 Simple Tricks To Ace Your Next Interview

This is a guest post from Kai Davis on Best Practice Interview Strategies. Kai Davis writes about career development, entrepreneurship, and strategic marketing at kaisdavis.com.

What would it feel like if when you walked into an interview, you were confident, collected, and calm?

How would your job search experience be different if you had learned exactly what the employer was looking for before you walked into the interview room?

What if you understood the specific day-to-day challenges the company was facing and had identified specific solutions that you could bring to the company?

After years of study, I’ve learned how to walk into any interview confident and comfortable, collected and calm, and ready to connect with the people I’m meeting with and collaborate on a vision of where we wanted the company to grow.

I’ve coached clients on how to use these best practices to get 5-figure raises, months of bonus vacation time, and land positions at multi-million dollar companies.

And because Travis asked, I want to share my best practice strategies for before and after an interview with you.

But first, let me tell you a story about the time I almost cried leaving an interview — as the VP of Marketing was laughing at me.


I was a wreck.

It was 10am and I was sitting in the lobby waiting to be interviewed by the new VP of Marketing at my dream company. I had stayed up until 3am the night before researching how to write a resume and tweaking my resume to match the VP’s background.

I saw that the VP of Marketing had done a lot of work with affiliate marketing and search engine marketing, so I added those keywords to the top of my resume. Did it matter that I hadn’t ever worked on those types of projects? I thought it would show my interest in the industry.

I was wrong.

After the VP looked over my resume, he complimented my experience and asked about the affiliate and search engine marketing projects I’d worked on. “Well, uh, I haven’t done any yet.”

Then he asked about what I thought about his department and website. “Uh, I didn’t get a chance to look at the site yet.”

Then he called me out on not having the experience my resume highlighted or being qualified for the position. He was right.

I didn’t get the job.

I felt humiliated. I had wasted the time I could have spent preparing for the interview on tweaking my resume and job titles instead of researching the company and understanding how my skills and experience could help them solve the problems they were experiencing.

I decided to spend the next few years focusing on developing the skills I would need to be able to land my dream job.

The next time I walked into an interview, I knew I wanted to feel comfortable and confident. I needed to understand how to identify the painful problems an employer was experiencing.

My goal was to learn how to transform the interview experience from an investigation of my skills to a discussion about the needs of the company and how my skills and experience would help them reach their goals.

Two years later, I heard there was a new VP of Marketing at my dream company. Through my network I learned she was looking to expand her marketing team.

I set up a meeting with her and we had a conversation about how she was looking to grow the marketing team. She shared her goals for the department and the skills she was looking for in new employees.

Later that week, I met with the rest of the marketing team and learned about their goals. Two weeks later, I started my dream job.


What had changed in those two years?

I had dedicated myself to learning the specific interview strategies that would make myself irresistible to employers. I researched how the people who had the positions I wanted landed their dream jobs — often before the position was even announced.

  • I practiced meeting with employers to learn about their needs and problems, teasing out the specific painful parts of their job.
  • I studied books on marketing research and public relations to understand how how to do a deep level of research on a company in a few hours.
  • I read books on networking and communication to learn how to build rapport and connect with employers and employees, and connect with their vision of the future of their company.
  • I worked with marketers, resume writers, and career consultants, to see how to position experiences and skills as the solution to the company’s problems — even if the skills came from a different industry.

By combining these skills, I had learned how to turn the interview into a discussion, collaborate with my future employer on their vision for the company, and feel comfortable and confident when I walked into the interview room.

And because Travis asked, here are my best practice strategies for before and after an interview, the strategies that have helped my clients and me land positions at our dream companies.


How to Ace Your Interview — Best Practice Interview Strategies

A successful interview starts before you walk in the door.

Your interview process starts with your understanding of the problems and challenges the owner of the company thinks about as he’s falling asleep.

As you prepare for your interview, your job is to identify how your unique combination of skills and experience best position you as the solution to the owner’s problems and challenges.

To understand the pain a company is facing, you need to do three things:

  • (1) Break down the job description to understand the specific pains the company is experiencing — and how they expect you to solve them.
  • (2) Set up pre-interview coffee meetings with your future employer and/or coworkers to understand their job. Ask questions to understand whatever pain they experience day-to-day in their position.
  • (3) Research the company and see what’s happened over the last 2–3 years. Read through the company’s blog, press releases, newspaper clippings, Facebook and twitter, and client reviews. Google ‘(company name) sucks.’ Google ‘(company name) rocks.’ Read their reviews on Yelp, Amazon, and any other site you can find.

Understand the company as if you already worked there. Put yourself on an equal footing with the people who have worked at the company for years.

Bring a notebook and your notes to the interview. No one has ever complained about a candidate showing up with a notebook, a list of questions to ask, and notes they’ve prepared about the company.

Bring a notebook so you can write down notes and followup questions during the interview.

If someone asks you a question you don’t have an answer to, write down the question and tell them you can get them that information tomorrow. Then follow up with them after the meeting and show the process you used to find the answer.

Bring notes to the meeting so when they ask if you have any questions, you’ve already prepared questions to ask.

Successful interviews are discussions, not inquisitions. By bringing the notes you prepared during your research, you can reference the specific information and examples you’ve found.

When answering their questions, relate your answers to the problems the company is experiencing or the growth they want to experience.

When they ask you a question, split your answer into two parts:

  • (1) An answer with specific, personal successes you’ve experienced
  • (2) A question about the company’s experience with these sorts of projects — and how this relates to their overall vision of success

Here’s the script I’d use in an interview if they asked me about my experience with social media marketing:

I’m experienced using social media to reach new and current clients and meet business goals. In the past, I worked on Project X for Company X, where we used Twitter and Facebook to market to existing clients and grow repeat sales by 50%. I also developed the social media marketing plan for Project Y with Company Y, establishing key metrics for our social media development and researching the competitive landscape within our immediate industry.

I looked through your social media presence and I’m curious what type of success you’re looking for with social media marketing. I saw that you have a developed presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but your subscriber count hasn’t been growing much over the last year, and there haven’t been any new posts recently. How do you see social media contributing to your company’s long term success?

When we use this script for a response, we’re taking the time to respond with concrete examples of our experience and asking questions to get them talking.

Whenever possible, ask a question of the interviewer at the end of your response to get the other side of the table talking. When the interviewer starts talking, they’ll be sharing the specific needs they have, and telling you how to solve their problems.

Following Up & Closing the Loop

At the end of the interview, set expectations for the next steps of the process. Tell the people that you’re meeting with that you’ve appreciated their time, you are very interested in the position, and that you’d love to continue this conversation. Ask them “what are the next steps in the hiring process?

Ask the the person interviewing you how much time they anticipate needing to make a decision. Set a date for when you should expect to continue the conversation. Ask if there is any other information or resources they’d like to see while they make a decision.

If your interview was set up by a contact inside of the company, reach out to them and ask them to help you debrief the interview. If they sat in on your meeting, ask them for their honest feedback on your performance and how you could improve. If they didn’t sit in on the meeting, ask them to speak to someone who was in the meeting, and find out how the team feels you presented yourself.

You’re looking for honest, critical feedback on your interview performance. At this stage, understanding areas where your interview is weak is more valuable than celebrating your strengths.

The day after the interview, close the loop with the people you met by sending them each an individualizes follow up email specific to your discussions. Thank you for their time and confirm your interest in the position.

Here’s a sample email script that I would use when following up after an interview. I’m sharing this so you can see the format I like for my ‘closing the loop’ emails:

Dear Jane,

It was great meeting with you and discussing Widget Inc.’s marketing needs and challenges as you expand to new markets.

You mentioned that you’ve grown your sales territories without increasing headcount. I’d love to learn more about your sales plan for the company and how you see the position I applied for working with you to accomplish your goals.

It was great talking with you about your plans for regional and national growth. I look forward to meeting with you in the future. If you have any questions for me, you can call me at (###) ### – #### or email me at my@email.com.

Thanks,

Kai

If I was sending these emails out to a team I interviewed with, I’d customize the second paragraph and their name in the first link, but leave the first and third paragraphs the same. Why? The same basic message can be reused for every message you send, but you need to personalize it for each person you’re sending it to.

When you send a ‘closing the loop’ email, you have three goals:

  • (1) Connect with the person who interviewed you
  • (2) Demonstrate your interest in the position
  • (3) Relate your skills and experience to their role within the company

How I Got My Dream Job

The second time I walked into the interview at my dream job, I felt prepared and confident.

  • I understood the company’s needs… and how to communicate how my skills and experience would help them grow.
  • I had pages of notes and questions that I put together from my background research on the company… and I knew the name and background of everyone I’d be meeting with.
  • I had prepared specific, concrete examples of my work experience… and identified how my background would helped the company grow.

In the meeting, I was able to put this research to work by communicating the value I’d be bringing to the position. I would be able to highlight how my experience would help everyone in the room accomplish their goals.

After the interview, I set expectations with the VP of Marketing for the next few days. I knew their timeline and when I could expect a call, so I wasn’t waiting on pins and needles.

The next day, I followed up with everyone in the meeting, strengthening my connection with them, and letting them know I appreciated them taking their time to meet with me.

Three days later, the VP of Marketing called me and offered me the position. Two weeks later, I was an employee.

I was ecstatic.

Kai Davis is an Entrepreneur and Marketer in Honolulu, Hawaii, who writes about career development and strategic marketing . He’s put together a free 5-part course on How to Write an Irresistible Resume. To get his free course, sign up here: http://kaisdavis.com/journey-nonprofit-sector

Prioritization and Time Management

Attempting to run a blog, or rather start a blog, is quickly becoming a lesson in time management and prioritization. I learned last week that when push comes to shove the blog will be delayed until school and real life networking opportunities are fulfilled.  I had two papers and a midterm last week, I also had the opportunity to meet with a potential employer at a fundraising event for his organization. These forces combined to make it very hard to get around to writing a blog post, which I did start several times, but now seems not as relevant as this topic.

White rabbit from Disney's Alice in Wonderland

“I’m late, I’m late!”

When looking for a job or internship, and balancing going to school also, I’m finding that in many situation I prioritize networking opportunities over everything. I don’t mind doing that, it speaks directly to my core values and beliefs. I am not learning what I want to be learning in my classes, they no longer seem relevant to me. I’m finding it very hard to dedicate more time than is absolutely necessary to complete the work for my classes. I’m spending way more time researching organizations I might want to work for, writing cover letters, reworking my resume, and reading blogs and books about nonprofit marketing and nonprofit fundraising. Heck, as I sit here and write this, I had a chat with the owner of the pub I’m in where I mentioned my interests and career path; he sits on the board of directors for a local nonprofit. Another connection was made. A possibility to develop my skills, or maybe even get paid, who knows.

But my point is I’m learning what I prioritize in real life vs what I prioritize on paper. On paper, my education is the most important thing. In practice I’m finding that my future and its impending impact with my present is much more important to me. I’m finding that the drive to work on my future career path is far more important to me than what is soon to be the end of a chapter for me. As I face graduation I’m finding I would rather be working on something that might actually get me a job. Where my classes don’t seem applicable. Yeah, this is basically my justification for my terrible senioritis. I’m bored talking about this for now. If you really want to know more, send me a message at travis.prinslow@gmail.com or leave a comment. My next post will be about what I’ve been reading.

Courtship & the Job Market

Last week I attended an internship fair at the my university. I’ve always been disappointed in these career fairs before because they so heavily focus on the for profit sector and nonprofits are dreadfully underrepresented. As a student who never plans on working in the commercial sector, and dreams of working for nonprofits, these events have not been fruitful for me. This one was different.

With about 35% of the tables taken by nonprofits from around the Pacific Northwest I was pleasantly surprised to make such useful and potential filled connections. I talked to every single one of the nonprofits in attendance some of them I talked to twice. I even talked to an organization that I have a long held grudge against, though I had no intention of pursuing anything with them. I wanted to know what they were looking for, and what they were doing in the field, what makes them successful. And I got that information from their representative. It’s now a piece of knowledge in my mind that I can share with my future employer.

So I talked to a lot of nonprofits. Over the last week I have emailed many of them, and had an informal interview at one of them. YAY!!! As several of them are contacting me back I am just beginning to track turn around times on emails and conversations between myself and organizations. I wondered for two days when I should follow up with the org at which I had an interview. The old dating adage of the three day call back came to my mind so I went with it. I got a quick response thanking me for following up. So I feel like I was right on. But that is only one data point.

Victorian Courtship

Victorian courtship

This whole process feels very much like courtship to me. I spent a night at a speed dating bar (the internship fair) and came away with a bunch of contacts. From there I have begun pursuing multiple contacts and each one I spend time researching on the internet to find out about the organizations and then spend hours writing the perfect cover letter and resume to, and then if I interview (yay a first date) I wonder how long before I should follow up with them.

So my question dear readers is this. What is the right time frame for following up with a potential employer after an interview? Is it different in the nonprofit and for profit sectors?

Leave you comments or email them to me at travis.prinslow@gmail.com; I’d love to have a conversation about this.

An Adventure Begins

Kinght fighting a dragon.

Slaying a Dragon

The task of finding a job, particularly a career, that you will be happy to work in is a daunting task, that at the outset feels much like the Knight slaying a dragon, or attempting to anyway. So where did I begin this daunting task. I began with research. What does it take to have an outstanding resume, cover letter, CV, and researching the organizations to which I am applying.

I started by practicing writing a resume and a cover letter. I asked for advice,  I searched the web, I went to the career center on campus, and then I talked to my friend Kai. Kai, gave me practical advice that has led me to feel more confident in my attempts to find a job.  You can find the tips he gave me at his blog. He covers everything from writing a cover letter that will catch the eyes of HR to a five part series on resumes. He also covers things like networking with decision makers both to research a job and to find out about jobs.

His help has been incalculable. I couldn’t recommend better advice than what he has given me, and what he has shared on his website.But that is only the first step in the adventure. I’ve only packed my bags. What do I do next?

My next step was to find jobs for which I wanted to apply. I started my search at http://www.idealist.org/ one of the best resources I know for finding jobs in the non-profit sector, also a great resource for finding internships and volunteer opportunities. I knew I wanted something in either volunteer management/training or in development and fundraising. Here I came across two problems.

The first problem was my assumed lack of experience in these fields, and the second was my lack of a 4 year degree that is preferably in a related field such as marketing or management or communications. I’ll tackle the second problem first.

My field of study is Political Science and Philosophy, not exactly what they are looking for. I’m also a few terms away from graduation. The lack of a degree will solve itself and I include that fact in both my cover letter and my resume. In order to remedy the wrong field of study I argue that my experiences in the work force/volunteer force make up for this fact. And my fields of study can be applied to communications, marketing and management.

As for the more daunting problem, a glaring lack of experience, I found that by taking the experiences that the job posting wants and breaking them down into the component parts of the experience I  actually do have very relevant experience. Lets look at an example.

Here is a randomly selected post from Idealist.org.

I look at these qualifications one by one and see if I have relevant experience that I can quickly relate about these.

  1. Education/Experience: Bachelor’s degree (B.S. / B.A.) preferred; some college, AA, or equivalent required. — This is already being covered. Check.
  2. Minimum of 2 – 4 years professional experience in nonprofit fundraising and/or major giving — hmm. . . What do I have that could be qualified as fundraising experience? I can’t come up with anything so I move on. No Check.
  3. Familiarity with youth-homelessness, racial issues. — I can talk about this one. I’ve volunteered with youth homeless shelters, and worked on individual fundraising events for several shelters in the area. And a passion of mine is racial dynamics in politics. Check.
  4. Interpersonal: Must have demonstrated maturity, dependability and capacity to communicate concisely. Will work in close proximity with a small team of managers, requiring tact and strong rapport-building skills. — hmmm . . . How do I concisely demonstrate this mouth full? A small story would do so, I think to my self. This is best alluded to in a paragraph in the cover letter and/or a story in the interview. Check
  5. Knowledge and Critical Skills:
    • Ability to identify, acquire, and steward gifts from individuals and groups. — I’ve done small gift donor drives for lots of political campaigns and organizations. I love making the small donor ask at house parties. A quick story will cover this. Check.
    • Outstanding verbal, written, and e-mail communication skills that can articulate a compelling message. –This is hard to demonstrate in a resume, cover letter, or even an interview. But I rely on my other experiences and storytelling to cover this one. Check.
    • Ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously, problem solve, and work as part of a cohesive team. — Demonstrating my leadership ability through team problem solving and multitasking. This is usually covered in my cover letter because team problem solving is a pretty standard skill and thus an example of this in my cover letter saves me from coming up with one. I just paste my standard example into my third paragraph of a cover letter. Check.
    • Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to interact diplomatically with diverse donors and groups; comfortable bridging cultural and class differences. –This is usually demonstrated in other stories that I share either in the interview or in the cover letter. Check.
    • Intermediate computer skills in Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel, and proficiency in using computer software and knowledge of donor base management; experience with Salesforce or other relational databases preferred. — I had noticed the mention of Salesforce in several applications, I had never worked with it but I did have other CRM experience. So I talk about me work with a CRM database as a volunteer organizer and event production staffer. Check.
    • Willingness and availability to work some evenings and weekends once or twice monthly. –This one is usually covered by the mere mention of my previous political campaign work. The hours are brutal but so very rewarding. Check.
    • Demonstrated capacity to work independently. — Here I usually tell the story of working on a campaign that needed to know the voting hours and locations of every polling place in the state, and a way for supporters to find out their relevant information. I quickly sat down with the ED of the campaign and said I’ll take a team of two volunteers and research every single polling place in the state. This was a combined online search and having to call almost every rural precinct. Once we had the data, I worked with out website team to make the database searchable. Once I was done, every single newsletter and e-mail blast we sent out for the last three weeks of the campaign included a link to my work. This story demonstrates several of the skills that are wanted here. Check.
    • Event management skills required, aptitude in developing new events a plus. — This is always demonstrated in both my resume and my cover letter. I love doing event production, and event management. I work with several festivals throughout the year as an organizer and volunteer coordinator, I also love putting on fundraising events for local charities. I have lots of experience here. Check.
    • Publishing or web design skills a plus. — This blog anyone? I may be knew to blogging but I think I can handle this. I’m taking javascript at school right now, and working on learning more web development skills. Check.
    • Concern for and capacity to relate to those we serve. –A brief mention of why I want to work for this organization comes in my introduction in my cover letter. Check.
    • Experience with advocacy and organizing a plus. — This is usually covered in my cover letter or in my resume. I’ve started two student groups on campus, worked/volunteered as a community organizer for campaigns, and been a citizen and intern lobbyist at both the state and federal levels. Check.

So I’ve gone through their entire list of skills, knowledge, and requirements and I notice I have mentioned fundraising several times in my stories and experiences. I may not have much formal experience with it, but I think I can prove that I am up to the task. Also once I demonstrate to them a knowledge of the fundraising field, I would feel confident in applying for this job. I would research what they are currently doing for fundraising and in an interview I would ask what their current retention of donors is like, what their success rate is on various donor initiatives and then offer ways that I might improve on those results.

That’s what I’ve done so far. I’ve got my bags packed, and I’ve honed my tools for work. I’ve practiced, and practiced and practiced writing cover letters and resumes. Laid out where in each different experiences would go, and how I would relate my experiences to those for which the organization is looking. I’ve mentioned story telling several times today. Next time we will discuss why stories are the most powerful way to get you message across and what makes a good story in an interview or cover letter.

Bad time to start

So. . . apparently the week before having three midterms is a bad time to start a blog. Who knew?

A pile of paper about to overwhelm me. . .okay back to studying.

How I feel right now. Okay back to studying. . .

We were last talking about how working with Dance Marathon and Children’s Miracle Network changed my future. At least I believe that’s what we were talking about.

I have wanted to work in the non-profit sector since I was 14. When I first went door to door for a campaign. I knew then that connecting with people and protecting people’s rights was what I wanted to do. I thought then an for many years after that I wanted to either work on political campaigns or as a lobbyist for human rights issues. There is still a large part of me that is drawn to that work, so I won’t count it out. I love the rush of campaign season, long hours of networking and longer hours of crunching numbers and making the next days strategies. But one of the things I love most about campaigns is the direct ask. I love asking people to support my candidate, to support my cause, or to vote for my issue. I love to share the stories about why my cause, candidate or issue should matter to people. I love “the ask.”

With Dance Marathon I got to make the ask, and I got to do it a lot. I was asking friends and family for donations. Heck, I was asking strangers and companies I didn’t know to support Dance Marathon and Children’s Miracle Network. But that was only one layer. I was also going around to student organizations on campus and asking other students to participate in Dance Marathon and to go out and ask their friends and family to donate. I was teaching others to make “the ask.”

That was last year. It was a rough year personally, but it was the year I learned I love “the ask,” but more importantly I love helping others to love “the ask.” I started researching fundraising techniques and marketing for non-profits. You can see the short list of blogs I read in the side bar. All of them are marketing blogs. I also follow fundraising and development blogs. Anything about the non-profit sector I can find.

Marketing covers a lot of areas in my life. From marketing myself to potential employers to marketing my ideas. To tips on telling my story and current trends in non-profit marketing. I’m reminded constantly, by these bloggers that I look up to, that we are all selling ourselves at all times. I want to get a job in the non-profit field. And this is my attempt to sell myself to the Executive Directors and Human Resource Managers out there that I know what I’m doing, I read the right things, and I’m willing to learn everything about the field and the organizations that I want to work with.

Welcome!

I thought I should put a quick welcome not here just to say hi and to introduce myself and my project to you.

My name is Travis and I’m about to graduate from the University of Oregon at the age of 31. Well I’ll be 31 when graduation finally happens. I’m studying Political Science and Philosophy, but my real passion is for non-profit marketing, development and fundraising. I’ve always had a passion for non-profit and non-governmental organizations and a passion for political advocacy.

My introduction to non-profits was through political advocacy work. I went door to door at the tender age of 14 fighting against discriminatory ballot measures here in Oregon. I continued to volunteer year after year with Basic Right Oregon (BRO) as we continued to fight against discrimination on our ballots and in our legislative halls.

My work with BRO has been anything from a volunteer, to a volunteer trainer at State Lobby Days, to traveling with them to other states to work on Marriage Equality. Like in 2009 when I flew to Maine to work on Question 1. I still volunteer and work with BRO today, though my education takes up far more of my time than I would like.

Over the last few years I have worked with Children’s Miracle Network on the Dance Marathon. Here I worked on recruitment of participants and leading a team of 40 “morale captains”. Our job was to network to gain participants and to keep participants engaged in fundraising and having fun at our celebration of fundraising Dance Marathon.

In my next post I’ll tell you why that was significant.

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