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:
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 email@example.com.
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