Tactical advice about how to succeed in a job interview is plentiful. You can find suggestions about how to dress appropriately, conduct company research, prepare responses to standard interview questions and deal with your own potential red-flag issues. The topics go on and on.
What’s important, however, is not to lose sight of the larger whole. What kind of person and worker are you? What are your key skills? In what kind of role and environment are you best equipped to succeed? How do people see you?
Your job search success requires that you develop this kind of self-understanding in order to formulate your personal brand and then apply to the positions that best match your persona.
It takes all kinds of people for a company to run effectively: leaders and followers, innovators and executors, lone wolves and members of the pack. The challenge for those who hire is to find the best possible combination of a candidate’s skill set, temperament and personality for a particular job and the overall company culture.
Ask yourself these seven questions to start:
- Are you looking for a job just to pay the bills, a short-term or part-time opportunity or an intermediary way station as part of a larger career trajectory?
- Are you a take-charge leader, a loyal lieutenant or a faithful executor of directions?
- Are you a problem-identifier, a problem-solver or problem-avoider?
- Are you someone who will take reasonable risks to get things done, or are you a strictly “by the book” kind of person?
- Are you super-serious, or do you have a colorful personality?
- Do you thrive while working independently, as part of a structured team or in a matrix environment?
- Are you able to adapt to new conditions quickly, or do you crave workplace stability?
Each of these factors can contribute to fashioning an effective interview strategy. Think about the role for which you are applying, and prepare stories for your interview that mirror your personality and temperament with what’s required for success.
Of course, you will need to demonstrate particular skills, industry knowledge and experience associated with any particular job. In most cases, you either have it, or you don’t. Sometimes, however, you can be lacking in one area or another and still make it past the interview if there are other positive factors at play. Here’s how:
- Bring stories of how you have previously excelled at some key element of the role for which you are applying.
- Don’t wait and fumble through the answer to “What are your weaknesses?” Instead, put them out there, and say something like: “In addition to what I can do for you, this job would enable me to learn XXX (or gain more experience in XXX).” Then immediately explain how you would go about filling in that hole.
You should be able to easily articulate stories that relate your personality and successes to the role and responsibilities you seek. For example, if you are looking to manage others, you should be able to demonstrate how you’ve sized up situations and people, figured out what needs to get done, formulated a plan to do it and then executed and delivered needed results. If you are applying for a role at a startup, you should be able to demonstrate how you are willing to take risks, work long hours and adapt to continually changing requirements and demands. On the other extreme, if you are interviewing at a place where procedures are both time-honored and fixed, you may be shooting yourself in the foot by demonstrating too much prior innovation. Here’s the point: Before your interview, figure out which kind of stories will be most well received, and focus on telling them.
If you can anticipate your interviewer’s most likely concerns and address them in the course of your interview, you’ll be far ahead of the game. For example, any hiring authority likely wants to understand how you have gone about mastering prior challenges, your plan for your first days and weeks on the new job and your overall work ethic.
When you figure out who you are, apply to appropriate positions and strategize about how to tell the right stories that relate the two, you will be well on your way toward providing important value and receiving professional satisfaction in your new job.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic “I’ll apply to anything” searches into focused hunts for “great fit” opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.