How to Prepare for a Job Interview
by Kirk Hallowell, Ph.D., author of
The Million-Dollar Race: An Insider’s
Guide to Winning Your Dream Job
You’ve probably heard this advice many times before: “Talk about the
other person – focus on them.” It’s been a fundamental message of almost
every sales, relationship, and self-help message from Dale Carnegie to Seth
So why do so many senior leaders blow it in this crucial aspect of
You’re looking for a job and you get that big interview. Your
natural tendency is to focus on what you see as the most important factor:
Most job candidates prepare for interviews by focusing on themselves,
their past performance, their achievements, their success stories. By the
time of the interview, these candidates are like a balloon blown up to
capacity. The moment the interviewer opens the balloon with a question, he
or she is hit in the face by a stream of uncontrolled, hot “you” air. If not
handled correctly, that release of air is about as inviting as the blast
from an actual balloon.
You might not think this this scenario is typical,
but I’ve seen this dynamic happened time and again, particularly with less
experienced job candidates or with job candidates who are reentering the
workforce after a long dry spell.
Behind Every Job Opportunity is a Story
The story begins, not with you, but with a unique need. This need is so
powerful that the hiring company is willing to invest a significant amount
of capital in the position. Even in the improving economy, the decision to
hire is not made lightly.
Outstanding job candidates begin their interview
process by understanding the unique reason the company is looking for a
leader in the first place. Exceptional job candidates will have answered at
least three questions before they begin to hone their own story for a
- What are the business reasons for the organization to invest in this
position at this time?
- What are the specific and unique outcomes that the
organization hopes to accomplish by funding this position (return on
- Where’s the organization headed in the future and how can an
effective leader in this position promote that success?
Job candidates who begin their job preparation by answering these
questions have the potential to blow away competing candidates who do not.
Digging into Company Research
The most successful job candidates approach a
job opportunity in the same way a forensic scientist approaches a murder
investigation: rigorously checking out all the clues and information
available to put together a meaningful and accurate understanding of the
motives and actions. Exceptional job candidates will spend hours on research
about an organization and a specific opportunity before they begin
practicing for the interview.
Fortunately there are remarkable resources
available that can provide you with fantastic information about your target
position. Here is a list of key resources which you should leverage to the
best of your ability.
The Person Who Referred You
If you were referred for a
position by a colleague, network contact, or recruiting professional, that
individual most likely has a number of insights about the organization and
the opportunity. Many candidates jump on a referral without thoroughly
interviewing the individual who referred them. What do they believe the
organization is looking for in hiring this position at this time?
If you are preparing for an interview, you should do more than a
cursory browsing of the company website. Digging deep into the website helps
you understand how the company represents itself to the world and may
provide some nuggets of understanding that will truly demonstrate your
preparation for the interview. Just keep in mind that some company websites
are not updated frequently, so some information may be out of date.
A simple Internet search on the company name, or division names, with a
“news” filter will provide you with a great summary of local, regional, and
national stories. Many times these will include company press releases which
focus on key developments and changes within the organization. In some cases
there is bad news. It’s good to be aware of this before you stumble into a
prickly topic during your interview.
All publicly traded
companies have significant amounts of financial coverage available on the
Internet. Most of the major reporting organizations (e.g., Hoover’s, Dun &
Bradstreet, etc.) offer limited amounts of information for free and in some
cases colleges and university libraries provide full subscription services
for in-depth analysis. You should absolutely be familiar with the financial
performance of the organization in the last two years and understand any
major challenges and opportunities that are impacting revenues and growth.
The Internet now abounds with sources where current or
previous employees discuss their experiences with an organization.
LinkedIn.com and Glassdoor.com are two of the most established resources in
this area. People reading these reviews should take into consideration that
the individual writing the review may have been driven by experiences or
poor boss interaction that have no bearing on your specific opportunity in
the company. At the same time, a consistent theme is brought up over and
over again, is a good indication that this reflects part of the
The Discipline of Preparation
The discipline of
interview preparation is a lot like a physical exercise routine. Anyone who
reads these recommendations will probably agree with most of the ideas that
are shared in this article. The real question is, “Will you take the time
and have the discipline to fully implement a research routine?” My
experience with many job candidates is that they are so busy with their
search, or perhaps the full-time job, that they cut corners in interview
preparation. This invariably diminishes their competitive abilities.
are headed for that big interview that can have a significant impact on your
career and your income, commit to the discipline of preparation. Make the
commitment to spend at least 2 to 3 solid hours doing your research before
you start focusing on the second most important aspect of the interview:
Author and industry thought leader Kirk Hallowell, Ph.D. is a nationally
recognized authority in the talent management arena, where he specializes in
high-potential executive selection and succession planning. Dr. Hallowell’s
experience includes positions as senior consultant for Personnel Decisions
International and Associate of Lominger International (now, Lominger -
http://www.themilliondollarrace.com. The author is available
for speaking engagements. The Million-Dollar Race: An Insider’s
Guide to Winning Your Dream Job is available on
through all major booksellers.