We typically don’t practice interviewing very often yet each interview we do have is pretty important. Here are three quick tips for interview preparation.

Tip 1 – It is best to think of an interview as a two-way discussion. Yes, often a stressful discussion but remember not only are they checking you out, you are checking them out. In fact, one of the most important actions you can take to prepare for an upcoming interview is to research the company. It is easier than ever to get on the internet, enter a search word and come up with relevant information. Most companies have a web page of their own where you can read up on company history and recent press releases. Be thinking about questions you can ask during the interview as well. Make relevant observations about what is going on with the company and ask your interviewer to comment. You may also want to consider asking some questions like the following.

  • Is this a newly created position?
  • What do you think is the most important thing for a new hire to understand about this position? This company? Or this department?
  • Why did the previous person leave this position?
  • What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the new hire?

Tip 2 – Another good way to prepare for the interview is to put together 3-5 well thought out power stories and a couple lessons learned stories. Power stories are your stories about times that you solved problems or had a positive impact in your work. Keep your power stories in a notebook in Evernote and save them forever! These stories are very important to think about in advance of the interview for responses to behavioral interviewing questions which are used very often by skilled interviewers. Behavioral interview questions are ones that ask you to describe times in the past when you solved this or that type of problem. A good format for the stories is to describe the problem, describe the action you took, then describe the result. This is called the PAR technique for Problem, Action, Result. Once you write these stories out, list in the margin the characteristics these stories demonstrate. Then you have ready answers for some questions like “Tell me about a time when _____?” or “What is your biggest strength and why?” Don’t forget to rehearse your answers out loud. It is best to have someone ask you the questions in order to practice most effectively.

Tip 3 – One often overlooked key to good interviewing to have clear starts and stops to your questions and answers. This helps to set a good rhythm for the discussion. It also demonstrates your ability to be concise and listen to others. Don’t be afraid of a few seconds of silence after you finish your answer. A good interviewer will use silence as a tool to get you to rattle on about stuff you did not intend to reveal. Also, silence is an important tool for you to learn use as well, especially come negotiation time.

On Interviewing: Part 1 (this post), Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

To learn even more about strategies for job interviewing, I highly recommend the books by Carole Martin, The Interview Coach. A great one to start with is Boost Your Interview IQ.

Choosing a career direction is a complex process involving many steps including exploring your interests, skills, values, and personality type, plus lots of time to learn and to strategize a career development plan. After the beginning steps of self-assessment, you choose a few of the career fields that seem to have the most promise and do more intense research.

Researching career fields begins with taking a look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the O*Net to learn more about specific career fields. Then, if a specific career field is still being considered, it is time to go out into the field to learn more. In fact, one of the most important aspects of choosing a career path is to get out in the real world and study real people. People who are doing the kind of job that you might want to do someday. One way to do this is through informational interviewing.

Typically, the informational interview process looks like this:

  • find people in the career of interest to talk to
  • schedule a time to meet with them for 30 minutes or so
  • ask questions about their career, and then
  • send a thank you note.

There are several ways to find people for an informational interview. The best method is to use your network of contacts to find people in the line of work that you want to learn more about. Begin asking family members, friends, and other people who they know working in the career. For example, you might approach your aunt and ask her, “Who do you know who works as a civil engineer?” Once a member of your network knows someone to refer you to, ask for that person’s name and phone number. You will be surprised how many people your contacts know and how easy it is to find people to talk to about all kinds of careers.

Next call the new contact. Give your name and how you know about them. Tell them that you are interested in learning more about their career field and that you were hoping they could help. Ask if you can schedule a time to speak with them for 30 minutes because you would like to ask them how they got into the field and about their recommendations for people who are considering entering the profession.

Following are some questions typically asked in an informational interview. Remember you most likely will not be able to ask them all since you want to keep the interview to only 30 minutes. Be sure to take a pen and paper for quick notes and recommendations and to assist you with writing a thank you note the following day. Be sure to note the correct spelling of their name and their address by asking them the information and writing it down in your notes or checking their business card.

SAMPLE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • How did you develop your career path?
  • How did you get into this job?
  • What are your duties as a ____?
  • How long have you been in this position?
  • What do you like best about this career?
  • What do you like least about this career?
  • What would you do differently if you were starting over in this field?
  • What are the educational requirements of this field?
  • What is the typical salary range for this career field?
  • Can you recommend some professional associations for this career field?
  • What do you read to stay up-to-date in the field?
  • What further education do you participate in?
  • What are the advancement opportunities in this field?
  • What do you see as the future of this career field?
  • What is your career goal for the future?
  • What is happening in this industry?
  • What kinds of companies make up this industry?
  • Where has growth taken place in this field recently?
  • Who are your customers or clients?
  • How do you promote your products and/or services?
  • Who are some of your competitors?
  • What has helped to make companies successful in this industry?
  • What recommendations do you have for a person interested in this field?
  • Do you know others I should speak to about this career field?

one light bulb on, rest offOnce captured, an idea is available to you for future reference and further reflection, and to combine with other appealing ideas.

You capture an idea by bookmarking it, putting it in your social media streams, journaling it, sending yourself an email or voicemail, or using your digital recorder. However you decide to capture ideas, establish your system and use it religiously. Then be sure to review and revise your ideas regularly.

My favorite way to capture ideas is Evernote.com. With it, you can mingle audio recording, web page links, photos, and your written words together in an organized and searchable way that is fully digital. What I do is keep a pen and notebook handy for quick notes when I’m not at my computer then transfer to Evernote and mark off the journal pages once the content has been entered. I also have the Android App on my phone so I can get to my notes anytime. I love the new Moleskine notebook made to be used with Evernote. It is called the Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook.

You will not believe the increased effectiveness of your self-development endeavors as a result of getting clear on how to capture your ideas.