Monday, November 24, 2014

Impressing Your Interviewer: How to Prepare

This is a different kind of post for me, but I'm coming up on my one year anniversary at my job soon. I remember accepting my offer just before Thanksgiving and feeling so relieved that I didn't have to worry about jobs or interviewing right before the holidays. Interviewing always gave me such anxiety, so I definitely over-prepared beforehand. I searched all over the internet for interview tips, but the best tips that worked for me actually came from my old manager. So here are three things that I took away from his mentorship.

These tips might apply more for recent grads, either fresh out of school or a year or two removed. But I feel like these tips are general enough to apply for all ages - so here we go.

Craft your narrative. By this, I mean you should know the story of you. This is the answer to "So, tell me about yourself." You should know, before you even start applying to jobs, what you want and why you want it. You should know what experience you have and why you chose to put those experiences on your resume. How did your last job prepare you for the one that you're applying for? Why did you choose to showcase those jobs? What did you do at your last job that made an impact and what was that impact? By crafting your narrative, you're creating the story of you from beginning to end for your interviewer. I like to start with how I began with my first experience, and how that led me to my next experience, and what I learned from each to  lead me to where I am now. The key to this is brevity without losing impact. Then I end with the position that I'm applying to. I like to be very specific with what I want from a position. Nobody wants to hire someone that is good at everything. They want to hire someone that is great at a few specific things.
This requires a lot of self reflection. I spent a lot of time thinking about what industries I want to go into and why. I majored in statistics, which is an incredibly broad field with many different avenues of opportunity, but I chose to go into advertising because I wanted to work with consumer level data. As freshly minted undergraduate, it's impossible to know what you want to do after graduation. I was fortunate enough to intern with a manager that exposed me to a lot of different functions within a company - and analytics was the one that interested me the most and also let me use the skills I had been trained in at school. I also was looking for a company that I knew I could stay at for a while. I interned for two summers at the same company, so I like comfort. But that's not to say that I like comfort without change or challenges. I also wanted to look for the right fit, and after graduation is the only time that you really truly can interview without obstacles.
Know your interviewer. By this, I mean stalk the hell out of your interviewer(s). I interviewed 11 times for the job I'm in now, and I had a few sheets of paper with notes on each interviewer - what they majored in,  what school they went to, what their past experiences were, and what they were doing now. Being in somewhat of a creative industry, a few of them had Twitter as well. I remember during a phone interview, I felt bold enough to ask my interviewer about an article he had tweeted about "Statisticians vs. Data Scientists." He told me he was impressed that I had done my research. At the end of that interview, I was invited back for a two day, in person interview. Stay within professional channels, obviously. Twitter, LinkedIn are fair game. Read up on their publications and make sure you have questions for each of them prepared. A lot of the time though, I asked them their own personal narratives, which can be very telling for you to understand the people you'll be working with.
Bring your portfolio. By this, I mean bring your very best work, no matter what field you're in. I am not a creative. I don't make ads, I don't write copy. I can't doodle anything but hearts, flags, and flowers. But I'm an analyst, a "statistician" if we're being very generous. For my own interview, I brought in paper copies of two presentations that I had given on two different business problems I had done a deep dive analysis on. I was especially proud of these, since I had provided recommendations drawn from my analysis that actually impacted the bottom line. These were printed in color, stapled, and tucked into my padfolio along with my stalker notes. Nothing fancy. But nothing shows your interviewer that you're capable of what you say you can do than physical examples of what you've done in the past. It's one thing to say "I have experience in x, y, and z." It's a completely different and memorable thing to show them. An interview should be show and tell.
So that's all! I can't say that this will land you your next job, but these tips helped me during my job search before graduation. This time of year always reminds me of that stressful period, but this time, without the stress of interviewing. Let me know what tricks you have up your sleeve for interviews in the comments!
image credit: unsplash - craig garner

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