As a job applicant, you need to not just show competence, but also show fit in the company. As a hiring manager, I know it’s rare to find candidates that have all of the skills and experience I need. Given that, what I’m looking for is relevance, transferable skills, and a willingness to learn. Actually, “eagerness to learn” is probably a lot closer to what I want to see. I like a candidate that is not just willing to learn, but that actively seeks out new knowledge. A healthy thirst for new learning can be the difference between a good fit and a round trip back out the door.
1. Study the company to show that you like to learn and can be self-motivated
The interview is a good place to demonstrate your excitement for new knowledge. If you go into the interview with enough knowledge about the company, you can get a feel for what they really need and they can see that you won’t need to be pushed to learn.
Appearance and mannerisms play a pretty big role too. The interviewers want to get to know you. They want to see your skills, but also how you operate and communicate. They need to know that they can interact with you comfortably and confidently.
2. Pay attention to your appearance and dress just a little nicer than the job requres
I shouldn’t need to say this, but experience indicates that I do. Take a shower. Dress a step higher then you think the position requires. If the job requires a business suite, wear your best suit, your best tie and a great shirt (but don’t ever jump up to a tux). If you’re applying for a job that requires a suite every day, you really should already know how to dress, but not everyone does. If the job requires slacks and a polo shirt, wear a button-down shirt and a tie. Just make sure you look nicer then you will need to be on a day-to-day basis. No matter what the job is, jeans and a t-shirt is not acceptable. If the job requires wearing jeans and a t-shirt, jeans and a polo or button down will be perfectly acceptable in an interview.
Most people can recognize a fake smile. We all have expression that, consciously or subconsciously, give clues to what is behind the face. Some interviewers are better than others at reading these subtle hints and it’s best to work on avoiding them. If you come into the interview genuinely excited about a particular job opportunity, well rested, comfortable and happy, the folks on the other side of the table will feel it and you will have won the first challenge.
3. Find a way to get some positive thoughts into your head
However, if you are tired, not all that excited or have been out of work for a while, your body language may conspire to keep you from getting the job. There is a “look” that you need to work hard to avoid. The look that I’m talking about is the one where your eyes say “I really don’t want a job. I’d rather be home sleeping in.” There’s actually two related looks that I’m talking about here. Equally bad is the “I’m so desperate, I’ll do anything” look. They are both harmful and both show up way too often.
I don’t think those looks are at all intentional, but they are really common with people that have been out of work for a while. Desperation is never flattering and the other look leads to a sort of detached and disinterested image. The look will keep you out of a job as thoroughly as will bad spelling, body odor or a lousy resume.
The look is difficult to avoid but not impossible. As I walk into the lobby, my brain may be saying: “probably another wasted effort.” That’s bad. I look around and find something positive to focus on. Maybe the building architecture is interesting, or on your way in you noticed a lot of interesting places to eat Lunch. Maybe people are laughing and smiling. Even a comfortable chair in the interview room can be something to focus on. Just get your brain into a positive space.
And, no one-word answers unless you are specifically asked for one. Having to drag an answer out of a candidate is a serious turn off. When that happens, I immediately start looking at the clock and my concern shifts to wondering how soon I can end the interview without seeming crass. It’s hard to get back in the game after that. Show an appropriate level of enthusiasm. Answer questions in such a way as to demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well as your skills.
4. Give complete answers and add relevant details
For example, if you’re asked about your truck driving skills, don’t just say “Yes, I can drive a truck.” If you have the experience, say “Yes, I’ve driven several types of trucks, including 15-ton cab-overs like you use to deliver your product. For two years, I drove five-speed and six-speed with and without a split-shift rear axle, and I’ve never had an incident or violation.” That’s an answer that shows that you took the time to get to know the company and that you really do have relevant experience. But know when to stop. Talking too much, especially if it takes you away from the subject of the question, can be as bad as saying too little.
I know some experts will recommend that you only answer questions that you are asked and to not give more information then you need to, but I don’t believe it. From my side of the table, I say you don’t always need to wait for a question. Don’t be afraid to engage in dialog and expand in directions that you think will present yourself better. Just be sure that you are speaking the truth and that what you are saying fits the job you are applying for. Empty or mis-directed dialog rarely helps.
5. Keep it interactive, but don’t fight for control of the interview
And, while it’s good to elaborate, ask questions and keep a good dialog going, don’t go so far as to take control of the interview. I’ve heard this as a recommended practice and I’ve seen it – most often from sales folks – but I think most interviewers just find it to be obnoxious. The interviewer does what to hear you ask good questions, but they have an agenda. They have questions in their head that must be answered. If you take charge of the interview and drag it away from their agenda, you chances of getting hired diminish rapidly. Questions are good. Running roughshod over their agenda is not.
Speaking of questions, you will be asked. Be prepared – and be patient. Questions will be covered in part 4 of this post series.
Stay tuned for Part 4.