• Hillary Hufford-Tucker

Your Secret Weapon for Interviewing? The Job Description.

Are you an interview pro? If so, then you're likely a job description whisperer that pulls the essential details out of a role description and pairs them with your talents. But, if you don't feel you know how to get ready for an interview, you'll find ways below to develop talking points and impress the hiring team. Preparation builds confidence – a crucial part of a good interview experience.


IDENTIFY KEY PHRASES AND ACTIVITIES

Job descriptions are often created to entice you to apply by showing the role's needs and highlighting a company's vision. Make a note of all the key phrases, job activities, and expectations. Identify both the hard and soft skills expected in the role. Once you have gathered a good outline of the job, complete a side-by-side comparison of the job description's skills and your expertise. Note examples of proven achievements, preferably with percentage increases or other improvement measures, that you can use to show your value to the prospective employer.


RESEARCH OTHER SOURCES TO ADD CLARITY

There are many examples of poorly written job descriptions. Sometimes there's a disconnect between the person that wrote the document and the actual expectations of the hiring manager or peers. Interviewers may ask about a skill left out of the summary but common to the same role in another organization. Casting a wide research net will provide a better understanding of the role.


Do a search on job boards for similar positions and take note of any missing skillsets. Incorporate that information into your preparation. The additional research helps prepare you for a question about a skill not listed. You can also use the information to ask about other skills, which proves you fully understand the expectations of the position and are eager to grow.


Review the company's website to fully grasp its culture, typical candidate profile, department strategy, and grand vision. For public companies, it's helpful to view shareholder information sites to be knowledgeable about company financials and published goals. Compare this intel with your needs for the role, culture, and future development.


BE PREPARED TO ADDRESS WEAKNESSES

Nearly everyone has a part of their professional background that is difficult to explain. It could be a gap in jobs, a lower or lateral role, or a complete 180 in direction. Hiding the issue doesn't make it go away. Honesty and transparency are critical to the interview process, so don't oversell your skills or appear upset when asked about a possible weakness.


Find methods to briefly talk about the issue, discussing what you learned, how you think, and how it makes you a better person for the position. I want to stress two critical points about delivering your 'red flag' message. First, it's imperative to remove all negative emotions from the delivery of the information. Second, make it short – the more time you ramble on, the more apparent it is to the interviewer that it's a red flag. Think of your weaknesses as a path to show self-awareness, resilience, and that you're focused on growth – those soft skills that are hard to convey outside of a face-to-face discussion.


One of my clients was let go twice in one year. There was a change at the organization's most senior levels, and in both cases, the executive team was replaced. The thing to remember is that many of the reasons you lost a job or changed roles are commonplace. Frame your message in such a way that it's truthful and linked to a recognized business activity – like reorganization. In my client's case, he explained his resume gap was due to a regime change and poor timing. He noted what he learned from the experience and that he attained a coding certification during the time between jobs, which helped him land a more technical role.


CRAFT YOUR INTERVIEW Q&A

Create Sample Questions

Review the job description, other role descriptions, and the company website to develop questions and talking points related to the job. Suppose the position defines a work process, such as interfacing with internal and external customers. In that case, your practice question would be, "Tell me about a time when you identified an internal issue and how you solved it," or "Provide an example of how you identified an issue for an external customer and the resolution."


Develop Your Problem/Solution Messages

Short stories about past accomplishments demonstrate you possess the experience to do the job. For each interview, write out the company's pain points and your parallel achievements. Frame responses to your sample questions by how you:

  • Defined the problem – how you take an objective approach to issue identification

  • Generated potential solutions – how you approach and lead creative problem-solving

  • Evaluated options – how you balanced the best solution and targeted goals

  • Implemented the solution – what you learned in the process and how you measured success


SIMPLIFY, PRACTICE, AND PRACTICE MORE

Improved confidence and calm nerves come with proper preparation. Often, interview formats only allow for short examples. Be sure you recite your answers, remove unnecessary information, and double-check that each answer reflects how you can add value to the company. Practice in such a way that you show eagerness and excitement in expressing your messages. Poor presentation skills, like tight body language, avoiding eye contact, and speaking too fast, can be amended with preparation.


DEMONSTRATE PREPARATION WITH FINAL QUESTIONS

Asking questions at the end of the interview shows you're eager and prepared for the role. If there's something unclear from your research, like culture or structural fit, be sure to have questions ready for the interviewer. If you feel that the interview didn't highlight a specific talent you have, ask a question that allows you to emphasize that skill. Below are just a few examples of possible queries.

  • I see that your product competes with X. What's the key differentiator for your product?

  • What's your (or the boss's) leadership style?

  • Define what an employee in this role would do to be seen as successful.

  • What kind of people and approaches are most successful here? What type are not?

  • What are your most significant worries for the company, competition, or industry?

  • Describe one day in the life of someone in this role.

WRAP UP YOUR PITCH

When the interview comes to an end, don't forget to close the deal. It's essential to understand how the hiring manager sees your candidacy, so ask if they see any gaps associated with your background. Take the opportunity to address the gaps, restate why you're the best candidate for the position, and ask about the next steps. Additionally, many hiring managers expect a thank you note after an interview, so make a special effort to send a proper note within 24-hours after your meeting.


Taking the time to review and research a job can seem daunting. Still, proper research and preparation show a company your curiosity, critical thinking skills, insights, and communication skills during the interview process – qualities not easily conveyed on a resume.


Who would you hire? The candidate with a rudimentary understanding of the role or the applicant demonstrating a capacity to add value with research, examples of achievements, and ideas for improvement.

As a certified career coach, Hillary guides extraordinary people and their personal brands. She's a career solutionista that helps clients discover their unique worth to find new employment, pivot industries, or move toward cause-oriented work. When Hillary's not busy coaching amazing people, she rides bikes, learns about wine, cooks for friends, and travels globally with her family. Find out more and sign up for her newsletter at www.careersolutionista.com.


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