Interviewing is hard. There is no question about it. For the majority of us, it ranks up there with dental work and taxes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average stay with one company is 4.2 years. This means many of us will interview, at minimum, ten times in our career. Like it or not, we all should get good at it.
Interviewing for a new job is not the only area of life that can drive stress levels up. For many of us, this might include public speaking, attempting a foreign language when traveling, or negotiating the price on a new car. The commonality with these scenarios is that things get easier with repetition and practice. Interviewing works the same way. Two of the biggest factors in overcoming our fears around these challenging topics are building confidence and preparation. Let’s break it down.
Within any interview, there will be tough questions. By preparing in advance, we will be confident tackling the curve balls. One of the most difficult questions recruiters often ask is related to salary. How much do you currently make? How much do you need to make in this new role? Any good negotiations book will tell you the first person to show their cards loses. We are taught to not answer this question and to volley it back to the recruiter. Sometimes this is manageable but other times, the recruiter can be very adamant about needing to know your salary requirements and, in fact, will resist surfacing you as a candidate to the hiring manager without this information. So, I’ll share my approach for preparing for this question in advance.
In my experience, the best response to salary inquiries is to stress that more information is needed. By learning more about the role through further interviews and speaking with the hiring manager, only then will there be adequate information about the role to discuss salary requirements. I also try to empathize with the recruiter and reiterate that I understand they are trying to do their job and gather the required information up front but, unfortunately, I will need to speak with the hiring manager to get a better understanding of the expectations, team structure, and measures of success. At that juncture, I’d be happy to enter into salary discussions.
The macro takeaway is this: Be prepared for the tough questions. Have an answer ready. I will practice my responses 3, 4, 5 times in the mirror, with my husband or even record myself on my phone so I can hear how I sound. Difficult questions will come. These may be about compensation or they could be about a gap in work history, a change in career path, or simply why you want to leave your current role. Practice these in advance. Be prepared. That is time well spent and will build your confidence walking in the door.
While there will always be challenging questions as the interviewee, any good interview should be about mutual fit. I always bring a minimum of five questions to ask of the recruiter or hiring manger. Here are a few examples:
· How is the culture here different than your last company? (This gives us insight into the hiring manager’s background, which will be useful if they become your manager. It is also easier for people to draw comparisons when explaining more nebulous topics like culture.)
· Who would be on my team? (This provides visibility into the reporting structure, the size of the team and how your immediate group fits into the larger organization.)
· Assuming you’ve done research on the company history, ask a question or two about it. Tell me about the acquisition from 2015. Help me understand how the primary lines of business are organized. It seems like your competitive set is x, would you agree and why?
· How do you think I’d fit in here? (This question is one I’d only ask if I’m confident things are going well and we’ve built rapport. It will tell me what they think of me indirectly and could also forewarn me to further corporate culture red flags.)
Ideally, you glean a lot of concrete information from your questions. But, if nothing else, it deflects some of the focus off you and puts you and the recruiter or hiring manager on equal footing. It also shows you’ve done your homework and are confident enough to probe into areas they might not have brought up.
I’ll end with the best advice I’ve been given in preparing for an interview. Do a dry run. Interviewing is very similar to a stage performance or sports playoffs. Any dancer, athlete or musician knows there is practice and then there is the dress rehearsal. The practice makes you good. The dress rehearsal makes you confident.
Here are a few suggestions for applying this in an interview:
· Talk to as many people inside the company before the interview as possible.
· If the interview is in person, drive to the address where you’ll be interviewing on a Sunday. Time your drive and then double that time to get there on interview day. Know where to park. If it is via phone or Skype, make sure your cell and internet connections are strong and there will be no background distractions.
· Wear layered clothing so you can take off or put on a jacket based on the temperature inside.
· Google and LinkedIn every person you are interviewing with and have both their professional and any personal notes in your mind before walking in.
· Organize your morning. Get up early the day of the interview after a good night of 7+ hours of sleep, make sure you’ve worn your outfit before (this is not the day to wear a new pair of heels), eat a normal breakfast that you would eat any other day (nothing new in your stomach to throw you off), bring with you a water bottle, granola bar and mints.
· Lastly, the night before the interview, make a list of five things you’re grateful for. Gratitude lists are powerful any day of the week but especially when you’re putting yourself up for a new job. It will not only build your confidence, but it will remind you that there is more to life than work and, in the end, everything will be alright.