Make sure you have a working knowledge of the company, including its mission, products/services and industry. Acquire strategic information such as their core competencies and values. For instance, if you’re interviewing with GE, your answers should reflect their five “Growth Leadership Traits.”
Spend a good deal of time researching and preparing for each interview you do. If you only spend 10 minutes researching a company and another interviewee spent three hours on their research, it will be very evident to recruiters. Do your homework and it will pay off in the end.
Be relevant and concise
When discussing your career accomplishments, make sure you match them to what the company is looking for. Tailor your resume to fit the company at which you are applying. Similarly, tailor your interview responses to focus on your strengths in a way that matches up with the specific position that is open as well as the values and mission of the company. Make sure you explain how you can create value for the company. Keep your answers concise, about two minutes in length. Going off on tangents and rambling turn off recruiters.
Be engaged and don’t dominate
Recruiters like candidates who can partake in meaningful conversations, so be inquisitive and engaging. On the other hand, too much initiative can derail an exchange. Avoid overselling yourself. Remember that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Also keep in mind that a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Ask great questions
Prepare a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer. Pose questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and subtly convey your expertise. Ask pertinent questions to better understand what the recruiter is looking for (e.g., if you’re attending a finance information session, don’t ask questions about information systems or marketing). Avoid being overly aggressive — excessive questions can discourage potential employers.
Practice makes perfect
Like a stage actor, rehearsing will help you convey your ideas in an eloquent, persuasive and authentic manner. Prepare answers to commonly asked interview questions. Have five to 10 behavioral scenarios (e.g., “Tell me about a time you had to work cooperatively with someone who did not share your values or ideas”; “Share a time when you did not reach the expected goals of a project. What did you learn and what could you have done differently?”; etc.) that you can readily access that demonstrate your skills, interests, strengths and what you can do to benefit the company. Practice with your mentors, your family members and your friends. Try recording or videotaping your responses so that you can replay the interview and see how well you did.
Remember to say ‘Thank you’ and leave a positive impression
It might sound trivial, but those two words can go a long way. Say “thank you” to any recruiter you talk to, whether it is a brief meeting at a career fair or a full-fledged job interview. Send follow-up e-mails to thank them for their time and send “thank you” cards for interviews you are granted. It shows that you appreciate and respect the time they are taking to interview you and that you are really interested in the job. Keep your message short and simple and personalize your note so you can reinforce a positive and memorable impression. Also, be sure to reiterate your perceived fit with the job and your value to the firm. Doing so can definitely give you a leg up over a competitor.
Looking for powerful results? With preparation, practice and focus you can ace interviews and assess which companies are the best fit for you. You’ll also outshine the competition.
Jeffrey Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He has a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology and he co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems Inc., a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.