I’m a computer and electrical engineer and an MBA. I went to the University of Florida. I almost went to Georgia Tech.
I spent about 10 years in the talent management industry, which is focused on software to help businesses manage employee performance, set goals, work on career and succession planning, and plan compensation strategies.
I wrote the Fearless Salary Negotiation book and video courses to help people get paid what they’re worth, and that’s why I’m here today.
So what will we cover today?
Preparing for your interviews is a differentiator that will help you stand out among the other candidates. Your goal is to get a job offer and for that offer to be as strong as possible.
We’ll talk about what to expect and how to excel in your interviews.
And we’ll finish with a couple small things you can do after each interview.
Interviews are mostly just questions you’ll answer. The better your answers, the more you’ll stand out. But first you need to learn as much about the company as you can so you’re answers are as informed as possible.
Start with: Visit their website - available jobs (more opportunities), geographic locations, mission statement, look for trends. What are they trying to do right now? What are their goals? How do they make money? Who are their customers? How big are they?
Here’s my super secret research tool that will get you everything you need to know to impress everyone who interviews you…
Put it all together so you understand them better.
Are they trying to grow? Build better technology? Break into a new market?
How can you help? Think about this before you start interviewing.
This is how you “win” the interview. You prepare, learn their story, and then spend the entire interview process convincing them that your story will be better if you’re a part of it.
Before we talk about a few common pre-interview questions, let me give you a new way to think about questions so you can use them as another tool to ace your interview.
This is a simple framework for answering questions in a way that continuously demonstrates your value as a candidate so you can make your best case for getting the job and so that your job offers are as strong as possible (meaning high salary).
Method: Identify a need or needs that they have. You should have a good idea here because of your preparation earlier. Are they growing? Adopting new technologies? Struggling to scale? Moving into a new market?
Determine how you can help—first look for direct ways, then indirect ways.
Combine the goal with the ways you can help —that’s your answer.
Here’s an example of an answer that uses this method. The question is a common one that we’ll revisit later:“Why should I hire you?”
“You’re building a team of salespeople and solutions architects to grow into the medical manufacturing vertical, and I have five years of experience in sales in that vertical. I can help you grow more efficiently and focus on the right things from the beginning.”
Be relentless with this.
Let’s walk through the Pre-interview phase.
Let’s review some general guidelines you can use to ensure that you make a strong impression on your interviewers every chance you get.
Make sure you’re early. Being late could ruin your chances of getting the opportunity because it sends such a bad signal. Don’t make your interviewer wait—respect their time. Chances are they were just in another meeting, or they scarfed down lunch to get here in time. They probably have a lot of other stuff going on. Don’t make them regret taking time to talk to you.
I’ve interviewed a lot of people. If someone is late, I think, “If they can’t be on time for a job interview, how will they be punctual for work?” I’m not just talking about signing on for the day, I’m talking about meeting deadlines for deliverables.
Managers depend on their team to get things done to keep customers happy. And they also depend on input from their team to share with their managers. I want to know that if I ask one of my team members to have something done for a presentation or for me to aggregate and share with management, I’m not going to get burned by someone who doesn’t respect deadlines.
For Virtual interviews like Skype, Google Hangouts, or phone calls this means If you’re interviewing in person, this means…
When the interview begins, you should be 100% engaged in that conversation. If you show up “on time”, but then need to get situated, find your pen, can’t find your headset, etc., then that sends another bad signal. Again the interviewer could think, “If he didn’t bother getting ready for this interview, how reliable will he be as an employee?”
Make sure you have copies of your resume handy in case your interviewer doesn’t have it. You would be surprised how often the interviewer just dropped whatever they were doing and ran to this interview. It’s easy to forget to grab a copy of the candidate’s resume. So just make sure you have one ready.
Dress appropriately. A good rule of thumb is you should be dressed “one level” better than the dress code at the company. Usually, the recruiter or whoever schedules the interview can tell you what the dress code is.
I’m male, so that means if they wear jeans and t-shirts, I would wear jeans and a button down. If they dress business casual—slacks, button down shirt, no tie—then I would wear a tie. If they wear a shirt and tie, I would wear a suit.
This also applies for virtual interviews!
Let’s talk about venue-specific readiness.
For Virtual interviews like Skype, Google Hangouts, or phone calls this means… For in-person interviews, this means…Bring a notebook, pen, and copies of your resume.
Most interviews have three distinct phases:
First, you’ll spend a couple minutes with introductions, getting to know each other. Then the interviewer will ask you several questions to evaluate you as a candidate. Then you’ll usually have a few minutes to ask questions of your own.
Those last two sections—answering questions and asking them—are the ones most candidates focus on. But don’t forget about that first part where you can get to know the interviewer a little bit. Take the opportunity to build some rapport with the interviewer much like you did earlier when you talked to the recruiter or hiring manager in the pre-interview phase.
You don’t want to go overboard here, but it will help the interview go more smoothly if you and the interviewer are both comfortable with each other.
Earlier, we walked through a framework you can use to answer almost any question in a way that demonstrates how your skillset and experience can be an attribute to the company, helping them meet their goals.
For that framework to work, you have to LISTEN to every question you’re asked. Pay close attention to the conversation you have with the interviewer so you can give the best possible answers.
Actively listening also shows the interviewer how engaged you are. If the interviewer has to repeat questions because you weren’t really listening, or if you give answers that don’t address the question you were asked, that will make a bad impression.
A great way to show you’re listening is to take notes. If you’re in person, bring a notebook (you can carry your copies of your resume in there too). If you’re interviewing virtually, use Evernote, your favorite text editor, or paper and pen.
Just make sure to let the interviewer know you’ll be taking notes.
After a brief introduction and some small talk, you will usually transition into the part of the interview where the interviewer asks you several questions to evaluate you as a candidate.
We’ve already discussed a framework you can use to answer almost any question effectively, so now we’ll focus on the different types of questions you may be asked during the interview. This way, you can work on using the framework from earlier to answer the types of questions where you’re not quite comfortable.
Resume - if it’s on your resume, it’s in play. If you can’t answer a question about it, take it off. If I ask you a question about something on your resume and you say, “I actually only used that once in college. I haven’t touched it in 10 years.” Then I’ll immediately wonder WHAT ELSE is out of date? How much of the stuff on your resume is actually current stuff you can do?
Technical - Some interviews have this, some don’t. There’s a great series called “Cracking the coding interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. She has books for coding interviews, product manager interviews and some others. Check those out if your field has technical questions as a part of the interview.
Tools and technology - again, if you can’t talk to it, it shouldn’t be on your resume.
Special projects - Be ready to talk about at least one special project you have done either in school, for a job, or on the side. You should be able to concisely describe the whole project—purpose, goal, outcome, method for achieving that outcome—and specifically about your role on the project. What did you do?
Challenging situations - Have at least one story about a challenging workplace or collaborative situation ready to go. Describe the situation concisely and describe how you resolved the challenge.
One more thing: It’s ok to say “I don’t know”
Somewhere along the way, the idea of “fake it till you make it” became a popular alternative to saying I don’t know.
You’re much better off saying “I don’t know” than making something up because THE INTERVIEWER WILL KNOW IF YOU’RE MAKING IT UP! They know the answer or they wouldn’t have asked. You’re not going to fool them. So either give your best answer, or just tell them you don’t know.
THEN WRITE THAT QUESTION DOWN SO YOU CAN FIND THE ANSWER LATER. Why? This could be a great opportunity for you to finish the interview, go research that question, and email the answer to the interviewer. This is your way of saying, “I don’t know everything, but that won’t affect you as my manager. Even when I don’t know something, I’ll go find the right answer and get it to you as quickly as possible.”
Many interviewers will leave some time at the end of the interview for you to ask some questions. This is a great opportunity to continue learning about the company and the job while building rapport with the interviewer.
So look for opportunities to engage with the interviewer depending on their answer to the question
I recommend asking two or three questions at most, and it helps to have some questions prepared ahead of time just in case you need them.
Here are some questions you can ask if they haven’t already been answered.
This question shows that you’re already thinking about how you can contribute if you get the job.
But it’s also a chance for you to think seriously about whether you want this particular job. You might hear about the day-to-day and think it sounds awful—that would be a sign you might not be a good fit.
A great opportunity to show that you’re already looking ahead for problems to solve if you get the job. This will give your interviewer confidence that you will contribute to the team and that you want to make a meaningful impact as soon as possible.
Let’s walk through the post-interview phase
After each interview, it’s a good idea to send a short email to your interviewer, thanking them for their time.
Along with this part of the course, I’ve included a very simple template you can use so you can see how short the email should be.
One word of caution here: Do not call them, even if you have their phone number. That’s just too personal. A short email is ok but calling is too much. If you don’t have their email address, you can ask the recruiter to thank them for you.
One of the toughest parts of the interview process is waiting to hear back from a company after you’ve finished interviewing. You want to know if they’re going to make an offer, but you don’t want to come across as pushy.
Recruiters and hiring managers are usually pretty busy, and your interview is one of many things that did that day. If you don’t hear from them, it could be because they’ve decided not to move forward. But they also might have just gotten behind on their work.
If you don’t hear anything after about a week, it’s ok to reach out and ask for an update by sending a short email to touch base and ask about next steps. I’ve included a template you can use for this email along with this part of the course.
You can keep reaching out about once a week until you either hear back, or until you are pretty sure they’re not moving forward. If you don’t hear back within three weeks after your interview, they’re probably not moving forward.
Go to https://fearlesssalarynegotiation.com/ufeng for a free guide on how to ace your interviews.
Job Interview Preparation Workshop at The University of Florida