Taking Ownership of Your Interview, Part 1

Interviewing does not have to be an intimidating experience. Certainly there may some excitement about the prospect of landing a great new job. But in the end, if you are the right fit for the job, the pieces will fall into place.

There are many good interviewers representing companies out there. And, there are many who are not so good. Keeping in mind that the goal of an interview is to executing a comprehensive review of all relevant facts about the candidate, you would be surprised how many interviewers miss the mark.

Interviewers don't always ask all the right questions or probe deeply enough to get the relevant information during the interview. It's best to assume that YOU will have to ensure all the pertinent information gets shared. In essence, you have to take ownership of the interview even though you're not the one asking the questions.

The first step is preparation

Like many have advised in the past, preparation is a key to a good interview. You will be measured by your enthusiasm and interest in what they are offering. Showing you have invested some of your own time learning about the company and being prepared for the interview will convey as much about you as the answers to their interview questions

Incidentally, good preparation leads to less nervousness during the interview. With a solid preparation methodology, your interview materials are your security blanket to rely upon during the interview. Sometimes, without a safety net, you can feel unsure of yourself or more prone to rush into a less optimal answer.

How to prepare

Although most candidates know that preparation is essential to an interview, many only do half the work. Some try to predict what will be asked, and build their "canned" responses. This is not what I call "taking ownership of the interview."

Preparation needs to include building a checklist of topics YOU want to cover during the interview. This checklist will have all the essential items that will convince the interviewer you have the proper skill set for the job. Just like going to the grocery store, having a list focuses you on what you need and do not need. In the interview, it ensures you cover the items you want and do not go on useless tangents.

During an interview, it is easy to panic a little and say the first thing that pops into your head. A checklist is your "safety net" to reference if you get stuck. You keep it handy during the interview and check off items as they are shared with the interviewer.

Building your checklist is simple and has three steps

  1. On the left side of your desk, put the job description and any other company information you may have regarding the job description. Put your resume to the right. Then put a blank sheet of paper next to the resume.
  2. Literally connect requirements and company info on the left with the resume experiences and skill set on the right. Hopefully, you create a complex web of connections as you may connect a requirement to several spots on your resume. And several requirements on the left may link to the same experience on the right. These connections are checklist items.
  3. Build your checklist by listing the requirements along with the best examples of your ability and experience. You should include boxes to check off as you interview. You don't need to write out details, as all you will need is some key words to remind you of the example(s) you want to share. For example, your list might include:
    • SAP experience: Project Ginger at Company XYZ; using since 2004
    • Web Graphics: Project JoJo at Company ABC; Won the Peanut Award for outstanding design
    • Teamwork: Worked on several teams (X, Y, Z); led effort of team at Company XYZ on project for Client123.

You get the idea. The list becomes a super-concentrated version of your resume. By the way, it's all right if your interviewer sees your checklist, as this just makes you look more prepared for the interview. And, in reality, it makes their job easier. Make sure checklist items are in priority order so you can visually spot items near top that still are not covered toward end of interview.

Of course, preparation also includes learning as much as you can about the company. You might make a connection with your interviewer from this research (common clients, associations, schools, similar projects and/or processes). Don't stop with just the company website. Leverage online search engines, LinkedIn and other relationship marketing tools. Archived articles on the company can be a wealth of information. If you are working with a recruiter, make sure he or she has given you more than a job description. They should know about the corporate culture and team, recent history, and position requirements that are not posted.

In Part 2, I will discuss how you will leverage your preparation during the interview and make sure all these key points are shared. You can take ownership of the interview even though they are asking the questions.

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