#HRInsider: What you need to know before your next job interview

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The things a candidate needs to know to be successful during the interview process may seem overwhelming. If, however, you focus on these six need-to-know items, you’ll greatly increase your chances of landing that job.

Who you’re coming to work for

It sounds obvious but it trips up many interviewees if the organization has multiple entities, branches, or divisions. Understand the difference between the parent organization and the specific division to which you are applying. Get granular by looking at the job description to see who is doing the hiring and inform yourself about that particular division or department.

What the organization does

Again, this seems obvious but I’ve seen otherwise promising candidates lose points in an interview when asked “Tell me what you know about this company.” Here are real answers I’ve heard: “I’m not exactly sure, but it looks like you’re really good at it.” Or “That’s one of the things I look forward to finding out more about after I’m hired.” Neither of those is likely to put you at the top of the call-back list.

Don’t just recite the blurb from the About page on a company’s website. Dig deeper. For example, check the company’s LinkedIn page. Put forth an effort. It will pay off.

Current events

On a related note, have there been any events over the last 12 months that affect this organization’s ability to perform its mission, or that have caused it to change traditional policies and procedures? One recent candidate spoke confidently about her ability to work in a challenging location. The only problem was that the location had been shut down due to an incident widely reported in local media. Knowing these things will help you avoid making mistakes and help you better understand if this is an organization you want to work for.

What you will need to defend

Look at your resume objectively or ask a trusted friend to do it and anticipate things you may need to explain in a few words. Have you changed jobs frequently? Has there been an unpleasant exit from a job? Are you younger or older than most people seeking this position? Turn potential negatives into positives by being able to speak about them confidently, concisely, and unapologetically (but not defensively).

For example, an experienced worker applying for a job filled by younger candidates might say to the interviewer, “I know I’m not the typical candidate for this position and here’s why that’s an advantage…” Also, be prepared to explain claims you make about yourself in the interview or on your resume. If you say you are an exciting and inspirational leader or that you improved attendance to record levels expect to be asked, “What makes you an exciting leader?” or “Describe how you increased attendance.” If I ask you those questions and get only a blank stare it’s going to be awkward for both of us.

How hiring you will help me

Many resumes include goals such as “Obtain a position that allows me to use my many skills and talents while developing new ones.” Your goals are nice to see but I’m more interested in how hiring you is going to help me. Analyze the job description to see where your skills line up and what you’ll be able to contribute. Be able to clearly communicate what you can do for the person who will be providing your paycheck. Do you have a track record of longevity and attendance? Are you a person who can show me how you have taken on additional responsibilities and provided value to your employer? If so, make that case to the interviewer.

Lastly, what NOT to ask

Traditionally, a first interview is like a poker game with both sides playing their cards close to the vest.   A potential employer doesn’t want to show too much enthusiasm or disinterest and a potential candidate doesn’t reveal too much of his or her expectations at that point. The goal is to get further into the game where the stakes have been raised. I would not advise you to ask questions about compensation, vacation, accommodations, or benefits in the first interview. Your future employer knows those things are on your mind and you’ll have much more leverage to negotiate them once the company has shown its cards and declared their interest in you.

Investing time in researching a potential employer on the front end will pay big dividends on the back end. It sets you apart from other competitors for the job and demonstrates initiative and interest in the company, two things that are bound to make you appealing to hiring managers.

Need more help preparing for an interview? Explore these resources:

Lou Ella Hobgood is a learning officer for a large non-profit hospital and has been involved with a variety of training and learning for over 20 years. 

What has helped you shine during an interview? Any other tips to add? Share them in the comments.

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