How to Ace Your Job Interview

8 months ago

(Original post: House of Hensen)

Jessica Hensen has been in recruiting and hiring for 11 years, and she’s been at Red Ventures for nearly 9 of them. She’s now a Recruiting Manager and leads our Experienced Hiring Team, where she’s responsible for hiring all mid-to-senior level business roles at RV.

During my recruiting experience I’ve conducted hundreds, maybe thousands of interviews, and I’ve been part of hundreds of hiring decisions for a wide variety of positions.  Through this experience I’ve definitely found common themes for those who are successful in ultimately getting the job, and I’ve summarized those for you below.

Note: Keep in mind that at the end of the day, you never want to take a job that isn’t right for you.  As hard as it can be getting turned down, you don’t want a job that you aren’t qualified for or that isn’t the right culture fit.  Interviews are meant to identify the best person for the job, and you must be yourself and trust the process.  Use these tips, but also be authentic and your true self when interviewing.  Good luck!

Great Interviews Start with a Great Resume 

Without the right resume you won’t get the interview in the first place.   The best practices here are simple:

  • 1-2 pages. Period.  Even if you have 30 years of work experience it’s 2 pages max.  Recruiters and hiring managers aren’t going to read past that amount plus resumes should be summaries – not an autobiography.   Keep bullets (not paragraphs) short and concise.
  • Clean formatting goes a long way!  I can’t tell you how many resumes I decline because I can hardly read it because the formatting is so poor (even senior level candidates).  Find a clean template online and use that to get you started.  On average recruiters take anywhere from 30 sec – 2 minutes to review your resume – if it’s not easy to follow, your chances of moving forward are much lower.
  • No typos. Proofread, then have someone else proofread, then proofread again.
  • Cover letters are a dying art.  Include them only if they are required or if you have something to add color to that is not listed on your resume.  A great example of this is explaining a gap on our resume or why your last position ended.  If you are going to include one then it needs to be great – not a template you copy and pasted from the internet.

Research the Company Thoroughly

Do your research on the company beforehand and go beyond the basics.  This will help you immensely in responding to questions, asking great questions of the interviewers, and will also help you determine if the company and role is the right fit for you.  Remember, you should interview them as much as they are interviewing you!  Here are some things to include in your research:

  • The person you are speaking with – what do they do at the company, how long have they been there?  Do you have anything in common?
  • Why are you interested in working there?  You will likely get asked this question specifically.
  • What is their culture and environment like?  How is it similar or different to where you’ve worked in the past?
  • What is their business model?
  • Have they been in the news lately?
  • Can you find reviews online?  Glassdoor is a good resource for this but also remember that reviews tend to skew more negative b/c the happy people rarely think to write a review about it.
  • What is their reputation like in the community?

Be Concise

I frequently begin phone interviews by asking candidates to briefly walk me through their story/work history.  I ask them to keep things high level and walk me through their background and experience as an overview.  I kid you not, sometimes 20 minutes later I have to jump in and interrupt them!  It’s easy to want to make sure you don’t leave important things out but remember the conversation should have back and forth and no response should be over a few minutes.  In addition to learning more about their backgrounds, I am also looking to see if they can successfully do what I’ve asked and are intuitive enough to realize when they are being long winded.  If we hire them and they are asked to give an overview of their work in a meeting, are they going to take 30 minutes to do that?  You see, what happens in interviews can be a direct correlation to the performance on the job and I’m looking for those cues during my conversations.

Being long-winded is also feedback I get from many of our managers at the 1st and 2nd onsite interview stage.  It’s very common to have candidates come in that take way too long to answer every single question they get asked.  You really need to look for cues when someone is ready for you to move on or even stop and ask if you are providing the right level of detail.  It’s always better to get clarification and ask than go down an unnecessary rabbit hole.

Know Your Strengths and Opportunity Areas

I’m always surprised at how such a simple question can throw people off and how many people give very generic responses to this question.  Before you go on any interview, you should write down your strengths and opportunity areas and specific examples within each.  Going back to past performance reviews is a great way to do this and even bring your reviews up in the conversation.

It’s also important to know that opportunity areas or weaknesses are okay!  If you give an inauthentic answer to this question like “my biggest weakness is that I work too hard”, it makes it seem like you can’t admit your faults or have too big of an ego.  We see right through those responses immediately.  The main thing companies want to hear is that you have been working on and seeing improvements in your opportunities – not that you don’t have any.  An example of a good response might be “I’ve been working on improving my communication skills.  I tend to lack confidence in larger group settings but I’ve made strong improvements on this over the past year and have received positive feedback from my manager.”  In this response I was honest with the opportunity area but immediately spoke to improvements.

Have Work/Project Examples Ready

While preparing for an interview, think through examples of recent projects or scenarios you’ve been in, what the results were, and the feedback you received.  You are either going to get asked specific behavioral questions, like “tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager”, or asked to provide examples in a response you are giving.  For example, if you mention receiving strong feedback on her leadership skills, I might follow up by asking about a challenging situation you’ve faced as a leader and how you handled it.  Another example is, if you say you drove strong results in your business unit this year, I might follow up and ask what the specific metrics were that you hit to determine that success.  It can be difficult to think quickly when you’re nervous so it’s good to prepare in advance for these types of questions.

Ask Great Questions

I’d say there is a 95% chance that every single interviewer will ask if you have any questions and the types of questions you ask tells us a lot about your potential fit.  Do you read a bunch of generic questions from your notebook and ask every person the same thing or do you cater to your questions to the conversation or specific role someone is in?  Interviewers actually like getting asked strong or sometimes difficult questions because it shows intellectual curiosity and that you are taking the interview and job search seriously.  It’s okay to prepare some in advance but make sure you cater them to the conversation and interviewer so it doesn’t feel so scripted.  A few questions are always better to save for the hiring manager or recruiter such as;  working hours, compensation, and other benefits.

I hope that these tips have been helpful  if you are currently or will sometime in the future be conducting a job search.  As I said above, you ultimately want to be yourself, but use these tips as a guide for the conversation.  Good luck!

Want more tips from RV Recruiters? Check out 7 Resume Tips to Get you Hired, or A Day in the Life.

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