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Killer Series – 7 Steps to the Killer Interview
The mere thought of interviewing makes many people break out into cold sweats. In many ways, the interview process can cause so much stress, people lose their marbles. They may be as limp as a soggy cornflake by the time they actually sit down for the “BIG” talk. Do you remember your first ever interview? How do you think you did?
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned vet, the interview could still be a stressful event in your life. The fear of rejection is high and the anticipation of failure can be rather dreadful. Weak knees, sweaty palms, woozy stomach and cotton mouth are all some people can imagine when they think of answering the deadliest question an interviewer can ask, “So tell me about yourself” which, by the way, is technically not a proper question but, you get the point.
Anyway, what if I told you that you could ace an interview anytime you want and leave the interviewer nearly stupefied by your masterful self presentation, he’d have no choice but to hire you on your terms, would that be something in which you’d be interested?
Good… stick around then!
Yes, the interview process may put the fear of the devil into some people but after reading this article and practicing the proven techniques shared, the devil himself will fear you.
Following are the 7 Steps to the Killer Interview which can virtually guarantee you ace every interview from this day forward.
Step 1: Killer Resume
Your resume is usually the first point of contact that a potential interviewer will have with you. As such, you want to make sure that it leaves a blazoning impression on the reader. The resume is so important to this process; I may have to devote an entire article to the topic. For now, here are some key Dos and Don’ts of resume writing.
- Unless you’re a recent college graduate, don’t begin your resume with an objective. Nothing screams amateur more than to begin with a header like “Objectives:” Instead, start with something simple like “Overview of Qualifications” or “About.” It’s succinct and easy to digest.
- Do not use the term “Employment History.” Everybody else does and you’ll just be another rat in the pack. If you want to stand apart from the rest, use something like “Career Experience” or, “Overview of Experience.” Either approach will work way better for you in making that first impression.
- Don’t regurgitate your daily and routine tasks from one job to the next… that’s just “monkey work” and I guarantee you that no one cares and brownie points go way down. First of all resumes are tough to read as it is, why make it boring too? Instead of writing what your tasks are/were, exercise verbs in stating how you solved problems for your company or made them more money or saved them time and made them more efficient. In other words, your bullet points should begin more like this, Developed a new system that saved…, Implemented procedure that increased productivity by X%, Devised strategy that made the company $XXX in 3 months…, and so on and so on… you get the idea. Oh yeah… don’t forget to choose to highlight the accomplishments that are most closely aligned with the position for which you are interviewing.
- Please include your hobbies, awards and community service affiliations. This is who you are. Contrary to what many believe, no company worth working for wants to hire machines and buy people, they want to hire people and buy machines. Show them who you are. Besides, since most people present the machine, this will be another way you stand out plus it provides fuel for meaningful conversation and possible common interest connection during the interview… more on that later.
- Finally, under no circumstances include salary requirements. Even if the company insists, fight the urge to comply and tell them you’d rather discuss that in person.
- Spell check, proofread and then… save… print… send!
Step 2: Killer Cover Letter
Writing a Killer Cover Letter is definitely an art but can be easily mastered with a few pointers. Remember the cover letter goes along with the resume so here again is another opportunity to really present you. Don’t waste it!
Firstly, your cover letter is not your autobiography. It is not an endless pontification about your accolades and many talents. No one cares how long you can hold your breath under water before shaking and flailing like a fish on a hook (Unless they’re recruiters for the Navy Seals). What they do care about are the challenges their company faces and how you can help them overcome them. The only person that can let them in on that secret is you. The best way to utilize a cover letter is to use it as a way to align your skill set and experience with the position for which you are interviewing and the company’s goals.
To do this effectively, you want to use specific language and include certain elements to bring it home. Here are some key things to remember.
- Start by introducing yourself and stating exactly why you are contacting them; your language might read something like… My name is John Resume and I am writing you in regards to the Marketing Manager position you are seeking to fill in your Professional Products Division… simple, right?
- Next, state the main requirements of the position and then follow that with how your experience might fill their needs. Your language in this case might look something like… I understand that you are looking for someone who can do X and with my experience in Y, I know I can accomplish this with tremendous success…
- Conclude with a bold statement about their company goals and how you see your own goals aligning with them. Your language might look something like… I know that your company is spearheading many initiatives in clean air technology and I have done extensive community service work in this area…
- Keep your closing and salutation nice and simple. Your language might look something like… I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, John Resume…
Step 3: Killer Research
I wasn’t sure where to place this step because it affects the outcome of this entire process. Ultimately, I decided to put it somewhere in the middle since it impacts every step directly or indirectly plus, I like the number 3.
Skipping this step simply means you want the other guy next to you in the lobby to kick dust in your face as he refurnishes the corner office that was supposed to have your name on it… or was it? Research is vital to the interview process; it could mean the difference between the shredder pile and the resume that makes it all the way under the nose of the CEO.
Before you show up to interview, you want to know what you’re getting into… know the landscape so you can anticipate and navigate challenging situations. Be proactive in finding out all you can about the company, its mission, and its people. Done thoroughly, your research should cover 3 key areas, Company, Prep and Recon or as I like to call it CPR.
Company – know everything you possible can about the company
- Research the products and/or services the company provides and then summarize that into one sentence you can easily remember
- Go through the website and any paraphernalia you can find to weed out the mission statement of the company
- Make sure you look up their earnings for the last 12 months if it’s public knowledge – if you can get specifics on why the numbers look the way they do, even better
- Know about any special projects on which the company might be working or are sponsoring
- Know about their public service accolades
Prep – I’ve never been accused of being too prepared
- Study what you discovered in your research and make sure you know it well enough to carry a stress-free conversation
- If at all possible – have someone of prominence from the industry for which you are interviewing, conduct a mock interview with you before hand… this could yield a lot of insights you wouldn’t gain otherwise
- Know the three words you might use to describe yourself and be ready to give examples of when and how you’ve exhibited these traits in a past situation – ask your family, friends and colleagues for help if you need to for this one
- Finally, know the fair market value for the salaries paid for the position with your level of expertise – perform several comparisons across different firms and industries if applicable (Try www.salary.com)
Recon – fail to do this and your research and prep may be all for naught
- Take the mode of transportation you will use, the train, the bus, a cab or your car and drive to the interview location during rush hour before hand to gauge the amount of time you’ll need to get there – then add at least 30 minutes
- Visit the interview location in the morning to see what time people arrive, what they wear to work and whether or not they have coffee in hand
- Find a coffee shop nearby where you might sit, have a coffee and wait for your interview
With CPR covered, you are armed to the teeth with everything you need to kill the interview. Do you feel the stress lifting already? Hold on, you’re not quite finished yet.
Step 4: Killer Outfit
Now that you’re completely prepared to kill the interview, you need to dress to kill. So many people dismiss this element without giving it a second thought. Why would you want to distract your interviewer by wearing inappropriate, boring and uncomplimentary clothing to the interview? Take the time to choose an outfit carefully, it will be time and/or money well spent.
Remember the recon tasks you performed earlier? This is going to help you big time with choosing the right dress code. You should now know what the employees wear to work… right? If not, go back to Recon. The aim is to pick an outfit that compliments the company’s culture and dress it up just a tad.
For example, if most of the employees wear jeans and a t-shirt to work by all means feel free to wear jeans, a t-shirt and then dress it up by throwing on a nice, classic blazer… no rips and tears in your jeans of course. If the idea of wearing jeans to an interview scares you, don’t let it. As long as the outfit you wear is in line with the company’s culture, you will be viewed as intuitive… trust me. Just remember, your killer outfit is meant to kill them, not you.
Here are 7 “general rules of thumb” on interview outfits and overall appearance. These apply to both men and women.
- Keep at least one navy blue and one pinstriped gray suit in your closet at all times
- Wear light blue dress shirts or blouses whenever possible – this color conveys trust
- Keep the jewelry to a bare minimum – watch, 1 chain/necklace, 1 bracelet
- Earrings are for women only – sounds like a double standard but it’s still true
- Hide all body art unless you’re interviewing for the NBA, a rock n’ roll band or a biker gang
- Absolutely no beach wear or flip-flops (I know I’m not talking to you here but I’ve seen some whoppers.)
- Grooming is a must – combed hair, clean nails, clean teeth, pleasant body and oral odor (Again, I know I’m not talking to you but in the interest of being thorough…)
What makes a killer outfit for an interview is one that resonates with the identity of the company for which you are interviewing as well as represents your personal style. You have to decide what that balance is and then go for it. If all else fails, nothing is sharper than a navy blue or gray pin-striped suit with a white or blue dress shirt. Depending on the company culture you can choose to where a tie or not.
Step 5: Killer Discipline
An impression is formed about you in the first 3 minutes of a person meeting you. Many of us will decide whether we like a person or not in less time than that. What this means then as it pertains to interviewing is that you want to maintain discipline. Your diligence in preparing for the interview may seal the deal for you before you’ve even exchanged the first words of the interview.
The fact is that what you say means less to people than what you do. It’s an old cliché but it is universally true – your actions speak louder than your words… one thousand times louder.
There are a few simple rules to follow when it comes to interview discipline.
- Be on time for your interview – by “on time” I mean that if your interview is at 10 AM, you arrive between 9:40 AM and 9:50 AM. You want to be no more than 20 minutes early and no less than 10 minutes early. This gives you time to hang up your coat, accept a coffee graciously from the assistant, relax and collect your thoughts.
- Use the bathroom before your interview – this is the time to handle #1 only… handle #2 at home and check to make sure all your efforts in grooming are up to snuff. With everything in its place, there will be fewer distractions.
- Dial down the wind chill factor – you’re not the “Fonz”… being too cool will backfire quicker than a lemon with fire crackers in the muffler. Maintain professionalism, you don’t get brownie points for the “Clint Eastwood” cool factor.
Step 6: Killer Instinct
This is where you shine, where you combine your wonderful research and prep with your wit, charm and charisma. These elements taken in combination will give you the Killer Instinct.
Now that you are prepared and dressed to kill, you can calmly and confidently field ambiguous questions like the dreaded “So, tell me about yourself.” For the sake of clarity, let’s make sure we understand what is really being asked with a question (or not a question) like this.
What the interviewer is really after is, how and why did your experiences bring you to us and how will we benefit from the association. With this insight in mind, it will make it much easier for you to focus your answer on the parts of your life that directly relate to the company and the position for which you are interviewing.
This is to say that “So tell me about yourself” is not an invitation to tell your life story. It is however and invitation to tell the interviewer everything about you that matters most to him and his company. The caveat is you have to give just enough information to wet his or her pallet and leave it somewhat open ended inviting a probe for more information if he or she so chooses.
For example, if you had an interview for a Marketing Manager Position at Lancôme Cosmetics and you were asked the dreaded question; your answer might sound something like this.
“Well, I have always loved make-up, especially mascara which is the department I worked in at XYZ Company. The idea of accessorizing my look with cosmetics has always been interesting to me and that’s why my Thesis in Graduate School was about how much women spend on cosmetics and how it makes them feel. I spend a lot of time in places like Saphora just trying different kinds of cosmetic products.”
Do you see how that answer might resonate more with your Lancôme interviewer than something that started out with the following?
“Well I moved to New York when I was 12 years old and I attended P.S. 252 Junior High School before going to Midwood High School. My major in college was marketing and once I graduated I worked at…”
To your interviewer, the latter would not only be boring but somewhat disconnecting unless he or she too moved to New York at around the same age and had a similar experience as you did… not likely but it would be a lucky break. Personally, I am not willing to take that chance… are you?
Another element of the Killer Instinct is the “graceful refusal.” This is the art of refusing to answer an inappropriate question and have the interviewer be happy with it or at the very least respect your position. This is often a scary moment for many but it doesn’t have to be.
This moment often occurs with the money question. “So, what are your salary requirements?” or my all time favorite “How much do you earn at your current job?”
Now really, what does this question have to do with this interview? That’s right, absolutely nothing! So, why ask the question?
In the halls of Corporate America where I’ve worked for 15 years, this question is what I like to refer to as “sizing up.” This is a great opportunity for the interviewer to accomplish 2 things.
- See how confident you are and whether or not you are able to think quickly on your feet
- See whether or not your salary requirements fit into there pay scale
Regardless of the motive though, this is a question to avert at all cost in an interview. It doesn’t matter at what level you are in your career; this question is taboo from all sides. It immediately places you in a box and there goes any leverage you might have. And, if you didn’t come in with any leverage at all, you’ve essentially turned over your fate to the interviewer because once you answer this question, they get to keep the ball and decide where it lands. This is a no-no!
If you are asked this question, remain calm, pause and then confidently reply something like this…
“If we are going to discuss salary, I’d rather discuss a salary for this position that you consider to be fair market value and in line with my level of expertise.”
“I realize that this may be a standard question, however, I’d much rather confine our salary discussions to the parameters of the position for which I am interviewing and my level of expertise as I am sure you will agree that these are most relevant.”
In choosing a reply like the ones above, you avert the question and leave the door wide open for dialogue and negotiation. Furthermore, any interviewer would be hard-pressed to argue or rebut your position. At the very least he or she would respect you and you would have shown that you are confident and shrewd…BIG plus.
Whatever you do, don’t answer this question out of fear. I have never answered this question and I have used variations of the suggested replies above and they’ve worked every time. At the very least, trust your instincts and if you can’t trust yours (yet)… trust mine. I’ve been there and I am sharing my experience with you… leave this question alone and you will undoubtedly separate yourself from the many lambs that are doomed to the slaughter.
Step 7: Killer Close
You’re not quite finished yet. Now that everything has gone as planned right through the interview and you’re feeling great about yourself, no need to blow it by neglecting the little things.
The clincher to the deal may just be the Killer Close. It’s simple and may even be deemed trivial by many when you look at the whole. I on the other hand believe that more often than not, it’s the other way around. Without the close, all your efforts in steps 1-6 may be forgotten. Don’t forget that the interviewer may have seen many candidates before you and probably many more after. You just never know so it’s your duty to make sure that he or she remembers you and that you stand apart from the pack.
As my father use to say when I was growing up, “Dean, observe what the crowd is doing and do the opposite.” These are wise words that ring true in almost any situation and certainly in this one.
While others may forget this small detail, you will perfect a memorable Killer Close that will leave your mark on anyone you meet.
So, what’s the Killer Close all about?
This is where you crystallize all your efforts from step 1-6; it’s where you make sure that the impression you made is a lasting and positive one.
The Killer Close entails 3 simple steps and if followed could make all the difference in the world.
- The closing handshake – once your interview is finished, reach across to the interviewer with your right hand to shake his and then grip his elbow firmly with your left hand and say something like…
- No more than 24 hours after the interview, send an e-mail to the interviewer letting him or her know how much you enjoyed your meeting and are looking forward to another. Your e-mail should be succinct and personalized with one or two specific details of the interview. This emblazons you in the mind of the interviewer. It could read something like…
- Wait 14-21 days and if you have not heard from the company, send a follow up e-mail to say thanks once again for the interview and request that they keep your name on file. The purpose for this is to keep your name top of mind so that if other opportunities arise in the company, you are one of the first called. Your e-mail could read something like…
“It was a pleasure to meet with you and I look forward to meeting with you again. Thank you for your time.” Former President Bill Clinton is famous for this type of exchange. It’s a professional approach with a personal touch that makes people feel validated… use it!
“Dear Mr. X, It was a pleasure to meet with you today. I enjoyed our conversation especially when we discussed corporate social responsibility. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time.”
“Dear Mrs. Y, Thank you for meeting with me on (Date goes here). I realize that it is a competitive market and I understand if you have already filled the position for which I interviewed. Please keep me in mind and my resume, which is attached for your reference, in your files should another opportunity become available at your firm. I look forward to meeting with you again.”
Going beyond these 3 steps is not necessary unless working for this company is your ultimate goal. If that is the case you should continue to follow up via e-mail once every 3 months with inquiries about new opportunities. One caveat is that this could border on annoying and persistent… it will depend on the contact person and substance of your e-mails.
Well, these are the 7 Steps to the Killer Interview and I have used them all successfully on several occasions. I can share with you from first hand experience that these techniques work very well.
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