Whether you’re feeling age-insecure at your current job, planning a reinvention or trying to get back into the workforce, Dave Perlman, an executive recruiter and career coach, put together a getting started guide that is specifically targeted to a seasoned worker.
Many interview candidates fail because they simply don’t understand the situation. Interviewing is a pure sales play. The goal of an interview is either to get invited to the next round or to get the job offer.
In this article, I’ll offer some strategies to prepare for and ace your interview.
CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE
You must have the right attitude from the start.
- Be Honest You must be who you are. Posturing and pretending won’t work.
- Have Confidence You are a great candidate and you must believe that you are a great candidate. If you don’t believe this and project it convincingly, the interviewer will not believe it either.
- Take it Seriously You are talking to people who can, if they choose to, give you a large pile of dollars over the next few years. Do your homework, listen, take careful notes, and engage with them thoughtfully.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
- Research Learn about the company, its market, history, and leaders. Read their bios on the website and on LinkedIn. Google the company and the people who are interviewing you. If you understand where they came from you’re part way to understanding them. Look up the company on Glass Door, but don’t overreact to disgruntled or positive comments.
- Competitive Analysis If you can, identify the company’s competitors and prepare questions in this area. “What makes us better?” is a great question. Don’t be afraid to talk about the things you think they could learn from their competitors.
- Prepare Thoughtful Questions Think about what you want to know about the company culture, the team, and the company’s future. Your questions will define you even more than your answers.
BE READY FOR TOUGH QUESTIONS
- Know your weaknesses Try to identify the questions that give you trouble and talk to a savvy friend or a skilled recruiter about how to handle them. Develop short scripted answers. Write them down and practice saying them until they feel comfortable and natural.
- Be ready to talk about why you’re right for this role
Key for Older Candidates: You may often be perceived a “over qualified” in many cases, especially if you have held more senior roles in the past. This can be shorthand for “they’ll be bored” or “they’re too expensive” or “they’ll bring too much baggage”. Make it very clear that you want this job, not just a stepping stone into something more senior.
DON’T TALK ABOUT MONEY… YET
- Don’t introduce the subject of compensation. You will get more money if this entire topic is deferred until they decide that they want you.
- If asked about current compensation, tell the truth.
- If asked about your compensation goals, deflect. Try to avoid naming a number if you can, since it will be difficult if not impossible to negotiate upwards from whatever number you cite. You can say that your goal for the meeting is to establish whether there is a good fit, and that compensation is only part of your job satisfaction equation. You can say that you would be more comfortable having the recruiter, if you have one, handle this. Backed into a corner, always give a range, not one number.
Key for Older Candidates: You may be willing or even eager to receive significantly less than you got in past to learn a new skill or break into a new domain. You can make this point, ideally without naming numbers.
THE DAY OF YOUR INTERVIEW
- Eat a good breakfast early. Leave time to digest it
- Have a snack with coffee if needed to keep energy up and blood sugar consistent
- Remind yourself of your achievements to boost your confidence
- Remember your message and stick to it
- Review your specific answers to tough questions so they’re top of mind if you need them
- Give yourself plenty of time to get ready and to travel to your interview
- Find a peaceful place if you can, and make a conscious effort to breathe deep and relax
- Get into the right frame of mind with a little self-hypnosis
- “I feel good”: I am physically alert, emotionally ready, and supercharged by the anticipation of meeting these people.
- “I am raring to go”: I am here early because I have been looking forward to this. I wantto be here because it’s the right place for me.
- “I look good”: I checked myself in the mirror a few times. I like what I am wearing. I will make a good impression.
BEST FOOT FORWARD
- A genuine smile
- Make direct eye contact, and maintain it throughout the interview
- Introduce yourself to everyone in the room
- Use the interviewer’s name when you greet them. It will help to imprint it in your memory
- Give a good firm handshake
Interviewers usually do want to get to know you. One method is to tell stories about your experiences. Your stories should be:
- Short – no excessive detail, please
- Have a point
- Be relevant to the situation
Key for Older Candidates: If you’ve worked in one company or one role for quite a few years you may be perceived as being in a rut, habituated to one way of working, and unable or unwilling to adapt to new circumstances. Make sure that at least one of your stories illustrates that you can adapt, evolve, listen to the room and make changes quickly and cheerfully.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
- Interview the interviewer. Take this opportunity to evaluate whether you can be successful and happy at the company
- Be alert for clues about culture, expectations, politics and personalities
- Be confident AND modest – balance “I” and “we”
- Tell the truth
- Use examples but make sure that they are short and relevant
- Be enthusiastic but not fake
- Be respectful
- Listen…and let your interviewer(s) lead the conversation
- Take notes, but keep your attention on the person you are speaking with
- Ask smart questions that will allow you to demonstrate your value in follow-ups. For example:
- What are the challenges faced by the organization?
- What are the key goals for this position?
- Humbly show how your background/experience/industry knowledge would contribute to the organization
- Try to make it a conversation, not an interrogation
- Thank your interviewer(s) for their time
- Touch the interviewer
- Speak negatively about past employers
- Chew gum
- Tell your life story. Remember stories should be short, relevant, and to the point!
- Don’t be shy about your mistakes. Focus on what you learned from them and how you could handle the same situation better now
- Don’t be in a hurry to come up with a solution. When presented with a problem or hypothetical situation by your interviewer, listen carefully and think about it before making a quick diagnosis or offering a plan. Every situation has unique details, and what worked once for you may need adjustment or even reversal in the new situation
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
- Have patience Sometimes it takes a few days for multiple interviewers to correlate their impressions, especially if they are interviewing several candidates for the position. Don’t nag the interviewer or recruiter. If they want you they will get back to you.
- Send Thank Yous with caution Thank you notes and emails are a double-edged sword. Some people think they are great, but I have seen many cases where they actually sent a candidate backward. I don’t recommend sending them. Your time to make an impression is in the interview. If you must send a follow-up note, make it short, not too friendly, not desperate, not chatty, and not salesy. Be cool, calm, thank them for their time and express your interest in the role. Don’t introduce new issues or topics.
Dave Perlman has reinvented himself many times. He’s been a software developer, a motel desk clerk, a historian, a forklift driver, a CTO and a few other things.
Currently he runs his own high-performing executive recruiting firm from his home outside Boston. He handles career coaching and resume polishing as adjuncts to that business.
Read Part 1: Getting Started
Read Part 2: Networking
Read Part 3: Online Job Boards