5 Things I Tell Every Candidate Before an Interview

Dec. 8, 2017

Sara Garlick Lundberg

Do your homework. This sounds like a no-brainer but it bears repeating. Show that you’ve invested time into understanding the opportunity in front of you by researching your prospective employer’s senior staff, finances, board, programs or business lines. If the organization or its key staff has been in the news or online discussions recently, know about it. Being able to comfortably and confidently discuss recent happenings within and surrounding the organization shows that you’re taking the opportunity seriously.

Know how to frame yourself. One of the most common first questions among interviewers is “so tell me about yourself.” Have a two to three-minute description of your professional self and how you got where you are. This short description should highlight your experience and accomplishments as they’re relevant to the job (managing a team, a growing revenue etc). Why only a few minutes? Most people ramble and lose focus— if you aren’t careful, what feels like a five-minute introduction could easily devolve into 10, at which point you’ve lost your audience. Keeping it short and focused shows the interviewer that you’ve put thought into how to present yourself and allows the interviewer to ask you to expand on areas that are of interest. Remember that you aren’t there to share your entire life story—respect the interviewer’s time and let them guide discussion to what they find interesting.

Nail your anecdotes. The way you share stories of your professional successes will show someone how you work and who you are. I get frustrated when people insist that they’re an accomplished leader or a strong manager but can’t give me a meaningful example. Show me, don’t tell me. Make sure your anecdotes have a clear beginning, middle and end that speak to your role in effecting change. For example—there was a problem, you led the identification of a solution, and the end result was positive outcome “x.” Keep it simple.

Be yourself. Earlier in my career I spent too much time worrying about presenting a certain way— strong, nimble and energetic. Don’t make this early-career mistake. You want to present the best version of yourself: strengths, area for improvement and all. Compelling leaders are accomplished, yes, but just as importantly, they are self-aware—confident of what they know and aware of what they don’t. No one has had a perfect career, but own yours and show what you’re learning and aware at each step of yours. And last but not least…

Tell the interview what you can do for them. If by the end of an interview you haven’t given the interviewer a sense of what you’ll do for him/her, you’ve failed the interview. Let them know, whether through your prior accomplishments, professional passions, or long-range goals, what you will bring to the table and why you should be the one they choose for the position.