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How to shine in your next job interview

You’ve been dreaming about this opportunity for years. It’s your favorite sector, a company you connect with, and a position you’ve always wanted. They’ve finally noticed your profile and given you an interview. But, even though you have the skills, the experience, and the knowledge necessary to be successful in the job, just thinking about sitting down face to face with the person who will decide whether or not you’re worth hiring makes your palms start to sweat.

Job interviews: 3 keys to prepare for “D Day”

According to Lassi Albin, a member of IESE’s Executive Coaching Team, there are three main parts to managing any professional career:

  • Discovering what you want to do and what you’re good at.
  • Seeking out the training you need and a job that fits your aspirations.
  • Making it through the interview and hiring process.

The third point is really the cherry on top of this whole process, but we often give it less attention than it deserves.

There are many factors in a hiring process that will always be out of your control, but if you want to bring your full potential to your next interview, there’s just one recipe you need to follow: preparation.

1. Get informed

Find as much information as you can about the company and the interview. Try to figure out who is going to interview you, their profiles, when it will happen, the parts and tests that will be included, what you’ll have to demonstrate, the values of the company, its mission, its short- and long-term goals, the previous-year results, etc. Everything you learn beforehand will give you an advantage on the day of the interview.

2. Take care with your appearance and your setting

Whether your interview is online or in person, psychologically the image you convey is fundamental. Dress in the same style as the person who is going to interview you, figure out a way to determine what that will be, and organize your clothes a few days ahead of time to reduce the stress of getting ready.

If you’re doing the interview from home, make sure your setting looks clean and orderly. Choose a real background rather than a virtual one – which could result in more technical issues – and make sure you’re in a safe, calm, and silent spot with good lighting and a stable Internet connection.

3. Monitor your body language

There are other aspects of our communication that we sometimes don’t take into account but that are worth practicing because of the strong impact they end up having on the interviewer:

  • First, try to maintain eye contact with the person you’re talking to at all times and show that you’re paying attention.
  • Don’t interrupt your interviewer, which can be rather easy to do in virtual conversations and is quite annoying. When they finish speaking, leave a brief silence before you begin.
  • When you’re in an online interview, don’t have papers with notes on your desk. If you need to have written information to remember data, use post-its around your screen camera so you won’t have to look away.
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The 6 most common job interview questions and how to answer them

What do you know about this company? Why do you think you’re the ideal candidate? Why are you interested in this position? There are countless questions that can come up in a job interview and there’s no way you can anticipate all of them. But some of them are particularly common – and sometimes complicated – and those you can prepare and rehearse for ahead of time.

1. The star question: Tell me about yourself

This is usually one of the first questions that comes up in a job interview, since it helps break the ice and lets your interviewer get to know you a little better.

What not to do?

Don’t go through your CV line by line. The company has already seen your profile and they’ve called you because they’re interested, so it’s not the time to recite a list, but instead to introduce yourself.

How to answer?

The best option is to approach the answer like an inspirational story:

  • Summarize your life with personal touches and highlight the most important steps you’ve taken: where you’ve lived, why you chose your specialty, or why you started working where you did.
  • Add some details about the most important positions you’ve had in your career and a few achievements that fit the requirements of the job you’re trying to get.
  • End by saying that these are your skills, this is your experience, and that’s why you’re here: because you believe you are a good fit for this job and this company. This will give your answer more consistency.

If you’re still feeling uncertain, record yourself practicing this answer. It’s the story of your life and nobody knows it better than you.

2. The trick question: Your weaknesses

Before you answer, consider why your interviewer is asking you this question. They’re probably not interested in your specific weaknesses, but rather in making sure you can be open, honest and sincere in this conversation, whether you have something to hide, and if you are comfortable with who you are in all aspects of your personality.

What not to do?

  • What you should never do is say that you don’t have any weaknesses or that you can’t think of any, because this will make it seem like you haven’t prepared properly.
  • Don’t try to camouflage a weakness as a strength, like saying that you’re very “detail oriented.” That’ll make it seem like you’re just trying to look good, when what the company is trying to see is whether you’re human.
  • Try not to highlight any of the key skills for the position as a weakness; it’s better to choose ones that don’t work against you. And don’t make an endless list of everything you can think of to try to come off as very transparent.

How to answer?

The most effective thing to do is choose one or two weaknesses and explain them well:

  • Describe each one and give it context: where it happens, when, and what consequences it has on your job.
  • Explain what you are doing to overcome it and what results you’re seeing.
  • Be clear that, despite your efforts, you still have a long way to go to continue improving.

3. The uncomfortable question: Your salary expectations

Never go into an interview without first knowing the market and the value that your profile has in that specific position and in that sector. These days there are a wide range of tools to help you figure it out, but if you need to you can also contact people who work at that company.

What not to do?

From the outset, try to avoid the question in the first rounds of the hiring process. How?

  • Make it clear that you’re a good fit for the company, you’re interested in the position, and you connect with the company’s values, but say that you still need to learn more about the project, the team, and the responsibilities you’ll have.
  • Explain that you’ll be in a better position to give an exact figure in the later stages.

How to answer?

When the time comes, avoid giving a salary range:

  • If you suggest a range, you already know where the company will come down: they’ll only hear the lower number and you’ll be disappointed.
  • To suggest a specific number, think about a salary you’d like to earn and then add between 5% and 10%.

4. The practical question: Why are you interested in this position?

If you are applying for a position with the idea that in two or three years you’ll try for a promotion, you may be at a disadvantage compared to candidates who are truly passionate about the job.

You don’t want to give off the impression that this is a mere formality in your professional career, so consider that if you want this job at this point in your career, it’s because you need to learn something from this new experience, so it’s the best place you can be today to get to the next level.

If you need some help clarifying your motivations, we have an exercise that could be of assistance.

5. The open question: Do you have any question for us?

This question usually comes near the end of the conversation, when you’ve had some time to size up the person you’re talking to:

  • If they’re someone who likes to talk, ask them about their own experience: “why you came to this company” or “what you like most about working here” will give you a more qualitative perspective on the company and will help you create a good connection with your interviewer.
  • On the other hand, if they’re someone who is analytical or introverted, ask more practical questions. If you’re drawing a blank, here are some ideas:
    • Why is this position open?
    • How will my performance be evaluated?
    • What do you expect the person in this position to achieve in the first six months?
    • What are the company’s goals for the next five years?
    • What is the onboarding process for new employees?

6. The unexpected question: When you draw a blank

No matter how much you practice, it sometimes happens. You draw a blank at the most unexpected moment, searching for information in your mind that won’t appear or simply with no idea what to say.

The best thing you can do in these cases is to take a brief pause and a deep breath. Don’t fill the silence with the first thing that pops into your head. Taking a moment to think for five or 10 seconds is perfect. Use that time to build a short and schematic answer.

Understand and manage your worse enemy in a job interview: Nerves

Whether you’re an executive or entry level, chances are that all the job interviews you do in your career will be marked by nervousness. Why?

  • According to Lassi Albin, although we change jobs more often these days, “we’re not used to exposing ourselves to the pressure and emotions that come with an interview.”
  • Plus, there’s so much at stake: it’s not just about getting a job, but inevitably affects much deeper and personal aspects like our family, security, stability, lifestyle, or identity.
  • Finally, it’s a situation that always happens live and in person, with so many variables that you’ll never be able to rehearse for 100%.

Now that you know the source of your nerves and that it’s completely normal, you can practice some strategies for being a bit calmer:

  • Consider that the person who called you for the interview chose you over other people. You’re there because they want you, and for the value you can add.
  • If it’s the most important moment in your career, practice the route you’ll take to get to the company before you go. Familiarize yourself with the setting and the entrances to avoid that added nervousness the day of the interview.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to practice; take your time to prepare in order to calm your nerves. Doing exercise and eating light and healthy meals on the day can help you feel more comfortable.
  • Talk before the interview so that you arrive in a more relaxed and communicative mood. Chat with the person at reception, someone you pass in the hallway…whatever it takes to avoid that half hour of solitude, anxiety, and silence in a waiting room.

In IESE’s executive programs you’ll build your strengths as a leader and perfect all the steps necessary to successfully tackle your next professional goal. Mind you, you’ll have to get through an interview to do so. Now you know how.

Quiz: How good are you at job interviews?

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