There are common features exhibited by talented professionals who manage to land great career opportunities, which are not extremely obvious unless you look closely. While the ability to influence at an interview will come natural to some, there are ways of thinking and communicating at the interview which we can manage and prepare.
Here are some tips that you probably won’t find anywhere else. They are real and practical. They are not basic, obvious concepts like “turn up on time” and “research the company” (although they are both important). These tips focus on the essence of building a successful career, understanding your audience and demonstrating connections and qualities that matter.
1. Understand where the key challenges lie for the interviewer
Typically the line manager interviewing you will have a variety of pressures, projects or changes they are trying to manage. In accounting and finance functions, there are commonly issues that other people in the team or the incumbent have not addressed. Find out what these challenges are before attending.
Once you understand what these issues are, you will be able to predict the areas of angsts and comfort the interviewer with your ability to solve problems that matter. You will be able to discuss experiences and achievements you have that capture their interest, rather than talking through the great things you have done that will not mean too much in the manager’s world. Many people don’t research these challenges enough and go in with a generic story.
2. Buzzwords and acronyms – talk their language
Let’s accept that there is often a bias of the interviewer, whether we like it or not. The need for interviewers to find people who “get them” is so common it isn’t funny. One way to bridge any gap, especially if you are interviewing for a role in a new industry or with a manager who has been with a company for a long time is to use terms that are familiar to them (even if they are not familiar to you). This means, considering industry slang and instead of using the term that you are used to, tie in the industry term that they would use.
3. Understand the company’s business model
Consider the way that the company makes money and the methods it uses to do so. There are many industries that may seem different from the outside in terms of their product or solution, but the supply chain, cost base or structure may be similar. This will help you consider the issues in the business and talk about relevant achievements you have had in your career.
For example, a university and a casino actually have many things in common although one sits in the education industry and the other in gaming and entertainment. They both use a large property to attract customers with a variety of other services on the property such as accommodation, food/beverage services and parking. The assets need continual development and assessment, so there are typically a number of capex projects occurring at the university and the casino. In both environments, there are a range of departments and stakeholders that are aligned to the various services. As a result there are a diversity of relationships and “sub-cultures” in departments. When interviewing, understanding these connection points will help you predict areas of relevance or gaps to cover during your interview. Being able to join the dots and compare companies also shows you “get it”.
4. Permission to sell yourself
While it is important to present the benefits of hiring you, do not make the interview all about yourself. You should invest your initial energy into talking about experiences and questions that the interviewer is asking about. They need to feel comfortable that youcan listen and present a response in line with their question. However, based on your research and thinking about the value you can offer, there are always areas that may be missed by the interviewer’s questions or opportunities for you to stand out. How you broach these areas is crucial. Rather than simply talking about another area of experience without being prompted and “talking at” the interviewer, you should consider asking the interviewer a question about an area where you can demonstrate additional value.
You: “Lisa, can you talk to me about the state of your management reporting systems and how effectively they are being used?”
Interviewer: “That is a good question! Unfortunately this is an area of weakness at the moment and we would like to extract more value out of our reporting tool…..”
You: “That’s really interesting. I could potentially bring value in this area having managed a major project at company X where we solved some huge reporting problems in an effort to improve accuracy, transparency, efficiency and the ability to talk to the data…. It sounds similar to your challenge.”
5. Emotions are relevant
While an interviewer will typically focus on competency in an interview, they also know they are hiring a person who has a heart, goals and dreams. They don’t necessarily want to talk about every trip you have been on or what you thought of the 2004 grand final, but they do want to see how you feel and think about topics that come up in the interview. In many cases, the way you present these feelings or react to issues will provide an impression of how you will attack a problem or where you will thrive in your role. To make sure you are true to yourself and find an environment that you really enjoy, be thoughtful and honest and not robotic when it comes to sharing your thoughts.
Equally, ask the interviewer about how they feel about challenges they are facing in their role or career. How they feel about the future at their company and potentially what they would be thinking about if they were in your shoes. This creates a connection.
6. Have a vision
So often ambitious or talented professionals don’t have clarity on what they want to achieve in their career or in life. It is certainly OK if your career plans are not exact or highly specific (i.e. I want to be a CFO of a ASX 50), but in interviewing for a role, it is important to consider what it is that you want to achieve with the company and what you are really trying to achieve in your career. For example, this could be that you would like to play to your strengths which are in X, Y and Z areas, which ultimately could see you reaching a particular level and that you have done the research around what it would take to achieve this. Demonstrating awareness of your development gaps helps, as it will show a sense of self awareness and provide your manager with perspective on how they can help you grow and retain you.
7. Avoiding a “me, me, me” attitude
If you come across as high maintenance or focused only on what is important to you, it is highly likely that you will fail at interview, especially as you evolve into management and executive level roles. Almost all professionals recognise the importance of job and career satisfaction, so accept that it is important to find a role and environment that meets your expectations. However, it is equally important to connect where you can add value to the company and how the environment compliments your career plans. Essentially, you want to come to a “win, win”.
These are the interview skills exhibited by “guns” or talented professionals to rise above the pack and manage to land great career opportunities.
Do you feel like a “gun” after an interview or do you just feel like you've shot yourself in the foot?