Category: Interview Prep


Do You Need to Improve Your Interview Skills?

Most people need help improving their interview skills. Even those who think they do well in interviews.

We all have blind spots when it comes to interviewing. And even if you’re naturally good at interviews, there are some novel things you can do in your next interview to increase your chances of landing an offer.

How to improve your interview skills

1. Go in with a solution in hand

Most job seekers don’t think far enough into the future when going into an interview. They’re only preparation involves trying to answer commonly-asked interview questions, and considering what salary they want.

But your goal isn’t to be like most job seekers. Your goal is to stand out above the competition.

You do this by thinking beyond the offer and anticipating the problem the company needs the employee to solve. Then, you prepare a possible solution to present, one you might can implement once hired.

To learn how to uncover the problem and prepare your solution, check out my post, “Modern Interview Advice to Make You Stand Out From the Competition.”

Modern Interview Advice to Make You Stand Out From The Competition (Re-Post)

2. Give unique and honest answers to common questions

Old habits die hard, so a lot of employers ask the same old pointless interview questions they’ve always asked. This doesn’t mean you should keep giving the same old answers you’ve always given to these questions.

There are ways to give more unique yet honest answers to these questions. This keeps you from sounding like all the other candidates.

To freshen up your answers to stale interview questions, check out my post, “How to Handle the Most Pointless Interview Questions.”

How to Handle the Most Pointless Interview Questions

3. Prepare for exercise-based interviews

Some employers have wised up and stopped asking pointless interview questions. Instead, they’ve started conducting exercise-based interviews.

This interview method requires you to perform various skills, instead of just having you verbally describe your abilities.

Although this method has been around for a long time, it’s become more popular among employers in the past few years.

Do you know how to prepare for such an interview? Find out in my post, “What You Need to Know About Job Interviews of the Modern Era.”

What You Need to Know About Job Interviews of The Modern Era

4. Save time when preparing for behavioral interview questions

In addition to exercise-based interviews, behavioral interview questions remain a good predictor of your skills and work ethic. This is why they’re always so popular among hiring managers.

But there’s no way you can prepare for every possible behavioral interview question. Instead, you can be ready for just about any of these questions when you follow my preparation method described in my post, “The Secret to Answering Behavioral Interview Questions.”

The Secret to Answering Behavioral Interview Questions (Re-Post)

5. Be ready to answer the question, “Can you teach me something complex in 5 minutes?”

If you’re interviewing for jobs with highly popular companies, you need to be ready for less common interview questions such as this one.

To learn how to answer such questions, check out my post, “A Google Insider Shares His Interview Advice.”

A Google Insider Shares His Interview Advice

6. Know how to handle interview ghosting, before it happens!

As you may unfortunately know, interview ghosting happens all the time these days. But, you can reduce your chances of getting ghosted after your next interview.

Find out how in my post, “Did You Get Ghosted After Your Interview? What to Do Now.”

Did You Get Ghosted After Your Interview? What to Do Now

More resources

Videos

Blog posts

How to Write the Best Thank You Notes for Your Interviews

Update: I failed to clarify early on in the original post that a type written thank you note should be sent via snail mail. Thank you to one of my readers for bringing this to my attention!

This is the month we celebrate thanksgiving. Therefore, it’s only fitting to have a blog post about thank you notes for your job interviews.

I remember my senior year of high school was when I first learned the art and etiquette of writing thank you notes. For each person who gave me a graduation gift, I sent a handwritten thank you note.

I also was a debutante at the time. Every debutante was required to write a thank you note to each hostess of every party thrown for us. There were probably about 25 or more parties over the course of a few months, with about five to ten hostesses for each party. When you do the math, you can guess how much my hand was probably hurting from all that writing.

In fact, I think I spent more time those last few weeks of senior year writing thank you notes, than I did preparing for final exams.

But in recent years, I’ve noticed a significant decline in the practice of writing thank you notes. I have several friends I’ve bought wedding and baby shower gifts for, but I’ve never received a thank you note from them. It doesn’t bother me personally. It just makes me sad how some forms of thanksgiving are dying out.

Thank you notes are a job search strategy

Not only do most people not send thank you notes for gifts anymore, they also don’t send them for job interviews. In fact, when I first started doing career coaching 21 years ago, only 10% of job seekers sent thank you notes following their interviews. And guess what? This statistic hasn’t changed much since then, even though most job seekers know they should send a note.

But when it comes to your job search, you shouldn’t view thank you notes as a formality. Instead, view them as a strategy to further market yourself to the employer, even after the interview is over.

Don’t send handwritten thank you notes

The job seekers who do send thank you notes, often send handwritten ones. And some career coaches will even tell their clients to handwrite them. I don’t recommend this at all for a couple of reasons.

One, this is not a personal friend you’re sending a note to. You’re sending it to a professional business contact. The look and feel of your thank you note should reflect this.

Two, and most importantly, a handwritten note doesn’t give you the space you need to further sell yourself.

A typewritten note, on the other hand, gives you the space and opportunity to reiterate the things you want the employer to remember about you. This is especially important if you’re one of the first people they interview, or if you’re the one who falls in the middle.

A typewritten note also gives you the chance to mention anything you didn’t get the opportunity to discuss in the interview like you’d hoped.

How to format your thank you notes

So how should you format your typewritten thank you note?

You want it to be in the same format as your cover letter, which includes all the necessary pieces of information before the greeting. And remember, your thank you note is actually a business letter, just like your cover letter is. Therefore, you should have a colon after your greeting instead of a comma. A colon after the greeting distinguishes a business letter from a personal letter.

Who to send thank you notes to

Not only should you send a thank you letter to the main person you interview with, you should also send one to everyone from the company who participated in your interview. For example, if you interviewed with a search committee, you should send one to each person on the committee, and not just the chair of the committee.

Slightly edit each letter to personalize it so the reader knows you didn’t just send the same form letter to everyone.

When to send thank you notes

Always send your thank you note within 24 to 48 hours of your job interview.

In the meantime, you can also send a thank you email immediately after the interview. Just always make sure to follow up with a thank you letter via snail mail.

Conclusion

It’s important to show your gratitude for the opportunity of an interview. Doing so will make you stand out from those who don’t.

Related posts

Why You Need to Be Ready For Anything in Your Next Interview

Last week I wrote a post about possible questions you may face in your next interview. If you’re looking for work during the pandemic, you need to be ready to answer such questions. The questions I covered included:

  • What did you do with your time while laid off or furloughed during the pandemic?
  • Did you draw unemployment when you could’ve found work?

Some readers felt the second question was what they called, “off-putting.” I agree it’s a very blunt question. But it’s not illegal, nor is it inappropriate.

In fact, it’s a valid question for any company spending five to six figures in salary on a new employee. Especially if you consider how many people opted for unemployment in the early months of the pandemic, instead of taking job offers.

If you’re able to show you’ve spent your time wisely during the quarantine, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But for those who haven’t, can you blame the company for wanting to ask such a question?

Anything can happen in an interview

Job candidates have to be ready for anything in the interview. This includes:

  • Questions to test how you handle stress or how quickly you can think on your feet
  • Behavioral interview questions
  • Illegal questions the interviewer should know better than to ask but still does
  • Impromptu presentations or projects
  • And more

In fact, in my own past job searches, I’ve ran into some of the above situations.

Early in my career, I had an interview where I was given 45 minutes to come up with a program that could be implemented in the company. Then I had to present my idea to the interviewers. I was not told before the interview this would be part of the screening process.

On another occasion, I was asked an interview question that didn’t seem odd at first, but quickly turned odd. I was asked, “If I were to go to your list of bookmarks in your internet browser, what web sites would I see listed?”

I answered, “You’d see bookmarked sites related to my work, such as good resources for clients, and professional association sites related to my industry.”

Then the interviewer said to me, “Well, if you went to mine you wouldn’t see any, because I don’t spend my time playing on the internet!”

I figured it was best not to react to her statement. Instead, I smiled through the awkwardness, and quietly waited for the next question.

In addition, while observing other interviewers, I’ve heard C-suite executives ask candidates illegal questions, either because they didn’t know the questions were illegal, or they ignored HR’s recommendations on what not to ask.

And I’ve heard interviewers ask what I call “think-fast” questions like, “How would you describe the color purple to someone who was born blind?” I usually throw in a few of these “think-fast” questions when doing mock interviews with my clients to better prepare them.

Be ready for your next interview

Again, I say all this because job seekers have to be ready for anything in their next interview. Questions like the ones from last week’s post are going to become more common. HR experts encourage employers to ask them, and rightly so.

It’s up to you how you want to react to and handle these questions in your next interview. This can include the suggestions I made last week. And it can include asking questions of your own, which you should be doing anyway. Just make sure you yourself aren’t off-putting, even if the interviewer is.

Once you’ve done your research on the company, shown you haven’t wasted your time, gotten your own questions answered in the interview, and received a job offer, then you can decide if the company’s off-putting approach will be a factor for you when making your decision.

Related posts and sources:

How to Answer These Important Pandemic Interview Questions

If you’re interviewing for a new job due to a COVID-related job loss, you want to of course prepare for commonly-asked interview questions. But you also need to prepare for some new interview questions brought on by the current pandemic.

These pandemic interview questions could include:

  • What did you do with your time while laid off or furloughed during the pandemic?
  • Did you draw unemployment when you could’ve found work?

These are not illegal questions. My friend and colleague Cindy Beresh-Bryant, owner of HR Solutions by Design LLC, verifies these questions not only are legal, but are also very good questions for employers to ask. Therefore, you should be ready for them. Here’s how to answer them.

Answering pandemic interview questions

1. Be honest

First and foremost, always be honest in your answers to these and any other interview questions. Just don’t be too honest. If you didn’t use your time as wisely as you’d intended, you don’t need to go into detail about what you did. No need to say you sat on the couch eating chips and watching Tiger King on Netflix.

But if you’re in an interview, you obviously did something to help you land the interview. And if all you did during your time is conduct a job search, then discuss the efforts you took to help you land the interview. This includes updating your resume and reconnecting with your network through Zoom conversations.

If you have a valid reason for choosing to draw unemployment instead of finding work, be honest and briefly explain. For example, maybe you wanted some time away from work to upgrade your skills by taking online courses. Or you wanted to explore a new career and plan for a career change.

You can even talk about any personal development things you did during quarantine. For example, maybe you worked on a passion project or side hustle, volunteered in your community, exercised more, ate better, or spent quality time with friends and family.

When discussing this, you want to avoid sharing anything too personal that employers legally aren’t allowed to ask you about, or make hiring decisions on. For example, you don’t necessarily want to indicate which organization you were volunteering for, the amount of weight you were trying to lose while exercising, any health issue you were trying to eat better for, or the number of children you have and were spending time with.

2. Show results

In addition to showing how you’ve spent your time during quarantine, you want to show how those activities have made you a better person or better employee.

For instance, have the skills you’ve learned made you better prepared for the job? Have your improved eating and exercise habits given you more energy for work? Have you learned to be more creative and productive from the overall experience?

Results are always of most interest to employers, especially if you can quantify any of your results. Showing your positive results from your quarantine is the same concept I’ve previously discussed about emphasizing the results of your work in your past jobs.

3. Tell your story

These results make you stand out even more when you can tell the story that goes with them. Stories are what make you memorable to the interviewer, because no one else has the same stories as you.

Yes, “we’re all in this together,” and many people are experiencing job loss because of it. But everybody’s stories are different. It’s your unique stories that set you apart from the other candidates and burn a memory into the interviewer’s mind.

To learn how to put your results into a story format, check out my post, “The Secret to Answering Behavioral Interview Questions.”

Conclusion

These are unusual times we’re living in, especially in regards to work. The way work is done is changing fast, and will probably never be the same. The same goes for the hiring process. There will be new interview methods, your job interviews will be remote, and you’ll probably get questions you’ve never had to answer before.

Be prepared for questions like those above, and be aware of the illegal questions you shouldn’t have to answer (i.e. “Have you had any recent health issues?”). (Click here for a complete list of interview questions currently considered illegal.)

Follow the tips outlined here and in the resources below, and you’ll improve your chances of acing your next interview.

Related posts

How to Handle the Most Pointless Interview Questions

In light of coronavirus times, one of my Facebook friends posted this the other day:

“So in retrospect, in 2015, not a single person got the answer right to ‘Where do you see yourself five years from now?'”

I commented:

“This is reason enough to retire such an overused and pointless interview question!”

Pointless interview questions

This common interview question is just one of many pointless interview questions hiring managers and recruiters continue to ask. I’m not sure they even know what to do with the answers to these questions when they get them. Kind of like how a dog probably wouldn’t know what to do with the car he chases if he ever caught it.

One article, written specifically to hiring managers to help them ask better questions, states these questions don’t make good use of the limited interview time, don’t reveal anything of value, and don’t impress the candidate. (Remember, they’re supposed to impress you too. Interviewing is a two-way street!)

Yet, interviewers continue to ask these questions. Maybe because it’s just how they’ve always done things. Therefore you still have to be prepared for them. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t give better answers than the average candidate.

And you should also be prepared for new alternatives to these questions. Just in case one of these interviewers happens to get a wild hair and try something new or different.

How not to sound like every other candidate

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When answering overused interview questions, always avoid using canned answers.

For instance, when answering, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, don’t say, “I’d like to be working for your company, in a stable senior position, I’ve reached through steady progression.”

Instead, you can respond using your own personal vision and mission statements as the basis for your answer. You don’t have a personal vision or mission statement? You must’ve missed all my other posts about the importance of having a personal vision and mission statement.

These statements reflect the things most important to you, the values you possess, and the talents you have to offer. Therefore they’re unique to you. No one else will have a vision or mission exactly like yours.

And because they’re based on your long-term values, your vision and mission remain rather consistent. They evolve over time instead of changing on a regular basis. Therefore, at least you know whatever you’re doing in five years, it will be in support of your vision and mission.

To learn more about how to develop a vision and mission that are authentic to your values and talents, check out my book: Personal Branding: Why You Need to Know What Makes You YOUnique and AWEthentic.

“What’s your greatest weakness?”

Another pointless interview question is, “What’s your greatest weakness?” No one likes this question! But it’s likely you’ll still get it in your next interview. Again, don’t use canned answers when responding.

For instance, don’t say:

  • “I’m too much of a perfectionist.”
  • “I work too hard.”
  • “I’m a bit too passionate when it comes to my work.”

Instead, respond using the tips I shared in my post, “How to Answer ‘What Is Your Greatest Weakness?’“. These tips include:

  • Understanding why this question is being asked.
  • Listening to how the question is asked.
  • Not negating your strengths.
  • Never answering with a trait.
  • And knowing how to follow up with a positive.

Click here for more details.

“If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”

Personally, I love this question. I think it’s one of the easiest questions to help you communicate your skills and strengths.

To answer it well, just think of one of your best skills and what animal represents that skill. For example,

  • Strong leader = a lion.
  • Clear communicator = a dolphin.
  • Adaptable to different settings = a chameleon.
  • Wise decision-maker = an owl.
  • Good at conflict resolution = a dove.

You get the picture. Just don’t forget to include why you chose a certain animal! Then follow it up with one specific and interesting example of how you’ve demonstrated this particular skill in the past.

Alternative interview questions to be prepared for

Some interviewers have caught on to the pointlessness of these types of interview questions. Therefore they’ve come up with alternative ways to ask the same question in order to solicit a more honest response. As a result, you should be prepared for questions like:

  • “What annoys you?” (I personally know a recruiter who asks this in place of the “greatest weakness” question.)
  • “If I asked your references what your biggest weakness is, what would they likely say?” (This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to ask your references this question, but you can never be sure.)
  • “How can you make an impact on this company in the first 12 months of the job?”
  • “Tell me what you’ve accomplished in the last five years.” (This is a better question because past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.)
  • “What would your boss, co-workers, and staff all agree about you?”

If you need help determining how to best answer these questions, consider some of paNASH’s one-on-one career coaching services.

Conclusion

Old habits die hard. This includes interviewers’ habit of asking pointless interview questions. So make sure you’re prepared for the predictable. And be open to and refreshed by the occasional unexpected questions. Remember, the kind of questions an interviewer asks says a lot about a company.

Related sources