8 tips to feel confident, articulate, and in control at your next interview

6-tips-on-preparing-for-an-interviewGrowing my career in the male-dominated high tech industry has prepared me for one of the more stressful aspects of the job lifecycle: interviewing. Although I’ve certainly suffered from my own bouts of impostor syndrome, especially since I entered the technical field from a non-traditional background of English and publishing, I have been able to overcome this and hone my interviewing persona thanks to a lot of helpful advice. I’ve also gleaned tips about confidence, posture, and presentation from role models like Sheryl Sandberg, Grace Hopper, and Duy-Loan Le (who delivered the best keynote I’ve ever seen at the Grace Hopper 2010 conference). I enjoy sharing what works for me by coaching my friends and colleagues in the hopes that it can help them in their next interview or stressful job situation. Anecdotally, these tips seem to work well for all industries, not just technology. I hope that you will find them useful, too.

  1. Be engaged. Let your personality and enthusiasm for the job shine through. Make sure that you take a couple of notes so that you can put an impressive detail or two in your thank you note, but don’t take so many that you are not making as much eye contact as you need.
  1. Be prepared. To borrow a phrase from the 90s, “duh,” but hear me out. If a recruiter or potential manager calls to discuss business, and you’re in the car or otherwise engaged, ask to call back at a more convenient time. You don’t want to be responding to detailed salary or other questions without your head completely in the game, or you run the risk of making a costly mistake. Being prepared also means that you know to ask if the job title is negotiable, and that you fully understand the level at which you are entering the organization. Confusing and varying titles mean different things at different companies. If you don’t have this discussion, then you run the risk of entering an organization at a lower title and pay scale than you realize.
  1. Be ready to formulate articulate answers. I value the advice I received from my online moms’ forum about the right way to answer a question: Stop, listen, breathe, then speak. This has the two-fold benefit of giving yourself a chance to collect your thoughts and prepare a reply while minimizing the number of times you use “like” or “um.” This allows you to present the best, most polished version of yourself.
  1. Be sure to ask intelligent, relevant questions. A job interview is a two-way street, and you need to ensure that the company and role are as good a fit for you as you are for them. Transcend the hackneyed “what’s a typical day like?” and really dig deep for questions that will help you better understand the role and company culture. Feel free to ask what the interviewer likes and dislikes about the group, or what advice an outside consultant might give the company.
  1. Be aware of your body language. If you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s touching TED Talk, do it now. Confident body posture is an outstanding way to show your potential employers that you are professional and prepared. Before an interview, I practice a power pose for about 2 minutes by raising my arms overhead, and breathing deeply. This is best done in a bathroom stall for privacy’s sake.
  1. Be sure to save time to visualize. My friend, who just used this tip to get her new job as a professor, calls this my Jedi mind trick. I got this tip from a couple of guys on the sales team at my publishing company. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. Make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and give yourself a pep talk. Mine goes something like: “You deserve to be here. You are articulate, intelligent, and confident. You are going to [fill in the blank with desired outcome: get a second interview, run a successful meeting, get offered the job].” To accomplish this, I arrive at an interview at least 15 minutes early and wait for the bathroom to clear out, or do the technique in my car’s sunshade mirror. I realize that this idea sounds so corny, but just try it. Everything in me changes after I give this little talk. I stand up straighter, act with more conviction, and feel professional and together. You can put on this “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude in almost any situation: a big meeting, a first date, or any other potentially stressful encounter.
  1. Be prepared to negotiate. Once you have an offer for a job, be sure not to neglect the last, critical step. Think creatively about what is important to you: salary, benefits, vacation time, flexibility, stock options, travel and training opportunities, tuition reimbursement, anything else that has value for you. Realize that the way you prioritize these criteria in your 20s may be very different from the items that you value in your 40s. It’s normal that you would seek out travel opportunities in your 20s, for example, but might not welcome frequent travel later in your career.
  1. Negotiate. Once you have an offer for a job, be sure not to neglect the last, critical step. Think creatively about what is important to you: salary, benefits, vacation time, flexibility, stock options, travel and training opportunities, tuition reimbursement, anything else that has value for you. Realize that the way you prioritize these criteria in your 20s may be very different from the items that you value in your 40s. It’s normal that you would seek out travel opportunities in your 20s, for example, but might not welcome frequent travel later in your career.

Getting to Yes and Difficult Conversations are two excellent books that can help you to maximize your next job offer. For a bulletproof way to approach your next salary negotiation, check out the Get a Raise Prep School program and its sister site Work Options, which offers several templates for negotiating telecommuting, a higher salary, and other flexible options. Founder Pat Katepoo’s professional writing and solid research will enable you to effectively prepare and confidently negotiate the aspects of your job that you value the most.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my disclosure policy.

CharisAs a magna cum laude English major at Bates College, Charis Loveland never expected to find herself managing global projects at EMC. But she developed a passion for technology and its ability to transform the world while editing articles teaching SAP software. After leaving the publishing industry to work for SAP for 5 years, Charis joined EMC in 2012. She graduated with honors from Northeastern University’s high tech MBA program in 2013. Follow her blog and find Charis online at http://about.me/charisloveland, @charislove, and https://www.linkedin.com/in/charisloveland.

 

Image source: Interviewing Image via tjpeel.com via Nick at tjpeel.com; Bio pic via author’s father, Chuck Campbell

10 Things I Learned from Sitting on a Hiring Committee

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photo courtesy of Flickr user bearstache.

Back in April, I was part of a hiring committee, and it was our job to hire a new career counselor. Here’s what I learned from my first time on the other side of the table.

  1. A messy resume is a dealbreaker. If you can, send it as a PDF to avoid wonky reformatting.
  2. Don’t say in 40 words what you can say in 10.
  3. Unorganized writing suggests an unorganized candidate.
  4. An interviewee who can tell a story will stand head and shoulders above the rest.
  5. If we can’t clearly tell from your resume where you got your experience, we will investigate. If we still can’t figure it out, we will think you’re hiding something.
  6. For the ladies – if you absolutely must personalize your interview outfit, pick fun and tasteful shoes. Shoes won’t distract during the interview the way bold jewelry might.
  7. Take a breath and relax!
  8. If we learn in the interview that you probably won’t be happy in the position – in terms of culture, fit, and work-life balance – we will do you a favor and let another employer hire you for a job you’d like better.
  9. Be on time!
  10. Always send a thank-you note! Don’t get caught up in the paper vs. email debate. It’s more important that you pick one and do it.

Amy Annette Henion is a senior communications major with minors in theatre and East Asian studies. She basically lives in the theatre department office on the first floor of Ryder. Follow/tweet her at @amyannette37 and read her blog here.

The Career Fair – It’s Not Just for Seniors

Linda Yu is a senior majoring in International Business and minoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Finance. She has completed two co-ops within a financial management firm in Boston, MA and London, UK. She has studied abroad in Spain, Ireland, and England. Follow/tweet her at @lindayu925.

I have always been the type of person that gets nervous when meeting new people. It can be quite ironic how I am enrolled in business school because I’m a big introvert, the exact opposite of what business schools encourage you to be. So when I heard about the Fall Career Fair, the bigger of the two general career fairs that Northeastern Career Services hosts, I immediately disregarded the opportunity. At the time, I was a sophomore and on the search for my first co-op. The Career Fair didn’t matter to me because I already had everything figured out. I had extensively researched the companies I wanted to work for and networking didn’t seem necessary. I was planning on nailing the interviews and getting the job.

I asked myself: “Why not? What can I possibly lose?” There was always the chance of humiliating myself but I knew I had to let go of that someday. So I put on my best suit, a pair of shiny pumps, took out my portfolio into which I inserted 20 copies of my resume, and headed off to Cabot Cage.

Image from www.campusrec.neu.edu

Upon arrival, Career Services provided me with a detailed list of employers and their exact locations (I encourage you to research the companies in advance, you can find

the company list here).

Yes, it was crowded but not unmanageable. Students and alumni were constantly leaving and arriving. There was a room where students could get organized. I followed the map and went straight to the companies I wanted to work for. The extensive research I conducted proved to be both useful and useless at the same time. Employers were impressed with how much I knew about their company. However, I realized that I didn’t know enough about the company until I spoke to someone that actually worked there. The information I received from employers made me realize that from my original target list, I truly only wanted to work for less than half of the companies. This saved me time and spared my co-op coordinator many headaches.

I explored the fair further and talked to companies that I was interested in but didn’t know too much about. Whether there were internships, full time positions, rotational programs, or co-op positions, the companies there had so much to offer! It was interesting to me how companies in the same industry often had different selling points and I was able to gain exposure to various industries. Initially, the Career Fair made me queasy but it turned out to be fun and informative.

A week after the fair, my co-op advisor called me and told me that a top 20 company within the Fortune 500 wanted to interview me after they met me at the career fair. I was so surprised that they remembered me from the hundreds of students they had met that day. I went to the interview and a day later found out that I got the job! I was gloating while my friends were still searching for their co-ops. I guess they really should have gone to the Career Fair!

Image from Northeastern.edu

After completing 2 co-ops within a financial management company in Boston and in London, I now know that my reasons for fearing the career fair never really end. You are always expected to market yourself, to network with other people and companies, and to constantly learn. Some people will love the process and others will hate it. Some people will be better at this than others. For me, I guess the question to always ask yourself is “Why not? What can I possibly lose?”

Interviews are a two-way street

Most people, myself included, find interviewing for a job to be extremely stressful. As a job-seeker, you’re so focused on answering questions “right”, trying to impress the employer and getting them to offer you the job, that you can lose sight of another perspective that is very important – your own. Your opinion is just as important as the employer’s, even though it may seem like they’re the ones with all the power. Let’s be honest – interviewing is not so different from dating. You’re always flattered to get an offer, and prefer having the opportunity to turn someone else down rather than being turned down yourself. But accepting a job is more significant than going on a date with someone you may not be all that interested in, and before you let the flattery go to your head, make sure you think through your options.

Image from www.paulmullan.ie

Shortly after college, I interviewed for a legal assistant position working for a corporate lawyer. It’s been 15 years, and this interview still ranks as one of the worst, if not THE worst, interview I have ever sat through. Not only did the lawyer regularly swear in the interview (not at me, thankfully), but he also repeatedly insulted his female clients, claiming that they got their companies in a divorce or by being widowed, and had no idea what they were doing. I sat there thinking “Do you not realize I’m a woman?”, with no idea on how to handle the situation (pre-career counselor days!) and hoping it would be over soon. I walked out of that office completely unconcerned about whether I ever heard from the company again, because there was absolutely nothing that would convince me to accept a job working for that man. (And before anyone starts with lawyer jokes – I’m not criticizing all lawyers or the legal profession, simply the behavior of this one particular man.)

Of course, my example is an extreme one, and most interviews won’t be quite so dramatic and most red flags won’t be quite so obvious. But the point is a good one – you have an obligation to yourself to assess the merits of the job/company, to determine if the job is what you want, if it will help you accomplish what you hope to accomplish, and if it allows you to do the things that are important to you, both inside and outside the office. Each job-seeker has their own personality and their own priorities, and while I could not have tolerated the working environment I described above, it’s also true that some job-seekers would not have been bothered by it like I was.

So take some time to think about what is important to you in a job and in a working environment, and compare it with what you know about the job/company before you accept any offers. Does the job play to your skills? Does the work seem like something you’d be satisfied doing, or are you unconcerned with the actual work as long as the salary meets your financial needs? Would you like a job where coworkers socialize regularly, maybe outside of work, or would you rather just do your job and be on your way? What did you think of the manager/coworkers that you met, and how did they interact with each other? If you’re looking for flexible scheduling, does the job allow that, or is the schedule clearly defined? Do you have other outstanding questions or concerns that haven’t been addressed yet?

Image from Career Girl Network

These are just examples of possible questions you may want to ask yourself, but there may be other things that are important to you as well. Be thorough about your research. In addition to what the company tells you, use sites like glassdoor.com to see what other people have said about them, Google the company to see what has been said about them in the news, and try networking with any possible contacts at the company who may be able to give you more insight.