Mastering the Employment Interview: Practice Makes Perfect

Originally published on The Campus Tap blog (June 28, 2017)

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.” – Vladimir Horowitz

Many job search candidates are afraid of interviewing or, at the very least, extremely uncomfortable with the employment interview. What makes the interviewing process so problematic for many is that a high percentage of hiring professionals (HR managers, recruiters, hiring managers) feel that today’s job candidates don’t interview well and can’t articulate their value proposition (what they can do for the company to improve performance) to a prospective employer.

Don’t believe me? Here is your proof. Test this out by asking any job seeker one simple question:

“Tell me why I should hire you and how you see yourself contributing to our organization in a couple of brief sentences?”

Sadly, you’ll find that many job seekers simply aren’t prepared to effectively answer this important question. In fact, most candidates will swing and miss, completely missing the mark, and ramble on during an interview never really highlighting how they deliver performance results within the role. Therefore, the candidate doesn’t convince the hiring authority that they can be effective within the role, and, doesn’t receive an invitation to the next step in the hiring process or job offer.

Taking it a step further, statistics indicate that greater than 90 percent of hiring managers believe most job candidates interview at either an average or below average level.1 This is a scary statistic, especially considering that it is during the interview that a job candidate can earn the job offer, allowing them to earn income and achieve their career goals.

Having trained over 5,000 college students and professional-level clients, I can validate the cited statistic’s accuracy through my many interview skills training sessions and mock interviews with clients. Most are in such a rush to blast their resume anywhere and everywhere through popular online job boards that they don’t take the time to effectively prepare for an interview as a part of their job search process.

I suggest that job search candidates take more time to prepare first before jumping directly into the job search. Start by building a winning, value-based resume. The task of improving your resume will force you to inventory your skills, experience, education, and accomplishments that are relevant to the targeted job. This will serve as part of your interview skills preparation, as you’ll need to know all the features, benefits, and value that you, the candidate, can provide to a prospective employer for their specific position.

However, there is more work to be done. It is important to note that interviewing is a skill, meaning it can be learned and improved over time with practice. As with any other skill, the greater amount of time spent practicing will lead to quicker skill improvement and likely better outcomes.

Here are three recommended steps of how to effectively practice your interviewing skills:

Create a List of Anticipated Interview Questions

A recent article in U.S. News and World Report2 lists the top 10 most commonly asked interview questions as:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What interests you about this job?
  3. Why are you thinking about leaving your job? Or, why did you leave your last job?
  4. Why would you excel at this job?
  5. What do you know about our company so far?
  6. Tell me about a time when …
  7. What would you do within the first 90 days in this position?
  8. What is most important to you in a new position?
  9. What salary range are you looking for?
  10. What questions do you have for me?

Additionally, I advise clients to include the difficult questions that they could potentially be asked during an interview. Job candidates need to identify their personal potential obstacles to success. Today, job seekers can‘t bury their head in the sand when it comes to obstacles to success. Some obstacles to success, or barriers to getting hired, might include lengthy (or prolonged) unemployment, numerous jobs in a short time period, credit issues (debt or bankruptcy), poor (or no) references, questionable background checks, or educational shortcomings. Significant time should be allotted for how to handle these issues should they be asked on an interview.

Write Out A Script of Your Responses

Start by literally writing (or typing) your specific answer to a question. Let’s cover the “tell me about yourself” question. Here is an example answer for this question:

First, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to visit with you today. I’m excited to be here and am looking forward to learning more about your position while sharing some of my relevant experience, background and accomplishments. My name is <Candidate First Name> <Candidate Last Name>, I am a recent graduate of Lynn University earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Management. While earning a 3.97 GPA, I completed two sports management internships. One with the Miami Heat and the other with the Miami Dolphins. Both opportunities allowed me to develop my prospecting and sales skills as I worked within the ticket sales department at each club.  I sold over $50,000 in tickets during my tenure with the Heat. In fact, I also earned the club’s coveted Intern of the Year award in recognition of my solid performance. My professional strengths include prospecting, consultative sales, relationship building, and project management — all focused on meeting aggressive performance objectives. I’ve developed a passion for sports marketing and more specifically sports sponsorship and ticket sales, and that is why I am so excited to be here today to learn more about your position. I’m looking forward to hearing more during our meeting.

Practice Verbalizing Your answer (Say It)

Writing out your answer is a great first step, but verbalizing it will help you remember it. The more you say it out loud, the better you truly understand how to effectively answer the question so you can sell it on the interview. In fact, as a job seeker dedicates more time to practice, they’ll be able to net down a longer script to the key talking points. A script is hard to remember, however, remembering a few key points is easier. Once these key points are remembered, then the job seeker can fill in the details during a live interview.

Let’s break down the above example to the core talking points:

First, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to visit with you today.  I’m excited to be here and am looking forward to learning more about your position while sharing some of my relevant experience, background and accomplishments. (THANK YOU) My name is <Candidate First Name> <Candidate Last Name>, I am a recent graduate of Lynn University earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Management. (EDUCATION OVERVIEW) While earning a 3.97 GPA, I completed two sports management internships. One with the Miami Heat and the other with the Miami Dolphins. Both opportunities allowed me to develop my prospecting and sales skills as I worked within the ticket sales department at each club. I sold over $50,000 in tickets during my tenure with the Heat. In fact, I also earned the club’s coveted Intern of the Year award in recognition of my solid performance. (EXPERIENCE OVERVIEW & SUCCESSES) My professional strengths include prospecting, consultative sales, relationship building, and project management — all focused on meeting aggressive performance objectives. (KEY RELEVANT SKILLS) I’ve developed a passion for sports marketing and more specifically sports sponsorship and ticket sales and that is why I am so excited to be here today to learn more about your position. (PASSION / EXCITEMENT FOR INDUSTRY) I’m looking forward to hearing more during our meeting. (CLOSE)

The script can be netted to the core talking points including:

  1. Thank you
  2. Education overview
  3. Experience overview and successes
  4. Key relevant skills
  5. Passion / excitement for industry
  6. Close

The candidate can now focus on remembering these points so they can sell their value to a prospective employer.

Practice is critical to your interviewing success. It will help you feel more confident and relaxed, while helping you sell your ability to succeed in the role the prospective employer is offering. Make it your goal to earn the job offer for every job for which you interview. The more practice you put in, the better results you’ll get.

Here’s to your success…through PRACTICE!

Sources:

Block, Jay A. 5 Steps to Rapid Employment: The Job You Want at the Pay You Deserve. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. Print.

2 Green, Alison. (2017, May 11). The 10 Most Common Interview Questions. Retrieved from: http://money.usnews.com/careers/articles/2017-05-11/the-10-most-common-interview-questions.

Photo Credit:

Flickr, City Year, by Elliot Haney

About the author:

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career.

He holds a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University, a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional.

Contact Bob Nealon via e-mail at Bob@CareerCoachBob.com.  Follow him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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