Interviewing strategies

Having spent five weeks talking about how to succeed in college, it’s time for me to move on to a new topic. For the next few posts, I’m going to discuss interviewing strategies. While I have discussed this topic in the past, there is always more to say and more new material to cover. Today’s post was inspired by an article by Hadley Malcolm writing for USA Today. Although her article was specifically intended to provide advice about how to negotiate salary, her tips are relevant to the job interview more generally. The article is based on a discussion the author had with Tyra Wyborny, the head of a college recruiting program at a large consulting firm. I’m going to quote the article directly, and then add my own commentary.

• “Prepare and practice. It’s OK to take notes into the meeting so you remember what you want to say. And run through a mock conversation with a friend or mentor ahead of time.” This is probably the single most important piece of advice that anyone can give you about interviewing. The more confident you are, the more comfortable you are. The more you know about the organization and your possible role in that organization, the more you will be able to convince the interviewer that you are a serious candidate. If you’re still in college, use your career center for mock interview experience. Whether you’re still in college or not, look online for lists of typical interview questions. (Also see Tip 42: Learn how to interview, Tip 45: Prepare for difficult questions, and Appendix K: Typical interview questions in my book.)

• “Be realistic in your [salary] expectations. Research market rates for your position so you know what’s considered reasonable. If you significantly over-ask, your employer won’t take the conversation seriously.” There are lots of resources that you can use to try to estimate a reasonable starting salary for many positions. Professional organizations often compile data on salaries by length of experience and geographical location. The US Department of Labor is also an excellent resource for information about job opportunities and salaries. College career centers also, typically, provide resources for you to use. (Also see Tip 9: Consider the cost of living in any potential geographic areas, Tip 13: Consider creating career fact sheets, and Tip 14: Use the US Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook.)

• “You can ask for other perks besides a raise, including compensation for transportation or parking, more time off or the flexibility to work from home a certain number of days. Those are all part of negotiating a compensation package, Wyborny says.” Make sure you do not raise the topic of pay or other benefits until you have actually been offered the job! (See Step 2: Envision a satisfying worklife and Tip 46: Know when to ask about salary and benefits.)

• “Don’t be demanding. This conversation is about the value you bring to the company, not your personal life.” In most instances, the organization is going to be interviewing multiple candidates. If you have made it to the interview stage, you are a serious contender for the position. Keep focused on the organization and how you can contribute. It’s true that interviews are a two-way street: While they are deciding if you’re a good fit, you’ll be using the interview to determine if you want to work there. But the emphasis has to stay on the organization and the work of the organization if you want to ace the interview.

• “Keep the conversation positive. ‘Make sure you’re always pointing out the value and skills that you’re bringing to the table,’ Wyborny says.” The stumbling block for many interviewees is the standard “Tell me about your weaknesses” question. Find a way to turn your weakness into a positive by explaining how you are working to overcome it. This means that before you go into an interview you have to (1) THINK about your weaknesses and (2) make a plan for how to overcome the weakness you want to use to answer this question. Btw, you only need to admit to one weakness! (See the tips in Step 1: Identify your skills and strengths, which can also help you identify your weaknesses.)