Propel Careers

Tips for acing an interview By Lauren Celano, CEO of Propel Careers 

October 11, 2011 
by Lauren Celano 

Lauren Celano, CEO, Propel Careers wrote this article for Bio Careers as part of her monthly contributions. To learn more about Bio Careers, see link:

Congratulations! Getting that interview has put you on the path that could lead to a new job. The employer wants to learn more about you and why you might be a fit for the role, and now it is your time to shine. This article outlines a few ideas that can help you put your best foot forward before, during, and after the interview. I also outline a few key questions to help make sure the job is a fit for you as well.

Interviews are such an important part of the job search process and often times occur via phone, web/skype, and/or in person. They provide the interviewer (potential employer) with an idea of whether you could be a good fit for their team. They also provide the interviewee (candidate) an opportunity to determine if the company, position, and team are a good fit . Interviews are two-way assessments and it's important for both parties to remember this. To be successful in the job, the position needs to be a good fit for both the potential employer and employee.

Preparation for the interview

Tip 1: Research the company with which you are interviewing. You would be surprised how many people interview without doing a thorough analysis on the company, the products/technologies they develop, their management team, investors (if they are angel/venture backed), competitive market, positioning, etc. These among other factors are important to consider as you consider your next career move, no matter what the role. Many individuals are just happy to have an interview, especially in this economy, and often overlook the need to make sure the company is a fit for their career goals. If you are interviewing with a person and they ask you "so why do you want to work for us," and you cannot articulate this or at minimum know what the company does, the interview will likely not last long.

Tip 2: Research the people with which you are Interviewing. Typically, when you interview with a company, you will be given an interview schedule in advance indicating the individuals who will be interviewing you, their roles, and their departments. In addition to this information, you should (on your own) research these people – use personal references, linkedin, websites, Google, press releases, etc. This extra preparation will show that you are serious about the role, and more importantly about your career. With the resources at hand today, it is rather easy to gather background information about the company/people that you are interviewing with. For example, where they have worked, where they went to school, and former achievements, including publications. Maybe they went to the same school as you? If so, you have a common bond already. Maybe they worked with someone you know, or maybe their publications were in a similar field as yours. Their career path, companies they have worked for, people/groups that you may have in common are all useful details to know before walking into an interview. Besides finding background info to help you prepare your questions, finding commonality among people is almost more important to make a bond with someone. With the job market being so tough, anything you can do to differentiate yourself from others and create commonality, will go a long way.

Tip 3: Ask yourself why the role is a good fit. Hiring managers and the interviewers evaluating you want to know that you know why you are a fit for the role that you are applying for. Think about your transferrable skills and how they could solve problems for the company. Think about what other skills you bring to the company. Think about why your background is relevant. Companies will be pleased to see that you did your homework and that you are interviewing because you are relevant, and not just for the sake of interviewing. Companies spend tremendous time and resources to interview candidates – they want to make sure that candidates are being respectful of their time and being considerate of the time spent by the interviewing employees. Being prepared is the least you can do.

Additionally, practice with a friend, or a friend of a friend, to obtain unbiased feedback on how you are branding yourself. It is also important to know what emotions trigger your confidence, and which ones may make you more nervous. Run through scenarios so that you become more comfortable. Interviewing is as much about knowing yourself as it is getting to know others.

Tip 4: Prepare questions for the interviewers. Interviews are two sided. This is one aspect of the process that is most often overlooked. Always remember that you are also interviewing the company. Accordingly, you want to make sure that the company/role is a good fit. So many people think that they should be happy just to be interviewed. Instead, the company should be equally excited that you are interviewing them. This shows that you are focused on your career plan and that you are making sure the role/company is a good fit for you. You want to leave the impression that you are trying to see what it is like to work there. Ask strategic questions about the company to learn about their business focus/plan, their research efforts, long term goals, what are the top three things that you can do to immediately impact them if you are hired, their growth plans, professional development opportunities, etc.

During the Interview

Tip 5: Be prepared for different interview formats Interviews can be casual, formal or a mixture of the two. For the interviewer, it is always better to be more formal. During the interview, you will be asked about your background, experiences, research, and career goals. Try to keep your answers succinct. Interviewers like focused short answers so that they can ask you more about your background. If you ramble and go on and on, you are just filling time and not allowing the company to get to know you in enough depth. A few common questions that you may be asked are:

Tell me about yourself – this should be your short 1-2 minute elevator pitch describing your background and experiences. If the interviewer wants to learn more or dive into specific details, they can ask you for more info.

Why do you want to work here? If you have done your company research and self assessment, you should be able to easily answer this and show relevancy between your background and the company's needs.

What skills do you bring to the group? This also gets back to the self assessment and doing your research. You should be able to clearly articulate what you bring to the company. This is not the time to be shy. If you do not tell them why you are valuable, then they won't know and you probably won't get hired.

Phone interview tips: Stand up and walk around as you talk. This will help you show energy. Speak clearly and slowly, and write notes down as needed so that you can keep track of the conversation and followup on key points. You should also have a checklist of items you want to cover regarding your background and questions that you want to ask of the company.

Skype interview tips: Dress nice so that the interviewer sees you as professional. Speak slowly and pause at the end of sentences in case there are delays with the audio transmission. Maintain eye contact and focus on the questions and answers. Be careful with what is behind you so that the camera is not focusing on anything inappropriate (posters, signs, etc). It is best to do a skype interview against a blank wall, so that the interviewer is not distracted by anything else in your room/office.

In person interview tips: Maintain eye contact, speak slowly, articulate, and dress professionally. Have a note pad with you so that you can make notes. Have a list of what you want to cover (your skills and questions for the interviewers). Also have copies of your resume so that you can hand these to the people interviewing you. You can also bring business cards (your personal ones NOT work ones), so that each person you interview with has your contact details.

Even the most practiced of applicants gets a little nervous interviewing. Try to maintain a positive attitude, since companies want to hire people who will make their work environment more positive. That is a person who brings energy to the room. Also, be true to who you are – do not try to be something that you are not. If you do this and end up getting the job, most likely, it won't be a fit after you start and this will be unfortunate. Again, remember that interviews are two sided – they need to be a fit for both the interviewing people and the interviewee otherwise, the job won't be a fit.

No matter how desperate you are to get the job, you want to set your self for success and choosing the right match is key. Each interview is going to teach you something new about yourself. Remember there are many things you cannot predict about an interview – try the best you can. If you don't know the answer to something, say so, but that you will follow up. This gives you another reason to follow up with the people you interviewed with.

Post interview follow up

Tip 6: Follow up promptly. Write an email thanking the individuals that you met with for their time. When you write this email, it is always a good idea to mention something that you talked about during your interview to make it personal. It is not recommended to send everyone the same email since oftentimes the interviewing team compares the follow up email. If you have the same email to everyone, and just copy and paste the name, it is considered bad form. It is also a good idea to follow up with a hand written note – this will definitely help you to stand out. Show your interest again in the role and state your desire to be a part of the team.

When you leave the interview, make sure that the company knows the following:

You are serious in planning your career and that you are always prepared

You are interested in both the company and the role and that you articulated why

You will be able to make an impact right away

You want to make sure the company/role is a good fit for you.

You will be an excellent hire from a culture/personality fit, not just a skill set fit

You are excited to join their team.

Good luck with your interview process, you will do great!!


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