Be prepared! The secret to interview success.

In my last post I talked about the importance of researching the person conducting the interview.  This time its the company I want to focus on.

The first place to start is the company website.  Look at all the pages but specifically look at the language they use on the site.  What phrases or terms are consistent throughout?  These are the internal messages prevalent throughout the company, the buzzwords, the chatter, the noise that permeates all corporations.

List them.  Make sure you understand them, if you are unclear use the words as a premise for an interview question.  If nothing else, it will evidence to the interviewer the fact that you have done your research and taken an interest in the company.

How you can weave these key words throughout your response to interview questions.  Interview success is like success in sales.  Know your customer, mirror their language.  People feel comfortable talking with people they understand and importantly understand them.  Talking the same language triggers a familiarity that will stand you in good stead throughout the process.

Know products, customers, new technologies, innovation, key people, where they have come from and what people are saying about them online.  If you have time, why not consider conducting your own market research with a little mystery shopping?  Telling for example a Sales Director or Managing Director that you have been to one of their stores and (politely and respectfully) making constructive suggestions as to what you think can be improved will be viewed positively even if they don’t agree with your views.  The point is you put yourself out and went that extra mile to try and understand your customer.

Review the news pages of the site.  What are they doing that’s making the press?  Review blogs, google them, what are people saying about them on Facebook, Twitter?  What issues are they facing and how are they addressing them?  This can again prove a great basis for interview questions.

Research the industry, not just the company.  Who are the major competitors?  What are they doing that your prospective employer isn’t?  Why (?) might be a great question to be asking at interview.   What issues is the industry facing and how is your prospective employer addressing them?

Remember getting the job you really want has the power to fundamentally change your life.  This is your sales pitch.  Take it seriously and prepare for it.



Filed under Careers, interview

2 responses to “Be prepared! The secret to interview success.

  1. Thanks Lee,

    Your touch points are spot-on. Your message is clear, and your hands-on approach articulates practical and easily applied tactics. My partners “buds” in corporate strategic planning, advertising, integrated marketing, web, social media,etc. are “marketing lifers” with combined expertise running the full gambit of Large Cap, Small Cap, Start-ups, Mom/Pops, etc. I sent your link for review and we all agree by unanimous vote that you “get it”. The highest order of compliment and acceptance to Brand Parenthood. My take is, you’re an adept researcher, analyst and practitioner. My “practitioner” qualifications are Advanced Degree(MBA), 20 years executive level marketing experience, Possess unique skill sets related to vendor relations/strategic alliance, value added, brand development, culture assessment, stakeholder buy-in, strong print, web, international study abroad launch, campus infrastructure-including sign/wayfinder design & implementation landscaping/curb appeal, event planning, board relations, pr/web/marketing integration, budget planning, fiscal mgt, metrics for ROI, survey construction, focus groups and collateral. My constituents are segmented by: client, industry private, public, for profit, non-profit industries. Just completed long term assignment in higher education admin serving as-VP, CMO overseeing Marketing/PR/Web/Publications/Advertising/External Communications, Staffing for a medium sized private New England college (founded 1885) As of 5/28/10 completed 5 year run as their first ever Chief Marketing Officer(CMO). I was responsible the recruitment/hiring/professional development of a team for strategy, conception, creative, production and implementation with measurable results for campus-wide institutional marketing, brand development, publications, public relations, direct report to President & Trustees, web development and all related stakeholder communications…visual, written and verbal.

    Often, I would feel nervous when interviewing job candidates, undoubtably in fear I will embarrass myself or represent my company poorly. Moreover, I think it is a natural human condition of meeting someone new.

    My only suggestion to your insight may be to hone in a bit more on the corporate culture. What kind of atmosphere? Management style? Transparency? Org chart? Flat/linear reporting? Look for an annual report before the interview. As well, for non-profits, tax exempt and financials require public access and disclosure-conduct search/data mining for relevant info-good & bad. This is not for public consumption, your eyes only. I do not recommend that the job candidate share this methodology or findings with the interviewer. But this info can prove invaluable for the job candidate if put to constructive use. For example, knowledge of internal/external relations, strategic partners, bragging rights, etc., may serve as a useful tool in determining “good fit”. BTW-that goes both ways. I don’t want to hire someone that will eventually, or even predictably become unhappy and spread viral negativity. Nor does a potential hire want to choose a workplace that is totally wrong for them. I’ve made a few mistakes that became, big headaches, possibly avoidable had I the experience and knowledge of sign posts I had to learn the hard way. Case & Point: A direct report I hired told me straight out after the hire that my style is way too lax and I need to be more structured in my approach to managing my other direct reports, despite positive feedback from the others for my decentralized, empowered, performance based accountability system. It is now standard I ask what management styles they most like or dislike.

    Delving into publicly reported financials may reveal patterns of costly layoffs, overworked staff, pay scale caps and overall fiscal health. I’m totally impressed with a person that shows their ability and willingness to know the company’s product, history, mission and customer centered approach.-You can’t believe the damage from what an employee may say to a customer or colleague until you’ve seen it yourself. I look for courtesy, professionalism, people person, wit and “how can I help you” characteristics when I interview.

    Lastly, and so often overlooked are soft skills. My staff have prerequisite technical and job description hard skills to advance past initial qualification. But what about the intangibles? So often, I’ve forgone the superior technical candidate in favor of one better oriented to detail, project management, interpersonal, effective communicator and improvisor. I may be filling a “graphic designer” position, but how will those soft skills transfer to my project management, contact liaison, “fix it with duct tape” needs?

    I constructed a functional, sustainable, synergistic staff over five years. My President and Colleagues often tell me I have the best department. Did I mention I have 0-Zero-0 turnover in five years? Coincidence. I hope not. My last hire was a top runner up for a like position two years ago. When she saw the posting for the newly created job, she re-applied and I hired her for newly listed job. I still believe I made the right choice of not selecting her two years ago, but WOW, what an impression for her to reapply. She is totally awesome and works in sync with her counterpart that out shined her two years ago. Its pretty cool that we made such a good impression of being a great place to work when she first applied. All in all, I’m extremely grateful for the confidence and responsibilities assigned by my boss. Now, I must humbly take my own advise along with your recommendations as I begin my own job search for my next “perfect job”.

    Happy Trails,


    • Hi Craig thanks for the feedback and indeed your kind words, they are much appreciated. Often I am struck by the need for startling revelation or the elusive silver bullet when it comes to imparting practical advice that people can genuinely apply and therefore benefit from. However I know from experience that so much of success in the jobs market is about applying common sense, hard work, persistence, commitment, a thick skin and being able to approach every application with the same enthusiasm as if it were the first. Often I accept easier said than done!

      Your comments about reviewing financials are absolutely spot on. Any verifiable information you can gather from the public domain in order to support you through your application is to be recommended and I appreciate you bringing this up. With respect to your comments regarding the importance of softer skills and the intangible in the recruitment process, again we share similar thoughts. In fact I would go so far as to say this is something I can get almost evangelical about! Perhaps I can refer you to an earlier blog post reflecting on exactly the part such skills should play in hiring –“attitude”-to-often-overlooked-in-favour-of-experience-when-hiring/

      My very best to you in your search for a new challenge. If I can be of any help along the way don’t hesitate to ask. You can mail me I would be delighted to help in any way in which I can.


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