The 4 questions everyone asks (and other ways to prep for the interview)
Your primary objective as a candidate should always be to get a job offer. So, how do you get the offer? As a long-time executive recruiter, I have a few go-to suggestions.
First, focus on the job in question: Remember that the company is hiring you to solve their immediate pain.
Second, be authentic. The person they experience in the interview should be the person that’s going to show up for work – just make sure it’s the very best you are capable of being. Speak up, smile, and be as enthusiastic as your personality allows: You will be amazed how many times an interviewer will reflect that enthusiasm back on you.
Third, be aware of how you communicate. Communication skills rank second only to job knowledge as factors crucial for business success. Keep in mind that communication includes a host of qualities, both verbal and nonverbal: speech patterns, vocal tone and quality, gestures, attire, posture, listening skills, sense of humor, and the questions you ask, to name a few.
Finally, be prepared for the four key questions every interviewer needs answered. Believe it or not, the interview is not all about you: The purpose is to address the employer’s concerns. Interviewers often come into the process with a “mindset of fear” (What if I hire the wrong person?), so it’s up to you to alleviate that fear. Position yourself as their problem-solver by preparing concrete examples from your own business experience that answer the following questions. Mind you, an interviewer may not ask these questions directly, but they constitute the subtext behind almost every query:
Why are you here? To answer, ask yourself: What does this job involve?
What can you do for us? To answer, ask yourself: Do my skills truly match this job?
What kind of person are you? To answer, ask yourself: Are these the kind of people I would like to work with, or not?
What distinguishes you from the 19 other people who have the same skills as you have? To answer, ask yourself: How do I persuade them that I am unique among those who can perform the tasks at hand?
In all answers, have stories of your own accomplishments and personal experience ready, demonstrating your skills and how you can use them to solve the employer’s problems. Needless to say, speak the truth! It is one thing to get the job, but you must then keep it: Exaggerating your skills or “enhancing” your experience will backfire every time.
Remember, also, that an interview is a conversation: Relax and engage. Be an active listener, answer questions directly in one sentence, and only elaborate after that as needed. This approach keeps the conversation focused and on-point.
In addition, you should have several well-thought-out questions prepared and written down in a portfolio folder or small notebook. The best questions are designed to better determine what the interviewer is looking for. Some examples:
What are the most important skills you are looking for in this position, both technically and personally?
What do you wish you had known about this company before you came to work here?
How will you measure my success in this position?
What can I do to make your job easier?
Who are the company’s “star” employees, and what are they like?
You must also include questions specific to the company and position. The goal is to build a real rapport with the interviewer, creating a relationship that lasts beyond the interview.
After the interview
What comes next? A short “Thank You” email, of course. Make sure it looks and reads like a business letter: This is a chance to highlight your written communication skills. In terms of content, you’ll want to thank your interviewer, state (in no more than one sentence) why you are confident you can handle this position, and say that you hope to meet with them again. Bonus: If you discussed something personal that allows you to make a "human link" – you went to the same college, have kids the same age, etc. – this makes a good personal touch. Of course, don't overdo it.
Following these tips will not guarantee any offer, nor the perfect position, but it will build your self-confidence and improve your chances of success.
John Davis is a professional recruiter who has been placing Accounting Executives since 1973, and has been working at Atlanta-based Accountants One for 20 years.