We all know that when we launch an active career search, a major step in the new job acquisition process will be the job interview. I have seen people sabotage their own success by failing to properly prepare. Many people think that interview stress begins once the job seeker receives that coveted invitation to interview with the employer. Actually, for me, my interview stress begins at the point that I begin preparing to submit my resume and cover letter to a vacancy announcement that interests me. I have found that my interview stress culminates at one of three points depending on the amount of due diligence that I have done: 1) Before the interview; 2) During the interview; or 3) Following the interview. Because it is so important to maintain composure during the interview, we must learn how to mitigate stress during the interview process. Remember, our potential new employer is evaluating us for our technical job knowledge and for our behavioral and interpersonal skills. Many managers will tell you that they would hire a person who handles stress effectively and has solid interpersonal skills over a candidate who has all of the needed technical job skills, but does not interact well with others and does not know how to handle stressful situations. Today I am sharing it with you my strategy that has proven successful in enabling me to maintain my composure while under interview pressure:
- Keep Your Resume Updated. You never know when you may have to launch a new job search, so I make it a point to update my resume with my new job once I have completed my first month. Typically, your first couple of weeks on a new job are about learning work processes, familiarizing yourself with policies/procedures, navigating your way around the workplace, meeting your new colleagues, customers, organizational stakeholders, etc. As you round out that first month, you begin to function more independently and begin to make tangible, although possibly non-monumental, contributions to the organization. I use a resume format that makes it easy for potential employers to quickly assess my experience by listing the major duties assigned to my position; then directly under that, listing my major accomplishments, such as policy and program development; training facilitated, investigations conducted, etc. Remember, your accomplishments are what truly interest a potential employer, because they represent what you have truly done. This format also makes it easy for me to update with new accomplishments…thus reducing the stress of maintaining an updated resume.
- Study the organization. By visiting the potential employer’s website, we learn about the organization’s mission, vision, and values. The website also often has a link to the organization’s strategic plan which will contain its strategic objectives; The website will also typically detail its history, its locations, its senior executive, its industry standing, the goods and services that the organization provides, major accomplishments, and industry awards, as well as some reference to its performance, if it is public or private; its stock price, if applicable and its competitive and/or financial standing. This is the type of information that we need to not only craft a great cover letter, but to have an intelligent discussion about the organization during our interview. Although you will likely not find a listing of an organization’s competitors on its website, you should be able to name at least their top two. You can achieve this by doing a simple google search. In the Google search type the name of the product or service that the organization provides and search for providers of those products or services, i.e., “baby products producers,” or “medical service providers.” Narrow your search as needed. You can also enter the organization’s name in the search and add the word “competitors.”
- Maintain an Easily-tailored Cover Letter. Although I agree that our cover letter should be tailored to each job that you are apply to, I recommend that it not be an arduous task. You see, much like the resume, a well-constructed cover letter can be easily tailored as needed. My personally-preferred cover letter format is one that is addressed directly to the employer of interest. It’s short introductory first paragraph introduces me and identifies the position to which I am applying as well as where/how I learned of it (i.e., job board name, website name, professional organization, employee referral, etc.). The second paragraph is the longest and most-substantive paragraph, which provides a succinct, detailed description of my professional experience. I know that succinct and detailed appear to contradict each other, so let me clarify what the intent is. It means that in a maximum five-sentence paragraph, we should provide enough high-level detail for a potential employer to understand that we posses experience that is directly related to vacancy that they are seeking to fill. I use the third paragraph to reference my relevant education, certifications and training. Then finally, I utilize the fourth and final paragraph to ask for, and thank them for, their continued consideration in the position and to emphasize to them how our professional background aligns with the organization’s strategic plan, mission, vision, and values; therefore, enabling us to make valuable contributions to the organization’s success.
- Practice, practice, and practice again. The entire career search process has changed. That includes the interview process. No longer should we expect to only be asked elementary interview questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” which most of us can answer pretty easily because we are speaking about ourselves. We must be prepared to prove that we have studied the organization, so we need to use the information that we learned from studying their website to think about how we will be able utilize our unique qualifications to assist in the realization of their strategic objectives. With that in mind, practice answering such questions as: “Why are you interested in working for our organization?” “What do you think sets us apart from our competition?” “Describe how you met plan the completion of a large project.” “Tell me about a time when you were able to persuade a member of management to support a recommendation that you made.” ” Describe a time when you used your creativity to accomplish a goal, whether personally or work-related.” “How will your experience enable you to contribute to the achievement of our organization’s mission?” and “What did you learn about our organization when you visited our website?” This last question is a direct inquiry that is meant to determine if you conducted any research on the organization. As you can see, if you have not practiced responding to these types of questions, you will not make your best impression. Practice in front of the mirror first. This allows you to be mindful of your body language and to make changes if necessary. Once you are satisfied with your answers, ask a family member or friend to ask you the questions then you respond to them. Afterward, ask that person for feedback on your performance. Another option is record yourself answering the questions…either in front of the mirror, or with someone else asking you the questions, then having you respond. Your in-depth preparation will prove that you know how to conduct research; that you will follow through; and will successfully set you apart from the rest of the candidates.
- Choose your interview attire in advance. Once you decide to launch a career search, select your interview attire and have it dry-cleaned and or wash and iron it. If money is tight, shop at Goodwill or thrift stores for the items you need. If possible, once you have everything ready hang your outfit in the back of your closet and do not wear it so that you won’t have to have it cleaned again. Don’t forget to have a nice notepad, folder, or portfolio and a couple of pens to take notes. I do this because I have received last-minute interview invitations, doing this additional preparation has helped me to be ready.
You will find that taking these steps will enable you to successfully reduce your interview stress and maintain your composure during the entire interview process by eliminating the most-common barriers to interview success. You will have set yourself up to experience the “good stress” of waiting to receive either an invite to the next step in the interview process, or eventually becoming the chosen candidate and receiving your job offer.