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12 Tips To Ace That Job Interview

The interview isn’t what it used to be. In our digital world, the process takes longer and presents new challenges. Here’s the career guidance you need to nail it.

by James A. Martin

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Like practically everything else these days, job interviewing has changed. In the past, you might have met with one or two people. Today, if your online application gets past software filters that look for keywords, you’re likely to be pre-screened over the phone or in a Skype video chat. Pass that hurdle and you’ll meet with half a dozen people, if not more. You’ll be asked lots of in-depth or open-ended questions, with the expectation that you’ll answer not only satisfactorily, but succinctly.

So why all the changes? New technologies play a role, but ultimately, it’s about making the hiring process cost-effective. “Businesses have learned the hard way that hiring the wrong people is extremely costly,” claims job-search site Monster, citing research showing that it can cost businesses one-fifth of an employee’s salary to replace them. “Since they just can’t afford to get it wrong, employers are ever more gun-shy—and they are thus spending ever more time vetting recruits to make sure they have the right skills, values and personalities to fit the culture.”

If you’re looking to change jobs or reinvent yourself in a new career, here’s the career advice you need to succeed in your job interviews.

New Strategies for Today’s Job Hunt

1. Get ready for your close-up.

Hiring managers and recruiters may ask for a pre-screening interview over Skype, Google Hangout, or other video chat service, says Thea Kelley, a job-search coach specializing in interview preparation. So it’s important to be comfortable with video chat. Practice interviewing via video with friends. Check to see how you look on screen before an interview. Make sure the room has good, flattering lighting and the background is uncluttered but shows a little of your personality or brand, such as a bookcase (if you’re a book lover) or educational or professional certificates framed on the wall. Being comfortable on camera shows you’re comfortable with current technology, Kelley notes.

You may be asked to answer questions online in video, adds Michele Mavi, director of internal recruiting and content development, Atrium Staffing. A recruiter or hiring manager may send you a link to an online video platform and a list of questions, which you’ll answer by talking into a webcam. Depending upon the video platform, you can usually re-record your video answer if you don’t like it, Mavi says, adding that while submitting video answers isn’t yet mainstream, it’s a new direction employers are taking.

2. Offer fresh solutions to the company’s challenges.

Mobile apps, cloud computing, big data and other technologies are leading companies to restructure processes and job responsibilities—sometimes entire departments—to be nimbler in a tech-driven world. “Digital transformation is occurring rapidly at a majority of public and private sector organizations,” says Harvard Business Review.

Every business today has been disrupted in some way” by technology, says Linda Kuriloff, career specialist and author. You don’t need to become a tech wizard to ace a job interview, but you should be aware of the impact the tech world is having in your potential employer’s industry. Ask how the employer is handling its digital transformation, and offer fresh, strategic suggestions for how the company might meet these and other challenges. You don’t want to tell someone how to do their job, but you do want to give them a taste for how you can add value. Plus, you’ll demonstrate that a midlife job candidate isn’t by default a tech laggard.

3. Make sure your interview outfit fits the company’s culture (which is probably casual).

Oscar Wilde said many things that are still relevant today, but “You can never be overdressed or overeducated” isn’t among them. In today’s casual business environment, a suit and tie can make you look overdressed and out of touch.

The traditional rule of thumb is to “dress one level up from how you’d dress on the job,” says Kelley. If employees come to work in jeans and T-shirts, wear dress slacks and a dress shirt/blouse. If the workforce attire is business-casual, male candidates might consider wearing a suit and tie to the job interview while women might wear a suit or skirt.

The new twist is to keep your one level up subtle (nothing says “old” like being seriously overdressed), adding a sartorial touch that shows you understand the employer’s culture. Keep in mind that “cultural fit” is as important these days as “skill fit,” says career consultant and Life Reimagined expert Rich Feller, Ph.D. If possible, confirm with company insiders what’s appropriate to wear to an interview. If you don’t know anyone at the company, search for employees on LinkedIn and note what they’re wearing.

4. Embrace the Ping-Pong table.

Speaking of culture, don’t assume a company isn’t serious because dress is casual, adds Kuriloff. “Companies today want employees to have fun and think creatively,” which is why, especially at startups, you see perks like Ping-Pong tables. “This is the direction businesses are going in, so it’s important to embrace it,” she says. For sure, don’t look incredulous as you walk past the Ping-Pong table with your potential boss, or even worse, comment that it’s unprofessional.

5. Come up with at least a dozen career success stories.

Eight people interviewed one of her clients during a single day, says Kelley. “If he only had five or six career success stories to share, he’d have told the same stories to each person,” she explains. “You know they’ll compare notes later, and you don’t want them to realize you’ve told the same stories to everyone. So it’s best to go into the interview process with plenty of success stories.”

Telling stories rounds you out as a candidate and helps people remember you better, Kuriloff says. In our digital era, it’s especially important to provide metrics to quantify your success, such as page views and other website traffic data for a marketing video you produced.

Traditional Interview Tips That Still Count

6. Research the company—and your interviewers.

Before any interview, read up about your potential employer and the company’s mission online, says Feller. On LinkedIn, look up everybody you’ll be meeting. This will help you assess the company’s culture, and may give you some common-ground conversation icebreakers.

With all the information available online, you can overdo the research and disappear down a rabbit hole, Kuriloff warns. So target your search. As you read the about us, mission or history page on the employer’s website, also take a look at its news or investor relations press release sections, to get a sense of what the company says about itself. Read a few recent news articles about the company to learn what others are saying about it.

“You may be asked to answer questions online in video. Depending upon the video platform, you can usually re-record your video answer if you don’t like it.”

Michele Mavi, director of internal recruiting and content development, Atrium Staffing.

7. When asked, “Tell me about yourself,” be brief and focused.

Job candidates are often asked this open-ended question. For someone who’s been in business for decades, it’s tempting to start at the beginning and give a detailed career history.

Don’t do it, Kelley advises. As with most job interview answers, keep your response to one or two minutes. This is especially important for midlife job applicants, who are sometimes stereotyped as talking at length about themselves and expecting others to listen. “You don’t want to confirm that stereotype,” she says.

In your response, focus on your top three to five selling points. Remember that the job interview isn’t so much about you; it’s about the employer. Make it clear why the company should hire you, how you fit into the organization and how you would solve some of their challenges, Kelley advises. Keep your answers focused on your most recent accomplishments.

8. Bring lots of questions.

As the meeting ends, an interviewer will often ask if the candidate has any questions, Kelley says. If you’ve don’t, you risk looking uninterested—not the impression you want to leave. “Prepare more questions than you think you’ll have time to ask,” she recommends. “That way you know you’ll have some good questions to ask at the end.”

Your questions should be designed to highlight your qualifications, demonstrate your confidence and show that you understand the employer’s challenges, says Monster. For example, you might ask, “What’s the most important thing I can accomplish in the first 60 days?” or “What kinds of processes are in place to help me work collaboratively?”

9. Think like an interviewer.

It’s easy to make the mistake of just focusing on yourself during a job interview. Instead, go into your meeting understanding what the company needs—the reasons why this job must be filled.

Try to get into the interviewer’s thought process, too, says Feller. Keep in mind the main reasons someone would want to hire you: Managers want to make their lives easier; they want their hires to make them look good, as their own rewards are often tied to team results; and they need to increase profits and/or the quality of services or products. Bond with the interviewers by showing that you see them as people, understand their pain points and can help them to be successful in their jobs.

10. Emphasize your expertise to justify your salary needs.

Salary is always a tricky topic, particularly if you’ve been in the workforce for decades and have climbed the corporate ladder, where salaries are higher. You may be competing against younger, less expensive candidates. So what should you do?

Try to avoid disclosing your salary during job interviews, Kelley says. If pressed, provide a salary range you’re seeking. Also, mention the things you’d value about the job other than salary—such as the new things you’ll learn or the career shift it will enable you to make—especially if you suspect the salary is less than what you’ve been making, you can afford to accept a lower figure, and you really want the job.

11. Take—and send—notes.

During job interviews, you can learn a lot about the job and the company but also about the people with whom you’d be working. So it’s important to take notes, says Kelley.

Listen for details that you can use to personalize a thank-you note. A handwritten note can help you stand out, as most people get too many emails, Kelley adds. However, depending upon the culture of the company, an email thank-you is a better bet if a handwritten note would make you seem old-fashioned.

Kelley advises taking notes on a notepad rather than a tablet or laptop, as typing on those devices may be distracting to interviewers. But if your interviewer is young and tech savvy, using a stylus (like the Apple Pencil) to handwrite notes on a tablet might be a reasonable alternative, as long as you’re comfortable doing that.

12. Don’t be ageist yourself.

You may be interviewed by someone decades younger, which can be intimidating. Conversely, some midcareer professionals view the millennial interviewing them as less qualified or knowledgeable than they are, simply because of that person’s age. Big mistake.

You can avoid being the victim or perpetrator of ageism by concentrating on building a rapport with your interviewer, says Mavi. “Focus on really connecting, because when you connect, the labels of age usually disappear.” Show that you’re listening carefully to what they say, you understand their challenges, and find some common interests.

“Go into the interview expecting to be valued,” Kelley says. “As long as you show you’re constantly learning, are open to new ways of doing things, that you’re a good listener and that you’re collaborative with people of all ages, the employer would be happy to have your level of experience on the team.”