Interview Prep

How to Prepare for an Interview

Written By Stephen Cornwell

From CEOs to interns, everyone needs to prepare before an interview. It will not matter if you are the most qualified candidate if you are not able to effectively convey that fact during the interview. No matter how many interviews you have done, completing the following three tasks is essential.

1. Research the Company

The first step is always to familiarize yourself with the company you are interviewing with.  You will almost certainly be asked why you are interested in the position, and if you are knowledgeable about the organization, you will be able to formulate a specific and detailed answer. Demonstrating knowledge of the company shows genuine interest and will help you stand out as a candidate.


2. Understand What They are Looking For

Once you are familiar with the company, it is important to review the job description and any other materials you have been sent about the position.  Try to identify the most important requirements for the role. Interviews are a limited amount of time, so it is important to focus on the most relevant aspects of your experience and qualifications.

3. Think of Examples

After identifying the most important requirements for the position, spend some time thinking of examples to use in your answers.  Good examples are one key to standing out in an interview.  Instead of just stating that you have strong leadership skills, discuss your past experience leading a team and how you were able to accomplish something.  Being able to identify how you have added value to your company in the past will make you an attractive candidate and show what you are capable of.

 

What to Do When You Don’t Know the Answer

Written By Stephen Cornwell

At least one point in your career an interviewer will ask you a question you do not have an answer for.  The first step is to relax and think.  Interviews can be stressful and often you may be able to think of an answer with some thought.  When doing this it is essential to not sit in silence. Especially during phone interview silence comes across as very unnatural. Instead, use filler expressions such as “let me think about that for a moment.”  If it is a technical question talk through your thought process.  Even if you are unable to find an, you will demonstrate that you have knowledge of the field.  

If you truly do not have an answer, DO NOT FAKE IT. If it is a technical question the interviewer knows the correct answer, and if it is a question about experience they will see through a fake answer.  Companies do not want to hire someone who is not willing to admit when they are inexperienced at something.  Some companies will ask questions that they do not expect candidates to be able to answer solely to test if they can admit when they do not have the answer.

Although admitting you do not know the answer or have experience in an area is certainly not ideal, it is also not a deal breaker most of the time. However, it is essential to also express an interest and willingness to learn about the topic in question.  Companies understand that no one is experienced in every area, and they are interested in candidates who are motivated to learn and grow when presented with a novel problem.

How to Tell if an Office is Right for You

Written By Fritz Hillegas

Often, the office is thought of as a dreaded place where stress levels are high, the level of satisfaction is low, and the hours slowly pass by; however, this doesn’t need to be the case! While title, company and compensation are all factors that seem to be the most important when searching for a new job, company culture can be just as central to not only your happiness, but also to your success. When on the market for a new job, there are a few things that one can look for to determine whether a workplace is right for you!

Research

When looking through different jobs one of the best ways to get an initial impression about the company is to simply look it up online.

  1. Most companies have their own websites which can have a wealth of information about their policies, their mottos, and the different initiatives they’re working on.
  2. In addition to the company website, their social media accounts can give some helpful insight into the goals and focus of the company. The kind of articles, photos, and messages that a company posts can speak volumes—for example, if a company shares a lot about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it can be a good sign that those are key to the company culture. Also, if the employees are featured from time to time it can show that the company really cares about the people who work there.
  3. Finally, a lot of the time there are blogs online from current and past employees of companies that talk about what the company culture is like.

During the interview

While doing research can be a good way to form an initial impression of a company, one of the most dreaded parts of the job-finding process, can be the most informative about whether or not a workplace is the right fit for you! During an interview, there are 3 important things that you should do.

  1. Take notice of the way people are interacting with you in the office. Are they friendly and open? Also, notice how the employees interact with each other. Do they seem happy? Do they interact with one another?
  2. Figure out who your boss is, and try to meet with them if it’s possible. A boss can have a greater impact on your overall happiness in the workplace than you think. Do you interact with them well? Do they seem genuinely interested in talking with you about this job opportunity?
  3. Ask questions about company culture! There is always a part of the interview where the interviewer asks if you have any questions. This is your time to get more information about the role! Ask about office mixers/activities, what the usual team dynamic is, etc.

During the process

One of the easiest ways to understand a company’s culture is to see how they are running the hiring process. Do they seem to be actively engaged in the search? Does it seem like hiring for this position is a priority? Do they seem excited/enthusiastic about the job?

Final Thoughts

We all know that looking for jobs can be hard, and sometimes there aren’t as many options as we would like; however, it is of the upmost importance to make sure that you are in a workplace where you feel welcome, inspired, and happy. Using these tips and tricks is an easy way to figure out if a workplace is right for you before you even step foot into the office for the first day of work.

Interview Trap: The Bad Past Employer

Written by Stephen Cornwell

Bad work experiences are unavoidable, but ranting to an interviewer about them is a quick way to lose a new job opportunity.  Even if your last employer truly was horrible, stupid, or incompetent, these are all words that should never be used to describe a previous employer.

Criticizing previous employers makes you appear to be a negative person or one who cannot work with others. Discussing others' failures or weaknesses makes it appear that you are not taking any responsibility for the success or failure of the projects you are assigned. Additionally, the world can be very small, and your interviewer may know or be friends with the supervisor or coworker you are discussing.  Even if the interviewer does not know the person, they do not want to hire someone who may say similarly, negative things about them or their company in the future.

What is the best way to respond when asked about a job you left because of a bad employer? Remember, interviews are about getting to know you. Discussing how someone else was incompetent or unpleasant wastes the interviewer’s time and makes you look bad. Instead, follow these three steps:

1. Take responsibility

Problems are almost never one-sided.  No matter how incompetent or rude your past employer may have been, you also could have done some things differently.  Taking some responsibility for what happened shows the interviewer that you do not push the blame off on others and are humble enough to admit when you are wrong.  It is very possible to take responsibility without making yourself look bad.  For example, instead of saying an employer had no idea what he or she was doing, say something more like, “I failed to establish a clear set of goals at the beginning of my employment which led to us struggling to reconcile our different visions for my role.”

2. Explain what you could have done differently

Discussing what you could have done differently shows that you are able to be self-reflective. It is easy to want to discuss what everyone else should have done, but talking about ways that you could have changed will make you stand out.  For example, if you felt underappreciated you could say, “I should have scheduled a meeting early on to discuss the issue instead of letting it become a serious problem.”

3. Discuss how you will avoid similar problems in the future

This step is the most important.  Interviewers do not want to hire candidates who may have problems in the future. Outlining proactive measures you plan to take to prevent a similar situation demonstrates that you are trying to learn and grow and helps alleviate the interviewer's concerns.  For example, if the problem stemmed from your boss expecting you to do more than you were able you could say, “In the future I will make sure to discuss early on what the supervisor’s expectations for me are so that a similar problem does not occur.”

If you would like to receive one on one interview coaching please contact us.

El Porqué de Prepararse para una Entrevista

Por Mariano Rebattini Capurro

Si todos sabemos de su importancia, no tiene sentido dejar de hacerlo.

Cuando comienza un proceso de búsqueda laboral –ya sea de forma proactiva o en reacción a la llamada de un cazatalentos–, todos tenemos bien en claro las etapas del proceso: una primera entrevista, selección, una segunda entrevista (o más), negociación con el potencial empleador y, eventualmente, contratación.  Ahora bien, las chances de que algo salga mal en el proceso siempre existen, y la más pequeña nos pueden dejar afuera de un nuevo trabajo. ¿Cómo evitamos salirnos de la ecuación?

Recientemente, durante una búsqueda para uno de nuestros clientes (un Director de Marketing para una multinacional de tecnología) tuvimos a tres candidatos seleccionados para una entrevista con el cliente. Nuestra razón de ser implica que alguno efectivamente consiga la posición, por lo que intentamos darles todas las herramientas posibles para poder llegar a buen puerto. Dentro de esas herramientas, incluimos una llamada preparatoria para que nuestros candidatos puedan despejar dudas y confiar plenamente en sí mismos.

Uno creería que, teniendo la oportunidad de estar lo más preparado posible, cualquier candidato lo haría. La experiencia demuestra que no siempre es así. En el caso de los tres candidatos listos para entrevistarse con el cliente, sólo uno de ellos optó por charlar con nosotros para prepararse.  Y esta es la parte de donde sucede lo obvio: de los tres candidatos, sólo el que tuvo nuestro prep call fue seleccionado para continuar el proceso.

La intención, obviamente, no es hacer sentir culpable a nadie. Sólo es importante saber que siempre hay ayuda disponible para todo, y mientras más sea, mejor. Si nosotros hemos hablado con el cliente, entonces tendremos en claro la posición que desea cubrir y el tipo de perfil que necesita. Por lo tanto, si el candidato confía en nuestras recomendaciones, él puede confiar en que podemos ayudarlo a cambiar su vida. 

"What is your greatest weakness?"

How to answer a question designed to make you stumble

By Nancy Wu

The weakness question is probably the most dreaded and difficult interview question. It has the tendency to make people defensive and puts a focus on the negative, which is precisely the reason that some seasoned interviewers won’t ask it. However, it comes up quite frequently and should warrant our attention.

The key is to give a response without getting defensive and to handle the question with grace and honesty. Keep your answer intelligent and don’t sugarcoat too much. You’ve probably heard advice that tells you to respond with a strength masked as a weakness, such as “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic and won’t leave the office.” The weaknesses-as-strengths approach has been done before and shows a lack of self-awareness. With this question, you want to demonstrate that you can analyze yourself objectively (or as objectively as possible).

Think of the question as a way to show the interviewer where you can grow in the position once you start working there. Don’t worry about saving face in this situation: demonstrating that you have the ambition and room to grow is more valuable than trying to defend your ego. To answer, we recommend a two part approach, where you would state and explain the weakness first and then recover from it.

Admit

Admit your weakness. Be honest, but not too honest! It would be wise to not mention the following traits: “not a team player,” “lazy,” “not trustworthy,” “unreliable,” “have difficulty accepting feedback,” “tend to lie,” or “not able to take initiative.” In addition, do not answer with “I don’t have any.” Three common responses are people-pleasing, too critical, and inexperienced.

Recover

Now, you want to recover from the weakness and show that it will minimally interfere with your potential new position. For example, if your weakness is that you are too people-pleasing, you could mention your efforts to be more assertive. You could also say that you have no problem compromising and are willing to take other people’s opinions into account. If you have a problem of being inexperienced in the area, make sure your interviewer knows that you are very willing to learn on the job and your dedication will make up for inexperience.

Keep your answer honest and intelligent. It’s difficult to avoid answering in cliches, but if it is an authentic one, the message will get across. Some interviewers knowingly do not ask this question because it puts people on the defensive, but it’s good to learn how to handle it. Lastly, the delivery of the answer is sometimes more important than the answer itself. Have conviction and be sure of your answer, even if one of your weaknesses is exposed.

Answering Competency-Based Questions

Nail your interview with the STAR Technique

By Nancy Wu

Many interviewers will ask competency- or behavioral-based questions. These types of questions are easy to spot, in that they often start with “Tell me about a time when…” and “Can you give me an example of…?”. They are designed to assess candidates objectively, to see how they handle challenging situations. It can be used to examine your skill level in many different areas, including managerial, analytical, interpersonal and motivational.

We recommend using the tried-and-true STAR method to answer these types of questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. This technique forces you to be specific with your response. Here is an example of how to approach the question “Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a particularly difficult client?”.

Situation

Describe the situation of the challenge. Give the interviewer some background and context, including who was on the project and who the client was.

Example: I was working on the project for client X… We had been sent in to review the internal controls and procedures, and I found that there were a number of mistakes and discrepancies.

Task

The task component asks you to describe what was required of you. Describe the challenges or expectations of what needed to be done, and why.

Example: The client contact we were dealing with had put in place the procedures, and was a very demanding customer. He would not get back to us with the information needed and disputed almost every finding that we presented to him. I knew that I had to find a way of working with him or else risk losing the client.

Action

This part asks you to talk about what you actually did. Include any descriptions of how you solved a problem, figured out logistics, or motivated your team here.

Example: I met with him multiple times and explained the risks of letting the company run with the current procedures in place, and made sure that he was involved in rewriting some of the procedures. I told him that I did not want to go to the CEO with the current findings and that I needed his help to get things right.

Result

Did the situation play out well? What did you expect that didn’t happen? Were you pleasantly surprised by anything?

Example: Upon realizing that we had the same goals and would benefit from working together, he changed his whole attitude and became very helpful. We worked long hours for over two weeks and at the end of the project, the company was fully compliant. He received praise from his boss and was very pleased with my services. He also recommended me to a friend at another business. As a result, we are now working with that company as well.

By using the STAR guideline, it is more easy and natural to speak specifically. It is important to transition from each of the 4 components of the answer to make your answer more fluid. Your answer should be as seamless as possible; when used correctly, the interviewer won’t have realized that you used it. The STAR technique enables you to highlight the relevant experience in an organized and systematic manner. Prepare adequately and good luck!

Preparing for Phone Interviews

By Nancy Wu

Since Accelerate works with clients and candidates all over the world, from Mexico to South Africa to Belgium to the U.S., it is much more feasible to do an interview over a Skype or FaceTime call than meeting in person. With the availability and increased use of technology in business, virtual interviews make recruitment processes faster and more efficient. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure the most successful phone interview;

Location, location, location

Find a place where it’s quiet enough to hear your interviewer so you can give them your full attention. Make sure you have good cellphone or wifi reception; Starbucks or coffee shops is not recommended and should be an absolute last resort. There’s too much background noise and the wifi is spotty at best and nonfunctional at worst. The interviewer will understand if the call gets dropped and it’s out of either of your control, but it is better to be prepared and have the interview go as smoothly as possible.

Take notes

One of the perks of phone interviews is that you can look at your own prepared notes, as well as take notes during the interview. Create a cheat sheet beforehand, and include some common interview questions—occasions in which you faced a challenge, your long-term professional goals, your best and worst qualities, etc. Look up some information about the company and jot down a few facts about them, too. Your notepad can also be useful for jotting down questions while the interviewer is talking. Save them for the end, so you don’t interrupt the flow of the conversation.

Feel (and look) the part

Just because your interviewer won’t see you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out of bed and put on clothes other than pajamas. Don’t see the phone interview as an opportunity to watch Netflix on mute in the background while talking to your interviewer. There’s no need to go black tie, but putting on a neat, professional outfit will energize you and get you in a professional mindset. Also, smile. Researchers have found that smiling can help people seem more friendly as well as relieve stress.

Be honest

And assertive. When the interviewer asks potentially uncomfortable questions that deal with salary and relocation, be completely honest and ask for what you need. Candidates are sometimes afraid to ask for too much and thus downplay their expectations, and later reject the offer because the salary was too low. It is better to be completely upfront with your expectations about the new role than to back out later. This mostly applies for salary, but can be extended to other aspects of the job. For example, if the role is too junior or if you would be dissatisfied with the everyday tasks of the role, you should let the interviewer know that it wouldn’t be a good fit.

Good luck!

What motivates you?

By Nancy Wu

“It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it”

Most interview questions ask for the hard facts: where you worked last, what your salary was, what your professional accomplishments are. These are undeniably important; interviewers and companies use them to determine if the candidate’s industry experience is relevant and if their qualifications are appropriate. But it’s the indeterminate, no-right-answer questions that are truly telling of a candidate’s disposition and character, of how they’ll fit with the company culture. For recruiters, the question “What motivates you?” is an absolute goldmine.

With just one question, the interviewer gains insight into your personality, ambitions, values, skills, expectations, and generally, what makes you tick. It can seem a little daunting to answer, due to its open-endedness. But just because the question is vague doesn’t mean your answer should be. In fact, it’s better to be as specific as possible in your response. If your answer is vague, you run into the trouble of seeming uninterested or unprepared.

When the recruiter asks this question, they are not asking what motivated you to apply for this job, or what your career aspirations are. They are asking about what you value, what you enjoy doing, and ultimately, if you’re a good cultural fit for their team. The way to approach this question (and similar ones) is to self-reflect and be honest. Think about what your past positions, your preferred work environment, and how you work best. What did you like about past jobs? Do you work better in a quiet, secluded environment or a loud, high energy one? Do you prefer working on a team with lots of interaction or by yourself with no distractions? A workplace with lots of hard deadlines, or one with less structure?

The more detail you give, the better. Back up your claims with examples from your past positions or general professional experience. It might benefit to also tailor your answer to the job. For example, if you are going for a competitive sales role, and you are someone who is motivated by setting goals and hitting targets, be sure to mention that. In contrast, if you are applying for a research-oriented academic position, and you are an internally-motivated individual who prefers a quiet environment where you can work alone, let your interviewer know. Doing so gives your interviewer a concrete and tangible picture of how you fit into the role.

If you would like further advice or interview coaching, please contact us and we would be glad to speak with you.

Tell me about yourself.

By Nancy Wu

 

When a candidate is preparing for an interview, they seldom remember to prepare for the most basic question of all: “Tell me about yourself”. Interviewers often ask this as a way to gauge how you approach the question, rather than for the content itself. Thinking of a response can be frustrating, since it is so vague and open-ended. But, if you prepare properly, this dreaded question can turn into an opportunity to emphasize your strengths and make yourself memorable.

This is not an invitation to tell your life story. In fact, this question ought to be rephrased as, “tell me about your professional self.” The interviewer isn’t trying to elicit an hour-long saga about the forces that shaped your childhood and adolescence; they are simply trying to get an idea of your professional goals and achievements, and how you relate to the company.

With that said, don’t recite your resume, either. You want to give a brief overview of what you do, how you got there, and why you want to move forward from your current position. Be direct and concise. Plan out 3-5 professional achievements before the interview that you would like to highlight. If possible, relate them to the position you are currently applying for. For example, recent graduates could explain how the knowledge they gained in school can be leveraged to fulfill the new role, and refer to extracurriculars in which they gained valuable leadership experience. For seasoned professionals, there is no need to go in depth. Mentioning the subject in which you got your degree and giving a general outline of your career path thus far should suffice.

After giving a brief and purposeful summary of your professional profile, always link your achievements to what the company needs. Doing so will make explicit to the interviewer what your contribution will look like. Make clear that you have reasons to join the company other than a financial increase. Talk about what you admire about the company, the work culture, and why you would be a good fit there.

Think of the question as your personal elevator pitch. You have about 60 seconds—the length of an elevator ride—to make a simple but impactful impression. Why should the interviewer (and ultimately, the company) invest in you? Reflect about your primary selling points in relation to the job opportunity, and on your interest in the position.

Good luck!

The Importance of Preparation

Written by Nancy Wu

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

We’ve had an influx of Talent Acquisition and Human Resources projects from our clients lately, with many candidates who conduct interviews regularly when hiring talent for their own companies. Through being exposed to HR talent, we’ve noticed the importance of preparation and work ethic, even among those who are expert in their field. Though HR employees undoubtedly have a great amount of expertise in conducting interviews and screening candidates, the role gets reversed when they are the ones being interviewed. The pitfall for those who work in HR is to be overconfident in their interviewing skills because they conduct them regularly and ultimately being underprepared for their own interviews.

When we decide to select a candidate and send their profile forward to our client, we prepare our candidates with a briefing session to help them with the interview process. A frustrating situation is when HR candidates, due to their expertise at interviewing others, refuse to prepare adequately and then botch their interviews with the client.

Recently, we were working on a Talent Acquisition Director search and interviewed dozens of potential candidates with plentiful HR experience. One candidate was perfect on paper, but came off as inept in the interview due to his lack of preparation. Having worked for a decade in the talent acquisition field, the candidate clearly had the skills and experience for the job. However, he stumbled when we asked him for concrete examples of how he applied them.

To us, this is clearly not a case of incompetence, but of being underprepared. The most suitable and high-caliber candidate can seem woefully underwhelming if he does not convey himself properly. This brings us to a useful point for professionals in all fields of expertise, and that is the importance of preparation; even the most expert professionals must be humble enough to prepare adequately.

At every level of achievement, a lack of humility and preparation can lead to poor decisions, false confidence, and the undermining of others. Being humble enough to prepare is vital in all aspects of life. Never underestimate the importance of preparation to achieving and maintaining success.

5 Questions to Ask in an Interview

Written by Nancy Wu

When thinking about an interview, job seekers tend to focus solely on preparing to answer questions, but asking questions in an interview is just as important as answering them. Asking the right questions will help you determine if this is actually a company you want to work for, as well as assert your own qualifications to your interviewer. It will demonstrate and emphasize genuine interest in the position, the company, and your future potential role in it.

1. What is a typical day here like at Company X?

Depending on the size and organization of the company, this question will give you an idea of its day-to-day operations. It will also ensure that, if you do get an offer, you are prepared and you know what is expected of you from the very first day. The answer will let you know how you fit into the company and give specifics about how your role will play out.

2.  Where do you see the company in 5 years?

Asking about the company’s future will give you information about its long-term goals, and you can then determine if they are in line with your own. It is also telling of the stability of the company, so you can get an idea of the security of your position.

3. Can you tell me about the team I would be working with?

You are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with, so who you interact with at work regularly is extremely important. It also speaks about the company culture, as the people who make up the company will no doubt influence it greatly.

4. What do you like most about your job?

This is similar to the last one as to what it accomplishes, but it adds a personal touch and helps make a connection with the interviewer. Ask this to get a feel of what makes the hiring manager/interviewer come in, day after day.

5. What is the next step in the process?

This question is more logistics-based but is a must-ask. It demonstrates interest and invites the interviewer to tell you if other people are in the running for the position. Asking about the next step will also give you a list of action items to move forward with the process, unless the interviewer tells you to simply wait for the response.

Best of luck!

How much do you earn?

Written by Orla Treacy

It is not the most comfortable question to ask or answer but this is why we ask for salary details in our first interviews.

We always ask for candidates’ salary package details during our first interview. We also always request the details of the maximum salary on offer from our clients before we engage on a search. The reasons we work in this manner is simply to avoid time wasting.

Compared to the majority of firms that operate at an executive level, we do not charge up-front retainer fees. Therefore, we are entirely incentivized to place candidates with our clients, rather than other firms who earn the lion’s share of their fee before any offers reach the table.

If we were to send candidates without knowing that they are within our clients’ salary budgets, we would potentially ruin entire processes and waste a lot of time. Imagine the unpleasant surprise of a candidate reaching offer stage, receiving approval from all stakeholders, and then learning that they are unobtainable due to compensation expectations. Some candidates are reluctant to share their compensation details during the first call with us but once explained it tends to make sense to them and they agree. We confirm all the details in writing following the interview so there is no room for misunderstandings. There is always some degree of flexibility from the clients’ side for the ideal person but in general, it is much better to be as transparent as possible about the issue of compensation from the beginning. 

When we submit candidates to our clients, we share their current salary package details, their salary expectations, assuming this role would be of interest to them and they were to accept a job offer, and their notice periods. This way, even before interviewing them, our clients have full visibility on what it would take to get them on board and how long it would take. It also allows our clients to see what the market value of these candidates is, it allows them to seek internal approval on offers outside the pay scales if required well in advance of the end of the process and helps us fine-tune the search based on the budget available.

Discussing compensation is not always the easiest and most comfortable topic but doing so provides benefits to all parties involved.