Q: I’m in a job search right now and have received feedback many times that I am not a good interviewer, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. What should I be doing? Am I a lost cause?
A: Interview skills can absolutely be developed, only if to practice. Start by reading and understanding what happens in an interview and why. One of my favorite interview preparation books is Don’t Wear Flip Flops to Your Interview by Dr. Paul Powers.
There are probably parts of the interview you are good at, but to develop, we need to work on the areas of most concern. So identify which parts of the interview process you aren’t good at—there are various components to a strong interview, so narrowing down your trouble areas is key. If you’ve met with recruiters, you can always ask them for feedback—they will be brutally honest!
There is one important area you can impact most easily: being prepared. This is one of the most significant issues hiring managers complain about—candidates not doing their research before the interview. Candidates don’t understand the industry or the position, which is a real obstacle in moving forward in the hiring process. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer that will show that you’ve done your research—perhaps something you’ve read about the business’s direction, how the company is faring with a new product or new geography, or, if they are public, what has impacted their stock price going up or down. Showcase your research and interest in the success and challenges of the company and the contributions you can make as part of that.
Determine specific talking points about your experience and make absolutely sure they find their way into the conversation. What do you definitely want the interviewer to know about your past experience or skill strengths? What answers do you want to give that will really highlight your value? Regardless of what the specific questions are, you need to find a relevant way to weave this information into the conversation. Be prepared to talk about the specific skill sets you have that will bring value to the role and to the organization—this is imperative to any interview, whether it is entry-level or an executive-level role. You shouldn’t be “winging it” in an interview. Preparation will help you deliver the most concise, complete, and to-the-point answer that you can. Developing these presentation skills through organizations like Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie may also help you.
In addition to failing to say the right things, part of your problem might be saying all the wrong things in an interview. What shouldn’t you discuss in a first interview? Things like salary, benefits, vacation time, or whether you can wear jeans on Friday. Unless it is related to the value you can bring to the company or unless the interviewer brings it up first, leave it out.
Consider how you present yourself at these interviews. Are you dressed appropriately? Are you punctual? Record yourself doing a mock interview to see what you look like on video. How does your voice sound? What verbal ticks (“um,” “like”) might be detracting from your message? What does your posture look like? These presentation aspects—separate from the actual content of the interview—have an impact. Know that everyone you meet is evaluating you and providing feedback, from the receptionist, to people you pass in the hallway, to anyone you meet in the restroom. Comments are being made about you from many different angles, so be on your best behavior from the moment you make the first call or step into the building.
Even if you’ve struggled with interviewing in the past, you are by no means a lost cause. Researching the company, preparing strong talking points, and practicing your delivery are the steps to a successful interview. Good luck!