5 tips for acing the job interview

by Prabhakar Gopalan

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Last week I talked about searching for a job.  Now that you landed that job interview, I’ll share 5 uncommon tips about acing the interview.  I am not going to spend time on the obvious ones.  These  are my five uncommon tips for interview success:

1) Research the company

How often have you attended an interview without knowing much about the company’s  leadership team, annual revenues (segmented) or overall strategy?  The first step in interview preparation is researching the company.  By research I mean a comprehensive research, not just reading what was in the newspaper (if you still read one) or the company website.  If it is a publicly listed company, read the investor section of the website.  Understand what areas the company plans to invest, grow and where the executive team is planning to take the company.  Figure out what products bring the moolah and what trends have shaped the company’s portfolio over the past few years.

The primary benefit of this research is you fully understand if the job you are interviewing for is going to be interesting for you given where the company is heading or plans to invest.  One secondary benefit of doing this homework is so you can intelligently talk during the interview on how you see the company strategy being relevant to the products you might end up managing.  You’ll get a clear idea of where your products are, in which portion of the company’s investment mix – cash cow, growth, divest or sunset, they belong.  You will not have buyer’s remorse if you enter the contract with full knowledge.

2) Research the culture

All start ups aren’t the same.  All large companies aren’t the same.  Culture is that one thing you don’t want to take lightly and be unhappy later.   Take the time to understand the company culture.  When you get a chance to ask questions in the interview process, make sure you ask questions about culture.

What are the values of the organization, the hiring manager and company?  This is not the culture the company claims through full page Wall Street Journal ads or airport terminal billboards of being smart or innovative or inserting other such over used words.  It is about the reality that exists within the company, not through a paid advertisement.  Watch out for those that give out multimillion ad agency contracts for rebranding and advertising, and spend very little on actual employee  or customer well being.

3) Research the interviewers

Chances are high you have been googled extensively by your interviewers.  Reciprocate the favor by doing it yourself about the interview team.  Practically everyone has a LinkedIn profile these days.  That’s a good place to start.

There are two simple reasons for this – a) Learn more about your interviewer before hand so you can predict to fairly reasonable extent what kind of questions you can expect (people usually ask questions from their own background, experiences they are most comfortable with) b) Look for any commonality between the interviewer and you, and break the ice in discussing a shared experience.  It is human to look for a shared sense of belonging.  Use it to develop a rapport.  After all, you might work with this very person.

4) Practice story telling from your resume

You are likely to get questions of this nature pretty much every time – ‘Walk me through your resume’, ‘Tell me something you did at your previous job at Company X that was remarkable’, ‘Can you give me an example when you worked with a team without authority but successfully influenced the outcome?’.  Instead of trying to answer the questions on the spot, it may actually be a good idea to prepare a document listing all the frequently asked interview questions about your resume, write answers to them and practice your delivery.  Assemble these answers in a story format so it is easy to tell and receive.  State the business situation, complication, the action you performed, and the outcome crisply.

Expand each resume bullet in the story format and practice delivery by yourself, with a friend or a colleague. With good story telling and delivery, you’ll make it memorable for the interviewer.  Here’s an example – “When I walked in to Company X in August 200x, the product revenues were $4M.  I put together a marketing plan that targeted SMB segment, which at that time was unattended, and increased our revenues by $2M in just one year.  Selling to the SMB segment was a high touch activity before.  But I put together an innovative web based inbound marketing program that was low on cost and high on return.  Net result was we rocked the SMB segment”.   Pick up a good screen play writing book to get good at story telling.  I’m serious!

5) Pick up a white board marker or a sketch book

When you are posed with a question that requires a lot of explanation, don’t hesitate to ask for drawing out the answer on a white board.  You are literally taking up the challenge with your own hands.  When I interview candidates, I try to see how comfortable the candidate is  in going up to the white board or even using a sheet of paper and a pen, and explain to me the problem and subsequent analysis.  Visualization on a large scale (like a white board) is a powerful tool for envisioning solutions, especially in team settings.  Employ it at every opportunity you get.

…And then the regular stuff

This is the placeholder for all the regular stuff you’d do  e.g. learn about the product, process, tools, technology, competitors, send thank you notes etc.

Good luck on your interview!  I will cover best practices for the interviewer next week.

– Prabhakar

Tweet this: @PGopalan 5 tips for acing the job interview  http://wp.me/pXBON-2gI #prodmgmt #jobadvice #jobsearch #careers