The time and effort you put into crafting your cover letter and resume have finally paid off — you’ve been asked to interview with a company you’ve been pursuing for months. But you only have limited time to prepare for this brief but monumental meeting. The pressure’s on to prove to the hiring manager you are uniquely qualified for the position and would be an asset to the organization. The following tips can give you an edge on the competition:
Focus on first impressions. When it comes to interviewing, the initial minutes are often the most decisive, according to a Robert Half survey of hiring managers. Those polled said it takes them just 10 minutes to form an opinion of job seekers, despite meeting with staff-level applicants for 55 minutes and management-level candidates for 86 minutes, on average.
A strong impression starts with arriving promptly and well-prepared; showing up late or rushing in at the last minute doesn’t bode well for your ability to complete IT projects on time. Map out directions to the office and give yourself a healthy time cushion in case something goes wrong.
From the moment you meet your interviewer, project enthusiasm, professionalism and confidence. Extend a firm handshake, make eye contact and interact in an engaged but relaxed manner. Because the opening minutes are so influential in hiring decisions, be especially aware of your initial comments and actions.
Prepare for common questions. Carefully plan what your responses will be to likely questions, such as “So, tell me about yourself” and “What is your most significant professional accomplishment?” Your goal is to satisfy the interviewer’s curiosity without raising concerns. Also, be prepared to respond articulately to questions about the firm, why you want to work there and why you’re looking to leave your current position.
Your interviewer may also ask some less predictable questions designed to catch you off guard. For example, hiring managers may ask about your greatest weakness. In this case, your response should be candid but brief. Ideally, you’ll be able to highlight steps you’ve taken to overcome the flaw. So if understanding IT projects in the context of larger business goals hasn’t been your strong suit in the past, you might describe a business course you’ve taken to overcome that issue.
Know the employer. Lack of knowledge about the firm is a surprisingly common reason a job seeker loses out to the competition. Avoid this mistake by researching the organization’s history, products and services. This information, including recent news, can be found by visiting its website. To develop a broader understanding of the prospective employer, look beyond its website and other standard marketing materials. Industry publications, professional associations and your networking contacts may be able to provide details about its culture, competitors and any recent challenges or controversies. Your research will enable you to ask genuine questions about the firm that convey your interest in the job and express how your skills, specifically, will benefit the company.
Tell a compelling story. Remember that the interview is your opportunity to convince the employer you’re a strong candidate for the position. Don’t approach it as another chance to recite your technical abilities. Come to the interview with three career achievements in mind that demonstrate hard-to-measure qualities — such as initiative, teamwork or leadership — that aren’t apparent on your resume. Be careful not to fall back on technical jargon the interviewer may not understand. Instead, try to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly with someone who doesn’t share your technical background — a highly valued skill for today’s IT job candidates.
Close on a positive note. Express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and consideration. Also, send a thank-you note to reinforce your interest. A carefully crafted message will advance your candidacy and leave a positive, lasting impression with the hiring manager long after you’ve left.
In today’s competitive IT job market, it’s not enough to look good on paper. You also must demonstrate solid soft skills, a strong work ethic and a personality that’s compatible with the corporate culture. Whether you have a week or a day before this important meeting, with a little preparation and practice, you should be able to remain calm and confident while persuading the hiring manager that you’re the right candidate for the job.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.