The Interview Process Part 2: ft. Ramon Santillan, Interview Consultant

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We want to help you find THE job, not just a job.

In our previous article, we covered the questions you should ask yourself in order to identify the path that will lead to your dream job and how to land interviews through networking. Finding your purpose and understanding your priorities is a large part of that process.

After reading the past article, you have an idea of what your ideal job looks like, how to find companies that are offering jobs that match your preferences, and the steps you need to take to network your way to interviews.

All that took a lot of time and effort, and to make it worthwhile we have to be sure that you are going to ace the interview and get the offer. Preparing for an interview can seem daunting. How much should I research about the company? Should I read the 10-K? Should I also know about their competitors and the overall picture of the industry?

For this second part, Ramon Santillan, interview consultant and founder of Persuasive Interview, will share his knowledge and experience on this topic.

There is no bullet-proof formula to solve the issue of how much due diligence is necessary, but we will share a summary of what has worked for us and what we’ve seen work for others.

A big component of being able to power through any obstacles that you face, when job searching and interviewing, is to have a professional purpose. Be sure to check our FREE e-guide on that topic. 
 

 

On Research

Ramon: Alejandro and Matt will discuss the business side of the research.

They'll focus on finding more about the company, 10-Ks and mission statements. Don't get me wrong, knowing the company is very important. However, the day of the interview, you won't be interviewing with a company.

You'll be interviewing with a person.

This is someone who is flesh and blood, who has a back story and is probably as nervous as you are about the interview.

Your job is to know this person before you even meet them.

You see, an interview isn't about finding the most qualified candidate with the most experience and the highest GPA. If that were the case, they would save a ton of time and hire based solely on resumes. No, an interview is a process used to find the person who is the "best fit" for the organization.

In other words, they're trying to find the person they like the most.

We're going to make sure you're that person.

When setting up an interview, most companies will tell you who you'll be meeting with. You can use that info to start your research.

If they don't tell you who you'll be meeting, be proactive and go to LinkedIn and figure out who the usual suspects will be. The easiest way to do this is to look up the company and then filter by industry and it will pull up the people in that particular department. You'll be able to see the hierarchy and make an educated guess on who will interview you and who will make the final decision.

When you're doing research on someone, your goal is to find topics and experiences that you and that person have in common. This can be things like industry, past employers, schools attended, professional organizations.

Second, you want to find things that are genuinely interesting to you about that person. Were they president of an organization you also were a member of? Did they win a prestigious award and you're curious how that came about?

Finding these pieces of information can help you:

  1. Get a better idea of who the person is and,
  2. Help you create responses to their questions that will grab and keep their attention. You can also use the info to craft questions you'd like to ask the interviewer about their experiences and how they've helped them get to where they are.

I start my research on LinkedIn and then do a Google search using the information from LinkedIn to confirm that I'm looking at the same person. From there I go to Facebook and Twitter.

I like to see what they post online as well as find out more about their personal life (marital status, kids, the music they like, where they travel, like to read, etc).

I have found that most women have a Pinterest account where you can find out about their decorating style, what types of clothing they like, places they would like to visit and other aspirational goals they've set for themselves. This can be invaluable when you're building a connection and want to move from the initial interview phase into a conversation.

Although I don't necessarily blurt out that I know they have two kids that play softball every Wednesday at the fields on the west side of town, I do like to bring up the fact that I researched their professional profile and am familiar with their work history.

I then use the personal information I came across to ask questions that will help me build a bond with the person.

Recently a client, who is an avid enthusiast of the outdoors, followed these steps and found an old article that talked about his interviewer's love for beekeeping and the outdoors.

Not only was the interviewer impressed by how well my client prepared for the interview, they also had plenty of things in common to create and develop a true connection. This led to a 2nd round interview and a job offer.

Alejandro: The first step is to go to their website.

Read their About section and understand what they do. What are the problems they solve? The goal is to have the ability to explain what they do in simple terms. Almost like you were building a 30-second pitch for the company. Explore as much as you can on their website, but keep it to 10-15 minutes at max. Remember, time and focus are your most valuable resources.

If the company you want to work for is a public company then the research will be easier. All you have to do is read the “Business” part of their 10-K and you will have a good understanding of what they do and the problems they solve. Don’t be afraid of the 10-K, the Business section is usually about 10-15 pages.

So far you have information of what they say they do. Now you have to go a bit further and cross-check if what they actually do matches what they say the do.

If they say they support diversity, go check their executive and management team sections. Do they really look like a diverse organization? If they say they support diversity and then their executive team is all from one gender or from a particular ethnicity then maybe the don’t prioritize diversity as much as they say they do.

Once you understand what they do, and what industry are they part of, your next step is to understand how the industry looks like. Again, if it is a public company there will be a lot of available resources to conduct this research. Vault and Hoovers are valid resources for any company.

And the last step would be to take a look at the key people in that company. Top executives, the managers, and team members of the position that you will be applying for. The last pieces of information (manager and team members) are not always readily available, that is why networking is so important to find your dream job.

Matt: I am a research nerd! My first real career was as an anthropologist where I specialized in meta-research which is a fancy way of saying I would gather multiple sources, analyze, and draw conclusions. Needless to say, I am all about that research life, and you should be as well when searching for THE job.

Ramon and Alejandro have touched excellent points, instead, of re-stating what they have already said I am going to take a unique approach. A business coach taught me how to do interesting research on companies using a technique most have never tried: make a connection within the company in order to conduct first-hand research.  

What does this look like?

If you are a student you will have an advantage, and even those who are not students can use first-hand research. Make a list of companies you want to research, I recommend a spreadsheet with important information, i.e. company name, website link, financial link (see Alejandro's comments above), your connection at the company, your first contact/visit notes, and more.

Continually fill this in as you make contact with the company. At first make a connection through LinkedIn, a referral, your school’s career center, or from a networking event. Get to know this contact through an informational interview. Take the time to really understand what they do, what they like/dislike about their job and company, do they see themselves staying for a year or decade, would they recommend the company, and anything else you think is valuable.

Now you have a primary resource! If you think the company is a good fit, try and set up a company visit.  

Note: as a student this is easy. I went on multiple company visits during my MBA program either alone or with a group. As a professional who is not in school, be clever, ask your contact if they can show you around.

When you get in, be aware of everything. What is the atmosphere, how are people dressed, do employees look happy, is it an open floor plan or cubicles, are managers walking around or in closed offices, were you greeted warmly, did someone offer you a beverage, how long did you have to wait in the lobby, etc.?

All of these observations are valuable pieces of information. Think about it, if you wait until an interview for your first site visit you will likely miss key data points. You will be nervous rehearsing your interview questions.

The above site visit is meant for you to be relaxed. This tactic is for you to do a pre-interview of them. Take mental notes of everything and add to your spreadsheet.

When you have found the places that match you, then it is time to move on to securing an interview.

Use the STAR Method

Ramon: The problem with the way most people prepare for an interview is that they Google "top interview questions " and quickly come up with a mental summary of what they would say.

"What's my biggest challenge? I'll probably say that I'm a perfectionist or something about staying late." The day of the interview comes and you find yourself blabbing without direction for what seems like an eternity while your interviewer anxiously looks at his watch wondering when he can stop the interview and send you out. Not only does this make you sound unprepared. It also makes you sound like everyone else.

Instead of trying to memorize awful canned questions along with terrible canned answers you should instead focus more on what the purpose of the question is and how your answer best represents you to the interviewer.

Being able to craft meaningful and honest responses is what will set you apart from the other candidates.

My great book shows you how to do this in a short easy way.

Once you start figuring out what they're really asking you'll be better prepared to answer any question they send your way using the STAR method.

Alejandro: Do you have a favorite comedian?

If you do, you’ve probably been at or watched many of their shows on video. And you’ve probably noticed that each show has a different theme or general stories, but there are also some jokes or lines that they always use. You can think of those as their “signature jokes."

What you may not know is that before putting that show together they practice their material over and over again. And this doesn’t mean they are fake and it is not a natural joke. It means that they care about providing you with a great service and allowing you to laugh and have a great time at their show.

It works exactly the same for business, the difference is that we don’t tell jokes, we tell the stories of the challenges we’ve faced and how we overcame them, throughout our professional career. And practicing those stories doesn’t mean we are fake. It means that we care about what we do and that we want to help organizations solve their problems.

Most of the times we will only have one opportunity to tell our story, our pitch, which is why it needs to be on point. The STAR method is a great framework that will allow you to tell great professional stories. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This framework will help you organize your stories so that you can be efficient and effective.

Matt: You might be thinking why did we put the STAR method in an article on researching your dream job, well the answer is more obvious than it might appear.

From our previous article, you have already discovered your professional purpose and know where you want to work, or at least the industry where you want to work. Once you know the industry, then it is time to do more in-depth research as explained above, yet not all of the research is external, there has to be internal research.  

What does that mean?

By internal, I mean you need to look within yourself. Did you find that dream company using the above techniques?  If so why are they the perfect job for you? Is it your personality, work ethic, skills, or something else that is a match?

You need to know why you are a good fit because when you do land an interview the questions might not be your typical: where do you see yourself in five years and other “standard” questions. What if they ask for more narrative style answers?

You do not want to be caught off guard. The STAR method is used to build narratives that can help you answer more complicated questions. Imagine your dream job, now think about how you can parallel your life to them through the STAR method.  

For example, I mainly work with start-ups, non-profit organizations, and individuals. I can remember past experiences and situations where a client was trying to figure out how to go-to-market. The task was to create a lean marketing strategy. Our action was to execute the strategy with precision, track the results, and adapt as needed. The result was a successful launch.

Knowing that narrative is important for me because when I meet a potential client, I don’t know their exact questions they will ask me but I know it will relate to a go-to-market strategy and I can pull my experiences using the STAR method.

The point is to be prepared.  Researching a company is vital, but so is researching your past and identifying why you are the ideal candidate for a company.

Bring Solutions to the Table

Ramon: No matter what position you are applying for, when you’re interviewing, you’re a salesperson.  And what are you selling?  You.

A quick sales lesson here: When you’re selling something, sell them the benefits, not the features.  

When most people go into an interview, they sell themselves by talking about their features: “I’m hard working and dedicated!”

That’s great.  The problem is 1. Being hardworking and dedicated is pretty much a bare requirement for having a job and 2. Everyone else who goes into that interview room is going to say the same thing.

Instead, sell the benefits and you can do that by doing research on what their pain points are. Alejandro will go more into finding those pain points so let me give you an example of how it would look.

  • Don’t Do This: Selling a feature “I’m a team player”
  • Do This: Selling a Benefit: “I can show you how to increase your profit”

Alejandro: Imagine that you could show up to the interview knowing the following:

  • Leadership style of your future manager and what type of work-flow do they like
  • Work-flow of your whole team and the ideal way of interacting with each of them
  • Being a master, or at least proficient, at the skills required for the position
  • Understanding the goals and challenges within the organization of your future team
  • Knowing how much value will you will be able to produce and what is a fair compensation for that
  • Having a clear picture of your organization within the competitive landscape in their industry, and understanding what do they have to do to be the best

And then imagine you walk into the interview knowing all this information, and you are able to address each of those points and communicate how and why you are the perfect fit. You are basically already doing part of your job before even starting.

Do you think you will get the job if you are able to do what was just described?

Then your goal is to get to that point, by doing the necessary research, doing as many informational interviews as you can with people inside the company, and being clear of how your purpose and talents are aligned with the vision, mission, and values of the company.

Matt: Ramon and Alejandro said it perfectly!  

You should not be nervous when you have determined your professional purpose, researched the company, conducted informational interviews, and looked internally to uncover why you are the perfect fit for the company.

Have you ever known something would occur before it happened? You knew you would make an A, you knew your team would win the game, you knew that person would say yes when you asked them on a date, or you knew that people were going to love what you cooked?

We all have been in those situations. Why did we know the result beforehand? The answer is obvious, we did the work prior to the test, game, asking them out, or making the meal. We did not just go in blindly, instead, we were confident because of our preparation.

The same is true for a job. Offers should not be surprises. You should have done so much research and networking that an interview is just a formality. When you are at a point of confidence then you can provide solutions to a company as stated by Alejandro which allows you to be relaxed in an interview and look like a rock star.

Take the time to identify your professional purpose, do the necessary research, and come up with solutions to real problems.  Of course, this will take time, but the outcome will be something you know ahead of time.

Summary

Now you are ready to perform at your best during an interview.

You know how to be efficient and effective with your research, how to look for information that will allow you to build a relationship with your interviewer, how to position yourself, and talk about the benefits and value that you will create for the organization by addressing their pain points.

But there is another key step to ensure you are in the right place. You have to know you will feel good and successful at the position and company you will be working for.

Be sure to check out Ramon’s book, so you can be at your best when answering questions during interviews.

Stay tuned because in the next article of this series we will share insights on how to follow up after the interview and how to negotiate salary.

This is a series of articles by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery, see our past articles here.