March 19, 2019
College students typically understand the value of spending time and effort on their application documents, but many have a hard time realizing the importance of spending even more time preparing for interviews. Why prepare for interviews when you haven't yet been invited to one, right? Well, not quite. Preparing for interviews begins the moment you start job searching: As you polish your resume, get ready to speak about each item in your document; as you draft your cover letter, think about the most important stories to share with interviewers; as you research target employers, pay attention to their values and mission and consider the alignment with yours so you'll be prepared for the inevitable interview questions.
Keep in mind that resumes, cover letters and even referrals don't get you the job; their purpose is to get you an interview, and what happens in that interview determines whether or not you move forward in the application process. In addition to practicing your “tell me about yourself" and IMPACT stories, you may also want to prepare for the following three questions you are sure to be asked in an interview.
This question is important because it helps employers figure out if you have come to them for the right reasons. Your response ultimately shows employers what you know about them, even if they are looking for a response that helps them learn something about you. The resume gives interviewers an idea of what background, experiences and skills you have; the interview, on the other hand, is the perfect opportunity for employers to gauge your motivation and personality. As such, avoid simply making broad statements about the organization being a well-known and prestigious one. If it's something most people can say without much effort, it's not a strong response. Instead, do your homework ahead of time:
- Research the company/organization and know it as well as you would if you had founded it. If you are targeting a behemoth of an organization like the World Bank Group, you may also want to conduct focused research on a specific department or project of interest.
- If possible, speak with former and current employees and find out what they like about their employer and what challenges they face.
- Read news, reviews and analyses of the work the employer does and take notice of what resonates with you.
“To answer this question, go beyond what your resume states," advises Vanya Kaloferova, HR officer at the International Monetary Fund and Certified Professional by the Society of Human Resource Management. “Focus on a unique aspect of the company or position (found through research or in talks with employees) and how that aligns with your professional aspirations."
Be honest with yourself and reflect on what truly excites you about securing an opportunity with that particular employer. Your response needs to connect the dots between what you've been doing so far and how the company and position are the next logical step for you. “The question helps interviewers gauge whether you have realistic expectations of the company and the position," adds Kaloferova. It should be clear what has led you to consider this opportunity out of the many options available. You don't want to sound like a person who is going from one interview to the next, hoping for a lucky break.
At a recent online Tech Talk event organized by a colleague of mine, one of our alumni -- Jennifer Varat, product manager at WW, Inc. -- shared her story with current students and reflected on her recent job search process. When asked to highlight what helped her secure the role, Varat emphasized the importance of being able to communicate her value to employers. So when you hear this question in an interview, avoid simply giving them an overview of your skills and what you have done. They already know that. What they want to hear is your articulation of the value you will bring if they were to hire you. Focusing on the value you bring shifts the conversation from what you have done to what you could and would do if given the chance. Keep in mind that figuring out how you can contribute value takes time, but it's worth it.
To answer this question, be sure to research the company and speak to current employees to determine what pains them at the moment. What problem are they looking to solve with that role? Once you identify their pain point, clarify what you can do to address it. Most job seekers I work with are college students with limited experience, and when we speak about the value they can bring, they push back explaining that they don't have any experience or background to bring any value to anyone. If you are like my students, check out this article by Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture. In it, he gives sound advice on how to create your own value deliverable, even if you believe you are too inexperienced to offer any. “You don't need to change the world with your deliverable," Belcak writes. “You just need to show that you bring good ideas to the table, you are willing to roll up your sleeves, and you're not like everyone else who is applying for this job." The best part is that you can use this same approach to secure an interview in the first place.
This question may seem a formality, but it definitely isn't. Showing that you prepared for it is key to closing the interview on a high note. Please don't say you don't have any questions because the interviewers have covered everything. Nothing puts a damper on a great conversation like your insistence that you have no questions for the interviewers. I've seen it happen, and it is quite disappointing. No matter how well the conversation has gone until that point, the moment you say that you have no questions, you forfeit your position as a contender for the role.
In mock interviews, students often inquire what the best questions to ask are, and I always say the same thing: The best questions are the ones that show you think as someone who is already part of the team and the answers to which will help you gain valuable information. The questions you ask need to show your dedication and genuine interest. Avoid asking questions to which you can easily find answers online or questions about compensation and benefits. “Instead, consider asking questions that seek the perspective of interviewers such as 'What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?' or 'What is your definition of success in this role?'" advises Kaloferova. “This is your chance to make a good impression by choosing a question that shows deeper interest in the culture, mission or vision of the company."
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