Over the years of applying for jobs and interviewing people, we have learned a few things about what has made a difference in getting a job based on an interview. I’m sure all of you have at least one moment that stands out from an interview that you have logged in your mind that either helped with your success or did not.
Here’s one of mine. In my first real job interview I was applying to work in the government department. The interview had its typical question period but as it was a GIS position, I had to complete a cartography test. I was told right then that I did perfectly on the test and they were very impressed. However, when being informed at a later date that I didn’t get the job, they said I didn’t know enough about their department and what they do. If I had known more, they would have hired me as I excelled in every other aspect. From then on I have always been sure to do extensive research on the company before any interview.
Years of applying for jobs, being interviewed and failing or succeeding led us to create a compilation of some of the things we recommend. This is based on our experience, so take it as you will.
General Tips for Interviews
Research the company beforehand. You should know as much as you can about them for someone who doesn’t yet work there. There will inevitably be a question about them, so prove you did your research and show off. Knowing nothing about the place you supposedly want to work reflects poorly on you.
- Bring something for the staff when you arrive for your interview. If you bring something it makes you memorable and shows that you care about making an impression.
- Do some research on the team you will be working with. Does the team tweet about certain movies? Bring that up in your interview. Is it clear that some of the team are obsessed with a certain sports team? Come in with some Toronto Maple Leafs cookies (and add a couple of Senators ones as well just in case)
- Do research on the latest social media posts from the company so you know what their biggest challenges are. Do you have any thoughts on those?
Make eye contact. While it can be awkward to look into a stranger’s eyes, avoiding eye contact is much worse, and honestly even more awkward. You need to be engaged. Showing you’re present by looking at your interviewer is key.
When asked about your future plans, mention the company you’re applying for. Whether you picture yourself there in five years or not, you want to be open to the possibility. If you say you want to be in a completely different field in five years, why would they hire you?
In our last round of interviews, we narrowed the list down to about 10 people we wanted to interview. One interview was a lady who seemed quite intelligent and likeable and in our minds, we could see her fitting well in our company. However, when we asked her about her long term plans, she told us about her desire to go back to school and eventually have a government job. You always need to think of your answers from the perspective of your potential employer! Would you want to hire someone who has just told you they don’t want to stay with the company long term?
Show personality. While I’m sure most places want a skilled worker, skills can be taught, personality can’t. Let your personality out during your interview to show that you will get along with the team. Not sure you will? Feed off of their energy and vibe and do your best to show that you are a good fit. Most interviewers want to see grit, and giving them a taste of that is instrumental, especially in agency life.
Don’t speak badly of a past employer. While honesty is great, this is something I would keep out of the interview unless directly asked. Continuously speaking negatively of your previous employer can reflect poorly on yourself just as much as it does them.
This happened during our interview process. We really liked the honesty, but it was something that was brought up without our prompt and mentioned several times in casual conversation. It left us with the distinct memory of their negativity rather than their other great traits.
If you are being interviewed by more than one person, acknowledge them all. There is nothing worse than interviewing someone who acts like you don’t exist. While there may be a superior in the room, showing you acknowledge everyone is a sign of respect and that you aren’t just trying to impress the boss.
Ask the interviewers a question. Nothing shows you are more engaged than asking a meaningful question. I don’t mean “when will I be notified?” but, “what can I do when hired that will make my performance outstanding?” or something that will intrigue them. For smaller, startup companies like ours, ask your interviewers about their aspirations for the company. Comment on those and be excited about them!
During my interview at MHC, when asked if I had any questions I asked them a very specific one about my future in the company. It left them remembering me, and impressed with my level of interest in working here.
Send a thank you or follow up. While this doesn’t work for everyone, it can make or break it if you’re on the cusp. It also shows you care about the position and are looking to hear back.
Update your cover letter. Make your cover letter or application applicable to the position you are applying to. You have the job description, cater your application to this. Additionally, show personality in your cover letter. There are hundreds to thousands of applicants per job posting, letting your personality shine is a great way to stand out.
Don’t be afraid to prompt for answers. Interviews are nerve racking, there is no denying it. The interviewee may not be in their best state of mind, so if you didn’t get the answer you were looking for, ask them to expand. If after that they still don’t give you the answer you want, move on, you tried.
Ask each candidate the same questions. You want to measure them against the same gradient, so make sure all of the questions are the same. This falls true with asking them about themselves as mentioned below. If you ask one candidate about their hobbies and not another, you’re giving them a chance someone else didn’t have to show personality or commonality.
Be prepared for interviewing. If you are having someone come in, be ready. If you are disorganized or flustered it reflects on what their time working for you looks like. Have the space ready, questions set and start on time.
Ask them about themselves. If you are going to be spending an indefinite amount of time working with someone, you want to know you are compatible. Get to know them by asking about their hobbies, pets, family etc. Again, skills can be trained but personality cannot.
Follow up with the candidate. There is nothing worse than the anticipation of waiting to hear back from somewhere you’ve interviewed. If you know you won’t be moving forward with a candidate, let them know. They likely have applied to several places too so be considerate with your timing.
Understand the nerves. You’ve been there. Unless you’re a super confident person in uncomfortable situations, you likely will be nervous. Give them time and try to make them feel comfortable.
In our interviews we like to keep it very informal as we are a very laid back group of individuals. We make a joke or chat about the nervousness we’ve all felt during an interview with the hope it may help bring out their natural side. Interviews aren’t a true depiction of someone’s personality, so try and get to their roots. At the same time, you aren’t there to hold their hand, so if it comes to that point, they likely aren’t the right fit.
Overall, in my opinion, whether you are interviewing candidates and applying for a position, show who you are. We want to see humility and character with our candidates. You spend more time with your work family than your own family sometimes, so it’s important to show that you while you can put your head down and work hard, you’re compatible with the team.
Have a lot of experience where interviews are concerned? Let us know what your favourite interview tip is or if you have a unique story. Tweet us @mhc_inc and we’d love to hear it!
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