When we first get that call for an interview, a sense of elation sets in. "Yay! I got an interview!" Then, reality hits, and it means hunkering down and doing a lot of research to make sure you are totally prepared for the interview.
But one thing many people fail to do is to go on the offensive in the interview. This is a two-way street. You should be interviewing the prospective employer just as much as they are interviewing you. There are a lot of things to consider, including:
1) Is the company financially healthy? The common wisdom in the world of hiring is 'last hired, first fired' - so if the organization is struggling financially, this might be a big red flag for you to think about... how much would this opportunity cost you if the company went out of business? How many other jobs could you have interviewed for in the meantime if you hadn't worked at this organization? Would the short-term gain be worth it in the long-term? How would this impact your overall career path?
2) What is the company culture like? There are plenty of good bosses out there, but there are bad ones too. Look for warning signs in the company culture when you are in the interview and through your internal network. Sometimes, it simply isn't a fit, and that's okay. In today's economy, sometimes we don't have the luxury of making that choice when it's the difference between putting bread on the table and paying the bills through putting up with a bad boss. But your personal sanity and psychological health can be severely impacted by an overbearing, control-freak of a boss... so be aware and look for signs of what the office culture is like during the interview.
3) How does the company value its employees? Are there indicators that staff members are respected and encouraged to grow professionally? This can impact your future career direction. An environment where workers are able to obtain professional development to enrich their careers not only builds loyalty but means that their contributions have value in the eyes of the executives. This can mean future promotion opportunities within, or help people build their careers in the future.
Being prepared for an interview of course means investigating the company thoroughly to be able to respond nimbly to the questions that will be asked.
However, it is also very important to think about what YOU will ask the employer to get a little deeper into the mindset, culture, and operations of the organization while also demonstrating your superiority as a candidate. The people who are most engaged and interested in the employer will have the better chance to stand out as the top choice.
You'll need to also prepare questions that you will ask in the interview, and that means not asking things like, "How much does this position pay?" (Definite interview-killer question...)
What you want to do is push back slightly, asserting yourself. The interview 'power' goes both ways - they are examining you as a potential employee, and vice versa for you.
Preparing the questions you are going to ask requires developing queries that are probing without being inappropriate. I'm including some good examples for you to use in your interview which can win points in an interview while getting you some valuable information to help you understand the employer:
1) Can you tell me about the culture here at (COMPANY NAME)?
Obviously, company culture isn't exactly something that can be easily communicated on a website or in a brochure. It's a personal interpretation, and by asking this question, you are subtly asking the interviewer that you are curious about the values and priorities of the company. The subtext here is that you are letting the interviewer know that you are curious about the fit between yourself and the company. Based on their answer, you can respond and affirm that you are a good fit.
2) What types of professional development does your organization offer?
Basically, you are asking the employer: Do you care about your employees and help them do a better job for you by giving them the tools they need to be successful? Investing in professional development for employees communicates that the employer wants to give the staff members up-to-date knowledge and job-specific tools for them to be able to do their jobs effectively.
3) If I were to start this position today, what would be the top three things I would need to know to hit the ground running?
I love this question, because this shows how sharp and keyed in you are on the prospective employer's priorities. It shows initiative, hunger for the job, and intense interest on being successful. This is a GREAT question!
4) Can you describe your management style?
Sure, this might make the interviewer a little uncomfortable, but this is entirely appropriate. Watch them carefully to see if they are being honest. If the person responds with, "Oh, I am an open-door manager, and let everyone take the projects and run with them," and isn't making eye contact with you, there might be a disconnect with what they are saying and how they actually are. Watch the reactions of the others in the room, if there is a panel. Side looks can reveal volumes of information...
5) Based on what you've observed today, do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job?
This is a perfect question to ask last, because this is your 'heat check' moment. After the interview is over, you have pretty much closed the door on any human resource or hiring manager providing specific feedback on your performance. By asking this question in the interview, you are putting them on the spot to give you an indication of what their objections might be in hiring you, and that allows you to address them right then and there. There is no follow up that can sway minds once the interview is over... this is your moment.
6) What were the top three challenges and top three opportunities you've experienced while at (COMPANY NAME)?
This also lends you some insight into what might be some hurdles or even areas of tremendous opportunity for you when stepping on board as a new employee. Having these 'heads-up' are invaluable in guiding your integration into a new company culture.
7) [Ask company-specific questions]
Do your research on the company, and have 4-5 specific questions about the company that are intelligent and pointed towards the position for which you are applying. Sometimes, these questions end up being covered during the course of the interview, so you want to have a number of them to have a couple of different cards to use. Additionally, the subliminal message you are sending to the employer is that you've done your research on them, and are genuinely interested in them as a company, not necessarily as your next job.
These pointers will help you stand out in any interview as an excellent, well-informed, inquisitive yet assertive candidate. Employers are looking for go-getters; they aren't hiring people for being timid, and this is where you can really shine!