How to be the Best Job Applicant

What if you could have a successful approach to any job interview? There are three main steps that are its foundation: preparation, presentation, and follow-up. The mantra of this approach is easy – be memorable.

Preparation drives success. It was Winston Churchill who said “he who fails to plan is planning to fail.” The time before your interview is key – manage it well. Stress preparing the night before is a no-go; of course, some take that as a challenge, but leaving everything to the last minute only creates more anxiety with less time to properly study, understand, and have the answers fixated in your mind.

Those answers are what you derive from possible interview questions. Your resume and recommendations are the foundation for these building blocks. You may sound good on paper, but the ability to successfully communicate your experience, work ethic, and problem-solving skills are what sells you as a top-tier employee. Companies are looking for the best people to solve their problems, so be the best problem solver, and one of the best ways is using recommenders that can speak to that skillset.

Some questions can be easily gathered from your resume (“what’s been your greatest work achievement?”), but some are off-the-cuff questions that seem so simple but leave inexperienced interviewees rambling without an anchor point – “tell me about yourself,” “why did you choose this career?” These answers are usually harder because of the more personal content that creates them. It’s easy to branch off into topics that are not appropriate for an interview, such as politics, religion, or your entire life story. The test is to balance “personable” with intent; a concise description that highlights key aspects of your personality that translate well to your professional qualities.

In your foray of preparation, it should include reviewing the company. Why for the company’s genesis? What are their values? How do those values align with yours? Why do you want to work there? These types of questions will be parceled throughout the interview, and if the interviewer doesn’t bring them up, you can factor it in organically yourself.

Preparing for the interview is not just a mental marathon. Prepare physically by getting a good night’s rest and a good, fueling meal before the interview. It sounds cliché, but it’s an honest appeal to common sense.

The next is to dress the part; you want to reflect yourself well, and it’s easier to cement that confidence when you are comfortable and looking your best. The company is looking for individuals who best represent them– and the best representative is a confident one who reflects the company’s values.

That preparation factor neatly slots into the next step: presentation. The company is looking to invest, so display qualities that elicit that. You’ve prepared for the interview questions (the simple and the frustrating), but how do you present it? It’s easy to succumb to this pressure-ridden experience and end up sounding like a robot. It’s important to not just “memorize” but understand a question’s content so you respond naturally to any change or variation of it. This way you can focus on being your professional self and presenting it well.

It’s important to find a balance of being yourself while in a professional setting, and it’s important to showcase that ability during the interview. This interview is not only about your experience, but your ability to work with people. That office-life characteristic will be confronted during the interview by the interplay of the back-and-forth with the interviewer and their questions, or even being interviewed by the specific people you’d be working with. Your answers and interaction will reflect how you’ll fit into the office culture. Companies are not looking only for work criteria but also social skills; the company’s culture could be more laidback or button-up, and the interview is a time to evaluate how your personality would be compatible.   Your ability to problem solve projects needs to be supplemented by your interpersonal skills.

At the end of this interview, it’s easy to smile and reply in the negative to “do you have any questions?” But this is the perfect time to pounce on the fact that now the positions are switched: you’re the interviewer. Use that to your advantage and further expound upon that connection you’ve been cultivating since the beginning. Remember, the goal is to be memorable, and interest begets interest – “Why do you like to work here?” “What would you expect of me if I worked here?” “What’s the flow of a normal work day?” This is just another step to connect with a possible future coworker and to establish yourself as a strong candidate.

The last step is to follow-through. It’s the simplest but sometimes the most forgettable.

Send a thank-you card. Or, in this technological age, a thank-you email tailored to the interviewer. It’s important to tailor the email to the specific job and interviewer(s) because a general one is just that – general, nondescript, unmemorable. It’s important to hit upon the highlights of the interview and to again leave a lasting impact with a light reaffirmation of your position-fitting skills. This is the last impression they will have of you before the big decision.

For most jobs, there is a stepped interview approach. One-and-done interviews are rare, and you’ll most likely be asked back for another interview. The second interview is larger in scope; more interviewers will be involved, which translates to preparing for more questions and social interactions. Rinse and repeat this interview approach; study new questions and prepare new ones to ask. Showing how adaptive you are to new situations and players is an element of this second interview. Are you mindlessly repetitive or confidently versatile?

Be prepared, be memorable, and it will pave the way to your desired job.