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Clients often ask for advice on interviewing skills.  “How can I best prepare?  What questions should I ask?  What should I say or not say when they ask about my weaknesses?  What about my strengths?  I don’t like to brag about myself.  How do I negotiate my salary?”  The list goes on and on and every situation has unique challenges and opportunities.  That said, there are some universal Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to interviewing.

If you remember nothing else, remember these two Do’s:  1)  Be prepared and 2) Be present.

Do #1:  Be Prepared

  • Do your homework.  Research the company and the interviewees.  What’s the company’s history, values, and challenges?  If publicly traded, what’s the stock price and how has it changed over the last year?  Is the position for which you’re applying a newly created position?  If so, why was it created?  Who are the stakeholders?  If you’re replacing someone, find out the story behind the departure.  How much turnover is there, especially for the role you are seeking?  What industry trends will impact the company and the role?  Who are the interviewers?  Interviewing with an external recruiter is different than interviewing with an internal recruiter, which is different from interviewing with prospective peers, direct reports, or your prospective manager.

  • Know your personal brand.  What two or three adjectives describe you best and the value you would bring?  Be sure to weave these words and descriptions into your resume or curriculum vitae, and into the examples you share during the interview.  Your brand is how your interviewers will describe, remember, and distinguish you from the other candidates.  Think of your personal brand as the way in which you get things done. Is it through careful analysis and seamless execution?  Is it by inspiring, motivating and holding accountable others?  Is it through direct influence – someone skilled at working within a matrix environment?  Know your brand and make it clear to your audience.

  • Know your limitations or growth areas.  An interviewer who doesn’t ask about “weaknesses” or limitations is being delinquent in their duties.  A candidate who stumbles on this question is ill prepared.  We all have strengths and limitations.  In fact, most “weaknesses” are simply misused or overused strengths.  When discussing weakness, only mention those with an opposite strength.  For example, perhaps one of your development areas is that you often do not speak up or push back to those in an authority position above you, even if so doing could lead to better decisions.  If this is true for you, then when asked about an area of development, you might respond with something such as the following:  “I believe that I’ve been promoted as quickly as I have in my last few roles because I’ve been the person who will do what you tell me to do.  No questions asked, if you want something done, tell me, and I’m on it.  That said, there are times when it would be more appropriate to, at least initially, push back, such as if my boss is acting on false assumptions.  Having learned years ago that this was a weakness, I now make it a habit early in a new reporting relationship to share with my new manager this weakness and ask him or her, ‘What’s the best way to pushback if I disagree with a particular decision?’  Of course, at the end of the day, I’ll do what I’m asked but at least this way I can do so with the confidence that my manager had the best information available.  I’m still not perfect at this but I’ve gotten better with each new reporting relationship.”

  • One final note on discussing development areas – be sure to frame limitations as “lessons learned” and “wins” or strengths in terms of the team or group for which you belong.  Share credit; own mistakes.

Stay tuned for Do #2: Be present!