Annie Sklar is a Student Advisor at Berkleemusic.com. She finished her studies at Berklee College of Music, where she studied Jazz Composition and Tenor Saxophone. Annie has worked and played with jazz greats such as Maria Schneider, Rufus Reid, and Herb Pomeroy. You can hear some of her music on the Berklee Music Network.
Job interviews are fun! OK, they’re not fun. They’re stressful, competitive, and even a little scary if you haven’t done many before. But there are things you can do to make the interview process easier and put yourself in the best position to nail it. There may always be other candidates out there with equivalent, or stronger, experience than you have, but hey, you got the interview. They want to meet you because they liked your resume and your cover letter, and they think you’re a qualified candidate for the job. Now you need to convince them that they were right (which should be easy-everyone likes to be right). You have to figure out how to present yourself as the inevitable choice. Here are some tips that, if wielded effectively, can make you seem like THE candidate.
Before you get there, you need to prepare. Don’t try to wing it. Seriously. The magic of the internet makes research easy, so do your homework. Find out everything you can about the company or organization. Know a general history, core values or mission, current initiatives, and plans for the future (a new location, a fundraising campaign, etc.). Even if you don’t end up referencing much of it, having an arsenal of information will give you confidence and stimulate intelligent conversation that goes beyond stock interview questions. Avoid trivia (“I saw on your website that your last fundraising campaign raised 59.6 million dollars over less than 48 months, and that construction is underway on your new 63-story office tower with gourmet food court and fitness center. That must be very exciting for you!”), but you can definitely use general information to your advantage (“I was impressed by the success of your last fundraising campaign. Do you have any similar initiatives planned for the future?”).
Study the job description. I’m going on the basic assumption that you know what you’re applying for. Don’t be that person who blindly submits job apps because it’s all online and it’s really easy and you can do it while you update your facebook status. Let’s not go there. Read the job description carefully and look for keywords that you can reference when describing your work experience. You’re applying for an administrative assistant position, and one of the items on the listing is “Coordinate monthly meetings for office staff.” At your last job, you’ve been answering the phones and booking birthday parties for 50 squealing six year olds at your local bowling alley (been there, done THAT). When you describe what you’ve been doing, talk about how you “coordinated large group reservations.” Even though you’ve never scheduled office meetings, you’ve connected your experience to the position at hand by using a key word (“coordinate”). You’ve coordinated before. See how that goes? The trick is to work these words into natural conversation-if each sentence out of your mouth contains the word “coordinate,” that’s going to sound canned. A good trick is to make a list of your experience that is relevant to the position. Go through the list and see if you can find a keyword in the job description to with each item of experience. Reference these words in the interview! You’ll sound professional, educated and intelligent.
Rehearse. You know what they’re going to ask. Prep your answers, it’s ok! I have found it helpful to write out responses to the questions I KNOW they’re going to ask me (“Tell me about yourself” “Why are you looking for a job” “Why do you think you would be a good fit for this position” and “Why should we hire you”). Do this as far in advance as possible, so you have a chance to revisit them several times and edit. I wouldn’t recommend bringing that document to the interview, just try to internalize the content so that you can speak naturally and not sound like you’ve memorized lines. Being well prepared for these types of questions will prevent moments that might invite rambling jabber (more on that later), and will also help you out if your interviewer is a dud (it happens). I’ve been in interviews where the person I was speaking with asked ONLY prescribed questions (right off the page, I could see), then went on to the next question without any follow up. If that happens, it’s up to you to make sure that all of your pertinent information is getting across. If your interviewer isn’t helping you out, you’ll have to help yourself by expanding on your own answers. Another possible scenario is that the interviewer is under-prepared or inexperienced, which can also be very challenging. The better prepared you are, the more you will be able to steer and stimulate the conversation.
Plan your questions. As you’re moving through the interview, you will definitely want to ask any RELEVANT questions that arise for you. You’ll feel like you’re having a real conversation, which makes things easier, and you’ll also demonstrate interest, critical thinking, and give the interviewer a chance to talk (everybody likes to talk). However, you will also want to prepare some questions for the moment when you will inevitably be asked “So, do you have any questions for me?” The answer is yes, if you want the job. You should come up with as many questions as you can, with the expectation that some will be answered during the course of the conversation. You can ask basic questions about the job, like “How soon would I be able to start?” or “How long is the training period for this position?” You can ask about compensation/benefits, but tread lightly. You don’t want to sound as though you’re only in it for the cash and the perks. “Does the company offer any tuition assistance for professional development?” is a great question, as it shows that you would be interested in pursuing some education to make you better at your job.
Know whom you will be meeting with. You may not know ahead of time exactly who will be in the interview, but you should know who to ask for when you arrive, and what their title is. Knowing whether you are meeting with an HR officer or the direct supervisor for your position may even effect how you tailor your answers. An HR person may not work in the office you are applying to, and may not have in-depth knowledge of the position beyond the description they’ve been provided with. This situation is a perfect time to use those keywords that we talked about before!
Know where you’re going. And what time you need to be there. And please show up on time. About ten minutes early is perfect-too early, and you may be inconveniencing the people who have scheduled your interview into their presumably busy day. Make sure to bring the appropriate contact information so that you can call if you are running late for some reason. Should that happen, don’t dwell on it too much. Apologize briefly (but sincerely) and move on.
Next week, we get to talk about the big day and how to make it count!!!
Berkleemusic’s next term begins on September 24th, 2012.
Find out more at berkleemusic.com or contact a Student Advisor:
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