Everyone sort of prepares for their interviews the same way. They research the company they’re applying for and brush up on long-forgotten academic material. While this is a great start, it’s important to realize that recruiters and hiring managers have a vastly different set of criteria for what makes the perfect entry-level candidate than for what makes the ultimate executive. After all, the average day in the life of a second-year financial assistant is going to be far different from that of a CFO.
So to give yourself the best chance of nailing your next job interview, here’s how to address what recruiters want to see, depending on the level of job you’re applying for.
For Entry-Level Employees
1. Don’t be afraid to be afraid
Recruiters aren’t demonic perfection seekers. They understand that entry-level job applicants will most likely be pretty new to this whole interviewing thing. If you’re young and just starting off on your professional career, don’t be too worried about showing some anxiety or a few jitters. In fact, during my career as a recruiter, many job applicants have outright professed to me at the start of their interviews that they were totally nervous. And you know what? I was totally fine with that, and other recruiters will be too.
2. Be prepared to talk about your college experience and your goals
At this point, you don’t have too much work experience to talk about with your interviewers. Interviews can last as long as an entire day, so you can bet that your college experience and career goals will come up at some point. Failing to plan can often mean that you plan to fail, so go into the interview with a strong idea of what you want to say. It would be difficult to come up with a good response right on the spot to nebulous questions such as “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” or “What about your college experience has prepared you the most for this job?”
3. Befriend the interviewer by showing your likable side
I hate to say it, but interviewers often care more about the likability of entry-level candidates than whether or not they’re actually qualified for the job. This is because the person interviewing you will often also be your future boss and mentor, so it makes perfect sense that they would want to hire someone whom they personally like and want to work with. A strong interview performance means establishing a strong connection with your interviewer. Try to show off your personality instead of just answering questions robotically. You can even get a bit personal if you’d like to.
4. Show that you are committed
According to Julia Scott, a founding partner at Mock Interview, companies oftentimes lose money by hiring you – at least early on. They have to train you, and this requires time and effort from more senior employees who could be doing something else to benefit the company. On top of that, they need to pay you a yearly salary. So what companies are really hoping for is that you’re committed to sticking around. That way, their efforts will be rewarded down the road once you’ve become a true asset to the company as opposed to a liability. This is why it’s super duper important to show interviewers that you are in it for the long haul.
For Mid-Level Employees
1. Emphasize your achievements at past jobs
You’re no longer a wildcard. You’ve been working for a number of years now so recruiters are going to be expecting you to tell them what you’ve managed to achieve over the course of your previous jobs. Conveying to your interviewer that you were an effective employee in the past is perhaps the most important message to get across, because this is one tell-tail sign that you’ll be an effective employee in the future as well.
2. Present your unique value proposition
Your past work experience should have molded you into an employee with a unique set of skills and capabilities that set you apart from other candidates. Now it’s up to you to bundle all of these valuable traits together and present them as your sales pitch on why you should be hired. Unlike the case with entry-level employees, interviewers are expecting mid-level employees to be able to start generating the company profits immediately upon arrival.
3. Showcase your hard skills and technical expertise
Mid-level job interviews de-emphasize soft skills and focus on what you can actually do as an employee. Those who show a superior technical proficiency will be the ones who edge out a win here. Even though your hard skills may already be listed on your resume and cover letter, you should be actively seeking opportunities during your interview to advertise the arsenal of skills you’ve acquired over the years.
It’s not enough to simply say that you know how to program in C++. You’ve got to provide evidence that your C++ prowess is better than that of the next guy waiting in line to be interviewed. Try your best to bring up examples of the most impressive projects that you’ve completed in the past.
For Executive-Level Employees
1. Flaunt your leadership and management abilities
A senior-level employee is likely to be the manager of an entire team. While it’s still, of course, important to know the technical side the job, interviewers will test your hard skills far less than they will for job applicants at other levels of experience. In fact, with all your years of work experience, hiring managers often make the assumption that you already have complete mastery over the technical aspects of the job. Now the emphasis is placed on your ability to lead and coordinate others in doing the work you once did in the past.
2. Explain your vision
It’s all about the big picture. Often times, companies want to bring on a seasoned executive who has the vision necessary to steer them in a new and better direction. The person sitting across from you is going to want to know what that new direction is and where it will take the company. Not only do you need to clearly explain to the interviewer your vision and overall game plan, you may also need to give reasons for why your approach is superior to alternatives that other job candidates may propose.
3. Show how you can increase the company’s bottom line today
This should be one of your main selling points. How are you going to improve the company’s bottom line once hired? While describing your vision and goals is one thing, it’s another to present numerical data and facts that support the notion that you’ll be able to ultimately increase the company’s net income. Many candidates can seem quite wishy-washy when explaining their ideas, so always be sure to bring things back to dollar terms.
Peter Yang is a career coach, human resources expert, and professional resume writer. You can check out his company at ResumeGo, a firm that provides career counseling and resume writing services.