I always said I was going to skip over the basic career advice on this site. Not because I have anything against the simple steps, but because I've always believed that real hustlers were better than that. But, I've been hiring for a new role on my team, and interviewing a lot of people the last two weeks, and I'm realizing like the old folks say, common sense ain't common.
In this day and age of waning job security and shaky economies, one would think that people would be serious about putting their best feet forward when seeking new opportunities. One would think wrong. There are otherwise qualified people talking themselves right out of good jobs because they are showing up raggedy. Sometimes literally, in disheveled clothes and messy hair, or figuratively by not adequately preparing.
Given this dismal state of affairs, it's actually surprisingly easy to stand out from the pack - and true hustlers know how to seize upon any opportunity. You want to drop the right breadcrumbs that will lead your interviewer to the inevitable conclusion that you are the right fit for that role at that company. And there are three easy steps to doing so.
1. Know Your Story
Going into even applying for a job, you should know your story - the compelling reason why you have the unique combination of skills that the potential employer needs for this role. Your resume and cover letter should communicate that. So if you've gotten to the initial interview stage, you better be ready to articulate that. Take advantage of the pretty steady state of interview questions and be ready to weave your story into any answer you give.
Most interviews will start off with some pretty softball questions - either about you or your current/last job. So practice answering that question by adapting your professional story to fit it. The key points you should hit are your experience, your results, and what you're looking for next. Do all of that by tying them to specific examples from your past.
Lastly, if you describe your current role in glowing terms and seem generally happy (which you should, even if you are miserable!!), most interviewers will follow up by asking why you're looking to leave, so beat them to the punch in one clear and cohesive answer.
"In my current role as assistant to the CEO, I'm responsible for handling her calendar, expenses and administrative tasks. But more than that, my CEO is a thought leader in her industry and a sought-after speaker. So I've also been managing her media presence - working closely with editors, event organizers and television producers. In doing this, I've had to combine my love of writing with my attention to detail to find the right speaking opportunities for her. Thus far, I've been able to get her featured in a major national publication at least once a month. I've grown so much in this role and it's really sparked my love for public relations, which lead me to apply for this PR coordinator job at Financial Equities."
Do this for yourself. Figure out what you're good at, what you've achieved and what you want from your next gig. Then practice putting it together into a short answer for a basic interview question.
2. Know Why You Want to Work at That Company
No lie, I interviewed someone recently and when I asked why she had applied for the job on my team, her answer was "well I've been applying for so many jobs so let me look again right quick."
No. No. Nope. Nawl. Nah uh. Noap.
Unacceptable. Interviews aren't sprung on you by surprise. You generally know when and where they're happening. Even if you've applied for 1,000 jobs in the last month, when you get a call back from one, take 15-20 minutes to do your research. Reread the job description and pull out at least one aspect of the role that speaks to you. Research the company and identify one part of their business that really resonates with you.
All of this is to show that you want this job, not just any job, unlike the woman I spoke to.
"What really attracted me to this role was the opportunity to pitch stories to the business press. Currently, my CEO is a leader in the medical industry, so I've built a lot of strong relationships with trade and industry organizations. That taught me how to translate somewhat complex messages into more easily understood language. Since Financial Equities gets so much coverage in the business press, I'd imagine pitching to those editors would be similar and would give me the opportunity to leverage those skills in a new way."
Again, tie it back to your skills but drop the breadcrumbs that will lead the interviewer down the trail that shows you understand their business and can help them achieve their goals.
3. Know the Bigger Picture
If you've done the first two steps, you've already started to show that you are not raggedy and are at the minimum qualified for the role. This last step is what lets you start to pull away from the pack like Usain Bolt when he realizes he's actually running a race and can't let the rest of those fools beat him.
Remember when I said to research the company. Take that up a notch. Do a Google news search and see if they've been in the headlines lately. If it's a publicly traded company, start looking in the investors section of the about us area on their website and read through the beginning of their latest annual report. Same goes for a nonprofit. Google the names of their senior leaders to see if any have given quotes to the press.
What you're looking for here is to understand the challenges this particular company may be facing and what they see as their longterm goal. Then you want to make sure to allude to these issues in your answers.
"What really excites me about the possibility of joining your team is the new challenge that the state regulations will pose to the financial planning services. Because the state is putting in new guardrails, it'll be on the PR team to properly message this to the media to make sure they're clear we're operating within those somewhat complex regulations. Like I mentioned, I love breaking difficult things down into easy to understand bite-sized language so that kind of challenge is right up my alley.
Or, if there's no natural way to reference, straight up ask. Most interviewers will allow time for you to ask questions. Never, ever go through an interview where you don't ask questions. Even if they answered most of what you had in mind, always have a few at the ready to ask towards the end.
"You mentioned earlier that one of the biggest challenges in this role has been getting traction on stories about your new financial planning services. Given the new regulations that the state just passed, how has that affected the media strategy you already have in place?"
It's always easier to take the shortcut. There are at least ten million ways to be raggedy. Don't be raggedy. Spend a little bit of time getting your shit tight and it will pay off in spades. The more you walk through these steps, the easier and faster it is, and the more you separate yourself from the many raggedy people who will be your competition. Make each job yours for the taking.