Career Resources

Preparing for Job Interviews

Don't simply plan to recite your resume; instead share information about your successes.

Richard P. Gustafson

You can't memorize answers to this test. You can't predict what questions will be asked. You don't know what the grading curve will be. Job interviews aren't that simple. Thorough preparation, however, still can make a difference—a critical difference.

Step 1: Do Your Homework

The first step after scheduling an interview, whether with an executive search firm or directly with the prospective employer, is researching the hiring organization. A recruiter will do much of this work for you and will provide a copy of the job description and some background information on the organization. Review these materials.

Chances are that when you meet with the recruiter he or she will ask if you have any questions. Don't be embarrassed or reluctant; instead, have a list of questions ready. Similarly, when you meet with the prospective employer, bring questions about the organization and position. Asking questions shows your interest and demonstrates your knowledge about the company.

When the recruiter arranges an interview with you and the client, you should receive an agenda including the names and titles of those you will meet. You might also receive a packet of background information about the organization, which may include organizational charts, information about the community, annual reports, and merger documents, if the organization is in the midst of merging with another organization. It's also a good idea to look for articles in the local and industry press to learn about the key issues facing the organization and its management.

If you are conducting a job search on your own, however, you should gather similar information. Ask the hiring organization's human resources department for the names and titles of the interviewers and for information about the organization, such as a copy of the annual report.

Personal contacts who currently or previously worked for the organization or have connections to the organization can also be helpful. They can share insights about corporate culture, management styles, and the organization's overall health.

Step 2: Practice Your Responses

As you prepare for an interview, keep in mind that interview questions fall into three main categories: personal background and education; experiences and accomplishments; and overall discussion that includes fit in the new position and management style.

If you are interviewing with a recruiter, approach the meeting as a practice test. Since recruiters want you to succeed, you should feel less nervous interviewing with the recruiter than with the hiring organization

One crucial yet often overlooked step is confiding in your recruiter. If, for example, you have not interviewed for a position in a number of years and feel out of practice, let him or her know. The recruiter can offer tips on interview and presentation skills to make the process less awkward and improve your chances of success.

Whether responding to questions from the search firm or a member of the hiring organization, when asked about yourself, do more than recite your resume. Share information in a crisp way about your successes, citing what you accomplished and learned at each position. Also, be ready to state your short-term and long-term career goals. Many candidates believe they are being open, friendly, and thorough in their answers, when they are really only rambling.

Be ready to answer several situational questions such as "Describe the accomplishments in your most recent position of which you are most proud." Also be able to discuss the challenges and barriers in achieving these accomplishments as well as your leadership style.

Since you don't want to be taken off guard, plan to discuss your failures as well by turning them into positive outcomes, such as explaining how you would do things differently the next time. You may be asked "What were the lessons and growth opportunities you experienced in your most recent position?" Interviewees will not be allowed to sidestep these more difficult interrogations. Give concise and honest responses.

Formulating and practicing possible responses will help you tailor remarks to the situation. Do be careful, though, not to sound wooden.

Step 3: Follow Up

After the interview, ask when you can expect to hear from the interviewer. Typically you will receive a response from a recruiter within 24 to 72 hours. If the prospective employer says he or she, rather than the recruiter, will contact you, or if you are not using a search firm, it will likely take up to two weeks to receive feedback. Be patient. If more time elapses, feel free to inquire about your candidacy and, in the meantime, be sure to send a thank you note.

In the long run, the more work you do up front, the more comfortable you will be. If there's one thing to remember when interviewing-be prepared.

Richard P. Gustafson, is managing partner of the Health Care Practice of the international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

This article is reprinted from Healthcare Executive.