The interview is usually a first step in your quest to place yourself properly in an organization. It is also the object of the organization to deduce if you are the best candidate for them. It is, at best, a contrived situation that few people enjoy, and of which many people misunderstand the value. It is a two-way street. Treat it that way.
Although the thought of an interview might give you enough butterflies to lift you to the top of the Empire State building, here are some tips that might make it a little easier. Go prepared. Read the organization’s website so you won’t ask easily-researched questions.
When I was doing consulting, I went to the then-new, monstrous IBM structure in Westchester, New York. On my way out, I asked the vice president who had interviewed me, “How many people does the building hold?” He answered, “Our President, Mr. Watson, would rather have you ask, ‘How many people work in this building?’”
I asked again as Mr. Watson would have wanted. The VP answered, “Oh, about half.” We smiled over Mr. Watson’s answer. Lucky me, I had asked a dumb question and landed on my feet. Ask intelligent questions that introduce a topic that you want the interviewer to know about you. The key is to distinguish yourself in a positive way from other applicants.
The interview is your chance to enhance yourself. Most people take an interview rather than help conduct the interview. Interview the interviewer by asking intelligent questions. Act like an attorney: never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer.
Remember your research and don’t passively sit there, allowing the interviewer to ask all the questions and direct the conversation. Assume an active role. A thoughtful candidate will show three important qualities in a successful interview: interest, initiative, and maturity, solely by taking partial responsibility for the content of the conversation.
Guide the conversation to areas where you feel most secure and accomplished. Use your genuine feelings to react to the information you hear. If you are delighted to learn of a certain future program, show it in both your facial expression and your words. If you are curious, ask more questions. If you are disappointed by something you learn, try to find a path to a positive answer and consider yourself lucky that you discovered this inadequacy in time.
Nervousness is absolutely normal. The best way to handle it is to admit it to the interviewer. A friend from a Fortune 500 company relates this story to his apprehensive candidates: an extremely agitated young applicant sat opposite him for her interview with her legs crossed, a clog dangling from one toe. As she swung her leg nervously, the shoe flew off her foot, hit him in the head, ricocheted to the desk lamp, and broke it. She looked at him in terror, but when their glances met, they both dissolved in laughter.
The moral of the story: the person on the other side of the desk is also human and wants to put you at ease. So admit to your anxiety, and don’t swing your foot unless your shoes are tied on securely! Be yourself. Nobody’s perfect and everyone knows nobody’s perfect. The truly impressive candidate will convey a thorough knowledge of self. By the way, she was so genuine, she was offered the position.
Departing impressions: Do not let the quality of the interview, or the interviewer’s personality or lack thereof, influence an otherwise rational decision. After the last goodbye and thank you has been said, and you exhale deeply on your way out the door, congratulate yourself. If you used the interview properly, you will know whether or not you want the position and why.
Afterwards, send a thank you note to your interviewer. A short and simple note or email will do. Be sure to incorporate something meaningful and of importance to you which was discussed in the interview. Do NOT write a long letter or an essay!
Here are a few possible interview questions to ponder, along with how the interviewer is expecting you to answer.
“What values of our company foster success?”
Your answer should include a balance of research and personal thoughts. Spend time on the organization’s website to learn what philosophical values the corporation holds. Focus on what values, mission, and culture you find important and how those are reflected in the organization. Include core values the interviewer left out of his/her discussion of the corporation.
“What role do you play in a team setting?”
Use this as an opportunity to talk about the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Share what kind of role you can play on a team and how you can be flexible, depending on the needs of the team. Consider talking about experiences where you’ve led and others where you’ve taken direction well.
“What’s been the biggest accomplishment in your business career or, if you’ve just finished your education, in your summer internships?”
Talk about a successful project at which you have worked, an award you won, or a time when you were recognized for going above and beyond in your role. Go into detail about what brought on the accomplishment, crediting your own hard work and dedication to help others. Don’t be arrogant; arrogance can be a turnoff in an interview.
“How do you prepare for your day?”
If your morning routine at home is essential to your day (reading the news, meditating, working out), talk about that. If you’re not a morning person, don’t spend time talking about a hectic start to the day. Focus on how you prepare for a workday by creating a priority list, avoiding email until lunch, or other tactics you use to structure and make the most of your day.
“How do you hold yourself accountable?”
Your answer should include specific strategies. Mention any apps or technology you use to stay on track or ways you work with others to keep focused on a goal. This is a good time to admit to mistakes or misjudgments. However, be sure to include how you turned a negative into a positive.
Talk about how you prioritize tasks every day to show that you can handle multiple priorities and deadlines simultaneously. Mention time management on a weekly or monthly level, and how you manage your schedule to accomplish goals. Mention any tools you use to manage your time, such as lists, calendars, or apps.
“About what are you passionate?”
While the focus of this answer should be about passions outside of work, it’s okay to start with what you’re passionate about in your career. Touch on personal issues you’re passionate about, such as family. Use this as an opportunity to bring up any volunteer or nonprofit work you do.
“How do you continue to educate yourself?”
In your response, show that you’re committed to continuing professional development. Mention networking events or conferences you’ve attended and how they’ve helped you learn new skills. Talk about day-to-day educational resources you leverage, such as blogs, podcasts, or online classes.
“Verbally walk me through your résumé.”
Touch on each of your previous positions, highlighting your responsibilities and major accomplishments. Focus most of your answer on the most relevant positions. Focus also on skills you learned that will help you be a successful employee, such as time management and collaboration.
“Who are the mentors in your life?”
Mention people who you look up to and with whom you have personal relationships. These can be peers, supervisors, former supervisors, and contacts you’ve met at networking events. Talk about the qualities you admire about them.
If you don’t have any personal relationships with mentors, you can reference public figures who have made impressions on your decision to be a ___ (fill in the position for which you are applying).
Good luck and have fun!!!!
Anthony F. Capraro III, Ph.D., is Headmaster of The McBurney School in New York City, President of TEACH USA, Inc., and Founder and Chair of the Board of the nonprofit www.collegeoutreachusa.org.
This article is reprinted from Issue #10 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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