Applying for jobs in a down economy has to be one of the least enjoyable tasks out there. You know you’re competing against the world. You’re praying that your résumé is optimized to appease the Applicant Tracking System gods. And once you’ve looked for a little while with minimal results, you get discouraged.
Then one day you get an email from a recruiter who wants to set up an interview. You’re elated until you find out she wants you to come in tomorrow because the hiring manager is heading out of town for two weeks. So you go into a prepping frenzy. You study the company’s website, google the people you’ll be speaking to, prepare for typical questions and lay out your freshest suit. But before you walk into that lobby and go for the next step of your life, there are three things you should always know.
1. Your Numbers
I’m not talking about phone numbers. I’m talking about any worthwhile percentages and numbers that’ll make you stand out—particularly if you didn’t list them on your résumé. (Hint: list them on your résumé.) When you go into an interview, you should not only be prepared to speak on how you solved problems. You should also be able to quantify the impact of your solutions—however simple you think they may be.
Quantifying is powerful, and it’s one of the things that stick long after you leave the interview. Why? Because it’s easy for interviewers to write down! Another perspective: Is it better to say you increased the sales team’s total sales, or that you were responsible for 65% of the sales team’s revenue in the past three quarters? Is it better to say that you wrote four articles a week for a magazine, or that you wrote four articles a week that generated an average of 7,000 page views? Which answer says you really know your stuff?
2. Your Roles
Have you ever had a job where your title didn’t reflect the full range of tasks you were responsible for? Maybe you struggled to get all those responsibilities on your résumé. Or you intentionally listed them all to get more keyword hits from recruiters. Oftentimes interviewers can’t tell how much time you spent on each responsibility, so they ask a question like, “Can you tell me where most of your time was spent?”
Reverting to the previous point about knowing your numbers, you should easily be able to break down your responsibilities into digestible (and quantifiable) nuggets. If 50% of your time was spent doing transactional tasks like replying to email and answering questions for other team members, say that. If 25% of your time was spent filing and re-bandaging paper cuts, own that.
Be able to go a layer deeper with specific examples or stories that involve those responsibilities. Examples include how you handled a conflict with a coworker, how you responded when [stuff] hit the fan, or a time when you really felt like a novice and how you went about getting the answers you needed.
3. Know Your Whys
When you want to understand how someone ticks, what type of questions do you ask? There’s a good chance a few of them start with “why.”
One of the biggest goals of an interview is for the interviewer to understand how you tick, how you think, how you’ll make their company better. They’ll also want to anticipate what’s next for you and why you’re interviewing for this job.
You should be able to explain why you’re looking, why you’ve selected each company you worked for, and why you liked or disliked each job you’ve held. Because more often than not, what you did is less important than why you did it.
These are just three things everyone should know for every interview. Keep them in mind and show them what you got!
Rich Jones is a pathfinder for professionals, with a knack for helping the wayward determine the next steps of their careers. He’s also a certified professional in human resources with for-profit and not-for-profit recruiting experience. Visit Rich Jones’s career blog, I Am Rich Jones, and follow him on Twitter @IAmRichJones.