By Meg Guiseppi
Research, strategic planning, preparation, and rehearsal for interviewing are more important than ever in today’s job market.
Many job seekers do not take the time, or do not know what they need to do, to outshine the competition.
Part of job-search preparation, and therefore interview preparation, includes working on personal branding.
Knowing and communicating your personal brand and unique ROI (Return on Investment) for your target employers will position you as a good-fit hiring choice for them.
Sameness will not "sell" you to employers. Branding will help you differentiate what you bring to the table that no one else does.
This is what you really need to put across in interviews. You are not the same as everyone else. Make that abundantly clear in your interviews.
Also, remember that many interviewers are not particularly good at interviewing. The better prepared you are to own the conversation and keep it focused on what you want to cover, the easier you make their job, and the more you improve your chances.
Here are the steps to take to brand your interviews. You should have already done some of this work, when you initially prepared for job search and created your personal marketing materials – resume, biography, LinkedIn profile, online profiles, etc.
Find out what issues and challenges your target industry is facing now.
Learn about the company’s past performance and future plans. Find out what challenges the company is facing right now, that you will be able to help them overcome.
Prepare to intelligently answer questions like "What do you know about our company?" and "Why do you want to work here?"
As you compile information about the company, rely on the personal branding work you’ve already done. Make note of your skills, strengths, and areas of expertise related to meeting the company’s current needs, aligning them with the personality traits you rely on to get things done.
[See Job-Hunt's "Guide to Company Research" for tips and advice on how to research.]
Google the names of your interviewers to read up about them and find a few points of interest to generate conversation.
They probably have LinkedIn profiles. Review their career history and education – see if you belong to the same professional organizations, which LinkedIn Groups they belong to, and if you share any interests.
Also, check the employer's Company page on LinkedIn for news and how you may be connected to any employees. Read How to Leverage LinkedIn's Secret Information Gold Mine: Company Pages for details.
Look for the interviewer on Twitter. Another way to break the ice at the start of the interview would be to mention something they recently tweeted. This also positions you as social-media-savvy.
Be ready to greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and pleasant, upbeat comment, "It’s a pleasure to meet you" or "Thank you for this opportunity."
Have a question or two to ask them – demonstrating your industry and company-specific knowledge – that will immediately engage them and impress them that you cared enough to find out about them.
Look around their office and find some item to comment about – a photo, diploma, award, etc.
Reinforce your brand throughout the interview. Generate chemistry by speaking about the things you are passionate about at work, your pivotal strengths, drivers and personal attributes . . . the things about you that have benefitted your employers.
Let them know what differentiates you from the other candidates they are interviewing. As you prepare to answer the questions you can expect to be asked, align your answers with your brand and ROI.
Be ready to comfortably answer the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" question that typically opens the interview. Craft a response that integrates your personal brand with the way you will help the company meet their current needs.
Which answer do you think will have more impact?
"I’ve been in medical devices product development for more than 10 years. My specialties are positioning, strategic planning, marketing, and commercialization."
"People tell me my enthusiasm is contagious. For more than 10 years, I’ve been a tireless innovator in new product development of medical devices . . . particularly positioning, strategic planning, marketing, and commercialization. I envision opportunity where others see complexity, and thrive when tackling the complex, big money projects no one else can handle and nimbly making tough decisions where others falter."
You can see that the second version gives a feel for the candidate’s personal brand, and would generate chemistry better than the first one.
Be ready to back up statements about yourself with examples that include quantified contributions to past employers. Numbers have great impact!
Develop career success stories to provide evidence of your brand and ROI, using the CARs, or Challenge – Actions – Results, exercise. Use your practiced stories to deal with behavioral-based questions, such as "Tell me about a time when you . . ."
Keep your most relevant CARs stories at-the-ready to interject into the conversation. These are contributions you want to make sure the interviewer knows about.
There are many typical questions you can expect to be asked in interviews, such as "What are your greatest strengths?" and "What are your greatest weaknesses?"
But there are also questions that may come out of left field, such as "What has been the greatest disappointment in your career?"
Check out Job-Hunt’s "Guide to Successful Job Interviews" to learn about the tricky and typical questions, and then spend time preparing answers and rehearsing them.
Savvy job seekers also prepare a list of questions that they will ask the interviewer.
Remember that both of you are assessing each other for good fit. The interview process is part of your due diligence. Now is the time to find out if this job and company are really right for you. It is OK to bring a written list with you to refer to, and take notes.
For a list of some of these questions, see Job-Hunt’s "Answer This Job Interview Question: Do You Have Any Questions?"
I’m assuming you’ve picked the right references – people who are qualified to speak intelligently and compellingly about your past performance, qualifications, brand, and good fit for the company. If you haven’t already provided the company with your references, bring your list to the interview, along with several hard copies of your resume.
Let your references know who you are interviewing with and when, so they will be prepared to say what you need them to say when they’re contacted for a recommendation.
Send your references the same personal marketing materials you sent to interviewers (resume, biography, LinkedIn profile, etc.), so they will be on the same page. Read How to Manage Your References to Close - NOT Kill - Job Opportunities for more tips.
Keep your references in the loop as you move through the hiring process. And always, always thank them and find some way to give value to them. Don’t just tap into them for help. Give to get!
Did you know that most job seekers do NOT send thank you notes?
Those job candidates who DO send thank-you notes stay top-of-mind with employers and impress them with their thoughtfulness and professionalism.
I often hear stories about job seekers who did not get the job, but sent thank you notes, and eventually landed the job when the first hire did not work out or a new opportunity developed. Employers were that impressed with the fact that they had sent thank you notes. (See Turning Job Search Rejection into Opportunity for details.)
Use this as another opportunity to reinforce your brand and good-fit for the job and the company.
[More: "The Branding Power of Thank You Notes."]
Preparing well to communicate your personal brand and ROI to your target employers takes a lot of time and effort. But putting in that extra work can mean the difference between doing a good interview, and truly differentiating yourself as the best fit, and landing the job.
Meg Guiseppi, Job-Hunt's Personal Branding Expert and 20+ year careers industry veteran, has earned 10 certifications, including Reach Certified Personal Branding Strategist, Reach Social Branding Analyst – LinkedIn Profile Strategist, and Certified Executive Resume Master. Meg is the author of "23 Ways You Sabotage Your Executive Job Search and How Your Brand Will Help You Land." Connect with Meg at ExecutiveCareerBrand.com for c-suite personal branding and executive job search help and on Twitter (@MegGuiseppi). And, you may also download Meg's free ebook - Job-Hunt Guide to Smart Personal Branding with LinkedIn.
More about this author...