We talked with Patricia Rausch, Director of Career Programs for the Leadership Institute, about what she looks for when interviewing applicants and strategies for how to ace your next interview.
What’s the best advice regarding interviews you’ve ever heard or received?
Research the who, what, and why of the company you are interviewing with and write down what you find in a notebook. You can use what you learn as a preparation guide, just like you’re studying for a test. The who are the stakeholders involved in the interview process as well as the customers, clients, and partners who interact with the organization or company. The what and why are just that – what, exactly, does the business, and more specifically the position, do and why is it done that way. Answer those questions and then build out how your experience relates to them. Finally, highlight the best points so they stand out in your notebook. Bring the notebook along to the interview and you can use it as a reference for what you want to highlight. Everyone should be able to ace an open-book test!
What are some red flags that stick out to hiring managers when speaking with potential candidates? What is the biggest or most common mistake that most interviewees make?
I need someone who will demonstrate three things in the initial interview: you can arrive on time, you have enthusiasm for the position, and you’re humble enough to admit to past mistakes. If you can’t show me those three things, I’m likely not going to be interested beyond a first interview. Other hiring managers I know say the same thing.
How much personality is too much in an interview? How would you recommend conveying your personality while still being professional?
Honestly, unless you’re in a full top hat and tails singing songs from The Greatest Showman, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much personality in an interview. If you’re funny, don’t be afraid to sprinkle some humor in with your answers but make sure they are office-appropriate. If you are opinionated and disagree with a decision the organization you’re interviewing with made in the past, only bring that up if it pertains to the position you’re interviewing for and shows a solution that would have been better in the long-run.
How professionally should you dress for a Zoom interview? Any other professional dress tips for women going into an interview?
You should wear in a Zoom interview what you would wear to an in-person interview. Professional dress is important when you want to make a solid first impression, but it doesn’t have to be a suit. You should feel confident in what you have on and how you look and that varies from woman to woman – just be sure not to wear any off-the-shoulder dresses or tops. Always be sure your background is free of clutter or distractions, your face is well-lit, and your microphone works. If you ever get nervous about a last-minute outfit choice, remember that a solid, dark top with simple earrings will always look polished.
What is your favorite interview question to ask?
It’s always, “tell me a time you failed, how you reacted to the failure, and how you overcame it.” The answer to that question tells me a lot about the candidate and how they will fit in on my team. I expect failure. I also expect you to handle it well, learn from it, and move on with a new solution to a problem you may face again. Life is about picking yourself up again and again.
What is an interview question you wish hiring managers would retire for good?
Anything that involves answers that have no bearing on the job. What animal would you be and why? What’s your favorite candy? Tell me a joke. If you want people to think on their feet, don’t make it performative. Ask them instead how they might handle certain situations they may find themselves in the new role and base it on real life scenarios. It is more valuable to know how they will react to an emergency than if they’re a shark or like Jolly Ranchers.
How do you recommend gracefully ending an interview, and leaving a good final impression?
After you’re done asking questions you would like answered (always have some questions to ask the interviewer), thank them for their time and let them know how wonderful it was to get to know more about the position, the company, and them. If anything was discussed about shared interests or experiences, this would be a time to pull out something like, “thank you again – maybe we’ll run into each other at the dog park,” or “enjoy the rest of your day and have a great time at the spring festival this weekend!” It shows thoughtfulness and how you were an active listener during the interview. Finally, be sure to follow up with a thank you email to your interviewers if virtual and a handwritten note, too, if in-person.