Prep Like a Superstar: 5 Steps to Interview Greatness
Preparing for an interview in 2020 may look drastically different than it did in 2019 now that millions have filed for unemployment. Many people, including you, are probably hoping to land a steady monthly income. One critical aspect of the interview process is measuring a cultural fit, yet job seekers today need to be able to stand out in a highly competitive and virtual world. So let's dive in. From getting trained to applying and everything in between, here's how to prepare for an interview in this brave new world.
Step 1: Get the right training
Many employers now expect applicants to have some type of post-high school training before being hired. That could be getting a certificate, or just getting some on-the-job training. The point is to show you're flexible, responsive, and willing to learn.1
Sign up with a temp agency
Working as a temp is a great way to get on-the-job training. Even though temporary workers are often the first cut in layoffs, they may also be the first back to work as companies restructure to meet today's needs. For example, CVS recently made a deal with GAP, Hilton, and Delta Airlines. That deal is supposed to funnel laid off workers into temporary positions at CVS to handle increased demand for services, answer phone calls, restock shelves, and cover shifts for sick employees.
If you have time and transportation, volunteering can be an excellent way to learn new skills for FREE while beefing up your resume and adding one or two glowing references. In addition, including volunteer experience on your resume may make you much more attractive to hiring managers because it shows you have leadership skills, which is a highly attractive trait.2
Get your GED
Having a high school diploma or GED can go a long way in meeting job requirements. PLUS, people who have a high school diploma or its equivalent tend to earn more money.3 If you haven't earned yours yet, consider getting your GED now. Some government programs might even pay for the test fee on your behalf, as well as the prep work. Visit CareerOneStop.org to find out if you qualify.
Take a basic skills assessment
A career readiness assessment could indicate to employers that you have the required skills to succeed at their company. Some employers might have their own test, but the ACT offers one that is nationally recognized. This National Career Readiness Certificate, or NCRC, could even lead to other credentials in manufacturing, energy, construction, and information technology.
Invest in technical training
Many of the higher wage jobs hiring right now might require some sort of technical training or certification to beat out the competition or even qualify for an interview. For example, you might look into what it takes to work remotely in IT or become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).
Consider a college degree
If you decide that getting or completing your college degree will get you a better job down the road, now might be a good time to apply. Many prospective students are now finding they have more bargaining power in the admission process.
On top of that, some colleges are moving deadlines to try to draw in more applicants. And did we mention that new student loans will probably have record low interest rates? Yep, we're talkin' 2.75% compared with 4.5% during the 2019-20 academic year.4
Step 2: Submit a competitive application
So you're sitting in front of a blank white page. That page will hopefully make its way in front of a hiring manager who will fall in love with it and want to meet you for an interview. Here's how to help that happen.
Beat the bots
Many large companies use software that automatically screens applications and resumes. These are called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). You can encourage the system to work in your favor by strategically sprinkling keywords from the job advertisement into your application. And don't forget to include dates of employment! That's how many systems screen for minimum years of work experience.
List your skills
Computer or technology skills are often listed as a requirement on the job posting. To get credit for each specific skill, make sure to list them ALL on the application. So instead of listing a generic "computer skills" or "Microsoft Office," consider saying something like, "Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint skills."
It should go without saying, but even the tiniest hint of dishonesty or exaggeration is a big no-no, since most companies consider false claims on an application a fire-able offense. With that said, brag about your real achievements! This is not the time to be modest.
Get great references
Before submitting your application, ask previous bosses, co-workers, and mentors if they will provide a favorable reference for the job. List their full name, phone number, and email address on the reference page of your application or resume.
And if you know someone who works at the company you're applying to, BONUS! Ask that person to submit your application, which could bypass an initial screening step and launch your name to the top.
Create a professional resume
There are two main types of resumes: chronological and functional. A traditional chronological resume lists your job experience in order by date. But that's not necessarily the best way to go if you have a limited work history.
Instead, consider creating a functional resume. This will highlight your skills first, and more importantly, it will match your skillset to the job description.5 Or consider a mixed approach where you list your skills first and then a brief outline of work experience.
Step 3: Start your interview now...online
No, we're not suggesting you bust into the manager's office now or even friend them on social media. That could end poorly. But it might be wise to start practicing for the interview by wielding your online presence like a pro.
Invest in a professional profile pic
Pre-screening applicants on social media is on the rise! In 2017, 70% of employers viewed the social media profiles of job applicants before hiring, up from 60% the year before.6 So treat your social channels like a pre-interview and post a great photo of yourself across all channels.
It's easy to go cray-cray and post bad things about your previous job, boss, and co-workers. (Especially if things didn't end well.) But now's your chance to win the bad breakup. Say nice things, or say nothing at all. New boss might be watching.
Delete inappropriate posts
You probably wouldn't waltz into your interview with a can of beer and a cigar. Same goes here. So, crazy bachelor party photos, you were fun but you got to go! Or if you can't part with the good times, you might consider going super private on all your settings. Snowden style private.
Do your own research
The internet stalking goes both ways. So go ahead. Read up on the company, industry, and potential new boss. Find all the juicy details on their website, social media pages, and customer reviews. Find a pic online of the boss out fishing? You could casually mention your own big catch during the interview to find common ground.
Step 4: Plan your first impression
Congrats on the interview offer! From here on out, things get real. You probably already know to shower, brush your teeth, and wear deodorant. But don't forget to also smile, be polite, stand or sit up straight, and avoid chewing gum or smoking. Specific tips apply whether your interview is face-to-face or via phone or video chat.
Typically a firm handshake is recommended. But maybe in 2020 we can try something else? (Because, um, germs!) You might smile and give a small wave, nod your head, a small bow or even an elbow bump.7
Plan the ideal location for a phone interview without interruption or poor cell signals. (Trust us: "Can you hear me now?" could get real awkward, real fast.) And you might prepare what to say when you pick up the phone. Try something standard like, "Good morning, this is [your name]."
Treat a video interview just like an in-person interview, but with a few extra steps. Amazon recommends testing your internet connection beforehand, along with webcam, headset, and microphone. And fully charge everything well before the interview starts.
For all interview formats, it's ideal to look and feel your best self. But not all interview clothes come with a hefty price tag! Shop your own closet (or a friend's) to put together something simple and comfortable. Black slacks, white button up shirt (tucked in), a belt, and dress shoes are sometimes all you need.
Step 5: Prepare answers to common interview questions
We don't have a crystal ball. But there are some pretty common questions out there that you'll likely get during an interview. Here are some tips on how to answer.
Tell me about yourself
This is your elevator pitch—but it's not just for elevators! Basically, this is your chance to talk about yourself and why you are perfect for the job.8 Make it 30 seconds or less. And try not to get too personal. (Hint: they don't need to know about your children, furry or otherwise.)
What's your greatest strength?
Mention a top skill on your resume. Then give a couple of examples that prove you've mastered that skill. Like, "I'm a great problem solver. At my last job, I designed a new workflow for our sales team and that increased our sales by 15%."
What are you biggest weaknesses?
This one is tricky. Be honest about a flaw you have but end it on a positive note. Share how you're working to improve. Maybe, "I tend to get bogged down in the details, and I'm learning to overcome that by talking more about the big picture with my co-workers."
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ah yes. Your chance to show them you want the job now, AND also in the future. This could be a good opportunity to share your long-term commitment to the company. Bonus if they see that you're promotable.
Show them your star power!
Even in the toughest of economies, you can set yourself apart from other applicants by being prepared for your interview. With a few key steps—like writing a stellar application, editing your social media accounts, and getting the right training done beforehand—you can succeed in the job hunt!
1NACE Staff. (n.d.). Career Readiness Competencies: Employer Survey Results. Retrieved from National Association of Colleges and Employers: https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-competencies-employer-survey-results/
2Deloitte Staff. (n.d.). Deloitte Volunteer Impact Research. Retrieved from Deloitte: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/citizenship-deloitte-volunteer-impact-research.html
3CareerOneStop Staff. (n.d.) Ready to earn your high school equivalency (HSE)? Retrieved from U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration: https://www.careeronestop.org/FindTraining/Types/high-school-equivalency.aspx
4Dickler, J. (2020, May 12). Federal student loan rates hit record lows. Retrieved from CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/12/federal-student-loan-rates-hit-record-lows.html
5DOL Staff. (n.d.). Tips for Writing a Federal Resume. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/general/jobs/tips-for-writing-a-federal-resume
6CareerBuilder Staff. (2017, June 15). Number of Employers Using Social Media to Screen Candidates at All-Time High, Finds Latest CareerBuilder Study. Retrieved from PR Newswire: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/number-of-employers-using-social-media-to-screen-candidates-at-all-time-high-finds-latest-careerbuilder-study-300474228.html
7Career Center Staff. (2020, March 10). Alternatives to Shaking Hands. Retrieved from University of Southern California: https://careers.usc.edu/chronicles/2020/03/alternatives-to-shaking-hands/
8Lee, T. (2017, November 27). 10 Classic Interview Questions and the Best Responses. Retrieved from the Society for Human Resource Management: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1217/pages/10-classic-interview-questions.aspx