By Pamela Rodi
April 23, 2010
It’s one of the most exciting and terrifying events in ones career – applying for a job you are really interested in and getting asked for an interview. You suddenly go from being able to spend hours compiling a single piece of correspondence to having to answer questions on the fly, talk about yourself, be coherent and professional while you’re nervous at the same time. And the nervousness and excitement can sometimes make us forget to ask some questions, or to be focusing on the wrong thing. You need to be able to be relaxed, confident and yourself. And the best way to accomplish that is to be prepared.
One thing to keep in mind no matter how hard you prepared or how qualified you might be for a job - people hire people they like to be around, which is no surprise. There are a vast number of factors that go into choosing a candidate for a job, and chemistry between the individuals is one of them. It’s an element we don’t have control over and we forget this sometimes when we have an interview that felt great but doesn’t result in an offer. And it needs to work for you as much as it does for the employer. And so you can stop beating yourself up for doing something wrong and move on.
That said, there is a lot you do have control over. The better prepared you are for the interview, the more confident you will feel and the better you will be able to express your ideas which is what they really want to hear.RESEARCH THE COMPANY
In the old days, you had to use the phone book and the library to look up information about companies. Now you can get everything online. How you got the job interview - by responding to an ad, or by referral, or through a headhunter - will determine how much information you have about both the company and the job itself before you go in. Ideally you should have a copy of the job description, but sometimes companies won’t let you see the whole thing until you are in there.
Research the company thoroughly. Google its name, follow the links, check out its website. Quint Careers (www.quintcareers.com/researching_companies.html) and Researching Companies Online (www.learnwebskills.com/company) are very helpful. (Don’t pay for anything, of course!) Look for things about the company, like size and history and if it is privately owned or publicly traded . If it is the latter, have a look at their stock performance from over the last 5 years as an indication of how their business is doing.
Don’t be put off if the company doesn’t look good – if you are applying for a sales or marketing job, or product design, you might be someone they think can help pull them back into the game. Look also at things like credit scores and if there have been any complaints filed against the company from the Better Business Bureau or other sources. This is to protect yourself. Some companies with unscrupulous management will put off paying vendors and employees as long as they can if they run into a cash flow problem. Best to skip these kind of situations if you can.
Who is their competition and how are they doing? More importantly, who is buying? If it’s a company that produces documentaries about health issues, your audience is not going to be 5-year old boys. Culling down the list of potential consumers and/or clients immediately allows you to filter ideas that might be fun but are totally irrelevant, and starts a personal database of companies in your field of interest.
RESEARCH THE JOB
If you are provided with a job description, study it carefully. These are the things that the interviewer is likely to ask you about. Don’t be deterred if there are skills requested you don’t have. If they have asked you in for an interview, they have already seen your resume and know your background. But be prepared to address questions about how you would handle the learning curve on something new or why other skills you have will contribute in even a more meaningful way.
How is this job connected with selling more good and making more money for the company? If your job will be to market this product, take a look at what they have been spending in advertising over the last few years and the quality of their website and marketing message. If the job is in product design, look at their current line and examine it for what could be improved to be more appealing to customers.
RESEARCH THE INTERVIEWER
If you can find out who will be conducting the interview, it will be very helpful in becoming familiar with who that person is. Sometimes the first interview will be with a Human Resources staffer, and again, even a little information about that person will be helpful in terms of knowing where they are coming from in a broad sense. Whether you are interviewing with a Human Resources executive, a headhunter, or the person who would be your boss, do your homework. You may find that the Human Resources exec went to the same college you did. Or the headhunter also reps a thousand other companies that look wonderful to you. Go on imdb. Google. I find it particularly helpful to read quotes or articles where the person has been interviewed. An individual reveals lot about him or herself through talking, and you can get a sense of where their passions lie and the things that are important to them as an executive or producer. It will also help give you an idea of what kind of boss they will be.
WHAT TO WEAR, WHAT TO BRING
Business attire that is industry-friendly and comfortable for you are the most important things. That and good grooming. Plan ahead! We all remember those nights before the big interview with the tights have a run and the nail polish remover bottle is empty and you forgot to get gas. Make sure your interview outfit is hemmed and pressed and there is no food on the sleeves or stains on the front. (You may think that sounds obvious but we all know those times we went out without checking carefully…) Brush your teeth and use mouthwash. Check your nose. Seriously!…a grooming snafu can be the end of everything.
Bring three copies of your resume printed on beautiful paper with no spelling errors whatsoever in a nice flat cardboard folder. DO NOT FORGET! Many people go to interviews thinking the interviewee already has their resume and it won’t be necessary. Your resume could be at the bottom of a giant pile your potential new boss just put together to clean her office to see you. If you are instructed to bring a portfolio, ask how they would like to see it and respond accordingly, or bring several different ways to display your work. If you bring a laptop bring your charge cord but make sure the computer doesn’t need it and is fully charged. You don’t want to go into an interview hunting around for a plug on the floor. You need to look like a pro in all ways. This communicates pro-activity as well as attention to detail.
Carry your things in one case. Do not carry a purse, a briefcase and a laptop case like someone who is going away for a weekend trip. If your portfolio is made up of oversized comps and schematics that need a large case obviously you can carry a briefcase as well but nothing else. It makes you look organized and someone who can be relied upon.
HAVE YOUR “TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF” PARAGRAPH WORKED OUT
Every interview starts with the same question. “Tell me about yourself,” the executive asks and leans back. You must have this answer worked out and rehearsed before you start seriously interviewing. Because what you say has to be authentic, confident and real. If you don’t know what this answer would be, write out a stream of consciousness description for 10 minutes and don’t pick up the pen, then put it away and take it out tomorrow. This exercise will help get your ideas on paper so you can sort them out.
“I was born in Idaho” is not the right start, unless your research has revealed he is also from Idaho and you want to break the ice.
You could cut to the chase and say, “I want to work for your company because you have a great product line but it isn’t being marketed well and I have a lot of ideas about how you can improve business.” But it’s never a good idea to criticize what the company is already doing – let them tell you that things aren’t working and you can be a problem-solver as opposed to a problem-stater.
You could say, “My resume has my background” and hand him a fresh copy – “do you want to review that or talk about how my experience applies to your company?”
In other works, make the response interesting to him and engage him in it. You want the conversation to feel natural because that is how people work together. But your first description of yourself will reveal what you do, why you do it, what you are hoping to do and why the company interests you.
REVIEW YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE
The interviewer is going to ask you questions about projects you handled, campaigns you ran, and depending on the job you are applying for, your answers should be reflected accordingly. If the job you are interviewing for is a Print Production Manager, focus on your experience that is related to that job. They are going to want to know that you know how to press check posters and brochures and get competitive bids and review samples and find the best printer for the best price.
What you did, how you did it, how you arrived at your decisions, the steps you took to implement the work, the way you evaluated the success, all of these things are the kind of things a good manager is interested in hearing.
ASK QUESTIONS. TONS OF THEM.
There are two reasons for this. One is for you personally – if you are thinking about going to work for this person, you want a chance to hear them talk, see them engage and interact with you. The second reason is that if you are really going to be considered a valuable potential candidate for this job, you need to understand how the company works, what it stands for, what it wants to be.
So start asking the questions you couldn’t find when you were doing research online: (this list that follows represents the kind of questions to ask but by no means is a complete list.)
- What are their immediate and long range goals for the business?
- What are their immediate and long range goals for this position?
- Is it a local or national?
- What are the executive’s expectations of the job you are interviewing for?
- If you haven’t seen a job description, ask for one now
- Do they have quota for the first year? (they want you to make x amount of dollars in year 1, let's say...they might not since it is indirect sales and they are looking for you to penetrate the market for them)
- Has anyone else been in the position?
- What were the things that worked in the past? and didn't?
- What are his/her main objectives for this position? (here you get to talk about why the job interests you and why you'd be good at it)
MAKE IT ABOUT THEM
You are being interviewed because this company or producer or entrepreneur is interested in paying you for the skills you can bring to the company to help it achieve success. They are interested in what you can bring to them. Focus your direction of their needs and goals and how you can satisfy those needs.
That and get a good night’s sleep! Good luck!
I want to acknowledge and thank Candace Bowen and all the terrific people I have met for coffee and chats since the January Malibu breakfast. Thank you so much for your nice emails. It has been great getting to know so many talented people who are Women In Film members. We should plan an annual Malibu Breakfast so we can share notes, support and success stories.
Pamela Rodi is Executive Vice President of Marketing and Publicity for Myriad Pictures. She also consults for the entertainment marketing major at FIDM, where she is Entertainment Industry Liaison. Ms. Rodi is a published freelance writer and an award-winning creative director, and has on the Executive Board of Directors for Women In Film as Vice President of Marketing.