A few weeks ago, I was facilitating the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) seminar on “Talent Acquisition: Creating Your Organization’s Strategy” and we got into a discussion about candidate preparation for interviews. Obviously, we spent time during the seminar talking about how recruiters and hiring managers need to prepare for interviews. But candidates need to prepare as well.
The group started talking venting about the number of candidates they’ve seen lately who are completely unprepared for their interviews. They proceeded to tell me, “You should write a post about this on HR Bartender.” I said “Sure! Let’s come up with a list.” So, here’s the list we developed. This is a list developed by full-time recruiters. Here’s what they want to see from candidates:
Nothing longer than a two-page resume. There are many schools of thought about resumes. Think about your resume as a summary of your experience. If you’re starting your career, then chances are a one-page resume is fine. If you’re further along in your career, you could be selling yourself short trying to cram your experience into a single page.
Cover letters are a bonus! Some people will say cover letters are dead, but they can serve a purpose. Cover letters allow candidates to explain things that wouldn’t typically be found in a resume. For example, a relocation or salary requirements or a career change or simply how much you want to work for the organization.
Research the company. Check out their website. At minimum, know what the company does. For example, are they a product or service organization? What do they produce? Do they have multiple locations? No one is asking a candidate to know everything, but do know the basics.
Understand the job. Review the position description. Do a few internet searches for that job title and see what comes up. There could always be subtle nuances to the job because of the industry or company culture. But having a working knowledge of the job you’re applying for demonstrates interest.
Relate your experiences to the job and the organization. It’s okay if you haven’t held the exact same job in the past. If that’s the case, be prepared to show and tell examples of your work. Think transferrable skills. Companies want to know that anyone they hire has the skills necessary to be successful.
Dress appropriately. Please note: I didn’t say “wear a suit”. Organizations want to know that anyone they hire is going to present a good impression of the company. Enough said. Also, practice good body language by listening and maintaining eye contact.
Tell your story. One of the most common interview questions is the “Tell me a little about yourself.” This is the first impression that the recruiter will have of you. Think about what you want to say. Having an interesting and authentic story will help people remember you.
Get comfortable discussing your strengths and weaknesses. Speaking of classic interview questions, this is another one. Recruiters want to know what you feel your strengths are and what you want to develop. It’s not a trick question. It’s a self-awareness question.
Be prepared to talk about your future. Whether the job you’re applying for is the dream job you want to have for the rest of your life or it’s a short stopover to another role, having a career plan is important. I don’t know that organizations are as focused on the plan itself, but they are focused on candidates who have a career plan.
Have questions! Come prepared with a handful of questions to ask. If the recruiter answers all of your questions about the job and company, have a couple ready that they can’t possibly have answered like “What’s your favorite thing about working for the company?”
Follow-up within 24-48 hours. You don’t have to mail a physical letter, but at least drop a short email thanking the company for their time. Even if you hated the interview and have no intention of ever working there. If you loved the interview, let the recruiter know. You can also reiterate why the company should select you over any other candidate.
There was one more thing that the group said they were looking for in candidates. That’s an awareness of culture. Both in terms of individual and organizational culture. Organizations want to know that candidates are going to be able to assimilate to the company culture and that they’re going to be happy at work. Job seekers will want to show that they can.
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure that anything on this list is surprising. What is surprising is that recruiters are frustrated about candidates not being prepared. I’d like to believe that job seekers today know they need to do these things. Out of curiosity, did we miss anything? What should candidates do to prepare for interviews?
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby somewhere off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico28