A friend recently described job hunting to me as “soul-crushing”. We helped her craft a polished CV some months back that speaks to both her few years’ professional experience and her potential for growth. As a recent graduate, she has managed to secure numerous interviews using that CV, but has yet to be offered a position.
This brings me back to a question we are fond of considering: what does it actually take to impress in an interview, to “stand out”? But maybe it would be helpful to think about it differently. Instead of searching for answers, maybe we should start with asking the right questions. Specifically, what question do you [as the hypothetical interviewee] need to ask yourself as you prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime-chasing-your-dream-job interview?
Essential interview preparation obviously includes thinking through your past experiences to highlight key examples of how you are a fit for role. However, thinking only about yourself will only get you so far. It is also vital to think about them – the company, organisation, institution, charity, etc. that you are hoping will employ you.
There are two questions in particular around which your interview preparation should pivot:
Why are they hiring?
A company hires because it has a problem. There is a problem of capacity, strategy, knowledge or function that needs to be solved. And getting the right person into the vacant space is the solution. Perhaps the problem is about capacity: Company X generate 100 leads a day, but their sales team can only realistically handle 75 of those leads. Hiring another salesperson to strengthen capacity is then the solution. Or perhaps to problem is a lack of knowledge on the changes in legislation affecting the company. The solution is therefore to hire someone who has that content expertise and can help navigate the changes. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
It is therefore essential to ask yourself, what is the problem that this position is filling? Answering this question well will be time-consuming as your accuracy will be improved the more information you have. The next question will be key in your research because it captures the narrative, the trajectory of where this “solution” fits into the broader story:
Where was the company, where are they now and where are they going?
I don’t mean this in terms of physical location. While knowing the address for your interview is obviously of tantamount importance, I am referring the “where” in the broader narrative of the organisation’s vision and business trajectory. Is the company growing? If yes, how? Where did they start and where are they now? Perhaps the company started as a specialist recruiting firm for tech start-ups companies and has since grown to recruit across sectors – including not only technology but also finance and energy. Then think about where the company is going. Are they hoping to expand further into other sectors? Or perhaps provide an alternative offering, such as HR infrastructure development.
On the other hand, perhaps the organisation is in crisis. Imagine a charity that has lost significant funding under the budget cuts and now have 12 months to source alternative funding or go under. While a completely different scenario, the narrative is no less important. This charity obviously needs leadership, a sharp business mind and someone not afraid to make hard decisions (among other things, presumably). Their problem is one of crisis. Their narrative sits at a watershed moment.
Understanding the institution’s narrative will enable you to understand what problem they are trying to solve with this new hire. You are then better positioned to present yourself as the solution or able to deliver the solution.