10 tips to help you ace your next interview: Career Guide 2015

As the war for talent in the industry intensifies, putting your best foot forward has become increasingly important for today's interviewees. HR heads at communications firms and executive recruiters highlight key tips on how potential candidates can land their next role

Jim Delulio
President, PR Talent

Be polished, poised, and confident, but not cocky. This includes researching the dress code for the organization and then elevating it a notch. Arrive 15 minutes early and practice on-camera prior to the interview to review posture, eye contact, and delivery, and also to limit nervousness.

Once you make it to an in-person interview, what is on your résumé becomes much less important. Your personal presence, charisma, and ability to articulate and persuade become the critical factors. I could be interviewing two candidates, one from a large agency and one from a boutique firm, but the applicant who can sit in front of me and impress with their knowledge, insight, and ability to speak with passion, precision, and intelligence is the candidate I will recommend to a client.

Pepper Binner
President and founder, PLBsearch
The biggest mistake I see gifted communicators make during an interview is forgetting to listen. Many of these executives are social creatures and already pre-wired to overcommunicate. In an interview situation, it can be taken to a whole new level. Many candidates spend every minute trying to jam in all kinds of relevant examples in a well-intentioned attempt to showcase experience, when one or two good stories would suffice.

The conversation ends up dramatically one-sided, and the interviewer is left feeling the candidate is completely self-absorbed, when that may not be the case. Candidates must remember they are being assessed on how well they listen, just as much as how well they communicate.

Karen Bloom
Principal, Bloom, Gross & Associates
Be prepared with success stories about accomplishments, leadership, and relationship management skills. Be able to explain how your strengths and abilities apply to the job in question, and connect the dots if necessary.

One of the biggest mistakes made during an interview process happens before the interview ever occurs: lack of preparation. While some are good at thinking on their feet, it is not always easy to be spontaneous, thoughtful, and on point when a potential employer wants to hear something of specific relevance.

And then you’re left thinking, "If only I had mentioned this in my interview." I recommend using the STAR method – a situation (S) or task (T) encountered, the action (A) taken, and the results (R) that occurred – to prepare for interviews. Practicing in advance with someone, or in front of a mirror in privacy is a great way to make sure you’re sharing substantive accomplishments in an articulate and logical way.

Maryanne Rainone
SVP, MD, Heyman Associates
Research the company thoroughly and anyone you will be meeting. Five minutes on Glassdoor won’t cut it – have a real game plan going in. Google people. Scan their LinkedIn profiles. See what they are tweeting about. If you have connections in common, call them. Getting a handle on personalities and company culture can be challenging, but it also presents an opportunity to stand out.

Look at the company’s website. Know its Fortune ranking and competitors. How is the stock price doing? If it’s not publicly traded, who are the owners? Has management been there for a while, or did a private equity firm just clean house? This isn’t about showing off. It’s about being as confident and on message as someone who actually works there.

Stephanie Howley
SVP, human resources, Cohn & Wolfe
While traditional media is still critical to the PR industry, campaigns must now span paid, earned, owned, and shared media elements. Candidates need to understand how all of these channels work, the content each requires, and how to piece it all together into an integrated campaign.

To remain relevant in this multichannel environment, practitioners must go beyond discussing basic media hits and impressions, and be fluent across all channels to address the entire customer journey.

Matt Marquess
Talent director, Sparkpr
Although you should definitely be prepared to discuss the role for which you are applying, do not be afraid to show the interviewer you are forward-thinking. Have an idea of where you want to go with your career beyond just the next move.

Demonstrate your career ambition by asking questions about what the company has to offer to help get you there, such as coaching, professional development opportunities, and career advocates. How do they formally contribute to professional development? What about access to an executive coach? Or an internal mentorship program? Most companies, especially in the technology industry, are thinking about what’s five to 10 years down the road and so should you.

Andrea Bredau
MD, talent and recruitment, Huge
Always be honest. This doesn’t only apply to misrepresentations regarding your work history or experience. Being honest with yourself when seeking your next role is just as important as being candid and transparent with your interviewers. Avoid being lured into conforming your résumé and interview responses to fit an abstract job description and don’t try to please interviewers by telling them what you think they want to hear. Even if you succeed in bluffing your way into a job, you’ll likely find yourself feeling unfulfilled in the role, and your performance will suffer.

Instead, analyze potential opportunities with a critical eye and only apply to positions that fit your background, experience level, and skill set. When you speak to recruiters and HR managers, be candid regarding what you’re hoping to get out of your next job and what your medium- and long-term career goals are. Be honest and authentic. Anything else is failing yourself.

Katherine Yustak
SVP, director of HR, North America, Ketchum
Inevitably, you will be asked by an interviewer: "What questions do you have?" Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to stand out in a crowded field of applicants – don’t ask anything that is available from an easy Internet search. Ask questions to glean additional information about the role and success factors, the culture, and the company overall.

For example: What qualities do the most successful people at this organization have? What are the strategic priorities of the company, and how can this role contribute to meeting them? How is success measured in this role? What are some of the challenges the person in this role will need to overcome or navigate?

The questions you ask give interviewers insight into how you think and what you prioritize. Based on the responses, you can then expand on your expertise to highlight how you can add value to the role and organization.

Travis Kessel
SVP, recruitment, Edelman
It is good practice to take a complete inventory of your skills, job accomplishments, competencies, and personality traits. Together, they serve as a marketing statement that helps illustrate the value you bring to any employer. Ultimately, you need to prepare your very own value proposition before you go into an interview.

Know what sets you apart from others and what you bring to the table specific to the opportunity itself. How do your skills and experience translate into a value you provide?

It is critical that you make it easy for the hiring manager to see how your uniqueness is relevant and compelling for the position in which they are hiring. Do your research on the company, its business model, and the people who are interviewing you. This is key to landing any job. Try to give specific examples when responding to interview questions about how you were successful in previous experiences – either situational or behavioral – to really drive your value proposition forward.

Judith Harrison
SVP, staffing and diversity and inclusion, Weber Shandwick
For candidates to truly stand out in an interview scenario, they need executive presence. This is a combination of how you act, or gravitas; how you speak; and how you look – dress and grooming. It is looking, sounding, and acting like a leader. It is also a crucial part of moving your career forward.

Gravitas is knowing your stuff cold in your domain of expertise, confidence, grace under fire, decisiveness, the courage to articulate inconvenient truths, integrity, and reputation.
Executive presence is what you project about your abilities. It’s what indicates to others that you’re leadership material and that they would be smart to bet on you. It requires being conscious of how you communicate verbally and non-verbally. It requires understanding the power of emotional intelligence. And it requires learning how to navigate through different settings and cultures with authenticity.

Conducting the interview

In the quest to find and attract the right talent in a competitive hiring environment, an interviewer must remain aware of some important concepts. Five recruiters share their key tactics for conducting a successful interview.

Jim Delulio
Do not make this a one-way interview. This may be a passive candidate who needs to be convinced that this job is the right fit for them as much as you need to be convinced they are the right fit for the role. Good PR candidates are in the driver’s seat in today’s hiring environment, and employers need to sell the opportunity and the company – time off, telecommuting options – at the same time they’re vetting the candidate.

Pepper Binner
It is important to get a sense of who the candidate really is, not just who he or she is in their most formal presentation. Start with an icebreaker or two to put the candidate at ease. Then, ask open-ended questions to establish a conversation.
I have seen interviewers adopt a rapid-fire interviewing style to "test the candidate’s mettle," but this almost always backfires, leaving the candidate feeling cold about the organization or the interviewer.

Karen Bloom
Leave distractions at the door and focus in on the interviewee. Review the prospect’s résumé and LinkedIn profile thoroughly beforehand. Every person interviewed is entitled to a positive experience, and that starts with your undivided attention and arriving at the interview prepared. Being prepared will not only serve to better engage the candidate and reveal special talents, but will also increase your ability to land a high-demand individual.

Stephanie Howley
Don’t be afraid to challenge candidates who give you canned responses or vague replies. Ask them to walk you through examples of them in action on the job. Sometimes, we need to ask a specific set of questions, but the best insights come from the follow-ups, which elicit more detailed, authentic answers, both positive and negative. Listen, pause, and then ask how or why. Or what the candidate might do differently.

Judith Harrison
When you like an interviewee right off, there’s a tendency to overvalue strengths, minimize negatives, and begin selling instead of listening. To a sharp candidate, you have become an easy mark. When you dislike someone at first sight, you maximize negatives, minimize positives, and unconsciously misinterpret answers to justify your negative first impression. To avoid these minefields, ask tougher questions if you like a
candidate, easier ones if you don’t.

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