Harvard Business Review advice on Interviewing like a Pro

Great news.

“Can you tell me about a time when…” is an interview question that may soon be a thing of the past, according to trends of thought that suggests this style of interviewing might not actually get the results (great hires) as previously assumed. A great article by John Sullivan on HBR this week illustrates this point, “7 Rules for Job Interview Questions That Result in Great Hires.”

In practical terms, it may be too soon to throw your STAR technique out the window, but it does illustrate a point that businesses, and their interviewers, are moving towards a different way of thinking when assessing job applicants.

So, where should you be focusing extra effort on when preparing for an interview? And what will really make you stand out from the crowd?

#1 Write your own 30,60 and 90-day plan

One of the biggest mistakes people make in an interview is only preparing to talk about their past. Sure, historical answers may demonstrate a level of competency, but we all know the business world is changing. How you may have solved a problem 8 years ago might not cut it now. What will cut it is a well thought through (as in, not on the spot) plan of action for your first three months. Don’t wait until you’re asked for it, just do it.

#2 Look into the future – scope out future business challenges and opportunities

In line with the above, ensure you spend enough time preparing to discuss the future of the role you’re interviewing for. It’s not enough as an Accountant at any level to remain in your silo, so if you want to make an impact and be seen as a future leader you have to show your strategic potential. Scope out how your role interacts with the business, and how the plan of the business and the market it operates in might interact with your role. What challenges and opportunities might you face, and how might you overcome or leverage them?

#3 Act how you would in a business meeting – don’t be reactive

Another common mistake finance professionals make in an interview is to be too reactive. Sure, you are there to be ‘questioned’, but make sure you make the most of every single opportunity to engage and ask questions you get. You wouldn’t sit there in a business meeting and just be ‘told’ what to do, you would ask questions, gather and assess information in order to solve problems, suggest solutions and issue guidance. Take this approach to an interview – the more you know about their business issues and challenges, the bigger impact you can make by presenting the right aspects of your own experience or skill set.

#4 Critically analyse your own gaps and professional development path

You never want to actively highlight weaknesses, but inevitably in an interview you will either be asked directly to discuss your own weaknesses, or be grilled on what your interviewer sees as your weaknesses, or gaps in experience. It’s absolutely pointless to try and avoid this, side step it or conjure up an answer you think will fly. Actually demonstrating the ability to analyse your weaknesses and suggest a path to correcting them not only shows integrity it also shows solid leadership skills. Just keep those weaknesses practical – hard skills or knowledge based one are best as you can always learn, and have done it many a time before. Steer well away from those subjective soft skills or personality weaknesses…they might just cost you the interview.

#5 Close your own deal

Finally, you really want to make a difference, send your interviewer a note via email after the interview, thanking them for their time and leaving the door open to ask further questions. Not only do most people not do this, therefore making you stand out and creating an impression of how you might behave in a professional situation, it provides an informal opportunity to contact you with any concerns, last minute questions, or requests for further information, which might just be a make or break for you if their decision is tight.

Good luck!

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