How to Really Ace an Interview

You’ve prepped, you’re ready. It’s showtime! What many people don’t realize is that “showtime” starts long before you sit down for the interview. It starts by leaving the house in plenty of time, arriving early, polished and poised. It’s already begun when you breeze through the building doors and check in with security. And it’s well on its way by the time you greet the assistant. Make no mistake, every single one of these steps, every person you meet, is part of the interview. But the really fun part comes next!

Your first impression is (almost) everything.

Research suggests that interviewers form a make-or-break opinion about a candidate in less than 6.5 minutes. That’s all you have. The anticipated interview hasn’t even started by that point!  Your posture, smile, handshake, and eye contact can speak volumes. And those are just the non-verbal cues. Go in with confidence and positivity and express your appreciate for their time.  Upwards of 60% of employers say a candidate’s ability to make quality small talk influences their decision. So look around the room, what do you see?  Pictures of family, school affiliations, business trips, books, use them. 

Your work experience is actually everything.

As critical as your first impression is, relevant job experience outranks it in terms of importance. Set the stage using real examples – and remember, details with specifics matter here. Quantify results, highlight calculated risks and share successful outcomes. Drop the word “we” when talking about your past work (even if you were part of a team) and use “I” instead. This is your story to tell, make sure you’re in the starring role.

Be ready to talk about your leadership style, your ability to cultivate talent and how you help grow the bottom line. Be ready for some curveballs. Take a beat to gather your thoughts, apply the STAR method (Situation – Task – Action – Results) and dive into your answer.  A short pause for you may seem like an eternity but it really is just a short pause.

Be honest and be positive.

We’ve all experienced bumps along our way, and sometimes those bumps will make their way into an interview. Be upfront and don’t hide the truth…but frame a negative experience as positively as you can. Shift your focus to the lesson learned, the silver lining or a challenge overcome. How did this experience change you? How are you doing things differently now? THAT’S the picture you want to paint.

Ask smart, meaningful questions.

Active listening throughout the interview will inspire intelligent and high-level questions. Did the interviewer touch on something that struck a chord? Revisit it. Did you get a glimpse of an underlying challenge in the role? Could your experience as a change agent make an impact here? Find a way to work it in.

Make sure you understand how success is measured in this role and for the organization as a whole. What level of managerial discretion would you be afforded? What are the biggest challenges ahead and what obstacles may prevent you from overcoming them? These are just a few examples to get you started.

Perhaps one of the most important questions you can ask is if there are any concerns or hesitations about your candidacy. Get in front of potential issues and address them head-on. Asking this question carries a bit of risk, but if the mood in the room is right, it can provide a great deal of insight for you and the opportunity to correct a flawed assumption or opinion. Plus if you prepped for this moment you’ll be ahead of it.

Deliver a strong close.

Now’s your chance to bring the elevator pitch! Restate your interest in the role and summarize the reasons you’d be a perfect fit. Ask if there’s any additional information you can provide at this point and make it clear you’re ready to move forward. Confirm next steps and the timeline for them.

Check in with your recruiter afterward and of course, follow up with a thank you note within 24 hours. Make sure you send one to each interviewer you saw that day. Encourage a reply by including a follow up question and a promise to check in the next week.

They don’t call this an interview “process” by accident…it is very much a process.  Did you learn something this time you didn’t know before?  Take notes and make corrective action or incorporate something that went well into your next interview.  Following these steps will allow you to put your best foot forward so it all culminates in a great job offer!

The CFO Suite is a boutique consultative staffing and executive search firm specialized in management and executive level accounting and finance talent.  We boost the capabilities and capacity of your accounting and finance department, offering a unique ability to provide an integrated and comprehensive suite of services.

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