Making a good impression during a job interview requires preparation and practice. But what specifically should you say to sell yourself? Tori Dunlap, entrepreneur and finance educator, lays out three crucial talking points to help you stand out as a candidate.
0:00 — Introduction
0:10 — Prepare stats and stories that speak directly to the job description
0:37 — Tie your experiences to specific data-driven outcomes
0:54 — Real-life example: A restaurant employee showcases applicable skills to successfully transition into the recruiting industry
1:34 — Be ready for the salary questions
1:47 — How to answer “What is your current salary?”
2:18 — How to answer “What are your salary requirements?”
2:45 — Why you don’t want to disclose a salary number first
3:02 — Always ask questions about the company and role
3:39 — Ask “How do you measure success for this position?”
4:17 — Ask “How do you help your team grow professionally?”
4:42 — Ask “What is the salary and performance review process?”
5:13 — A job interview lets you to figure out if a job is right for you
TORI DUNLAP: Hi Harvard Business Review, my name is Tori Dunlap. I’m a founder of Her First $100K and the host of the Financial Feminist Podcast. And today, I’m here with tips and tricks on how to succeed in your next job interview.
Now, job interviews can be super daunting, but your prep work happens before you even walk in the door. My first tip is to take a look at the job description and go line-by-line thinking of statistics, narratives, or other stories about how you’re qualified.
You know that section of the job description where they have all of those bullets of requirements like, “Must be a self-starter. Must be organized.” You’re going to prep for the interview by thinking of particular stories from previous experience that show that you are organized. You are a self-starter. Anytime you can tie your experience to specific outcomes is a great thing. For example, “I was organized with this project, and it made the company $50,000.” That’s a great example of how you can use a specific statistic, a specific story to show that you’re qualified for this particular job.
One of my friends did this in the past, and it worked out really well for her. She was trying to move from being a hostess at a restaurant into recruiting. She didn’t have any recruiting experience on paper, but she could cite particular instances where she had the skills needed to be a recruiter. Again, things like organized, self-starter, able to work well with people. She could use stories or particular instances where she exemplified those skills in the foodservice industry and could transition those into working as a recruiter. So she got the job. Most hiring managers are going to ask you questions based on this job description. So if you prep with the job description, you already have your answers. You know what to say.
Number two: You’re going to get asked about either your current salary or your salary expectations, and this always trips people up. It’s the hardest job interview question. And I’m going to tell you exactly how to answer it. The first question, “What is your current salary?” It’s actually a question that’s illegal in over 20 states. I’m based in Washington state. I know it’s illegal here, and you can do a quick Google search. It’s a question that’s used by folks to get you for as cheap as possible. So, obviously, we want to avoid answering that question. If it is illegal in your state, you can tell them “It’s actually illegal to answer that question here in the state of X. But happy to talk about my qualifications.” And you can say the same thing if it, unfortunately, isn’t illegal in your state: “That’s not something I’m comfortable answering, but I’m happy to talk about my qualifications for this role.”
The “What are your salary expectations,” or “What are your salary requirements,” question is one that’s more common. And it typically is the company’s way of trying to see if their budget aligns with yours. You can say something like, “I actually don’t understand the full scope of the role at this point in the process to accurately price myself, but I would love to know your budget.” When I’ve been on job interviews, that has worked. Nine times out of 10, they will tell you their budget, and then you can say if that aligns with you or not. The reason we don’t want to give a number first in either scenario is we don’t want them having power in that way. I’ve seen many a client go into an interview, give a number first, and end up quoting the number that’s $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 under what the job was actually going to pay. And we don’t want you losing out on that money.
My third and final tip: Always, always ask questions at the end of a job interview. There is nothing worse than when the interviewer turns the table and says “So you have any questions for me,” and the candidate says “No.” It shows you’re not prepared. It shows you’re not interested.
And frankly, job interviews are as much for you as they are for the company. You are trying to figure out if this organization, if this particular boss, if this career move, is something that’s actually going to be beneficial for you. So by denying yourself a chance to get more information, it’s not only a huge red flag to the company, but you want this information. You want to see if this company is going to be a good fit for you.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask:
- How do you measure success, particularly for this position? This is a great way to get a plan together for your first 30, 60, 90 days. You know exactly what you need to succeed in order to stand out. And in order to eventually get a raise or get promoted. You will also then know if these metrics are realistic. I’ve been on job interviews where the description of the job was very different than what my boss or potential boss was actually expecting me to do. Do you have to stay late every night? Do you have to make the company millions and millions of dollars? Having an outline of what these expectations are is going to be your best toolkit for success.
- How do you help your team grow professionally? This is a great opportunity to see if this company is committed to developing you as an employee. Plenty of companies offer what they call “education statements.” They’ll give you maybe a couple thousand dollars to take a course or attend a conference. These are great ways, of course, to not only benefit the company but also benefit you. You can take these skills into your career if you don’t stay at this position forever.
- What is the salary and performance review process? You want to know that there is a process. One of my previous jobs did not have a process whatsoever, which meant having to constantly advocate for myself and constantly ask for feedback. We want to know that the structures in place for you to get good and consistent feedback. We don’t want you having to email your boss every other day and ask if you’re doing a good job. It’s also going to be more likely that you get a raise or get promotions if that salary review process is already in place.
Ultimately, I want to remind you again. Job interviews are, yes, to figure out if you are equipped to do a job and to do it well. You’re also, though, on a job interview to figure out if this position is right for you. Don’t forget that.
Source: Harvard Business Review October 2021