The job market has never been more competitive, and it can be hard for candidates to understand what prospective employers are looking for when they conduct interviews. If you’re applying, or thinking of applying, for a new role, you need to start thinking about what makes you stand out from the crowd.
In my role with Microsoft, I interview a lot of job candidates and see many of the same mistakes made repeatedly. This experience has led me to develop a model that you can use to assess how effectively you’re preparing for interviews and make the necessary course corrections.
There are three primary qualities that make for an outstanding candidate. These qualities may not determine whether the candidate is ideally suited to a specific role, but they reveal a lot about a person’s character and how well they’ll fit into the culture of a company.
These three principles are:
Or as I call it, the ASK model. You can’t radically alter your employment history or experience, but you can take some simple steps to improve the way you project yourself in interviews. The ASK model provides you with a method of just doing that.
1. Demonstrate an Attitude of Curiosity
Curiosity drives innovation. People who exhibit curiosity seek to understand why things are the way they are and how they can be better. When someone comes to an interview with a desire to learn about the role and the company, it’s an enormous positive.
The next time you have an interview, prepare intelligent questions. An interview isn’t just for the manager to decide if you’re a good fit, you have to be sure the role is right for you as well.
The questions you ask will help shape the interviewer’s perception of you, so come with questions that express an authentic desire to learn more. Ask yourself what you’re really curious about, and explore those curiosities.
Feel free to request clarification from your interviewer. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask him or her about the company’s values or what they look for in employees. As the interview draws to its conclusion, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your performance in the interview.
This question invites them to summarize their thoughts and may shape their notes or subsequent reports. Most interviewers, when asked, will find something positive to say about a candidate as they likely won’t feel they know enough to offer constructive negative feedback. Because these comments are often the last exchange between you and the interviewer, they have the potential to influence their memories of the interview as a whole in a positive light.
2. Reflect on Your Strengths
Have you ever been asked in an interview what you think your strengths are? Did you already know exactly how you were going to reply?
Self-reflection is essential to growth in every area of life. With specific regard to interviews, think about where your greatest talents lie and examples of what you’ve excel at.
You may want to go through your résumé and reflect upon the qualities your employment history demonstrates. What examples or stories could you share to illustrate these qualities? If an interviewer asked you about your proudest achievement in your previous role or an important lesson you gleaned from that position, what would you tell them?
As an interviewer, I often ask these questions to gauge a candidate’s level of self-reflection. If they can’t think of anything they are proud of or identify qualities that others might associate with them, I suspect that they haven’t taken the time to reflect on their experiences. And to me, that suggests that they don’t have the growth mindset they need to be successful long-term in a changing work environment.
Success in business today is driven not only by what people know, but also by their capacity for continuous learning. People who demonstrate self-reflection during interviews suggest that they already understand the necessity of a lifelong pursuit of knowledge.
3. Gather Knowledge Before the Interview
Put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer. What would you think if a candidate had already taken the time to learn about your company before they arrived for the interview? You’d immediately notice their interest and commitment and mentally file away the positive impression that that effort makes upon you.
It’s always an excellent idea to study the organization, or at least the industry, before you go to an interview. Understanding the types of customers and suppliers the company works with will set you apart from the majority of candidates, as will an insight into their sales models and the identity of their competitors. If you know who will be interviewing you, consider researching his or her LinkedIn profile so you have an idea of the person who ultimately controls your fate.
These steps tell your interviewer that you care enough to prepare and that the interview is important to you. They demonstrate that you are serious about making a strong impression and that you value facts. When the time comes to ask questions, your knowledge will also make it easier to ask intelligent questions.
ASK to Prepare Effectively for Interviews
As I write, thousands of college and university MBA graduates are applying for full-time jobs that will hopefully lead them toward a fulfilling career.
Those who bring an attitude of curiosity, a strong understanding of their strengths, and a willingness to research the companies to which they’ve applied to will be much more likely not only to secure a job, but to find an organization and role in which they feel a sense of alignment with their own personal values.
The next time you find yourself updating your résumé, use the ASK model as a guide to determine whether you’re preparing effectively for upcoming interviews. Your ability to access and display genuine curiosity, a capacity for self-reflection, and a willingness to pursue an understanding of the company you’re applying to, including the people who will be interviewing you, will set you far ahead of the competition.