I have hired hundreds of incredible employees over the past 13 years. During my various mentoring sessions, I am regularly asked how I got to where I am and what advice I have for millennials as they begin their careers. I tell them that it all comes down to your interview. You may have the best resume and the most experience, but if you do not place the same importance and focus on the interview process, you likely will not get the job.
Do Your Homework
You likely have not left your undergraduate institution without hearing at least once that you should do your research before applying for a job opportunity. It may seem obvious, but too many candidates have a beautiful resume and a boatload of experience but fail at giving the time and attention to the organization and role for which they are applying.
Show your potential employer that you care and understand what they are trying to build and how you can best fit that unique role. For example, my best developers shared how they would solve some of my current companies’ technical problems with wireframes and prototypes. Taking the time and initiative in showing how their unique skill sets and experience could be utilized at my company made them stand out from the other candidates.
If you do not fully understand the role or specific responsibilities from the job description, do your homework. Find individuals connected to the company or founders and ask them those questions. If you are being actively recruited, ask the recruiter questions specific to the role and company so you can go into the first step of the hiring process fully understanding your potential position. It is not enough to understand the company and its mission: Showcase how you can strategically and uniquely benefit the business as a hire.
Ask the Right Questions at the Right Time
Recently, I didn’t hire a candidate because their second question in their first interview with my company was “How would you describe work/life balance for this position?” When I was interviewing for my first job, I made sure never to ask about vacation days or salary in my initial interviews. Wait until after you receive an offer and negotiate all you want. If you are a recent graduate, work/life balance should be your last priority. I truly can’t stress that enough. Work/life balance is something we value greatly as a culture, but I want to see that you are hungry, fully committed and invested in growing at my company. Asking about work/life balance at the start of the hiring process makes the interviewer think you are more focused on your personal life than the potential role. That may not be the case, but your inquiry is a huge red flag. Don’t take yourself out of the race before you need to.
Some of the best questions an entrepreneur can hear deal with getting to the root problems we are trying to solve by filling the open position. Showing you care about the work you will be doing at the company and the ways in which you can add value will set you apart from the other candidates.
Show You Work With Diligence and Excellence
We recently loved a potential candidate for a tech role within our company. This person had a good interview and exceptional experience, and was well-liked and respected by our team. We asked them to complete a tech-focused assignment to see how we would work together and how they think about a problem before we hired them. The candidate completed the project quickly, but the product was so confusing and half-finished that we figured they didn’t understand what we requested. We went back for a second try; again, it seemed like they simply didn’t care. In everything you do, do it with diligence and excellence. Ensure that your cover letter is free of typos and is tailored to the specific role for which you applying. If you need to include portfolio work or a writing sample, ensure it is your best work. Do everything well and follow every direction. If an application packet is missing any item requested, they are usually looked over. Don’t let these simple mistakes prevent you from your dream job.
As a startup founder, it’s your job to ask the right questions and follow your intuition when you hear answers or receive questions out of line with your company ethos or culture. The candidate may have the best resume and the most experience, but if they don’t fit in with your culture or understand your vision, no one will be happy.
If this next step doesn’t land you your dream job but is a place where you think you can learn or grow, give nothing less than your best in the interview process. Landing this job may be the critical step you need to reach your destination.