Interview Preparation Wins Candidate Competitions

When it’s time to interview, you’ll need more than attitude; do your homework to put yourself ahead of the pack.


The “will to win” is overrated. If you think about it, who doesn’t have the will to win? What makes people successful — whether in sports competitions or job interviews — is what basketball Coach Bob Knight called “the will to prepare to win.”

“That’s what sets people apart,” said Lisa Panarello, founder and CEO of Careers Advance, a professional training and coaching agency in New York.

She said applicants should put in at least 15 minutes of research just to compose an effective cover letter.

“That basic homework, it makes you look interested and really engaged in the process, but it also makes you more confident in the interview,” said Kay Piatt, employment manager of The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston. “It’s good for both parties.”

Piatt has conducted many interviews as the head of employment and recruiting for the luxury hotel, and she knows when a candidate is prepared and when they’re not.

But just doing the obvious research isn’t enough at the $100K-plus level.

Piatt said job seekers should be well versed in how a company is structured, industry trends that are relevant to the position they’re seeking and any current events involving the company. You might even want to study up on the person who will be interviewing you, she added.

According to Piatt, a lot of the basic information you’ll need for preparation can be found online or — better yet — from someone you know who may work there.

Mark Grimm, a public speaking trainer and author of “Everyone Can Be a Dynamic Speaker,” stresses offering your interviewer value — and that entails doing the homework necessary to know what it is she’s looking for.

“Go to their Web site,” Grimm said. “There’s no excuse for not doing research now.”

He suggested calling the office, chatting up the secretary and fishing out as much information as you can.

“What do you have to lose?” he said. “Find out as much as you can about what they really want.”

When it comes to online research, sometimes cyberspace can become overwhelming: There’s just too much information to process.

Not a problem, Panarello said: “Narrow it down to what is most relevant for the position at hand and the growth of the company. Peg it to the future.”

Be methodical and efficient, she said. “Google one or two key people from the company, and print out the articles,” she said. “Read an article. Try to come up with three questions. Then try to answer it.”

This strategy, she said, will help focus you for the interview. And once you’ve done the research, bring physical evidence of your work to the interview.

“Treat an interview as if it’s a business meeting. Bring the printouts in a folder,” Panarello advised. “Pull out the article and reference it. They’re going to think, ‘This person is going to come to a meeting like this.’ ”

Next, take your homework to the next level, Panarello said, and do the same research about the company’s competitors.

“When somebody is sitting across my desk, it is really interesting to talk about (competitors) rather than my list of 10 questions,” Piatt said.

When a candidate can demonstrate a full understanding of the company’s competitive needs, Grimm said, that person is in the best position to make a convincing case.

“The more you talk about how you help [the company] — rather than help yourself — the better their hearing gets,” Grimm said.