Staying on top of current recruiting trends in a landscape where the rules are always changing is a nearly impossible task, but one that Jeremy Shreve, owner of Executive Drafts, takes very seriously. The foundation of his success with clients stems from his never-ending research into what recruiters want, as well as his own experience in the corporate side of sales, marketing, and business development.

The job interview process is something he knows particularly well. He’s helped countless clients step into their job search with confidence and a clear vision of what they’re looking for in their career as part of Executive Drafts’ interview preparation and career consulting services. Jeremy values the role that preparation plays in the interview process, and he’s chimed in to offer some of his advice on the behind-the-scenes work that it takes to achieve job interview greatness.  

Q. You’ve been in the career consulting business for a while now. Is there a common denominator you’ve noticed among those who aren’t experiencing interview success? 

A. I’m still surprised at how few people actually “prepare” for an interview.  They might look over their resume for a few minutes and choose an outfit, but very few people arrive with a game plan for how they want to talk about themselves, what they value as their top strengths, and why someone should hire them over all other applicants.  In my opinion, people are more worried about how to answer negative questions (employment gaps, getting let go from a position) than they are about making the best possible case for their hire.  I also think people commonly answer a question without thinking about the true purpose of the question.

 I know interviews can seem cryptic, but most of these questions are being asked to assess your sense of responsibility, how you deal with conflict, your communication, and your leadership.  Understanding the true meaning of a question can really help you answer it on a level that resonates with the interviewer.

Q. Some people tend to be more confident about their interview prowess than others. Is it possible to come into an interview with too much confidence? If so, how would you caution those individuals that you might say are “overly confident?” 

A. Cocky tends to get associated with people who believe in their ability without evidence.  If you say you’re the best and you can’t back it up, you’re probably coming off as cocky in an interview.  Confident and humble is the best approach.  When you talk about how strong you are with certain technical skills or how certain you are of your ability to get results, you should back these claims up with your experience, your results, or your methods.

Some topics require you to walk a fine line. For example, being asked about your leadership is a tough question, because you need to show strength without seeming over-confident. This is why people use terms like “servant leadership” or say things like “Surround yourself with the smartest and most talented staff.”  We love leaders who stay humble and attribute their success to hiring amazing people and staying out of their way.  This type of confident humility works well in many roles.

Q. There are probably more people that are on the flip side of that and would say that they dread the interview process. What words of advice do you have for someone who loses sleep over doing interviews?

A. Let’s demystify the interview process: You’re going to sit down in a room with a couple of people. You’re going to walk them through your resume. You’ll talk about your strengths and probably answer a question about one of your weaknesses.  They’ll talk about the job a bit, verify that you have the skills you need.  They’ll ask a few hypothetical questions to see how you would handle a couple of scenarios. You’ll ask some questions at the very end. Then it will be over.  This is the structure for countless interviews across the world, so we don’t have to treat it like a completely unknown event. We can prepare for this, we can plot out a strategy, and we can walk into that room already knowing 70% of what’s going to happen.  You will sleep much better when you’re prepared for 70% of the interview than the people who know 0%. 

Q. How is a hiring manager likely to open the interview?

A. Almost all interviews start with a basic resume walkthrough. “So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe walk us through your resume?”  Some people think this is just a mechanical answer that requires little thought, but a strong resume walkthrough can set a VERY powerful stage for the rest of the interview. Establishing a career narrative is important, and this is a core part of my interview coaching sessions.

Q. How can someone prepare for that question ahead of time, and what are some of the ways you can situate yourself for success early on in an interview?  

A. You’ll hear me use some form of “game plan,” “strategy,” and “planning” in many of my local talks about interview coaching.  Most people don’t prepare for a resume walk-through because it seems like a pretty simple question – after all, you know your career; how hard can it be to read it back to someone? But try doing it out loud, right now, and watch how often you stumble.  For each job entry, what are the top 2-3 takeaways you want the employer to get? Are you talking for 10 minutes when an ideal resume walk-through should be 2-3 minutes long?  Are you building a proper framework of skills so that, by the end of your walkthrough, they understand why you’re qualified to interview for the position? These are important things you can establish from the very first time you speak in that room.  I have personally interviewed in situations where I gave a strong resume walk-through, and I could instantly tell they assumed I would be a good fit. After that, they were simply looking for more confirmation. 

Q. Where do you find that most people misstep in an interview? What can be done to avoid this?

A. Most people talk too long after they answered the question. It’s hard to find a natural stopping point when you feel like there’s always “one more thing” you can say! I also think people have a hard time understanding the true purpose of some interview questions.  If you aren’t sick of hearing me talk about planning and preparation, I’m happy to be that broken record: Having an idea of which skills and experience points you want to relay ahead of time will give you a better in-the-moment understanding of whether or not you have answered the question fully and can stop talking.

Q. Are there such a thing as “home run” questions, where an individual has an excellent shot at the job if they knock these specific questions out of the park? 

A. Absolutely, and it’s important to realize that a home run pitch requires a home run swing if you want to seize that big moment.  “What strengths do you bring to the table?” and “We’re interviewing a lot of candidates for this position. Why should we hire you out of all the others?” are the big moments.  There’s always at least one part of the interview where you get to stand up and say “Why me.”  That’s where you need to swing big. 

Q. How do you prepare for important questions like these without sounding disingenuous during the real thing?

A. If you rehearse a statement verbatim, you do run the risk of sounding over-practiced (unless you’re a superb actor).  My process has always been this:  Write out my ideal answer word-for-word.  Make sure this sounds like my actual speaking pattern.  This is what “perfection” looks like.  As I practice answering these common questions, I will start to use variations in the wording, I’ll trim my answer down to a single bullet with a phrase, and eventually, I can trim it to a one-word bullet that jogs my memory.  By that time, I’ve answered the same question with enough variations that I can confidently answer it with my natural language in the moment.  Planning is important, but planning an interview strategy AND taking measures to make it seem effortless? That’s next level stuff, my friend.

Q. What are some solid questions to have on hand when the interviewer asks, “do you have any questions for me?”  

A. I won’t give away all of my best secrets, but the questions you ask at the end are what really separate good candidates from great ones.  I can tell you this is an important part of the interview, even though most people don’t pay much attention to it.  In short, ask questions that show you are actively interested in how you can do the job well.  Ask questions that show you’re evaluating them just as much as they’re evaluating you.  Talk a little about fit (culture fit, role fit, etc.). All the other applicants might be single-mindedly trying to land this job at any cost, but you’re the one who is still looking for whether or not you SHOULD work at the company.  Showing this kind of curiosity and evaluation will give the impression you’re simply a bigger and better “catch” as a potential hire. 

Q. Why might someone consider hiring a professional interview coach?

A. The most common reason is also a very simple one: Many people just haven’t had to interview much in their lives. People get promoted by doing a good job, or they get recruited to a new company by an old boss, and before they know it, they have 15 years of experience and haven’t had to interview for a single promotion.  They’re making good money, and it’s worth the investment to hire a pro to help them prepare.

 It’s also common for people to hire professional interview coaches if they know they’re going to fight an uphill battle in the interview. Perhaps they were terminated from a recent position, they have a sporadic work history, they’ve job-hopped, or they’re lacking something important to their profession (perhaps a certification or college degree).  People hire us to help minimize the damage those sensitive areas will do to their position of power in an interview. 

Lastly, some people just believe that investing in their career is always a good idea. If you’re a great engineer with a strong technical mindset, there’s no rule that says you have to be an expert resume writer and interviewer.  So, the same way I might hire a plumber to help me with my house, people hire resume writers and career coaches to give them an edge that isn’t related to their daily job responsibilities. 

Q. What are some of the things you might cover in a typical coaching session?

A. Every coaching session is tailored to the particular needs of the client, but there are certainly common aspects of every good interview strategy such as delivering an excellent resume walkthrough, establishing a strengths resume, and tackling those tough/hypothetical interview questions. We’ll also discuss salary negotiation and how to deal with recruiters. I’ll also walk clients through networking – everyone says you should be doing it, but nobody says how! That’s where I come in. Finally, we’ll discuss things like how to “manage your manager,” in other words, how to get credit for your work and get promoted or how to navigate a career transition by taking your seemingly random career history and establishing a different path. I always like to have clients give me an idea of what they’d like to see happen during our session ahead of time so we make the most of our time together and so that the conversation centers around their specific concerns.

Q. What do clients tend to find most helpful about these sessions? Do you get good feedback from individuals who feel like that really helped them as they stepped into their interview? 

A. Interview strategy sessions and career coaching are the most rewarding part of my role at Executive Drafts.  Because everything is bespoke and completely tailored for each individual, no two sessions are exactly alike.  This means I give 100% on every call, and I think my clients get that sense when we talk.  The feedback I get from coaching is overwhelmingly positive, and I believe much of that comes from the burden that’s lifted off the client’s shoulders. 

These questions and unknowns really weigh on people and having a professional with such a diverse set of experiences walk you through your concerns and provide real actions and verbiage can make things much, much easier.  I’ve also noticed the people I work with say they’re much more confident walking into any scenario once we’ve had a chance to bring some order and a game plan to their situation.  Career coaching is therapeutic and can provide enormous returns!

Q. Finally, what is the best piece of interview advice you can give?

A. At this point, could you expect me to say anything other than “MAKE A PLAN!”  Here’s the thing:  If you hire a professional to help you, we’re going to come up with picture-perfect verbiage, address all of your concerns, and polish up every corner and crevice of your interview game.  But anyone can sit down and rehearse their resume walkthrough a few times, write out their best strengths, and think of a good answer to “what’s your biggest weakness.” If you take the time to do those basic things, you’re probably already 30% better than most people. If you read this entire article, took it to heart, and practiced the things I mentioned, you’re probably 70% better. 

Whether you work with a professional coach or do it on your own, actually taking the time to properly prepare for an interview gives you a massive advantage over people who simply show up with a suit and a smile, hoping for the best.

Feature photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash