Imagine showing up for a job interview. You’re immaculately dressed, you’ve done your research on the company, and you even know your interviewer’s favorite sports team.
You think you’re ready for anything. And the first question is...
“How many ping-pong balls fit in a Boeing 747?”
The truth is you never know what an interviewer will ask, but there are steps you can take to prepare for any question—even one about ping-ping balls and airplanes (we’ll get to that one later).
Craig Petrus, Director of Graduate Business Career Services at the Hough Graduate School of Business, shares some advice for Warrington alumni that could make the difference in their next job interview.
Your first impression isn’t the first time you meet your interviewer; it’s the résumé. Without an impressive and impactful résumé, you most likely won’t be asked to interview anyway.
Petrus, who was an executive recruiter at Korn/Ferry International and Spencer Stuart—two of the world’s leading executive search firms— says how you display the “Experience” section of your résumé is critical.
“As a former recruiter, we don’t want to see responsibilities on a résumé, we want to see impact,” Petrus says. “What value did you provide that particular company? What results did you accomplish at that company?”
Petrus advises students to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results) in interviews to show how they faced a challenge, the strategies they employed, and their results. Petrus says the latter half of the STAR method is perfect to use on résumés.
“What we like students to use on the résumé is the Action, Results portion of the formula—I did this (the Action) which resulted in this (the Result),” Petrus said. “Show them your value. The companies evaluating you are asking, ‘Can you make the same impact at our company that you did in your previous role?’”
Also, Petrus says to make sure your résumé matches the job description so your experiences and achievements mirror the position’s requirements.
“It’s all about connecting the dots” Petrus says.
Interviewers have higher expectations for job applicants to know more about the company, Petrus says, because so much information is available online. So knowing the basics—mission, company leadership, primary revenue source—isn’t enough. Petrus advises to dig deeper.
“If they’re a publicly-held company, look at their 10K,” Petrus says. “Look for some key points their CFO or CEO might have pointed out that you can use as a reference point in your interview so the recruiter knows you did your research.
“Read their press releases, and look for positive stories that you can mention. The 10K and the press releases will also give you an indication of where the company is going, what their goals are, and what their vision or future is.”
Petrus also advises contacting company employees in your network, especially UF alumni, to learn more about the company and its interview process. If you don’t know anyone at the company you’re interviewing at, Petrus said to search LinkedIn for UF alumni at the company.
“Try to set up a 10- to 15-minute phone call with them or take them out for a cup of coffee,” Petrus said. “Find out what it’s like to work there, what to expect in the interview process. It’s highly, highly valuable.”
Your interviewer will certainly be evaluating you to see if you’re a right fit for the company. Use this opportunity to do the same—evaluate the company, its culture and direction to see if you would enjoy working there.
To ensure your interview is a two-way street, Petrus came up with a “Two-Two-Two Rule” candidates should use. Ask two questions about the position, two questions about the company and two questions about the industry (Read more about Craig’s “Two-Two-Two Rule”).
Petrus said the industry questions are most important to him.
“I put a lot of emphasis on the industry because that shows me you just don’t want a job; you want a career. You are truly invested into the industry the company plays in” Petrus said.
Petrus advises students to stay away from broad, generic answers, and be specific about instances where they were successful in their careers.
He recommends preparing 10 to 15 STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) stories that show a consistent pattern of producing successful outcomes. Of those stories, choose four or five that you think will really resonate.
“What were your proudest moments at that company,” Petrus said. “Tell me that story. Because you’re so proud of that story, it’s going to be easy to tell, and you’re going to speak with confidence.”
At first, this may seem kind of silly to a candidate. Of course you want the job—that’s why you’re interviewing!
But Petrus said candidates often leave the interview without asking for the position.
“Ask, ‘Is there anything about my ability or background that you don’t think would make me a good fit for this job?’” Petrus said. “This gives you the opportunity to flush out and address some of their concerns on the spot. Some people are nervous to ask that, but if you ask it in an upbeat way, it’s really a great question.”
Finally, Petrus said, be grateful for the opportunity to interview, and be crystal clear about your desire to attain the position.
“Finish the interview with, ‘I really appreciate the opportunity to interview for this position,’” Petrus said. “‘I just want you to know that this is a company I want to work at. I love the team, I love the culture, and I want you to know that I really want this job.’”
By the way, interviewers don’t care or probably don’t know how many ping-pong balls fit in a 747 (Supposedly, it’s a question candidates applying at Google or for management consulting jobs are often asked). What the interviewer really wants to see is how you would arrive at the answer, what is your thought process and the structure you take to get to your answer. Such as, are the seats still in the plane, or is the plane empty? Can we store ping-pong balls in the overhead compartments or the fuel tank? Is the plane on the ground or in the air? Your ability to think analytically about the situation is what’s most important.