It’s true: I’ve landed every single job I’ve ever applied for in my career. And I’ve applied for a bunch of jobs: I’ve been a community manager, an advertising exec, a web development consultant, a corporate social media manager, a photo studio manager, a magazine editor and a freelance writer for several international blogs and content outlets. And while it sounds like I’m now VP of Massaging My Own Ego, Inc., I only mention this to let you know that I’ve donned many hats and I know what I’m talking about, when it comes to getting a job. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years:

Know your employer, know your role

In an ideal world, your next job will be with a company you admire and actually want to work for. Whether or not that’s the case, if you find a job opening you’re interested in, work on becoming the passionate candidate you’d want to hire for your own team — someone who knows what the company is about, what they’re up to, what they want to achieve and how they’d like to do so.

Read their blogs, press releases, tweets; use their products and services extensively and familiarise yourself with the company’s philosophy from there.

Bring a gun to a knife-fight

While most folks only prep their resumes and brush up on their programming skills, it’s important to go a step further: prepare a bunch of ideas that you’d like to discuss, based on your research about the company, as well as what you’d like to be doing there. Mention this in your cover letter – it’s the first step in skewing the interview more from a Q&A session about you to a conversation about your future with the company.

Discussing these ideas with your employer will give you a better idea about how the company functions and what you can expect in your new role, and the interviewer gets to see how you think and plan. If you’ve done research, prepared a calendar for your role for the next year, share it with the company like you’re already a part of it.

Think beyond getting hired

For yourself, for your role, for the company – how will you excel in the role you sign up for, and how will you build on that success? Will you expand the team to bring your company higher sales/visibility/reach?

In an interview for a role as a startup’s resident blogger, I tried to think more like I was signing up as Head of Communications. My answers about “How will you bring in more readers to our company blog?” addressed not just basic inbound traffic tactics and content ideas, but overall communication strategies and what those would mean for the company going forward.

I also asked about the kind of resources that would be made available to me to do so — in effect, I began to take up more of a leadership role from before I had a desk with my name on it. That’s exactly what employers want.

Ask questions

Interviewers generally wrap things up with “Do you have any questions for us?” Be sure to use this opportunity to learn more about the company — you might just end up spending years with them. Don’t ask about things that are solely in your interest, like work hours — but rather, ask about things that affect the company: work culture, how recent developments in the company’s domain affect their business decisions, when a new product is expected to release and what else they have planned for the year.

Look good

Whether your interview is on-site or on Skype, suit up appropriately. This will help you get in the zone, put your interviewer at ease and let you focus on the interview without worrying about that sauce stain on your t-shirt. Check out the company’s team page for an idea of what you might want to wear. Don’t overdo it — there’s no need to wear a three-piece suit for an interview with a two-man startup (unless of course, the company deals in fine men’s apparel).

Got a Skype interview? Here’s a handy checklist of things to get right before your interview begins:

  • Lighting – make sure your face is well-lit from the front, and not just from behind or the top. If necessary, point a desk lamp towards you. This will make for less grainy video and you’ll look less like a ghoul. Ghouls don’t often get hired.
  • Make sure your room is cleared of clutter, especially the area in view of the webcam.
  • Set your phone to silent mode.
  • Being comfortable is important too – keep a glass of water handy off-camera in case you get thirsty.

Do emails right

Keep your email messages on point and personal — nobody wants to read a canned message that you’ve prepared for a long bout of interviews, hoping something will stick.
Thank interviewers with an email immediately after. This is also an opportunity to ask about when you can expect to hear from them next (and plan accordingly for your next round of interviews).
And make sure you respond to follow-up questions as quickly as possible — letting an email from a potential employer does no one any good.

The key to nailing an interview is to want the job first, and preparing for the job you want. Find a company you’re passionate about and follow these tips, and you’ll be in a swanky new role in no time. Let me know how things go in the comments.

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