Interviewing Like a Boss (and a Skilled Communicator)

Hager Sharp recently hosted a group of students from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University for a session on what it’s like to work in the communications field. I spoke to them about how to make a good impression with a prospective employer during an “Interviewing 101” Q&A.

Much of what I shared was from my own experience interviewing entry-level candidates, but to supplement my advice, I also took an informal poll of senior staff at Hager Sharp. Their responses surfaced many of the expected dos and don’ts—arrive early, dress professionally, don’t chew gum!—but also brought to light a parallel relationship I hadn’t previously noticed. That is, how the steps to acing a job interview are so closely aligned with the basic principles of a sound communications strategy.

If you’re looking for a job at Hager Sharp (or anywhere, for that matter), here are some helpful tips for how to not only be a great candidate, but a great communicator too.

Research your audience. Across the board, we at Hager Sharp agree the most important thing to do before an interview is to prepare, prepare, prepare. And that means more than practicing a few tough questions. Just as a well-informed communications campaign starts with formative research and information gathering to explore audience perceptions and other environmental factors, a successful interview begins with a solid understanding of the job on the table, the company, and its mission. If the names of specific clients and interviewers are available, it’s always a good idea to learn as much as possible about them beforehand.

Tailor your messaging. We know that audiences are most receptive when messaging is tailored to their needs and meets them where they are. Similarly, what most interviewers are interested in is less about a candidate’s general background, and more about how his or her skills relate directly to the company’s needsPersonally, I’m always looking for the answer to one key question—do you want a job, or do you want this job? To convince me you want this job, help me understand what you bring to the table for Hager Sharp, our clients, and the work we do every day to advance important issues in health and education.

Be clear, direct, and specific. When I’m talking to a job candidate, I’m not just listening to what they say, I’m listening to how they say it. Can they respond to my questions with clear, direct answers? Can they provide specific examples in plain terms that help me see the bigger picture? Whether it’s a challenge they faced and the solution they used to overcome it, or a strategy they implemented to achieve an explicit result, the most promising candidates provide concrete examples that clearly connect to the job they hope to be hired to do.

Be honest and transparent. It’s never a good idea to exaggerate experience or results, and it’s easy to spot someone who does. We tell our clients in preparing for media interviews that it’s ok to not have all the answers. The same rule applies to job interviews! If you don’t know how to respond to a question, offer to follow up later. If you don’t have a good example to share, we’ll be more impressed if you’re able to admit it and offer something that’s at least loosely related than if you attempt to pull the answer you think we want to hear out of thin air.

Look for opportunities to tell a story. As communicators, we know that one of the most effective ways to ensure your message resonates with the target audience is to incorporate a “human element” or an emotional appeal. You can accomplish this in an interview by sharing a few personal details. What is an interesting book you read, or a hobby you pursue? Is there something about your unique background that led you to Hager Sharp? Offering a glimpse at what gets you out of bed every morning will help make you a more memorable candidate.

Be tuned in, and follow up to ensure your message was received. Taking notes during an interview and asking smart questions is an excellent way to engage—and stay engaged with—your audience of interviewers. Jot down ideas or questions that come up as you’re talking, and use that information later to inform your follow-up communication. Making sure to reference specific topics or personal details you discussed during the interview in a thank-you note indicates you were tuned in and interested during the conversation.

Evaluate. Arguably one of the most important aspects of an effective communications strategy is evaluating the results. Understanding what worked, what didn’t work, and why is the only way to improve your approach the next time around. It’s important following a job interview to take a moment to reflect on how you presented yourself and what you’d do differently in the future. Practice, refine, and get back out there.

And don’t forget to take a deep breath!

Lauren Salay
Senior Account Supervisor