Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Securing the Role: Advanced Interview Tactics from Margaret Buj

Margaret Buj

Margaret Buj

Interview Coach and Recruitment Consultant

Key Takeaways

  • Enhanced Company Research: Go beyond basic research by connecting with employees, reviewing industry reports, and engaging with the company’s social media to understand its culture and challenges.
  • Job Description Tactics: Identify and focus on essential skills, use the company’s specific language, and apply the STAR method to align your interview answers with job requirements.
  • Utilizing Company Challenges: Research the company’s current challenges and propose solutions during the interview, backing them up with examples of similar challenges you’ve successfully addressed.
  • Preparing for Unexpected Questions: Practice adapting your knowledge to various scenarios in mock interviews, and focus on your core competencies to handle surprise questions effectively.
  • Non-Verbal Interview Techniques: Pay close attention to body language, eye contact, and tone to convey confidence and professionalism, enhancing your overall interview presence.
  • Strategic Post-Interview Approach: Send a timely thank-you email, address any interview missteps in follow-up communications, keep in touch with industry-relevant updates, and continue to show proactive interest during the waiting period.

How to Prepare for a Job Interview


In today’s competitive job market, excelling in interviews is a significant challenge that many face. This issue is often compounded by the difficulty in decoding complex job descriptions and standing out among a sea of candidates. Recognizing these pain points, our upcoming Q&A session with Margaret Buj, a seasoned Interview Coach and Recruitment Consultant, aims to provide solutions. Margaret will offer actionable advice on conducting in-depth company research, effectively interpreting job descriptions, and utilizing company challenges to your advantage during interviews. She’ll also share strategies for confidently handling unexpected questions and mastering non-verbal communication. In the aspirational part of our session, Margaret will guide you through ways to authentically showcase your uniqueness and leave a memorable impression post-interview. Don’t miss this opportunity to transform your interview challenges into success stories with Margaret’s expert insights.

“In today’s information age, it’s essential for applicants to go beyond the basics when researching a company. Sure, you can Google the company’s website, recent news, and social media profiles, but that’s just the start.

To stand out, applicants should:

  • Connect With Employees: Leverage professional networks like LinkedIn to connect with current or former employees. Ask them about the company culture, work environment, and any insider information they may be willing to share.
  • Industry Publications and Reports: Look for industry-specific publications, reports, or case studies related to the company. Understand the challenges and trends in the industry to showcase your awareness during the interview. Also, research stories about the company on Forbes.com, Fortune.com, huffingtonpost.com, major news outlets and industry publications. Do they contain comments made by the company’s spokespeople? This will give you a sense of the interviewer’s opinions on these stories.
  • Follow the company prior to the interview on Twitter and on its Facebook and LinkedIn pages. What is the company talking about? What are they tweeting and posting? What are the obvious and underlying themes you observe? Can you apply any of your previous experiences to some of these topics being discussed in social media channels? Are they featuring promotions, sales, special events or product launches? How could you contribute to their success? Are they particularly proud of a charitable initiative in which they are involved? What can you offer this initiative? Be prepared to discuss it.


  • Attend Events or Webinars: If the company participates in industry events or webinars, attend them. It not only shows dedication but also provides an opportunity to gain insights directly from the company’s representatives.
  • Company Reviews and Feedback: Explore employee reviews on platforms like Glassdoor. While taking these with a grain of salt, they can offer a sense of the company’s strengths and potential weaknesses. If you find negative points, are these things you can live with—or better yet, would you thrive within that type of environment? One person’s “boring job” may be another person’s “stable employer.” Remember to take the information in its context, as every firm has unhappy employees and these may be the ones who take the time to write negative commentary.
  • Review Financial Information, if the company is public. This is a crucial action, regardless of the position to which you are applying. It is imperative that you understand the business and financial underpinnings of any potential employer.”

“Deciphering a job description is crucial for tailoring your interview prep.

Here’s a clever approach:

  • Identify Key Skills and Qualities: Highlight the key skills and qualities mentioned in the job description. These are the areas you want to emphasize during the interview. Know what’s “required” and what’s simply “desired.” Pay close attention to the phrases “required” and “must have.” They mean it — these qualifications are typically non-negotiable.

    But far less mandatory are skills labeled “desired” or “preferred”. These are nice-to-haves, but you may compensate for lacking them by conveying your own valuable extras, like editing skills, technical savvy, passion for the mission, fluency in another language, or public speaking ability.

    Know also that qualifications and skills are often listed in order of importance to the employer, so focus on matches at the top of the list, and don’t sweat mismatches at the bottom. Sometimes, items at the bottom are automatically added as obligatory boilerplate by the HR department.
  • Understand Company Language: Pay attention to the language used in the job description. If they emphasize “innovation” and “collaboration,” make sure to incorporate these terms into your responses.
  • Research Similar Roles: Look for similar job descriptions across different companies. This can provide additional insights into industry expectations and common requirements for the role.
  • Use the STAR Method: When preparing examples of your experiences, use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses in a way that directly aligns with the job requirements.”

“Companies often appreciate candidates who show strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.

Here’s how to turn challenges into opportunities:

  • Understand the challenges: Research and understand the challenges the company is facing. This could be financial, operational, or even related to industry changes.
  • Propose solutions: During the interview, tactfully bring up these challenges and, if appropriate, suggest potential solutions. This demonstrates your proactive approach and shows you’ve done your homework.
  • Relate personal experiences: Share examples from your past experiences where you successfully navigated challenges similar to those faced by the company. This not only showcases your skills but also establishes your suitability for the role.”

“Anticipating and preparing for unexpected questions is key.

To avoid sounding rehearsed:

  • Practice, don’t memorize: Instead of memorizing responses, practice adapting your existing knowledge and experiences to various scenarios. This ensures flexibility in your answers.
  • Mock interviews: Conduct mock interviews with a friend or mentor who can throw unexpected questions at you. This helps improve your ability to think on your feet.
  • Focus on core competencies: Identify your core competencies and be ready to discuss how they align with the company’s needs. This will provide a solid foundation for answering unexpected questions.

Don’t worry too much if there is one question you really can’t answer. If the rest of the interview goes well, not being able to answer one question shouldn’t be a deal breaker.”

“In my experience, one of the most underrated aspects of interview prep is non-verbal communication. Candidates often focus heavily on what they say, but how they say it is equally important. Pay attention to your body language, tone of voice, and overall demeanor. Practice maintaining good eye contact, a confident handshake, and a friendly yet professional tone. These subtle cues can greatly impact the interviewer’s perception of you.”


How to Ace The Job Interview


“In a previous interview, a candidate effectively used storytelling to highlight their problem-solving skills. They narrated a situation where they faced a significant challenge at work, explained the steps they took to address it, and concluded with the positive impact on the team and the company. The story was not only engaging but also showcased the candidate’s abilities in a real-world context.

To explain it in more detail, the candidate shared a story about a significant challenge they faced in their previous role. They were part of a cross-functional team tasked with implementing a new software system critical for the company’s operations. Midway through the implementation, unexpected technical issues arose, threatening project timelines and the overall success of the initiative.

Key Elements:

  • Contextualization: The candidate began by setting the stage, providing context about the project’s importance and the team’s goals. This helped the interviewer understand the significance of the challenge.
  • Problem Identification: The candidate articulated the specific technical challenges encountered during the implementation. This demonstrated their ability to analyze and pinpoint issues, a crucial skill in many professional settings.
  • Strategic Approach: The candidate then described the steps they took to address the challenges. They discussed collaborating with team members, consulting with external experts, and implementing a phased approach to troubleshoot and resolve the technical issues.
  • Team Collaboration: The candidate emphasized the collaborative nature of their problem-solving process, showcasing not only their individual skills but also their ability to work effectively within a team.
  • Results: Importantly, the candidate highlighted the positive outcomes of their efforts. By successfully addressing the challenges, the team not only met the project deadlines but also improved the overall efficiency of the company’s operations through the new software system.

Why It Was Engaging:

  • Relevance: The story was directly related to the candidate’s professional experiences and the skills required for the current role. This made it relevant and meaningful to the interviewer.
  • Conflict and Resolution: The narrative structure included a clear conflict (technical challenges) and resolution (successful problem-solving). This is a classic storytelling element that engages the listener and keeps them invested in the narrative.
  • Demonstration of Skills: The story effectively showcased the candidate’s problem-solving, teamwork, and strategic thinking skills. It provided concrete examples of how they approached challenges and contributed to positive outcomes.
  • Engaging Delivery: The candidate’s delivery was enthusiastic and confident. They effectively conveyed their emotions and passion for problem-solving, making the story more compelling.

In essence, this memorable story worked well because it not only addressed the interviewer’s interest in the candidate’s technical capabilities but also provided a narrative that was engaging, relevant, and demonstrated the candidate’s value through their past experiences.

“One common non-verbal mistake is lack of eye contact. I’ve seen candidates who either avoid eye contact entirely or maintain an intense gaze throughout the interview. Both extremes can create discomfort. The ideal approach is to establish and maintain natural eye contact, signaling confidence and interest without overwhelming the interviewer.

If you’re interviewing via Zoom/Teams, try to look at the camera and not on the screen most of the time.”

“For off-the-wall questions, the key is to stay calm and approach them with creativity. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding. It’s acceptable to acknowledge the uniqueness of the question and express your willingness to tackle it. Relate your response to relevant experiences or skills, showcasing your ability to think critically and adapt to unexpected scenarios.

Here’s an example of an off-the-wall question and how a candidate might approach it:

Off-the-Wall Question:

“If you were a superhero, what would be your superpower, and how would you use it to benefit our company?”

Candidate’s Approach:

  • Acknowledge the uniqueness: Begin by acknowledging the uniqueness of the question. You might say, “That’s a fun and interesting question. I appreciate the creativity!”


  • Relate to skills and values: Relate the chosen superpower to skills or values relevant to the job. For example, if the job involves problem-solving and innovation, you could say, “If I were a superhero, my superpower would be ‘Innovation.’ I would use it to come up with creative solutions to challenges and drive continuous improvement within the company.”
  • Connect to company goals: Tie your superpower to the company’s goals. If the company values collaboration, you might add, “I’d use my ‘Innovation’ superpower to foster collaboration among team members, encouraging a culture of creativity and idea-sharing.”
  • Inject personality: Share a brief, light-hearted anecdote to inject personality into your response. For instance, “Just like a superhero brings a unique flair to every situation, I believe my ‘Innovation’ superpower would add a touch of creativity to our team’s projects.”
  • Emphasize team contribution: Conclude by emphasizing how your chosen superpower would contribute positively to the team and company as a whole. For instance, “Ultimately, I see my ‘Innovation’ superpower as a way to contribute to the company’s growth and success by bringing fresh ideas and approaches to the table.”

By approaching off-the-wall questions with a mix of creativity, a connection to job-relevant skills, alignment with company values, a touch of humor, and an emphasis on positive contributions, candidates can navigate these questions effectively and showcase their ability to think on their feet.”

“To stand out from standard responses, inject authenticity and personal anecdotes. Share stories that highlight your unique journey, challenges you’ve overcome, or lessons learned. Showcase your passion for the industry or role. Additionally, emphasize your individual approach to problem-solving and how it aligns with the company’s values and goals.

How do you do that? Let’s consider a common interview question like, “Can you tell me about yourself?”

Here’s an example of how a candidate might inject authenticity and personal anecdotes to stand out:

Standard Response:

“I graduated with a degree in marketing and have worked in the industry for five years. In my previous role, I managed social media campaigns and increased engagement by 20%. I’m detail-oriented and a team player.”

Enhanced response with authenticity and personal anecdotes:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the power of storytelling, which led me to pursue a degree in marketing. One of the most memorable experiences in my career was when I spearheaded a social media campaign for a local non-profit. The goal was to raise awareness for their cause. I remember crafting a series of emotionally resonant posts, sharing personal stories from individuals impacted by the organization. It wasn’t just about numbers for me; it was about connecting with people.

This experience taught me the profound impact that authentic storytelling can have on creating meaningful connections. I faced challenges along the way, such as tight deadlines and limited resources, but the campaign’s success in increasing engagement by 20% was incredibly rewarding.

What excites me about your company is the emphasis on community engagement and the power of meaningful connections. I’m eager to bring my passion for authentic storytelling and my proven ability to connect with audiences to contribute to your team’s goals. I believe that my individual approach to problem-solving aligns with your company’s values of creativity and community impact.”

In this enhanced response, the candidate not only provides a glimpse into their professional journey but also shares a specific, memorable anecdote that illustrates their values and problem-solving skills. This approach helps the candidate stand out by connecting their experiences to the broader context of their passion for storytelling and alignment with the company’s values and goals.”

“I wish more candidates would ask, “Can you describe the company culture and team dynamics?” This question signals that the candidate is not only interested in the role but also in the broader work environment. It provides insight into whether the candidate’s working style aligns with the company culture and if they will thrive in the team dynamics.”


How To Follow-Up After The Interview


“In terms of sending a thank-you email to the interviewer, I’d recommend 24h to 48h after the interview. Sending a thank-you email promptly shows your enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity without coming across as desperate. It’s important to strike a balance between being timely and allowing the interviewer enough space to make their assessments.

In terms of asking for interview feedback, if the interviewer hasn’t given you any specific time frame, I’d probably wait a week.”

“I once had a candidate who, after a round of interviews, sent a personalized video message expressing their appreciation for the opportunity and summarizing key points discussed during the interview. It was creative, showed genuine interest, and set them apart from other candidates. While not every industry or role may warrant such an approach, creativity that aligns with the company’s culture can leave a lasting impression.”

How should candidates tactfully address any missteps from their interview in a follow-up?

“In your follow-up email, tactfully acknowledge any missteps. Express gratitude for the interview and use phrases like, “Upon reflection, I realized I could have elaborated more on [specific point].” Briefly provide additional context or information to clarify any misunderstandings. This shows self-awareness, a commitment to improvement, and the ability to handle feedback.”

Here’s a brief example of how a candidate might address a misstep in a follow-up email:

Dear [Interviewer’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to interview for the [Job Title] position. It was a pleasure learning more about the team and the exciting projects at [Company Name].

Upon reflection, I wanted to address a point from our discussion. I realized that I could have provided more depth on my experience in [specific area]. I appreciate your understanding and would like to take this opportunity to share additional insights into my role in a similar project at my previous position.

In that role, I faced [challenge], and my approach involved [specific strategies]. The outcome was [positive result], and it was a valuable learning experience that has shaped my approach to [related tasks].

I understand the importance of a comprehensive understanding in this area, and I am committed to ensuring that my contributions align seamlessly with the objectives of the [Job Title] role at [Company Name]. I believe this additional context better illustrates my capabilities and experience in [specific area].

Thank you again for considering my application. I look forward to the possibility of contributing to the innovative work at [Company Name]. If there are any further questions or if more information is needed, please feel free to reach out.

Best regards,

[Your Full name]
[Your contact information]

How do you suggest candidates keep the flame alive with potential employers post-interview?

“After the initial thank-you email, periodic check-ins are a subtle way to express continued interest. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance and not come across as overly persistent. Aim for a natural frequency, such as every two weeks or monthly, depending on the context of the role and the organization’s hiring process.

Example:

“I hope you’re doing well. I wanted to express my ongoing enthusiasm for the [Job Title] position. I’ve been keeping abreast of industry trends and wanted to share an article on [relevant topic]. I believe the insights align with our discussions during the interview. Looking forward to the possibility of contributing to [Company Name].”

If appropriate, share industry news or insights that align with your previous discussions. This not only keeps you on the interviewer’s radar but also positions you as someone actively engaged and informed about the industry. Be selective in the content you share, ensuring it’s relevant and adds value to your professional image.

Example:

“I recently came across an article about [industry trend] that I thought might interest you. It reminded me of our conversation about [specific topic] during the interview. I’m continually excited about the prospect of contributing to [Company Name]’s innovative approach.”

If the interviewers provided a timeline for a decision and that timeframe has passed, it’s entirely appropriate to politely inquire about any updates. This shows your continued interest while respecting their process. Avoid sounding impatient; instead, express your understanding of the time it takes to make a thoughtful decision.

Example:

“I understand that these decisions take time, and I appreciate the thorough process. As the timeline for the decision approaches, I wanted to check in and see if there have been any updates. I remain very interested in the opportunity and look forward to the possibility of contributing to [Company Name].”

Remember, the key is to maintain a professional and respectful tone in all communications. These follow-up actions demonstrate your ongoing interest, engagement, and understanding of the hiring process, reinforcing your commitment to the potential role.”

What are some effective mindsets or strategies for handling the post-interview waiting game?

Adopt a mindset of continued self-improvement and preparation for potential next steps. Use the waiting period to research more about the company, its competitors, or industry trends. Strategically network with current employees on professional platforms. This not only keeps you engaged but also positions you as someone genuinely interested in the industry beyond the immediate job opportunity.

“Additionally, it’s advisable to continue exploring opportunities with other companies until you’ve signed a contract. While you may be enthusiastic about a particular role, keeping your options open ensures that you have alternative possibilities in case of unforeseen circumstances. This approach also helps maintain a healthy perspective and reduces the anxiety associated with waiting for a specific job offer. Remember, it’s a two-way street, and you should be assessing each potential employer as they are assessing you.”


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