Never shared secrets on how to prepare for a job interview

There are tons of generic tips on how to prepare for the job interview out there. But very little that is this insightful, and particularly addressed to diverse women.

Lily Benjamin

Tips to ace the job interview form Lily Benjamin, one of the top talent management experts

In a room full of people, you may first notice her because of her physical appearance. Tall (5.8 without heels) attractive and vivacious, she looks much younger than her age. But don’t be fooled, her wisdom goes beyond her years. Her young energy coupled with her insights, attracts all types of generations, including Gen Ys, among other diverse groups. Yes, this is Lily Benjamin, one of the most insightful and successful Talent Management and Organization Development executives I’ve met in recent years. Her depth of knowledge and her ability to convert it into concrete advice makes her the ideal person to discuss little known secrets on how to prepare for a job interview, among other subjects.

Lily has over 20 years’ experience in Organization Development, Talent Management, and Diversity and Inclusion. Throughout her career, she has traveled all over the world acquiring a rich international experience while working in multiple industries: health, pharmaceutical, finance, and consumer goods. These experiences have fed her passion for cross cultural leadership development and for building inclusive environments that foster meaningful contributions to the business.

Make sure to check out: 3 Sure-Fire Negotiating tips for Women

What are the three most important things women should keep in mind when they prepare for a job interview?

Ready yourself to bust stereotypes

It is important to recognize that all human beings have biases, some of them are conscious, and others are not. They just need to be effectively managed. As an interviewee, it is important that you are aware of this and anticipate which unconscious biases may pertain to you, and be ready to bust any stereotypes. The way in which you bust those stereotypes is to intentionally bring your uniqueness into the conversation as an asset and discuss how it complements the work you do. For example: “As a woman, I tend to be cautious, yet committed, which makes me reliable…” If it’s a global company and you are Latina, and the job could grow into the Latino market, you can say, “As a Latina I bring the perspective and richness of the Latino market into consideration to help broaden our perspectives…” The ‘busting of stereotypes’ has to be subtle. Do not overdo it, as it could come across as disingenuous and hurt your credibility. A personal example I use to bust whatever stereotype is out there regarding my accent is to directly talk about it. I do so by referencing how speaking several languages has given me insights into the nuances of different cultures. Busting the stereotype of accents is valuable and gives me a competitive advantage in a world where our clients are increasingly more multicultural.

At a job interview bust all stereotypes

Be ready to bust stereotypes that may play against you

Know your audience and prepare for them

Leverage any social media to learn about the interviewer that you will be meeting, the leadership of the company, and the history of the job (if it is public.) Align your examples in a way that is relatable to the person who is interviewing you; that references past experiences of that person as captured in social media, or that are relevant for their generational group, cultural background, and so on. For example, you should read about the communication styles of Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y and be prepared to flex into the uniqueness of their respective styles. The caveat here is that a lot of what you read are generalizations. Don’t forget that each person is an individual. So stay alert to adapt as you deem necessary in case your interviewer does not meet the generalizations that you researched. Always avoid putting everyone in one box.

Promote your personal brand and competitive advantage, tastefully

At the interview you have to ‘sell a product’, and that product is YOU. You must sell your brand and competitive advantage. Be clear on how to communicate both in good taste, without turning people off.

Promoting your personal brand and competitive advantage plays a really big part in preparing for an interview. Could you speak to this?

Your competitive advantage is what makes you unique and the reason why someone should hire you over any other candidate. One of the tools that have been very useful to me is the StrengthFinder from Gallup. Take the test online and identify your strengths. They constitute your competitive advantage. Then consider how that strength can be value added for the job you are interviewing for.

Your brand is the image you want to project in a consistent basis. How do you want people to refer to you when they speak about you? Do they think of you as a trouble-shooter, as a thought partner, as indispensable? Then you need to make sure that you project that image. During the interview you can give clear examples that reinforce your personal brand, and how you want the interviewer to remember you. Ensure the communication of your brand is done with taste, which is what we call ‘healthy self-promotion.’ For example, if they are looking for a trouble-shooter, you may say, “My teams know me as being resourceful and good at trouble-shooting. Whenever there are issues around technology, people tend to reach out to me. I can usually help them resolve the situation, and if I can’t, I find the way to partner with them and sort things out.”

In preparing for an interview remember that you are your own agent.

If you don’t do some healthy self-promotion, no one will do it for you. Generally speaking, it is something hard to do for women and for certain cultures. But remember, potential employers are calling you in to talk about you, provide context, examples, and so on.

From a recruiter’s point of view, what is the one thing women do much more often than men at the interview stage which loses them opportunities to get hired?

In some cultures more than others, women can come across as tentative, apologetic, or not able to effectively balance assertiveness vs aggressiveness. And no one wants to hire an ‘insecure, aggressive’ person. This is an opportunity to bust that stereotype, by not coming across as such. Aim for balance, by reading the impact you are having on your audience and recalibrating accordingly.

Let’s talk about this. Can you share how women can come across as assertive and not be considered aggressive?

Unfortunately, being a woman, even if you are not being aggressive you may be stereotyped as aggressive if you speak up. But don’t panic, this label is also bustable. You just need to be aware of this fact and be intentional with your actions.

Understanding the fine line that distinguishes assertiveness and aggressiveness is a big step towards a successful job interview

Understanding the fine line that distinguishes assertiveness and aggressiveness is a big step towards a successful job interview

First know the difference between the two. Aggressiveness shows up declarative, individualistic, and close minded. In essence, it looks as though a person is pushing their perspective on others. Assertiveness shows up self-assured and confident, yet open and not threatening others’ points of views. In order to do that, you need to be very aware of how you convey your opinion, how it is received, and how people react to it.

I refer to it as you being ‘part of and apart’ from the conversation. That means that while you are confidently communicating your perspective, you are being part of the conversation. When you separate yourself from your perspective to see how others are receiving your words and how they are reacting to you, you take yourself apart. You distance yourself from your perspective and get closer to the perspective of others. So be prepared to share your experience, while reading your environment and checking frequently how you and your stories are been received. Be mindful that when it comes to communication your words only account for 7% of the message, 38% is your tone, while 55% is body language. Be in the look out for how you are received, as well as assess the tone and body language of your interviewer. For example, as Latinas, we can be passionate and extremely expressive, which can be misconstrued as being aggressive. If you are aware of that, it is easier to effectively manage a stereotype by articulating your intend, or what I call “flashing your intention.”

Here’s an example of how to flash your intentions to erase any gaps between them and the impact your communication produces:  “As a Latina I am very passionate about ‘this’, so if you see my expressions changing and my voice raising, is all good. This topic is very close to my heart…”   By articulating your intention, you are preparing the interviewer not to unfavorably jump too quickly to conclusions.

Although the interviewer asks about your past experience, they really want to assess your potential. How do you let them know what you’d be able to do for them and justify it with your past experience?

Organizations that recognize great talent and hire well, value experience yet look for potential. Interviewers look for both. When they choose to recommend you to the next step in the process, their credibility is on the line. Be a good partner from the beginning and support them by representing yourself accurately and demonstrating what you do, as well as what you can do in support of the shared goals. Start by preparing yourself for the process. Have your story organized around what you have done (experience) and what you can do (potential.)

An interviewer asks about your experience but is assessing your potential

To ace the job interview, make sure you address not only your experience but your potential

Demonstrate depth and breadth with examples.

For instance, Marisa, a woman I recently coached, had been part of different teams in her previous job. She had a specialized role in each team, but she understood well the roles of every person as well. The job Marisa applied for required for her to actually do the jobs of all the team members. So during the interview process she shared what she actually did (experience) and put the focus on discussing what she knew of the roles of others, which illustrated to the interviewer what she could do (potential.) She spoke with confidence and authenticity, and she got a job that had responsibilities beyond what she had done before. Due to her successful performance, just recently, her responsibilities have been expanded even further. The caveat here is that you must do your research and know all of those roles you’re speaking about to demonstrate your interest and knowledge on the subject. That’s how you show potential.

What’s the best way to prepare for an interview?

Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, and once you are ready, PREPARE!

How to dress

  • Dress on par with expectations, don’t be afraid to dress better than what the job requires.
  • Be conscious of body odors: have fresh breath; smell good but stay away from overwhelming perfumes.
  • Heels are ok, but don’t overdo it; do not wear shoes you will wear to a club.
  • Keep jewelry to basics, don’t have your attire be memorable or compete with what you bring to the organization.

How to present yourself

  • Be on time and mindful of time.
  • Show up organized, with your questions ready for them – have questions categorized on strategy, industry, people, job, structure, cultures, etc.
  • Be the expert of your subject, and show both experience and potential.
  • Read your audience and adjust accordingly to the clues you are picking up.
  • Share relevant names or contacts if they can strengthen your credibility, but don’t come across as a ‘name dropper.’

How to follow up

  • Send personalized, brief, thoughtful thank you notes, one or two days after your interview so you have time to organize your thoughts. 

How to ace the job interview with amazing research

What kind of research will help people ace the job interview?

In order to ace the job interview you must seek to understand the job description, know the industry, know the business, know about their competitors, and learn about the company’s culture.

You are the best at being you. You're powerful. You are strong. You can do anything. Never forget that!

Forget about trying to be someone or something you are not. Interviewers can easily detect your lack of authenticity. You are best at being you.

One of the many ways to learn about the culture is by researching their history, vision, mission, and values; all of this is available online. Leaders set the tone of a corporate culture. So learn about the organization’s leadership and any relevant information that can connect the interview conversation to them. This means, look up the leaders’ career path, where have they been before, what kind of culture those companies have.

If the leaders you are meeting with published something, read it. Then, only if appropriate, mention it to your interviewer and connect it to the job you are going after. This gives you an opportunity to relate to the company and to show you have done your homework, something all interviewers like to see.   In addition, seek to network with people that do the job you are interviewing for in other organizations and ask them questions to help you understand better what the job entails. This practice will help you show your potential by speaking about specifics and possibilities.

What other considerations are critical when preparing for the job interview?

Preparation is essential. Most interviews are behavioral interviews. What that means is that the interviewer is looking for specific examples. The best way to use your time with them effectively and memorably is to come with your examples ready and organized; put them in a CAR. That stands for C = Challenge (situation), A = Actions taken, and R = Results accomplished. And make sure that you stress your role and contributions in the examples.   The interviewer doesn’t necessary need the details, unless he or she asks for them. Be mindful of how you are sharing your CAR, communicate it as an engaging story with a clear ending. For example:

Question: “Give me an example of how you conducted a project you are proud of.


  • Challenge: “We needed to establish a Corporate University.”
  • Actions: “It takes a village for this type of projects, so I used my relationship building skills (promoting your personal brand) to create strategic alliances with senior leadership, put in place business cases, put a team together, found a sponsor and budget, created the strategy, and led its implementation.”
  • Results: “Consequently, we created learning opportunities for all segments of the organization— senior leaders, managers, and individual contributors. These increased engagement scores as seen in the Associate Engagement Survey, as well as retention levels. My responsibility was to spearhead and lead the initiative.” (If you have numbers, offer them.)

In this example you have promoted your personal brand with confidence, and succinctly provided a description of the impact that you made in the organization. Have the interviewer ask for details if they need them. Emotions are contagious. Your preparation and ease on how you present yourself will fill you with confidence, which will in turn make the recruiter feel confident about you and more eager to promote you with the hiring manager. Ensure that before you are done, you clearly and succinctly ask about the next steps in the process. Then send a personalized, brief but substantial thank-you note. You have one to two days to do so. Take your time to be thoughtful.

Many people think that to ace the job interview they must only focus on the interviewer but there are many other people involved, right?

 The process starts with the receptionist at the door, and it includes everyone you cross paths with in the hallway, the parking lot attendant, and security personnel as well. Be poised through the entire process and promote your brand with good taste by leaving positive and memorable experiences of you. Be thoughtful when you speak with people or connect with them. All of these considerations are important because the hiring manager will ask others what they think of you. Even if they don’t ask others, and people’s experience of you were either good or bad – in a memorable way – they might volunteer their opinion of you. Once you pass the screening process with the hiring recruiter, find out with whom you are interviewing next. Be mindful that the interviewing process is not only with the people you are scheduled to meet with. In addition, we are talking about your personal brand, so make sure that after you are hired you keep that image of you to strengthen your reputation and grow in your career.

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly- By Robert F.Kennedy

Dare to take risks and you’ll see amazing rewards!

When speaking with the hiring manager or others, it is good practice to ask the interviewer how ‘this role’ (don’t say job, you don’t have the job yet) will interact and support their role. You will be showing partnership and collaboration.

When gathering your thoughts to write the thank you note. Make sure that you took good notes during the interviews on topics or conversations that you feel were important to the interviewer and relevant to the job. Go back home and do some research about those topics. If you find a brief yet relevant article on that particular subject, share the link and make the connection with its relevancy regarding the position in your thank you note. That will demonstrate thoughtfulness, partnership, and resourcefulness. It will show your interest in learning and demonstrate healthy levels of ambition; this combination is inspiring and welcomed.

If you need coaching to get you ready for the job interview, consider signing up for our RSM Step Up Program. We'll help you be you. Amplified!

Any final words?

You are the expert on YOU and know the value that you add to teams and organizations. They are looking to learn more about you, from you. So don’t be nervous, be confident.

Remember that while the interviewers are making their assessments, you too have the opportunity to assess if the organization is a good fit for you. Take every job interviewing opportunity seriously; the interviewing process is a job that you must excel at. If you are not selected, having had a good experience will further prepare you for the dream job that is awaiting you. So be positive and welcome each opportunity. This perspective should strengthen your confidence so you can be at your best.

You are the one who makes your future happen. Go for it! Best of luck!

You can connect with Lily Benjamin on LinkedIn

Bilingual Professionals and Tips for bilingual job seekers

By Susan Landon

“Oftentimes bilingual professionals skip an important step when writing their resume: having it edited by a native English speaker”

Sometimes bilingual professionals get special treatment

English is my first language. I also speak Spanish, but not with perfect fluency, so I know what it’s like to struggle to say something the right way. Even if I get the grammar correct and I find acceptable vocabulary, I’m probably missing the right nuance that a native Spanish speaker would know without thinking about it. Although I may consider myself a bilingual professional, I would never write an important communication in Spanish without having it reviewed by one of my friends who speak Spanish as their first language. But I receive a lot of communications (emails, letters, resumes) that are clearly written by a bilingual professional who doesn’t speak English as their first language and didn’t have a native English speaker help with editing.

Bilingual professionals: Make sure to leverage all your assets

Bilingual professionals: Make sure to leverage all your assets

I’m an executive recruiter, a “head hunter,” and I work for a global search firm with offices around the world. Many bilingual professionals looking for jobs send me their resumes, and a lot of them don’t speak English as their first language. On one hand, I have a lot of empathy for someone who is trying super hard to communicate about something really important in a language that they didn’t learn from birth. On the other hand, I’m busy and I often don’t have time to make special allowances. So I’m torn. Sometimes I make time to help a bilingual professional who seems to be talented but is struggling with communicating in a second language. But sometimes I don’t.

Bilingual professionals would benefit from pairing up with a native English speaker to write their resumes

Bilingual professionals would benefit from pairing up with a native English speaker to write their resumes

Bilingual professionals who struggle to get their message across

I once received a resume from a friend asking me to help a bilingual professional friend of hers, Carlos, by editing his resume and making some helpful comments. The resume was so poorly written that it would have taken me a very long time and a lot of effort to fix. And, quite honestly, there were so many errors that I made the assumption that Carlos wasn’t very bright, since he couldn’t even express himself clearly. So I told my friend that I didn’t want to spend my time working on Carlos’ resume. That I felt that bilingual professionals whose first language isn’t English should be more aware of the limitation something written in poor English placed on their chances to land a job. By investing my time in fixing Carlos’ resume I wasn’t going to fix his problem. He needed a partner with whom to work on an on-going basis so that he could improve his English communication skills. This partner could help edit Carlos’ written materials even after he achieved complete fluency.

The story of a bilingual professional with high aspirations and strong determination

And then my friend told me Carlos’ story. He had been left in El Salvador while his parents came to the US to work, and the family he stayed with didn’t send him to school. He joined his parents in the US at age 12, speaking no English and having no education in Spanish. He didn’t understand assignments and was embarrassed to tell anyone. Through sheer determination and the help of many bilingual professionals along the way, he graduated from high school and even made it through college. He became a teacher. He was getting help with English, but he knew his language skills weren’t great yet, and that’s why he was asking for help. And although my friend is one of the most fluent bilingual professionals I know, she isn’t a native English speaker either, so she came to me. I felt like a horrible person. I helped to rewrite Carlos’ resume and I even gave him some tips for bilingual job seekers that he greatly appreciated.

So my suggestion to you, if you are a bilingual professional looking for a new job and English isn’t your first language, is to find someone to help you with your resume, cover letter, and emails. Being bilingual is a great asset in today’s global economy and you should highlight it on your resume and during the interview. But don’t allow an important asset to get in the way of your career success just because you fail to have your materials properly edited. The person who reads your correspondence may have tons of empathy for someone communicating in a second language. Or they may not. And either way, the most empathetic person may not always have the time to make exceptions.

Susan Landon, Managing Partner, New York, Alexander Hughes Executive Search Consultants

Empower women in your network with the Red Shoe Movement Principles!

I Need a Job Now: Making Room for Serendipity

Interested in discovering the best way to find a job and stop repeating the I need a job now mantra? Career success and job satisfaction are waiting for you.

Best way to find a job: Immerse yourself in things you love

Best way to find a job: Immerse yourself in things you love

If your mantra has become “I need a job now” it may be time to ask yourself a few questions. How did you fall into your career track? Did you follow in the footsteps of a parent or someone you admired? Did you possess a specific talent? Oftentimes, when you look back on the lives of your children and other people you knew as children, it’s easy to identify the precise moment when they made that choice. They met an entrepreneur who showed them that being your own boss could be fun, they volunteered at an animal shelter, they were inspired by a scientist’s passion for their research during a school visit, or they were praised by an Olympic athlete. They leafed through their first Vogue magazine and were in awe of the designs, or they couldn’t stop talking after watching a movie about an environmentalist’s quest.  And it all seamlessly aligned from that point on: They enrolled in certain programs, sought adults who could guide them, became involved in every activity related to their newfound interest.

For these lucky children whose parents made room for serendipity, the job they finally found was likely the perfect fit. One that brings them satisfaction and, therefore, great career success. You’re unlikely to ever hear them say: I need a job now because they don’t consider what they do “a job” but their passion.

Rubin, Burkell, Quan-Haase Serendipity Model (2011)

Rubin, Burkell, Quan-Haase Serendipity Model (2011)

In our quest to identify the best way to find a job, we tend to forget that, very possibly, the best way to find a job is to explore things you love. To replace some of the traditional job search approach for one that makes room for serendipity. To stop repeating I need a job now and start immersing yourself in what catches your attention.  In other words, open the door to experiences that might show you aspects of yourself that you don’t even know yet.

Allowing more serendipity in our lives is not only a better way to find a job but a better way to discover yourself. Whenever I step away from my computer and go for a walk, lunch with a friend, or a visit to the museum, I come back with one or two completely new ideas. Usually, these ideas are free associations of things I’ve seen, people I’ve encountered, or small attitudes that awaken something in me.

Serendipity happens

Serendipity happens

The same thing happens when you stop looking for jobs on the Internet and start meeting people who work in fields you know nothing about. Striking up conversations where these acquaintances (or total strangers!) share what they do and why they love what they do can be a source of great inspiration and the best way to find a job you didn’t know you wanted. So the next time your old mantra I need a job now pops into your head instead of turning to the job search sites pick up the phone and arrange a meeting with someone who’s career excites you.

What’s the Best Way to Find a Job?

Best way to find a job: Keep calm and diversify your search!

Best way to find a job: Keep calm and diversify your search!

By Susan Landon, Managing Partner New York, Alexander Hughes Executive Search Consultants

You know the feeling.  Your company has had a downsizing, and you’re out of a job.  Or your job is relatively secure, but you hate it.  Either way, you need to figure out what’s the best way to find a job. So what way is that?  Job board postings?  Recruiting sites of companies you’re interested in? Headhunters? Networking events? Informational interviews? Networking with friends and former colleagues?

The answer is “Yes.”  All of those methods can be the best way to find a job, and people have found jobs through every one of them.  If you only knew which one holds your job, then you could focus all of your energy on that one.  Unfortunately, your new position could come from any of those methods, so you need to pay attention to all of them.  Statistically, one method might generally be more successful than another, but your dream job could be waiting for you on one of the other channels.  So maximize your chances by pursuing multiple methods and combining your approach across methods.

Use job board postings and company recruiting websites, but don’t just submit your resume and hope for a response.  Research the company and find someone in your network who works there or knows someone who works there and ask for an introduction.  Companies are much more likely to hire someone who is known to and recommended by one of their employees as opposed to someone who just submits a resume on line.  Making some kind of personal connection dramatically improves the odds of landing that job you found on a job board.

Potentially the Best Way to Find a Job When You Have a Diverse Background

If you can’t find someone already in your network, search the company’s website for someone you have a connection to through an organization or a school you attended, and reach out to that person. An underused but often successful strategy is to reach out to the company’s Diversity and Inclusion department and Employee Resource Groups.  These groups may be the best way to find a job in a company where you have no other connections. They are highly interested in increasing the diversity in their company and may go that extra mile to help you in your search. They might even forward your resume to the recruiting manager.

And don’t just hide behind your computer screen.  Go out and meet people!  Go to networking events, trade association meetings, college alumni events, community events, etc. etc. etc.  You get the picture.  You never know who knows someone who knows someone who can make an introduction for you or even offer you a job.  Most jobs are filled by this word-of-mouth, personal-connection networking.  So if you hide behind your computer screen day after day, you’re only fooling yourself that you’re doing all you can to find your dream job.  On the other hand, don’t ignore what can be found on-line.  Knowing what companies are hiring and what’s going on in a company you’re interested in can inform your networking.

Don’t forget about headhunters.  But don’t over-rely on them.  You want to be on their radar in case they are searching for a candidate with your background.  But, if they don’t currently have a search that’s a fit for you, they won’t be actively looking on your behalf.

The bottom line is that you have to actively pursue all possible job search paths in order to maximize the likelihood of finding the perfect next job.   There isn’t just one best way to find a job.

Susan Landon, Managing Partner New York, Alexander Hughes Executive Search Consultants