The Separation is in the Preparation

Author: Catherine Tuck Parrish, Vice President, Executive Search (Email)


There is one part of the job-hunting process where you have all the control.

After a year of pandemic-related change, a lot of us may be day dreaming about a new career venture. Job interviews have a lot in common with planning for recreational travel, which you may also be day dreaming about.

When you go on a trip, how do you prepare? Some of us think for months about where to go, study blogs and reviews online, consult friends and family about their experiences, and read about what to do before we go in order to best use our time once there. Others get one recommendation from a trusted person or online source and book the trip. Your approach might say something about how spontaneous you are and also might have to do with how much money you are spending. A quick day trip or weekend might require very little preparation, while a longer overseas trip might require more preparation and planning.

The same thing applies to preparing for an interview. When you interviewed for your first part-time job, maybe you just showed up and answered questions. However, if you are considering a job that may require you to move yourself (and possibly others) and/or give up a job you really like, you will likely spend more time preparing for the interview process—as you should.

As I lead Raftelis’ executive search practice, I occasionally see people who approach an interview for a high-level position with a local government or utility like a teenager might approach a summer job opportunity. A “whatever-is-meant-to-be-will-happen” attitude rarely goes well for them. When you are prepared for your interview, it shows a number of things: that you want this position, that you understand what the job is, and that you are prepared to do the job.

Many parts of the job-hunting process are out of your control, but this is one area over which you have sole control. Take advantage of it.

8 Tips for Preparing for a Job Interview

1. Do your homework about the community.

Learn about the manager, elected officials, demographics of the community, strategic plan, major budget issues, and big projects underway. Read online media sources to find out about hot topics. What are the jurisdiction’s biggest challenges, and what are its greatest successes?

2. Learn about the people who work there.

There is no one more influential on what your job experience will be like than your boss. Find out about the manager and elected officials. Most local goverments  and utilities also post governing body minutes online, and many allow you to view videos of their meetings. Use your professional association resources to learn more about the manager and key staff. What is it like to work there? What is the manager’s style, and what might this person need to complement that style?

3. Reflect on the skills and experiences you bring.

You should be able to clearly and succinctly articulate this – both on your resume and verbally in the interview. What have you done that might be useful for this community? Make a list; write down examples; think about specific ways your particular skills and the type of work experiences you have had are a good match.

4. Practice makes you more confident (and understandable).

You probably have a good idea about some basic questions you might be asked in a job interview. Practice your answers. Do this not because there is a “right” answer and you need to memorize it. Rather, do this because the more you tell your story, the more confident you will be. You can write your answers and examples, practice with a trusted (and honest) colleague, and it is very easy to record yourself answering questions  record  and review them. This will help you see if you have any presentation tics that might distract someone from what you have done and identify areas in which you could be more succinct about your experience.

5. Be positive and enthusiastic in your own way.

If you have sat in on interviews, you have seen the difference in how people react to candidates who are negative and those who are positive. Remember that they are trying to envision you speaking out in the community, to employees, at a council or board meeting. Show them through your personal style what excites you about this job. You don’t need to jump up and down with enthusiasm – it should be your own style that comes out.

6. Be yourself.

At the end of the recruitment process, make sure that there is a good match for you personally and professionally. You need the local government or utility to be clear and honest about what it needs, and you need to be open and honest about who you are. They need to see the real you – which is awesome in a unique way – the person they will see on Monday morning after they hire you. Trying to be what you think they want or anything other than honest generally comes through in the interview and not in your favor.

7. Do your personal due diligence.

Before you say yes to an interview, decide if this job might be a good fit for you personally and professionally. It doesn’t seem like this should have to be said, but if you haven’t done your homework about the community, you might not know. Do your homework as noted above and talk to whoever will influence your decision to take the job. Do this before you interview. Don’t waste time and resources if you know that you would not accept this job if offered. This will also help you be in a better position to articulate what is important to you during the interview, ask better questions, and be better prepared to negotiate if you get an offer.

8. Come with questions.

After you have done your homework, you still will likely have questions that can’t be answered as part of your research. Be prepared with questions for people you may encounter during the interview process. Thoughtful, genuine questions can be a powerful way to learn what you need to know and engage those in the interview process in a different way. And, in some cases, this can be the most powerful way to both learn about the organization and to convey who you really are.

Raftelis Helps Organizations Make Smart Hiring Choices

Making the right hire for key positions is critical to the health and long-term success of any organization. Executive search can be an invaluable service for both elected bodies hiring executive staff and CEOs filling high-level positions.

The executive search consultants at Raftelis have worked extensively with local governments and utilities in making key hiring decisions. Because we have hands-on career experience in the fields in which we search for candidates, we can deliver the best and the brightest—filling key positions, such as:

  • City and County Manager
  • General Manager, CEO, CAO
  • Executive Director
  • Assistant/Deputy Manager
  • Department Head
  • Key Staff Members and technical staff

Check out The Novak Consulting Group, which is now a part of Raftelis, to see open positions for which we are currently recruiting.