It has often been said that interviewing is like speed dating with the intention of an arrangedIS289-089marriage: employers and candidates meet and talk for a short pre-defined period before making a long-term decision. When the stakes are high, a good strategy for decision making is to identify what you need to know before the interview. And on the career front, there are always many options of information pre-interview that you can use to your advantage. Here are three strategies that you can use:

1. Know what you need to ask. Conduct a pre-interview with an outside party.

One of the quickest ways to break into a new field or land a new job quickly is to identify the best questions to ask during the interview. Nothing turns a potential employer off more quickly than having an interviewee with no questions (they'll either think you know everything, are disinterested, or not generally engaged.)

A great way to explore opportunities and prepare for interviews is to ask people outside the organization who work in a similar capacity specific questions. Examples:

  • What is the biggest misunderstanding that candidates for this type of job have about the position?
  • What is your greatest need? Is this need unique to your organization or do others who work in similar areas often face this challenge?
  • What's the best way to research your field?

2. Know how to ask

It's easy to get lost in the e-mail queue. If you're asking a question via e-mail, make it easy to answer. Here are two great resources on how to make this happen:

  • Send

    Before you hit "send," you may want to check out this book which I reviewed last month. I've heard of more than one Manhattan firm at which this is REQUIRED reading.

3. Know Who to Ask

If you are interested in a specific opportunity, be very strategic about what you ask--even if you're asking friends who currently work in a similar capacity. Know the answers to your basic questions before you create a list of questions for decision makers.

Here's is a real-world example of how one college student landed her dream internship with a boutique, big-name film production company:

She rented every single movie the production company had made and spent a weekend taking notes. When she was asked to name her favorite scene in a movie and what she would change about it, she said, "Since I'm interviewing with you, I'm going to take a scene from one of your movies. I loved ___, and especially liked the camera angles on _____, but did you think about _____?"

By the time she finished the question, she essentially had landed the interview: she had already demonstrated that she was ready.

She told this story the next fall, while serving as a student panelist for a program  on "Careers in Entertainment." As she recounted her interview preparation, another student panelist had his mouth open. When it got to be his turn he said, "I just learned how I lost that internship."

Trying to figure out what to ask? A great starting point is the Question and Answer section on LinkedIn. Through this feature of LinkedIn, community members both ask and answer questions. You can search previous answers and--if you don't find one that suits--ask your own (this may also result in additional leads for your search).

I'd love to follow-up this post with one on "the best question I ever asked" and "how it helped." Send your success stories my way!