Interview Guide: How to prepare for an interview
Job interviews are exciting but nerve wracking experiences, and based on my conversations with friends and colleagues they are right up there with public speaking when it comes to things people are nervous about. Given the stakes as well as the nature of them it’s not hard to see why.
Over the years, I’ve been interviewed many times and have conducted many interviews. I’ve had (and conducted) great interviews and bad ones, and have actually come to enjoy the experience. To share what I have learned and to help others who are about to embark on their own job interview process I’ve developed a guide for how to prepare for an interview. This step by step guide is built off of the process that I’ve used to prepare for interviews over the years.
First, let’s start off with some of the key objectives of the interview
- Demonstrate your knowledge -You’re capable of doing the job
- Demonstrate your interest – You want to do the job
- Demonstrate your fit – You are a fit with the team and organization
When it comes down to it, you are the sales person for a product, and that product is yourself. You want to present your product in a compelling way that makes the interviewer (Buyer) convinced they want you!
Step 1: Know Your Story – Since you went as far as to submit a resume and cover letter, I’m going to assume there was a reason and rationale for why you applied to this job in the first place. The first thing that you can focus on is truly understanding what brought you this far. Why did you decide to apply for this role? What attracted you to it? What makes you a great candidate? I’m sure that you know these things and have thought about them, but one of the very first things that I do is I self-reflect and articulate in words what my story is. Here is my equation for how I think about a story:
Your Personal Background + Your Relevant Skills/Experiences + How it fits with the Job Role = Your Story
If you look at the interview objectives above, you can see how the story aligns with the objectives. The key in this exercise is focused more around self-reflection and high level themes. More will come for more tactical details
Action: Self-reflect to develop “your story”
Step 2: Match Skills and Experiences to Job Qualifications – One of the goals of the interview is for the interviewer to determine if you have the skills and experiences needed to do the job. If you know the qualifications and skills that are needed to do the job, you can prepare for this by pulling out examples in your work history that match those exact skills and experiences that are needed for the job.
To do this, start by looking at the roles and responsibilities in the job posting and identifying from your work experience what things you’ve done that demonstrate that specific skill or competency. This will not only demonstrate that you are a qualified candidate, but that you also have a great understanding of the role
Action: Read the job description, and write down specific skills/experiences you have that are relevant to each of the skills identified in the job
Step 3: Develop Questions and Answer them – Since most of your interview is going to be your interviewer asking you questions about your qualifications and experiences one of the best ways to prepare for these interviews is to anticipate questions that you’ll think you’ll be asked and come up with some potential answers and responses. The point of this exercise is to help you organize your thoughts and get comfortable with answering questions that are relevant to the position. The purpose is not to memorize answers. While it can be easy to fall into that trap, you want to balance coming off as prepared or rehearsed.
To prepare, one of the things I will do is identify a set of questions and then develop answers to them. I will usually literally answer in Question and Answer form, and depending on how much I think I need to prepare, I will either use bullets or straight up sentences. I don’t worry as much about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure when I am doing this, but rather, on content, thoughts and ideas. Once I’ve answered an adequate amount, I’ll review the questions and answers, say them out loud, maybe revise some of what I originally typed, and at various points up to the interview I’ll revisit the document just to reinforce my thoughts and thinking. If you want some common questions, check out this link here.
Action: Identify potential interview questions and come up with responses to those questions by writing them down
Step 4: Identify Your weaknesses and drill them – If you work in sales, you’ll know about the topic of objection handling. Objecting handling is a technique to help salespeople overcome resistance or concerns in the minds of their potential buyers/customers. Using that concept can be particularly helpful in interviewing, especially if you exchange the word concern with “weakness.” Everyone has weaknesses – that is just a fact of life. How you talk about them and position them is what separates a great candidate from a good one. At some point, directly or indirectly, your interviewer is going to ask about them, so it’s best to prepare for how to handle then.
First, you need to acknowledge your weaknesses and be honest about them. A “strength as a weakness” is not going to fly, so taking the time to identify what they are and finding examples of them is a good starting point.
Second, start thinking about what you are doing to improve upon your weaknesses. We are all works in progress, but if you can demonstrate that you are working on improving this your interviewer is probably going to respect your work ethic and commitment to learning. For example, if you’re not great at public speaking, talk about how you asked for more responsibilities to present at team meetings or in front of clients.
Third, think about, if you were to get the role, what you would do in order to overcome the weakness. This requires a good understanding of what you are going to be doing in the role, but if you can answer this correctly you can show to your interviewer that you understand your weaknesses, how you are improving them, and that you have a good understanding of what will be asked of you in the new role and how you will go about doing it effectively.
Action: Think about what your weaknesses are, think about how an interviewer might ask about them in an interview, and practice how you might respond.
Step 5: Develop the questions you are going to ask your interviewer – At some point in the interview your interviewer is going to ask you if you have any questions. If you know this is going to happen (hint: it most likely will) one of the best things you can do is prepare and come forward with thoughtful and insightful questions to ask. I think this is important because a good and thoughtful question that makes an interviewer think is something that can help you differentiate yourself from the other great applicants.
Everyone will ask about the culture, or what the career path is, but if you can as a thoughtful and/or personal question that stands out, that could help you be memorable in a positive way. So what kind of questions should you ask? For one, they need to be things you are genuinely interested in knowing. Second, they should be questions that give you more a more personalized look into the role, the organization, the team you are applying for, etc. And last but least, they should allow the interviewer to engage and speak from their personal and unique experience. If you want some examples of ones see my other post on four that I like to ask.
Action: Write down questions you are going to ask your interviewer
Step 6: Research – My goal in this section is to understand as much as I can about the company, industry, team, role and people as I possibly can so that I can sound as engaged, knowledgeable, and smart about these things when it comes time for the interview. Demonstrating you took the time to prepare and are knowledgeable not only demonstrates your competency, but also your interest, which certainly helps your candidacy.
Below are the types of research that I do when preparing for an interview:
Research on People – If I know anything about who I’ll be interviewing with I’ll do what I can to find out as much information on them as I can. There are easy things like looking on LinkedIn and understanding their job and job history, but I’ll also check Twitter to see if they tweet or share interesting content and links.
Finally, I’ll also do some Google searching just in case they are public facing and have either been quoted or even written articles on news sites. When appropriate, I will use this information in an interview, which is a really great tactic to show that you’ve done your homework
Research on Current Events – This one is pretty simple, but I’ll check what’s being said about the company in the news. I’ll look for information on quarterly performance, product announcements, recent customer stories, writeups by analysts, and other pertinent information. My goal for this is to be as up to date and in the know of anything that is happening with the company I’m applying for a job at.
Research on Social Media – This also covers websites like Glassdoor and understanding what people are saying about their experience working there.
Research via Network – If I am applying to work at a particular company one of the things I will do is talk to (on the phone, in person or via email) anyone I know who works at that company. Their insights are valuable to helping me understand the company and the position, but also, it will inform me in my prep for how I interview. During this process, I’ll try and read over my notes and try to identify the insights that I can possibly use in the interview, especially ones that you can’t get anywhere else but from a friend who works at the company. These insights can be anything from specific internal terminology that is used, personal views on the culture, big events that went unreported to the public, or stories that I could potentially use in an interview.
Action: Conduct research relevant to the job posting
Practice – Once you get to a good point it makes sense to practice responding to certain questions. I would focus on two types of questions. The first are questions that you think you’ll be asked, and the second are questions that you think you might struggle with. You can use the answers from the Q&A exercise from above. Also, if you have a buddy/friend to practice with that is a great resource as well. You should get comfortable with answering questions on your toes, but I would refrain from trying to memorize too many answers to questions as I think it is important to sound articulate but not rehearsed or canned.
Action: Practice speaking your answers to potential interview questions
Interviewing can be a tricky and challenging process, but with the right mindset and preparation techniques you can start to develop comfort and maybe even some enjoyment when you interview for a job.
Talk to a recruiter friend – Want to really knows what interviewers are thinking? Talk to them! Find a friend who is a recruiter or someone who regularly interviews people (or the friend of a friend) and ask them about what they think about when they interview candidates along with any tips or advice they can pass along. If you want to know what they are looking for, might as well ask the people who do it for a living
Understand the recruiting process and structure – There is an entire profession devoted to recruiting and hiring talent, along with books, information, and classes to go along with it. If you really want to know how the recruiting and interviewing process works take the time read up on it. I realize this sounds fairly boring and laborious, but hear me out: If you can understand the process and the logic behind why interviewers ask certain questions and look for certain answers, you can use that to inform how you interact with interviewers and answer questions in your interviews. Google has a whole free library on this, which is a great place to start. Every company has different process and philosophy to recruiting, but if you conceptually understand the basics it will be useful anywhere you interview