How to Prepare for a Job Interview

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.

 

Interview Objectives

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

Conclusion

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.

**Pro Tips

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

Additional Resources

  • https://www.breakinto.tech/blog/2016/10/19/how-do-hiring-managers-actually-choose-who-they-hire-2?rq=interview
  • https://www.breakinto.tech/blog/2016/10/20/stop-being-the-bridesmaid-how-to-turn-an-interview-into-an-offer
  • https://www.fastcompany.com/3068366/career-evolution/i-hire-linkedins-tech-workers-heres-whats-working-and-why

Want to Succeed in your Career? Learn how to Pivot

In July 2010, I began my first job out of college. Armed with my degree, work ethic and optimistic attitude I was ready to tackle the world of management consulting and ready to tell C-Suite Executives exactly how they should be making decisions (Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t exactly work like that…)

While I received great support and training, I constantly felt overmatched and overwhelmed. Despite my attitude, college degree and work ethic, I was constantly lost with a deer in a headlight look as I struggled with understanding what was going on and the pace of a demanding and stressful profession. Furthermore, while work was challenging, so was adjusting to “real-life living.” I had my own apartment with 2 roommates and while I still saw many of my friends life was different. I quickly got stuck in a rut and didn’t know what to do.

I realized I needed to do something about this so I did what any resourceful millennial would do. I turned to Google, and I came across a website  called Life After College (I think I may have searched literally for that term!) which was run by the one and only Jenny Blake. Jenny needs no introduction, but as an author, business strategist, former Googler and now author of the book Pivot, Jenny’s blog was incredibly helpful to me in 1) helping me realize what I was experiencing was normal and 2) giving me thoughts and insights onto how to move forward.

 

As I moved through the highs and lows of those first few months Jenny’s blog posts (and eventual book) were great resources to helping me adjust to the working world and real-world. Furthermore, Jenny was kind enough to respond to a bunch of my questions and I even was able to provide her some feedback on her book Making Shit Happen. Many of Jenny’s thoughts and insights were central to my own development, so when I heard last year she was working on a new career related book I was excited to see what she would come up with.

After finally getting a chance to read the book I’m incredibly impressed 1) with the content and message (will get to that in a minute) but 2) the introspection and authenticity she brought to the book as she herself has faced numerous pivots in her own career. The content in the book is useful and powerful but it has so much more gravity knowing the author has actually lived and breathed it.

So what is the book about?

In today’s uncertain world, jobs, careers and businesses are changing constantly across every industry which means we as individuals are constantly thinking about our immediate next step. Amidst this change, how can we as professionals be more agile in our careers? How do we plan our next move in a way that leverages our strengths and skills and applies them to new opportunities? The book aims to answer this question through the Pivot Framework.

It’s must read for anyone who is in need of thinking through their career, and I’m going to outline a quick summary of the book and how it can help you reimagine and pivot in your career.

TLDR: Buy and Read Jenny’s book Pivot and use the framework to get started on whatever your next step might be. This book is especially great for:

  • People who are thinking about a new job or career
  • People who are stuck in a rut at work, and need help identifying how to move forward
  • People who have an idea for a side-hustle, or are pursuing a side-hustle, and need help bringing it to fruition

What is a Pivot?

A Pivot is “a methodical shift in a new, related direction based on a foundation of your strengths and what is already working.” In an interview with Career Expert Dan Schawbel, Jenny describes a pivot as follows: Think like a basketball player: one foot stays firmly planted with the other scans for opportunity. Then start passing the ball around the court, or piloting with small experiments to test the waters or new direction

Below is a quick summary of the Pivot Framework

Stage 1: Plant – Double-down on existing strengths, interests, and experiences What are you currently enjoying most? What is working best? What is success one year from now?

Stage 2: Scan – Find new opportunities and identify skills to develop without falling prey to analysis-paralysis and compare-and-despair  Who do you admire? Who can you talk to? What new skills interest you?

Stage 3: Pilot – Run small experiments to determine next steps – What experiments could you run in the next month? What about next 6 months?

Stage 4: Launch – Take smart risks to launch with confidence in a new direction

 

Pivot Method Benefits

In my work as a career coach, I often find that many people come to me with enough knowledge that they want to make a change but they struggle with a strategy and execution plan to make it happen. Jenny’s Pivot Framework is both – a high-level method that guides you in the right direction along with actionable tactical steps to help you move through a process of discovery. Strategy without execution is meaningless. But tactics without a strategy is also troublesome. The Pivot method is both.

Another asset to the Pivot Framework is the focus on self-reflection and analysis. In order to get to where you want to go you have to know A) where you are B) who you are and C) where you want to go. The Pivot Framework helps people answer all of these questions to the best of your ability. It helps you understand your strengths, and how you can leverage them into a new potential path. Even if your Pivot does not end how you envisioned, you will come away with increased self-awareness about your strengths and interests, and how those can translate into potential new opportunities.

Lastly, the Pivot framework is great for identifying actionable tests and experiments to run to test out your hypotheses around paths to pursue. Taking major leaps can be daunting and counterproductive.What the Pivot method does is not too different to the concept of agile software development – let’s develop something, test it, learn from it and move forward. This bite sized approach can help us try before we buy, but also de-risk things and in some cases, avoid paths that don’t pass the smell test.

Key Messages

Move From your Strengths – Understanding and cataloguing your strengths is a key exercise in self-reflection but also essential before making any kind of move. In order to get to where you want to go, you need to know who you are today, and understanding your strengths is a key part of that. Furthermore, sometimes we we feel in a rut or when we need to make a change we often associate that with feeling less than, or that we have a perceived weakness. In reality, we just need to re-think how we can re-apply our strengths to other opportunities.  Jenny writes, “The opportunity now is to surface your strengths so that you will be ready and primed to pivot when an opportunity knocks.”

Build First, then your courage will follow – Taking action on a new idea or direction can be difficult or scary. Many of us will want to “de-risk” as much as possible before jumping into a new opportunity. The challenge is that it can leave you paralyzed, or kill any momentum you have from taking that next step. Instead of waiting, Jenny reminds us that “courage will not arrive in full before you launch, it will appear afterward.”  This can seem daunting but even taking small action will bring additional courage to help you make progress.

Continuous Pivoting – My Mother worked for the same company for the entire length of her career, which is a bit unheard of in these changing times. Additionally, Progress (and careers) are not always linear. Sometimes to move vertical you need to move horizontal.  Some of you have already made pivots while others will be making them soon. Regardless, there is a good chance that this next pivot is one of many that you’ll make over the duration of your career. If change is the only constant, The Pivot method can help you get better at managing it.

 

My Own Pivots

One of the reasons why I enjoyed the book is because it’s absolutely relevant to my own professional career. While I have more or less worked for the same company throughout my entire professional career, I’ve already made a number of pivots. For example:

  • About a year into my time at the firm, I saw there was another group which was doing projects in a topic I knew about and was interested in. In order to do more of those projects, I made my business case to leadership to transfer into the group, which was approved
  • While I was in that group, I started realizing that innovation especially digital technology was going to be a huge opportunity. I started working with senior leaders on a side project, and eventually helped create a new group that focused on digital consulting, which is now one of our fastest growing groups in our organization
  • After developing a diverse set of core skills, I decided I wanted to increase my learning and development by going to business school and furthering my career options and potential, and left consulting to for my MBA at the University of North Carolina.
  • While in School, I focused on Marketing and Innovation, and decided to try an internship in Product Marketing at a tech company (Salesforce) and ultimately decided to return back to consulting
  • After living my entire life in the east coast, I decided I wanted to see other parts of the United States, and moved to San Francisco

While I’ve made quite a few pivots in my career I expect there will be more to come. And As I reflect upon those changes, the process I used to figure out where I was and where I wanted to go next nicely mirrors the Pivot method that Jenny outlines in the book. I am one of many who have benefited the self-reflection and direction that the Pivot method provides!
We are in a time of unprecedented change across all aspects of society, and this is especially true when it comes to jobs and careers. The idea of working for one company or one type of job for the entirety of your career is no longer practical. Many of us will have many jobs, work for many companies, or have many careers. The only constant will be change itself, and while there will be plenty of ambiguity fear and insecurity, the Pivot method can help you navigate the complexity and spot opportunities in your life and career.

How to successfully start your career as a management consultant

I recently worked on a project with a few new hires and they asked me what I thought were things they could do to start their time at the firm in the right direction. It’s a great question, and I spent some time thinking and writing down some thoughts because of the importance of this topic. (For the sake of this article, this is meant primarily for those starting at big consulting firms)

I’m inclined to believe that you wouldn’t enter the consulting industry if you didn’t know anything about it or if it didn’t interest you. But you need to understand first and foremost at the core of the value proposition and structure of a consulting firm. Consulting firms (generally speaking) do not own any assets — their assets are their people. So while tech companies pour R&D dollars into potential new products, Consulting firms pour dollars into investing in their people. So here is what you can do to start investing in yourself:

  • Understand the Firm: The very first thing you can do is to make sense of the firm, the people and how things generally operate. Learning this institutional knowledge is simple on paper but due to the size and complexity can sometimes be very difficult. This isn’t meant to be a plug to brainwash you, but to help you gain an asset that will pay dividends down the road. The more you can understand and articulate how the firm works, the better you can understand how to use it to your advantage.
  • Learn how to Learn: To stay relevant and trusted in a fast-moving industry you need to continuously build new skills so you can stay ahead of the curve. “Learning how to learn” is critical for being able to understand new concepts, skills, industries and capabilities in a short amount of time. Start by taking time to find the resources that will help you learn and build skills quickly. It can be anything from finding information sources (ex: websites, Twitter, etc) or to more advanced and formal learning such as online or in-person courses. Over the course of your consulting career, you’ll be constantly asked to learn new skills. The quicker you can get good at this and develop methods and tools to do this, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
  • Read Frequently: As a consultant, you will be constantly asked about your opinion and you’ll have to frequently share that with others. One of the best ways to have an informed opinion and to develop opinions and perspectives is to read and to read frequently. Read things that are directly related to the issue that your client is trying to solve. Read what’s going on in your client’s industry. Read things that are not directly related to either of those but are of interest as sometimes there are opportunities to spot connections from the related and unrelated. Most importantly, develop some sort of system that works for you which has a combination of resources that you continuously read and go to for information and insights.
  • Think ahead: In addition to solving the challenge your client has put in front of you, a good consultant also needs to be one step ahead of where their client might go next. You never know what your client might need, but if you can anticipate their challenges and gain the knowledge or insight on how to help them think through the challenge you will become an incredible asset to your client and potentially identify further opportunities for yourself and the firm. Reading frequently will help you think ahead, and serve as a great mechanism for helping your client spot problems and opportunities before they come to you for them.
  • Develop your Brand: Identifying the topics and capabilities you want to develop expertise in and building those capabilities is what will help build your reputation in the firm. If you need help figuring out your brand, answer this: If someone in the firm were to email you asking for help, what would you want to be known for? You may know the answer to that question yet, and that is okay. Start with thinking about your past skills and experiences along with what is in front of you for your current project and role and do your best to “own” those topics. You may not be known as an expert immediately, but that will change over time as you grow your knowledge and experiences. And that brand will evolve over time, as you learn and grow yourself.
  • Be resourceful: As important as it is to be knowledgeable and insightful, it’s impossible to know everything. That’s where knowing how to find the right answer or knowing the people who can find the right answer becomes critical to consulting. Taking the time to build true relationships with the people you meet when you work at the firm and then cultivating those relationships through digital and in-person means will be incredibly helpful over the time of your career here. There will be lots of times when you will need to call upon help from others and having those relationships will help you find the right people at the right time. Additionally, the tools and mechanisms you use to build these relationships will help you throughout the rest of your life, personally and professionally.

Consulting is a knowledge and serviced based business. Your value as a consultant is equivalent to the sum of your knowledge and your experiences. What you do to develop both knowledge and experience starts with you.