Be Prepared For Any Interview

Plenty of websites have lists of questions you may be asked. This isn’t one of them. If that’s what you want, just search on “job interview questions” and look through any of them. They are all fairly accurate and will give you a good example of the questions you are likely to encounter. They may even give you some great tips on answering some of the more delicate issues. But they won’t prepare you to interview.

Unless you can memorize every single question and it’s appropriate answer, focusing on the questions is the wrong place to start. You aren’t trying to guess the specific questions you’ll be asked. You are preparing to sell yourself and your skills as the best fit for a specific job and company. I’ve seen experienced and solid candidates completely blank out from the stress of interviewing. When asked a simple “have you ever done x” question, they stare blankly and struggle to give the most basic answer. When you read a sentence to them taken directly from their resume, they stumble as if the concept were completely foreign to them.

Don’t waste your prep time trying to guess the questions. Spend your time on understanding what you really bring to the table. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What projects or achievements show off each of your strengths? What’s really on your resume? Use these three exercises and you’ll be prepared for any type of interviewer.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Start by listing out your strengths. If you don’t know them, ask someone you trust, a coworker, friend, mentor. Skill assessments are helpful too. Think of the tasks and projects you really enjoy. What is it about those that you enjoy most? List as many as you can think of and put them in order, strongest to weakest. Then for each strength, list 2-3 specific examples of things you’ve done that exhibit that strength.

For weaknesses, what are the tasks you hate doing and why. For each of these, list how you’ve overcome or mitigated that weakness. For example, I hate doing administrative work, so I always make sure to have someone on the team who loves the organizational aspects of keeping everything up to date. Or if you get very passionate about achieving results, do you exercise regularly to keep the stress down?

When you’re preparing for a specific job, check your strengths list to make sure nothing’s missing and your weakness list to make sure there’s no real disconnects. Take both lists to the interview with you. Even if you aren’t asked specifically about strengths or weaknesses, this also prepares you for questions like “tell me about a time when you …”. By preparing examples, you’ll be able to quickly identify the example that answers the question and be able to link it back to what that example really shows about you. If your answer sounds something like this, then you’ve not only answered the question effectively, but ended naturally with the sales pitch on why you are the best person for the job: “I had this project… I’m really proud of how effectively I managed all the resources on that project”.

What’s On Your Resume?

I hate that blank look from a candidate when I say “I see on your resume that you xxx. Tell me about that.” Read your resume! For each bullet point or achievement that you have listed, practice telling the story about who found that problem and how you got involved, what that problem was, what you did about it, and what the outcome was. Nothing kills an interview faster than, “is that on my resume?”, or “I don’t really remember that”.

Don’t forget the sections other than jobs too. Why did you take that course or degree? What did you learn? What did you like about that experience? Remember to review all the transitions. Why did you leave that job to go to the next job? Why are you looking at this job?

This one’s so easy to do and so harmful if you mess it up. Don’t skip it.

Successes and Failures

Behavioral interviews are the simplest types of interviews to prepare. These are the “tell me about a time…” interviews. The problem though is that when you are interviewing with multiple people, it’s easy to get stuck on a single example. To prepare, split a sheet of paper in half lengthwise. On the left, list projects you enjoyed and that were successful. On the left, list projects that failed or didn’t achieve the right results. Then make sure you can tell the story of each project. Having this simple list with you will make sure you provide multiple examples. Your interviewers will compare notes when you’re gone. You want them retelling as many of your stories as possible to each other, not concluding that you’ve only done one thing for the last several years.

And yes, failures are okay to talk about. When interviewers ask about failures, they are usually looking for (1) your ability to learn from your mistakes, so know what you learned from each failure, and (2) whether you accept responsibility for your own mistakes or blame everyone and everything else. No one wants someone on their team who never takes responsibility for their contribution to the problem. To end the story on a positive note, show what you learned by referencing another project where you did better. Use language like “I was disappointed that we didn’t accomplish what we wanted, but it was a great experience for me. I learned to do xxx better, and that’s why the xxx project we talked about before was so much better.”

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  1. Types of Interviewers « Leading Remotely
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