Preparing for an upcoming job interview is one of those haunting never-ending challenges we never quite seem to conquer.
One day, you’ve prepped all your stories and perfected your delivery. Next day, your interviewing for an entirely different company with a new set of values, requirements and interview questions. Add to that, you’ll most likely have a new set of experiences that you need to structure, build, and refine a story for. No wonder it always seems like we’re starting from scratch.
After many weeks and hours of practice, here are my tips for effective interview prep:
1. Understand the “Interviewer Persona”
I can’t stress how important it is to sit down and think about the interviewer across from you. Specifically, seek to understand:
- What he/she is looking for?
- What they care about / value?
By spending a little bit more time “thinking about the interviewer”, you’ll be much more effective on effectively showcasing yourself to meet their criteria.
2. Define your “theme”
If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
The answer to this question is most likely your “theme”. Your “theme” is simply that lasting impression you’ll leave the interviewer with once it’s over. Identify the top 3 traits that best represent you and ensure these are embedded and repeated in your stories. For example, if there is any possible takeaway I’d like to leave the interview with, it may be that:
- I effectively leverage the strengths and collective abilities of my team; enabling my team to deliver superior results.
- I consistently take initiative; unafraid to kickstart new projects, explore opportunities, and create unique solutions to complex problems.
- I am passionate about winning; tackling challenges head on and doing whatever it takes (with integrity) to achieve team and organization success.
An effective theme is that which best matches interviewer’s goals and company values.
3. Understand the explicit and implicit questions.
Understand what they’re really asking for. For example, when asked for a time that you had to make a difficult decision, they aren’t curious about how you chose which university to attend. What they’re really looking to understand is: “Are you a person who effectively makes difficult decisions, and ultimately does what is right for the team/organization?”
In a recent engineering interview, a friend of mine was asked: “How do you know if the data is valid?”. Our first instinct might lead us to try to remember some of the “statistics” we learned in some course we can’t remember. But what the interviewer really wants to understand is: “Are you a critical thinker? Will you blindly trust what you’re told, or will you seek to understand?”
4. Understand what makes a “Great Answer”
It’s critical to understand the difference b/w a good answer and a great answer. Use this dissociation to come up with the best “criteria”, and slowly work your way there. Leverage techniques such as the CAR Technique to effectively deliver your story.
5. Be ready to “Mix and Match”
We tend to undermine our own experiences and accomplishments, by associating one entire experience with a single trait. The reality is that each of our experiences can be broken down into a series of sub-stories. Make these sub-stories “attribute-driven”, and don’t be afraid to tailor a same story+result to showcase different rock-star traits.
By prepping this way, you’ll be able to mix and match different experiences to best address your interviewer’s questions.
6. Closing Questions
Closing questions are your last chance at making a lasting impression on your interviewer. Only this time, you choose what you’d like to show and talk about. Similar to point 4, understand what makes a “Great question”. From my experience, a few examples are questions that:
- Are personal to the interviewer
- Are specific and relevant
- Enable them to give answer
- Show research
- Show interest in the role
- Show that you care about the right things
A few examples that meet the above criteria are:
- Most impactful project?
- Learning opportunities?
- Growth trajectory?
- One thing they wish they knew prior to role?
- How they would best describe their colleagues?
These are but a few of the techniques that have been helpful to me in the past. As with anything, mastering the interview process takes time and practice. Over time, you’ll be able to conquer the job interview by showcasing the rock-star within.