Interview Prep in a Nutshell!

By: Karen

To go along with Kristy’s article about how terrible searching for jobs is, I thought it was due to give some attention to the next awful step in the process; the interview. Interviewing tends to be awkward and uncomfortable and no one really knows exactly what to expect.

                When I was still in college or graduate school, I was definitely a nervous interviewer. I was so overwhelmed with the idea of it that I didn’t quite know where to start to prepare. I would stare at the job description until I would end up zoning out on the page and not really learn anything about the job. Thankfully since then, I have had the opportunity to do countless in person interviews, phone interviews, and even interview candidates for open positions at my company. Through this process I’ve learned how to not get lost in the interview preparation in order to arrive at each interview prepared and confident.

                The first thing I would recommend anyone to do is print out the job description and a copy of your resume. Place the job description next to your resume and look to see what accomplishments on your resume complement the needs of the job description. This way, when asked why you are a “good fit” for this position, you can call attention to your resume and justify how your experience qualifies you for the job. I usually write down on a separate sheet of paper for quick reference all of the things discussed on my resume and some additional things that may not be on my resume that would make me a great fit for a position.

                An important thing to get out of this exercise is KNOW YOUR RESUME from start to finish. It sounds dumb to point out but it never hurts to glance over your resume and remind yourself of the details of what you’ve accomplished. For example, if your resume says that you assisted in a project that got your company $30 million in net revenue; you better be damn well versed in exactly how you played a role in that project.

                If you’re lucky, your interview will only be focused on the job itself and the things that make you a qualified candidate. Nonetheless, everyone should prepare for the standard “behavioral” interview questions. I’ve included a few below that I always prepare answers to prior to an interview, along with my suggestions for what could be a good answer. I really hate these questions, but if you expect them ahead of time you won’t be caught off guard.

  1. Name 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses you have: I always look at the job description and see which strengths I actually do have that pertain to the job and list those out. Weaknesses are always difficult to name but I tend to make a negative a positive (“I used to be unorganized but now I started using a new calendar system that has been very effective”). Make sure any weaknesses are not even close to any of the essential job duties!
  2. What would your current boss say is the best thing about you? What would they say is the worst thing about you? The person interviewing you is probably a potential boss of yours- more than anything they want to know that they can work with you and have a positive relationship. Your resume speaks for yourself and got you your interview so take this time to brag on your ability to be a team player and work well with others. Talk about anything that you cannot find on a resume that a boss would appreciate about you. Again, the “worst thing” is hard to call out so I usually say something small and irrelevant to the work place such as I really appreciate my work life balance. I work so hard, but it is important to me to keep other passions. Depending on the culture of the organization, I’ve found this answer makes me seem more human and not as much like the 30th candidate they have interviewed. Most likely, it will sidetrack the conversation to discuss non-work related things like your family and hobbies. They want to hire a person after all, not an 40 hour per week robot.
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? This answer obviously differs for everyone. As a young professional, I like to keep it broad. I never thought 5 years ago that I would be living in Nashville, so I never like to sell my plans short. It is important to say a high level goal, so I typically say that I want to be at a Director or senior executive level in 5 years but do not want to limit my scope just yet on what that would look like as I am still learning.
  4. Tell us about a time that you had a conflict with someone you worked with, how did you handle it? Think hard about a conflict with a co-worker that made you end up looking like a hero. I would say that it is very important to make sure the conflict was driven from a process issue- not a personal issue. If you start complaining about how someone was a bitch to you for no reason you just seem like you are whining! I always talk about a time when there was a major gap in communication due to some sort of circumstance out of both of our controls and once we figured it out together we had a fabulous working relationship.
  5. What is making you want to leave your current position? Again, DO NOT whine here. The best reason to say you want to leave your current position is that you are constantly looking to progress your career and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity.
  6. What has your biggest career mistake been so far? Another tough question! I always keep this broad but starting out in a career it is easy to say that my biggest career mistake is not asking for more responsibility or to “own” more of a project.

Beside practicing for the standard interview questions and learning your resume, you most importantly need to get yourself to feel comfortable in the interview. The only way to do this is to practice. I recommend mock interviewing to any and all people! If you have the opportunity to do so, mock interview with someone you don’t already know; alumni networks are great for this. It is the best way to truly get comfortable with the interview process because just like in the real thing, when you’re mock interviewing with a stranger, you have no idea what they are going to throw at you.

Again, if the opportunity presents itself, I highly recommend that you interview someone else. It really helps you envision how you will appear to an interviewer. When I first interviewed people for jobs I was astounded at how much I was paying attention to their body language and how they were speaking and presenting themselves. I was much less focused on the actual words coming out of their mouths than I thought I would be. It wasn’t really even about having the “right” answers; it was how they were saying the answers. In interviews, there are no right or wrong answers unless you straight up have no idea what the job you’re interviewing for entails. Confidence in who you are as a person and in your skills goes great lengths here. If I ever get nervous before an interview I always think of my dad’s classic comment on job interviews “if you got the interview, they know you’re qualified. Now they just want to see if you are weird or not, so just don’t act weird!”.