Since entering college, I would estimate I’ve found myself in about 25 interviews.
Many of these interviews resulted in a second interview or a job. A lot of the time, I think it’s mostly because I was qualified and a pretty charismatic, amenable person. But at least once or twice, I attribute my success to the method of interview preparation that I’m about to share with you. It may not work for everyone, and it may seem like more work than it’s worth at first. But, when the alternatives are attempting to answer generic interview questions you don’t even know you’ll be asked or going in without any plan at all… I think this is worth a shot.
Step One: Make a list of times you rocked at your job.
The best examples of these are going to be projects you managed or had a good deal of responsibility for, but there should also be a lot of examples where you were just a great team player. Try to remember specifics about these moments and how you know your work stood out. But don’t write all this out. Just run through it in your head and make quick notes. I also recommend putting a star next to any examples that are directly related to the type of work you would be doing in this new position.
Step Two: Make a list of attributes and skills you know the hiring organization is looking for.
These attributes will probably come from the job description and the company/organization’s mission. But even if they aren’t listed, you can probably assume all employers are interested in someone who can demonstrate integrity, responsibility, and communication skills. Organization, multi-tasking, punctuality, and professionalism are also common themes. If this list is very long, as job descriptions can sometimes be a catch-all, underline the traits that you think are most vital to this position. It also can be useful to note anything that you think you are uniquely skilled in, since that will definitely help you stand out from your competition.
Step Three: Connect the tops.
Now comes the fun part. Figure out how to tell each of your top examples in such a way that it highlights one of those most important skills. You might have to alter which stories you use in order to accommodate all the attributes the company is asking for, but that variety will be stronger than a bunch of stories that all show you’re great at diffusing conflict. If you can’t find a story for one of the attributes, think of one!
Step Four: Find the weakness in your greatness.
The best part about this step is that you don’t even have to think up new examples! Rather than trying to come up with a weakness from scratch for that blasted question, look back at that glowing accomplishments list. Somewhere in those projects, you faced a challenge. Whatever made that situation challenging for you can be a weakness. And the best part? You can cite the weakness and prove immediately that you worked through it.
Step Five: Know what you’re walking into.
Steps 1-4 will give you a really solid foundation to answer a lot of situational questions interviewers might throw at you. Most of my interviews for hourly positions haven’t required much more. However, going to interview for a salaried position with a larger organization, you will definitely need to do a bit more preparation in the form of research. Know what the organization does, who they work with, their biggest projects, possibly their budget, who their board members are, what social media presence they have, etc. Stalk your co-workers and superviser on LinkedIn. Learn as much as you can, and then explain what the organization is and what your job will be to as many friends and family as you can. They’ll probably ask questions you didn’t think of, and maybe some of their questions will be good to ask at the end of your interview.
Step Six: Make a list of questions. A long list.
Here’s the thing about questions for your interviewers: good interviewers will already have answered most of your questions by the time the interview is over. Plus, if you want the interview to feel more natural (and if the structure allows), I find it really works well to ask one or two questions throughout the interview when they are relevant. So, you want to make sure you have enough questions (or, perhaps, interesting enough questions) that you can cross off four or five and still have some good ones left.
Step Seven: Relax!
Once you’ve gone through these steps, you really ought to take a breather. Don’t over practice. Don’t script yourself. Don’t worry! Mostly, preparing for an interview is like reviewing for a test. You know all the information already; it’s all a part of your life and your work history. Your job pre-interview is just to organize that information and have it at the front of your brain for easy access. So do a little review, but don’t go overboard. Be yourself, be confident, and you’ll do just fine.