The Internet is so awash in advice for preparing for a job interview, we hesitate to try to add to or repeat any of it. (And most of it is good, and based on common sense, including a few particulars for which some people seem to have not gotten the memo.) So we’re going to confine ourselves to two areas. First, everyone says to rehearse the interview. We have a few tips on how and why.
You can search the Internet for “typical” questions, and pay particular attention to what people identify as pitfalls in answering them, but you can’t really cram. Fashions in interview questions come and go. As questions become known and popular, some interviewers avoid them. Other questions come with a theory behind them, and promises that they will elicit the real you. None of that is going to matter much in the interview, because your best friends will be honesty, relevance and substance. And those things come from knowing yourself, knowing why you want that particular job with that particular company, and why you sincerely believe you’re a good fit for it.
How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you know those things, then you can answer questions like “Why should I hire you?” “Why do you want this job?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” directly and concisely. Of course, you’ll be better able to do so if you practice — not necessarily to the point of having a canned answer, but hopefully to the point where you realize that:
• The first time you responded you avoided the question
• Half of what came out of your mouth the second time was filler
• The third time you kept talking past the point where you’d answered the question
• And so on…
As you rehearse (in the sense of repeat) the answers, they should get better. You don’t need perfection. You do need to sound like you heard the question and answered it as simply and honestly as you could. And a trick for that is, as you repeat each question, don’t just repeat the words, really ask it of yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of Ms. Bigg with the Shiny Expanse of Desk. Why should she hire you? Can you convince her?
You can certainly do this exercise with a mentor or an intimate, which may have its own value. And it’s also possible that the most valuable way for you to rehearse questions is with yourself, if you can really get into your imaginary interviewer’s head.
Behavioral vs. Expertise – Both Are Important in Selling Yourself
Monster.com has some useful tips for the one kind of question or interview you should know about: the “behavioral” interview, which uses questions in the form of “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of…” The correct answer to all such questions is something that you have actually done, preferably from a business context that addresses the substance of the question. Again, put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer, using your own imagination applied to the givens of the job description. What would you want to know about your history that’s relevant to the requirements for the job?
Also, as Monster very helpfully points out, any answers you prepare for a behavioral interview can be adapted for any interview: “So what is your greatest strength?” “Well, the best business complement I ever got was from my boss at FuFuCorp, when she said I was so effective there because of my empathy. I really think that’s a strength I’d be bringing to making sure your widget teams are all in sync.”
Finally, we have a quick note which should cover all the thought you have to give to office politics and power arrangements (hint: as little as possible).
Your Momma Gave You Two Important Tools – Good Graces and Common Sense: Use Them Both!
You may be interviewed by a pair or a team; this is becoming almost standard. In your handshaking, listening, eye contact and speech, treat all parties to the conversation as equally important. Avoid social bonding rituals with, or apparent avoidance of, or excess deference to, any party to the interview. Even if this is only natural shyness or nervousness, or relief at seeing someone from your age cohort, it may be read as ageism, as suckupism, or as problems relating to authority figures of the opposite sex.
Your livelihood and at least this phase of your career may depend in one way or another on the impression you make on any of the people you meet, and there is no way for you to know whose judgment is most decisive. Rather than worrying about any such thing, pay attention to the content of the conversation. For the moment, you are all professionals, and all peers. Relax. In a formal kind of way.