Episode 42: How to prepare for a job interview


August 4th, 2020

35 mins 42 secs

Your Hosts

About this Episode

This episode, we caught ourselves; we talk a lot about interviewing, but we forgot to talk about how to prepare for an interview. Get out your notebook and listen closely …. this episode will teach you how to be prepared for your interviews.

Behavioral Interviewing became popular about 25 years ago, and is based on the assumption that past performance will predict future performance. It’s usually based on competencies that come out of the responsibilties of the job, and the interviewers will each cover a different part of those competencies with you.

The key to behavioral interviewing, as our old boss J. Mike Smith used to teach us, is to tell a story. Be ready with examples of:

  • Success
  • Failure
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership: taking a leadership role, taking the lead when you weren’t the manager
  • Turn-arounds and pivots
  • Working cross-functionally: how do you navigate diversity of mindset? of skillset?
  • Taking risks

It’s beautiful to learn, adapt and change, and take risks. When talking about mistakes, talk about the learning.

Don’t be afraid of failure; talk about what went wrong, what you did to try to save it (or what you wish you had thought to do in the moment). The key here is to avoid the blame game and to take responsibility when appropriate, but also acknowledge when you were not the decision maker.

How do you get your examples together? Set aside a few hours and go down memory lane -- but not too far back -- to remember projects and teams to get you ready to tell your story. Write down your examples, read them over and practice them.

Make sure that your examples are recent; someone who gives examples from 10 years ago, but no current examples, makes the interviewer wonder if you’re past your heyday. Unless it’s something really “once in a career,” try to keep your examples in the last 5 years.

Use examples that share a story that help you show that you could be successful in that job. Look at the job description and build your examples around it that show that you are going to be strong in that role.

Some companies give examples of questions they may ask. It’s more important to be prepared for those answers, since they aren’t a surprise. If you’re not confident, ask for help from a coach or colleague or your Board of Advisors. Or use your recruiter to ask what they will ask you.

If you can use the product the company makes, do it! Have an opinion and talk about your experience.

Have your numbers; be able to show your impact in a factual way. If you saved your company money, tell that story with facts.

Have your “whys” ready to go. Why did you switch careers? Why did you leave your last company? Be able to share logically why you made the decisions you made.

If you've been part of a layoff, you want to show as much as possible that it wasn’t aboiut you and your performance. “It was a down economy and they laid off my whole division.” Be able to tell your story and what you learned, even if it involves unfortunate situations.

If there is a gap, don’t over explain. Say what you did in that time, and answer with a direct question. If they want to know more, they’ll ask. Let the interviewer be in charge of the interview.

Be strategic and don’t be afraid to take a moment to compose your answer. It’s better than being a motormouth or saying, “That’s a great question.”

A lot of companies ask situational questions, which you can't really prepare for. Take a minute, think it through for a minute, and then talk and ask qualifying questions. If you go down a certain path but you to back away from, come back to ask a clarifying questions but then pivot. Many situational questions are asked to see how you inquire and learn more. There’s nothing wrong with following up after the question, and realizing that this new information leads you to a different answer.

Listen to what your interviewer is asking. When someone asks, “Have you thought about this….?” they are leading you to understand what they are trying to elicit as an answer. Listen to the first question, but also the follow-ups to see where they may want you to go.

Always ask questions, both job- and culture-related, and make sure you know how the company aligns with your own must-have list. "What do you like about working here?" is a good question. And "What would you change if you could?" is a great question to get to the truth of working there.

Do your research; they’re going to want to know what you think about them. Look at their website, Glassdoor, Google them, and search Linkedin for emploiyee profiles.

By doing all this, you avoid the "blank brain" problem, and you will go in confidently and prepared for your job interview.