Interviewing 301: Preparing For the Interview

So, you’re about to walk into an employment interview. You’ve never visited the company before, you don’t know what their needs are, and you don’t know the hiring manager. The thought going through your mind as you walk in? “I’ll wing it!

The hiring manager comes out to greet you. The thought going through the hiring manager’s mind at this moment? “Kill’em all and let God sort it out! I’ll hire the survivor.”

Would it surprise you to learn that this will not end well?

If you don’t prepare for the interview, you’re just asking to get whacked. Preparation involves three steps.

The first step is preparation for all interviews.

In a post on the resume, I allude to the fact that you’re selling ability, not experience. The way to prepare for interviewing (and for writing your resume) is to determine the skill set you are trying to sell, and identify at least three business successes for each ability. Then, for each success, write out (a) what you did, (b) how you did it, step by step, and (c) what the result was. The result should be in terms of revenue increased, costs reduced, efficiency improved, biggest, smallest, first ever, et cetera. You have most likely heard or seen these examples referred to as SARs (situation, action, result), STARS, or some other acronym. In addition to being ammunition for the resume, these stories are the answers to behavioral interview questions: “Tell me about a time when . . . .”

The man who gave me my formal start in the career coaching business says if you have 25-50 of these stories, you never have to worry about another interview.

While you're at it, you'd better identify a couple of failures and what you learned from them. You'll most likely have to discuss one or two of those.

Welcome to the second step: research!

You need to do research. In doing it you may learn something about the organization’s needs, what they are doing, plan to do, what’s working, what isn’t, and so forth. All of this is helpful information. Back in the day, when there was no internet, this kind of information might have been pretty hard to find. No longer!

This is both offensive and defensive strategy. There are plenty of people out there whose first question in the interview might be, “So, what do you know about the company?” If you answer, “I don’t have a clue,” the next question doesn’t matter. The interview’s over!

Now, while I’m all for doing research, I have a real problem with people’s need to show that they’ve done the research.

I spent some time as a recruiter for a high-tech company, and was often astonished to hear a candidate say, “I happen to know that you all are doing a, b, and c,” as though that information was secret. All too often it was either public knowledge or we had stopped doing it six months prior to the interview! So now, how smart do you look?

If you feel compelled to show that you’ve done the research, just say, “In doing research on the company I read that thus-and-so was the case. How accurate is that?”

There, you’ve showed them that you’re a responsible candidate, and that you’ve done research on the company. But you don’t look like an idiot!

When I was about 10 years old, my father taught me how to play chess, and, being the kind of guy he was, saw no reason to lighten up on a 10-year old. Or an 11-year old, or a 12-year old.

It was two years before I beat him. On the day it happened, I was lacing up my sneakers while he set up the chessboard, and I was thinking, “Here we go again. He’s gonna kill me!” Then I thought, “The only way I even have a chance is to evaluate every possible move, and every possible consequence of every possible move, his and mine, every time.”

I beat him that morning, and never lost to him again. (He walked away from some four-hour chess matches, but I never lost!)

What does this have to do with interviewing?

Plenty.

If you are interviewing, you know something about the job. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be interviewing! If you’re an accountant, and the job is in accounting, you know something about the job. There may be information gained in the research phase of preparation that will prompt questions.

You should be able to ask yourself any question the hiring manager could ask you, and have an answer ready.

If you are in a technical field, you can find lists of commonly asked technical questions relevant to your field, online.

While I normally have a very low opinion of college career development services, I have to say that Princeton (https://careerservices.princeton.edu/undergraduate-students/interviews-offers/preparing-interviews) does a good job of preparing students.

 So, these are the steps of interview preparation. None of them is easy, all are time-consuming. The lazy or the uninformed will not invest the necessary effort. But because you invested the effort, you’ll win the interview!