Step-by-step guide to Interview preparation
So you’ve been feverishly applying online and you finally got an interview. Congrats! Ideally you would have found this guide well before this happens so that you have some time to prepare, but if not this guide will hopefully still be helpful.
Start early (as in NOW)!
If you don’t have an interview lined up, you should get started in preparing. If you wrote your resume based on our resume guide, you would have already done some interview prep.
Find the right questions and practice
A search on google can return the top X interview questions. There are a wide variety here, so use these for your “in-between” interview practice. Otherwise, focus on the reversed engineer questions.
Specific questions by reverse engineering the job posting
Here’s how we break down the process of “reverse engineering” a job posting:
- Turn the job posting responsibilities, requirements and qualifications into interview questions: If the requirement is “Able to address and resolve issues and conflict with diplomacy” then the question becomes “Tell me about a time when you had to address and resolve issues and conflict with diplomacy”. If the requirement is “ Able to establish and maintain effective working relationships with employees and vendors and deal tactfully with the public”. Then the question becomes “Tell me about a time when you had to establish and maintain effective working relationships”. Keep doing that for each question.
- Turn the job posting responsibilities, requirements, and qualifications into Negative versions of the interview question. “Able to establish and maintain effective working relationships with employees and vendors and deal tactfully with the public” becomes “Tell me about a time when something went wrong during a working relationships with an employee or vendor”
- For any gaps in your experience compared to the posting, have a response.
Practice with your smartphone
If you have the option of a mock interview with a live person, those are great. However, for those that don’t, your smartphone can be your best option.
Print out the generic and specific questions. Cut them into strips (1 for each question). Then put it into a bowl. Set up your smart phone to be able to record you (a wider angle so you can see your hands). Pick a question. Answer it. Then watch and reflect on it response the next day (or a good number of hours later — waiting the next day if you can afford to). WHY? There is a difference between what you said and what you thought. When you listen to the response right away, they are one and the same. If you listen to the response after a few hours/days, then the thoughts are gone and you can validate whether the question.
If you have a few days before the interview, you might want to spread out your practice. Or practice every question once, then proactive again for the ones that you struggle.
There are other interview prep options like:
What to consider when practising questions
- Listen to the question. Probably my biggest pet peeve in an interview when the interviewee does not answer the questions. I often hear responses where I’ll have “leadership”, “teamwork” or some other key skill in the question and the interviewee spouts off their canned “leadership” response. Meanwhile, if they actually heard the question, it was about their approach to leadership, not an example of leadership. Or it was a multi-part question about leadership and their formal education on leadership. Make sure that when the interviewer asks the question you listen to the whole question. Blank your mind and don’t start formulating your response until they stop talking!
- Remember the question. Seems straight forward. But nothing ruins an interview as much “Sorry, what was the question again”. You might want to consider repeating the question even out loud to help anchor it.
- Answer the question: Responses should be about 1–2 minutes. If it’s shorter than 1 minute it does not seem like you have enough to say. Although some people can deliver a message in < 1 minute, you might not be one of those people. If your response is over 2 minutes then your response better be a few question. For longer or more ambiguous questions you might need longer responses. (there’s a section on how to answer certain types of question later)
- Note that every question is a 2 part question: whatever the question was + and how does that benefit the company or the role. “Tell me about yourself” doesn’t necessarily mean we need to know your hobbies and interests. It’s “Tell me about yourself as it relates to the company and the role.
- Conclude and summarize the question. Have you interviewed and after you answer the question there is a long and awkward pause? If that’s the case, you probably didn’t correctly closer your response. An easy way to conclude is to restate the question. “Give me an example of when you demonstrated leadership” … blah blah blah … “and that’s an example when I demonstrated leadership”. “Tell me about yourself” … blah blah… “and that’s a little about myself that I believe would make be an asset to the role”.
Tell me about yourself… and how does that benefit the company and the role
While the interviewer might not ask you this specific question, the entire interview is to tell about yourself and how you benefit the company/role. So what should speak about? Go back to the job posting. Build your “tell me about yourself” response based on what their asking for in the resume. Now you don’t want to provide a laundry list of examples, but if you can come up with 3–4 stories that would clearly articulate how you’ve demonstrated you’d be a perfect fit for the role, then that’s the start of a great answer.
You’ll want to look to include:
- Your relationship to the company (you’ve been a long-time user of their products/services, your uncle, cousin, friend worked for them, or you know nothing about them but as you did your research you found a lot to love about them
- Your connection with the role (you have a degree, you have tons of work experience, you are a leader in the space)
- your connection with the industry (which is most important if the industry is not typically related to the role; think being in IT at a Big 4 accounting firm vs doing accounting for a Big 4 accounting firm)
It’s hard to come up with all this on the spot so you’ll want to prepare and rehearse your answer. And if they don’t ask you that specific question, then you’ll definitely be able to use parts of your response for other questions.
How to answer certain types of questions
These are the “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example when…” type questions. You may have heard of CAR or STAR as a framework to answer and I like SHARE (which is STAR’s more complete older sister). SHARE stands for the following (I’ll walk through an example to the question “Can you tell me about the marketing achievement you are most proud of?”:
- Situation: where were you working? what was your role? give some background and context. “I will tell you about when I was a marketing coordinator working at ABC company for a coop internship. We were tasked with creating a campaign for a new client as a trial.”
- Hindrance: what was the problem? similar to Task in STAR but I guess SHARE sounds better than STARE. A bigger and more complex problem will often show a bigger achievement. “This was my first campaign that I led by myself, as my boss was on vacation for the month and the project was to be delivered in 3 weeks, one of my team mates was sick, and it was the first time dealing with this client”.
- Action: what did YOU do about it? A good interview will often probe into what you did vs what the team did so you can see whether they are trying to take credit for what the team did instead of their own contribution. “I was able quickly arrange meetings with the client to understand their needs and expectations. Once I did that, then I leveraged the relationships I built with people in other departments to pull together the data, the design and the campaign execution to exceed what the client wanted, while still staying on budget.”
- Result: what happened and what was the outcome? if the question is a negative one, you will want to end on a positive note (or which the E will help with). “We ended up running a campaign that exceeded goals by 400% and ended up providing insights to another service the customer wants to provide, and they ended up signing up for another campaign which we did after my boss got back from vacation”.
- Evaluate: what did you learn or what would you do better for next time? This is the bonus vs STAR and to me, makes the answer more complete. “I learned the power of cultivating relationships and that listening intently to your clients needs are an important part to success”.
I will often ask non-structured questions like “tell me where you see the marketing industry going in the next 24 months” to see how people deal with these types of questions. There is not specific example here so SHARE doesn’t work, and you could speak about that topic forever if you didn’t have some sort of structure.
What I often coach people to do is to pick the 3 topics that pop into your head WHY 3? It could really be 3–5 as 2 seems too little and more than 5 seems much but didn’t want to obligate you to 5. So in our example you say you’ll speak about social media, artificial intelligence and education. You spend a few seconds speaking about social media in 24 month, artificial intelligence and it’s impact to marketing over the next 24 months, and how the education of marketing will be disrupted in 24 months. If you really to get to 4 or 5 you could say “and another topic I missed was X” and speak to that topic .Then you restate the question to conclude and you’re done.
Prepare your stories and themes
Pick the top 3 experiences or strengths that you have and answer all the questions from each of those areas. Answer all questions based on the experience you’re most proud of at your last job. Two jobs ago, Four jobs ago. If you are detailed oriented, answer all questions using an example of being being detail oriented. If you are a people person, answer all questions using an example of being a people-person.
As your practice answering the questions in multiple ways for the same thing, you start building a nice strengths and experience package that you’ll likely be able to leverage for questions you haven’t yet practised.
Bringing it all together with the Interview algorithm
When an interviewer asks you a question, here’s what you should be asking yourself:
- Did I hear the whole question?
- Did I understand the question?
- Is it a behavioural question? answer using SHARE
- What are the key words that you heard of the question? be aware of words like MOST, BEST, “approach to”, and others that would modify the response
- Answer the question
- Before you conclude ask yourself if you answer the question. If not, quickly connect what you just said and answer the question.
Could you tell I took computer science…
Prepare questions for the interviewer
You should always have questions for the interviewer. WHY? if you had someone that has zero questions about the job vs someone with 3 questions about the job vs someone with 13 questions about the job, who would you think is most interested in the job? probably the one with 13 (assuming they were reasonably intelligent questions).
The one question you absolutely want to make sure you ask is “what are the next steps and when can I look forward to hearing from you”. That helps take the guess work out of following up.
Other questions should be specific to the company, or the person and have the intent to find out more so that you could deliver more value to the company. Avoid what I call “selfish questions” that would only benefit you (i.e. what is the pay, benefits, how much vacation do I get, is there flexibility to take lunch). Ask questions related to growth and development, the future, or clarifying understanding about the company (“What might a top performer in this role have done over 12 months?”, “I read that XYZ was happening to the company, what might be the impact to the group?”
Be prepared for the unexpected
I’ve heard of far too many cases where someone asks the HR person whether the interview will be technical and they said no and that would happen later. Meanwhile there was a last minute adjustment in the schedule and the technical interview happened first. Even though it may not be an ideal situation, you’ll still want to be prepared. So make sure you do a bit of practice on the others even if you are told otherwise.
Practice and Keep improving!
Even after you’ve done the interview, if you’re not comfortable with interviews, I recommend you incorporate interview practice into your daily/weekly routine.
Send a thank you note. Email is fine. A hand-written card with some chocolates might work, but might also seem like a bribe.
Reflect and learn
After the interview (doesn’t have to be right away), spend some time to reflect on the questions asked. How did you answer them well? How could you have answered them better? or differently? Aim to implement those into your interview practice and for the next interviews.
FAQ — Frequently Asked Questions
How many interviews should I expect from all my applications?
5–10%. Anything above and you’re good. Anything below and you really need to take a look at our resume guide. If you’ve only applied to 10 jobs, you should ratchet up the volume. I heard a speak tell a story that he had 4 job offers on graduation, based on 16 interviews and 8000 applications! He probably could have had a better resume, but just think about that volume.
How do I become less nervous in interviews?
Practice will help. Plus focusing yourself on the interview during the interview helps. Slowing down your breathing helps. Power poses and all that could help too. Practice will be the best way to overcome nervousness.
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