“Hi Krasi, I have an interview tomorrow. Are you free to meet with me today so I can prepare?" Such messages in my inbox are extremely common. I do my best to accommodate, but ultimately, I know that not much can be accomplished if you start preparing today for interviews that are scheduled for tomorrow. Researching the company and role, drafting application documents and polishing your stories are all vital for a successful interview, and they take time.
“Preparing for interviews helps you organize your stories in a memorable way and makes you feel comfortable and confident telling them," says Lily Boyer, an International Coach Federation professional certified coach. You can never really know what questions interviewers will ask, but when preparing, it helps to focus on themes. Certain themes, captured by the IMPACT acronym, are bound to pop up during interviews. Review the themes and accompanying questions, brainstorm examples for each one, and if necessary, pursue opportunities to develop missing skills.
In mock interviews, I hear students use “we" and remind them that interviewers are curious about their accomplishments, not the achievements of their teams. In your response to individual achievement questions, remember to use “I." Employers want to know what role you played in the story you choose to share. Questions under this theme seek to uncover a bit about yourself, but they also reveal your knowledge about the employer. Your individual achievement reflects your values, qualities and interests, so share an example that shows how you align with the target employer and the desired position.
- What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
- What project best reflects who you are?
- What are your strengths?
With questions under this theme, interviewers try to gauge your leadership qualities or potential. Do not view them as invitations to share a story where you did everything and saved the world. That's unrealistic. Instead, choose examples that highlight your ability to step up when needed, your adaptability and your attitude when it comes to conflict. To prepare for specific questions, research the employer and role so you have an idea of what its parameters are. That could give you a clue as to what kind of questions under this particular theme you may be asked during interviews.
- When was the last time you took an initiative?
- Tell me about a time you worked under limited supervision. How did you do?
- What leader do you admire and why?
No matter which career you pursue, you will inevitably have to pitch an idea or persuade your boss or colleagues to support the idea, and interviewers want to know if you can do that. This is one of the toughest themes to prepare for because if you have limited experience, you may think you have nothing to talk about. In interviews, however, “it's not about having an example that is impressive because you were able to persuade someone senior in title," says Andy Kurtzman, associate director of employer relations (consulting) at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. “It's more helpful to use an example that shows what strategies (logic, data, trust, emotion or authority) you employ, and why, to successfully persuade a coworker, client or leadership." Stories under that theme could come from any aspect of your life. “Have you ever convinced family, friends, colleagues or customers to do things a certain way to reach an outcome?" Boyer asks. “If you have, then you have persuaded others."
- How do you go about convincing others to see your point of view?
- When was the last time you successfully pitched an idea?
- Do you consider yourself an influencer and why?
When it comes to analytical skills, interviewers are not only interested in knowing how good you are with numbers, but they also want to figure out how you think. Specifically, questions under that theme seek to decipher your approach to solving problems. Interviewers want to learn about your ability to critically analyze a situation and make decisions based on available data. A key point you may want to keep in mind during interviews is the importance of projecting confidence when responding to analytical questions. Confidence in your skills is important throughout an interview, but with analytical questions, your responses may be challenged and you will have to defend them.
- How do you choose when you have two or more options?
- What is your approach to solving problems when you don't have all the information?
- How do you go about explaining difficult content?
Although employers are looking for their ideal candidate, they are certainly not expecting a perfect one, and the simple reason is that the person doesn't exist. Projects in the real world rarely work according to plan and employers want to know what kind of person you are when faced with a challenge. “If you are afraid to tell others about your failures, that is a failure in itself," says Boyer. “Everyone has failed. It's what you learned from it that matters." Yet, questions under that theme scare job seekers. Difficulty stems from misunderstanding the question's purpose. Interviewers don't ask you to talk about failure so they can dismiss you as a candidate. During interviews, they are evaluating your maturity and potential for learning and growth. “So share what insights you've gained from your failures and how you do things differently in similar situations," advises Boyer.
- Tell me about a time when things didn't work according to plan. What did you do?
- What is your weakness?
- Tell us about a time you faced a conflict. How did you approach it?
Questions under this theme gauge your presence and place within a team. As such, the best way to prepare is to seek feedback from teammates or colleagues you trust. You may want to inquire both about what you do well and what you could improve on. This way, when asked about your contributions to a team, you don't have to guess or make things up (which is never ever a good idea to do in an interview). Keep in mind that interviewers are often interested in your communication style, so as you prepare to respond to teamwork questions, be sure to give specific details on how you interact within a team.
- What role do you usually play in a team?
- How do you approach working with a difficult teammate?
- What makes a successful team?
As you brainstorm possible stories under the above six themes, keep in mind that each example touches on more than one theme. Therefore, you may want to prepare a minimum of two examples for each. This way you have a backup in case a specific story has already been used. Lastly, please don't forget to practice. “If athletes do not practice before their competition or game, they have no chance of winning," says Boyer. “And neither do you."
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