If you are in the job market, you know how stressful it can be to prepare for an interview.
Even people who typically thrive in an interview, can find that, in the wrong environment or on the wrong day, an interview can go horribly “off-the-rails.”
- How can we ensure that we don’t ramble incoherently?
- How do we make sure we don’t fail to effectively communicate those important points about ourselves?
- How can we be confident in any interview?
Today, I’m going to give you the interview cheat code.
It’ll take a little bit of work up front, but once you do it, you’ll be ready for an interview anytime, anywhere, even in your pajamas, right after waking up (after coffee, of course).
Stay “On Message”
In any interview, you are trying to sell yourself effectively to the person asking you questions. You want them to clearly see the depth and breadth of your experience. So, what most people do is word-vomit a list of 10 or more attributes and skills, leaving no single idea any more memorable than the rest.
A better approach is immediately evident when you simply organize that information.
Now, instead of the interviewer needing to walk out remembering any of your 10+ skills or attributes, you’ve made it clear what the big idea is, along with three supporting points. Should you need to go deeper in the interview, you already have your skills grouped in a way that logically follows back up to your big idea.
The single most important thing you can do in any interview, is have the interviewer go back to their colleagues repeating your key message. This is your unique differentiator and if you play your cards right, it is the path to the shortlist. If that message is what the organization wants or needs, the job is likely all yours.
- Write out all of the skills, attributes, and values that you think make you an attractive job candidate.
- Group those ideas into 3 or 4 (maximum) themes
- Look at your themes and identify what is important to you that would unite those themes
Once you have this, mentally prioritize that your key message/idea is what you will repeat most frequently during the interview. You will support this with your themes, which you can explain through the skills, ideas, and values you’ve grouped into each theme.
NOTE: Long time readers may notice that this resembles some of the work I encouraged you to do in How I Create a Purpose-Driven Content Strategy
You now have a messaging architecture for your interview. The point of the interview is for you to ensure that the interviewer walks away with your key message clearly embedded in their mind.
In order to do that, you’ll need to do a little more preparation.
Situations and Context
The interviewer is unlikely to come right out with a softball question like “so what is the key message you’d like me to walk away with today and what are the themes in your career that support it?” If only it were that simple.
Instead, they’re going to ask you a lot of questions. Sometimes, these will be questions asked in conversation and others times as more formal situational interview questions (e.g. “tell me about a time when…”). While these types of questions disadvantage neurodivergent candidates (which is a topic I will cover another time), there are steps anyone can take to better prepare themselves.
The key to winning these questions is to stay on message, even during these situational questions. If you’re key message is about “growing leaders wherever you go” then every answer needs to come back to that.
For example, you might get a question like:
“tell me about a time when you had conflict with a team member and how you resolved it?”
In that situation, you might reply with:
“I see every situation with a team member as an opportunity to deepen trust and grow our relationship, and that extends even to conflict. I remember a time when one of my colleagues [insert situation]. I knew that this was an opportunity to be very thoughtful about my response if I was to honor my commitment to help them grow as a leader. Part of this required that I model the behavior I wanted them to learn.”
Everything comes back to the message. Here’s how to prepare for anything…
Situational interview questions generally come in 5 flavors. Prepare by having a scenario ready for any of these types of questions.
These are questions that force you to make an ethical or moral decision.
- You see someone do something illegal or unethical
- You are asked to do something questionable
- You are forced to pick between two bad options and which you pick reveals what’s more important to you
2. Uncertainty / Problem Solving
These are questions that paint a picture without a clear answer, and try to get you to illustrate your thought process to resolve the situation.
- You face a problem you’ve never faced before
- You can’t get what you need from someone else, but action is still required
- You are asked to prioritize without guidance
These are questions that hope to showcase how you manage conflict, hostility, and interpersonal friction.
- You need to deal with difficult co-workers or customers
- You have to resolve a situation between two third parties
- Your ego is threatened
These are questions that are designed to show what YOU consider an accomplishment. It can be tempting to try and give the “right” answer here, but stay on message and find a success that aligns with your key idea.
- You felt a deep sense of accomplishment
- You affected someone else
- You were given external recognitition
Despite what many attempt to do with these questions, this is not the place for a humblebrag. This isn’t where you frame one of your positive attributes as some hidden weakness “I care too much” or “I work too much.” What the interviewer needs here is to understand what you consider a failure AND THEN how that impacted you or changed you. Use this to talk about a legitimate failure (not just a mistake) that is aligned with your key message.
- What happened that set you on the path to your key idea?
- What is something that happened that forced you to focus on one of your themes?
- What is something that you did, that you want to make sure no one else ever experiences?
Now that you’ve prepared all of that, the only thing left is to find your courage.
When you walk into an interview ready to talk about the things that legitimately matter to you, the work you are legitimately good at and that emerges from your values, what reasons would you have left to lack confidence?
So, do this work, prepare to answer honestly with the key message as your North Star, and let go your worries. The company that hires you when you take that posture is going to more liekly be the right one.
The only remaining piece of advice I would have for you is to approach the hiring process ready to ask the questions you need to ask and share your needs and accommodations ahead of time.
For example, I CRUSH interviews because it’s something I’m naturally comfortable doing. However…
- If I had to wait 45 minutes in a waiting room before the interview, only to go into a small room with flourescent lights, I would bomb that interview and my brain would be pulsating in pain.
- If I had to do an interview over Zoom with 15 people who all had their cameras off while I did a little dog and pony show, I would under-perform in that interview.
Get clear on what the process looks like by asking questions and then let people know what you need to thrive.
Take your time and plan ahead.
Don’t over-complicate things.
Just go out there, armed with your messaging, and get the gig.