Are you a superstar
during an interview?
Preparation is key to a successful job interview
By Angela Civitella
You’re midway through an interview for a promotion you really want, and it’s all going well. But suddenly the interviewer asks you a question that you can’t answer.
Your heart sinks, and you start talking without knowing how you’re going to finish the sentence. You don’t need to see the interviewer’s face to know that you’re handling this question badly.
The way you respond to questions in an interview can make or break your chances of getting a promotion or a new job. In this article, we’ll explore how you can answer even the toughest questions gracefully and intelligently.
The importance of preparation
It’s common for interviewers to ask difficult questions. They’re not doing this to trip you up, they just want to see how well you perform under pressure and whether you can think on your feet. This is why preparation is so important.
The way you respond to questions in an interview can make or break your chances of getting a promotion or a new job.
When you prepare thoroughly for an interview, you feel less stressed and your self-confidence grows. Preparation helps you to make a good first impression and it shows that you’re organized, thoughtful and capable of handling pressure.
Preparation helps you reflect on meaningful workplace experiences and the accomplishments and stories that will showcase your strengths and skills. It can be difficult to think of these things on the spot, and you might miss an important opportunity to demonstrate your abilities if you draw a blank during the interview.
How to prepare for interview questions
Interviews don’t have to be stressful, and the more you prepare, the less nervous you’ll be. Follow the six steps below to handle interview questions effectively.
1. Gather Information
First, gather information about the role. This can help you to predict the questions you may face during the interview, especially ones about your strengths and weaknesses and past failures and successes.
‘Preparation helps you reflect on meaningful workplace experiences, and the accomplishments and stories that will showcase your strengths and skills.’
Take time to read the job description carefully, and if possible speak to people who work in the department or team that you’re being interviewed for. Brainstorm questions that interviewers might ask, based on what you find. For example, what knowledge, skills or experiences do you need? What abilities have you developed in your current role that will help you? How will your understanding of the organization benefit your new team? What problems will you be expected to solve? Who will report to you?
2. Research Yourself
What is your reputation within the organization, or in the industry? What would your team members and boss say about you? Do you spend time with colleagues outside of work or do people think you’re unsociable?
Even if you have a great reputation at work, do you know what would come up if an interviewer searched for your name online? Are there any pictures, comments, profiles, or associations that could damage your professional image?
By researching yourself, you can find out what your interviewer will see, and you’ll be less likely to be surprised by a question you didn’t expect. It also gives you the chance to remove or prepare thoughtful responses to, any photos, tweets, blog posts, or comments that are questionable or negative.
3. Think about your strengths and weaknesses
The interviewer will likely ask you to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of these in advance, so that you can provide a quick, honest answer that puts you in a good light.
‘Take time to read the job description carefully, and if possible speak to people who work in the department or team that you’re being interviewed for.’
Be honest when you talk about your weaknesses, but keep your comments short and positive. Focus on one that you’ve been working on, and provide examples of your progress. For example, “My biggest weakness used to be my communication skills. But I’ve been improving these through self-study and practice, and I now touch base with every team member first thing in the morning to share project updates in person.”
When you talk about your strengths, concentrate on the ones that you’ll use most in this role, and frame your response to illustrate how specific strengths enable you to meet the organization’s needs.
Also, spend some time thinking about your own career goals and how this position will help you achieve them. Interviewers want to know about your passion and what motivates you, so you need to be able to articulate clearly how this role will help you progress.
4. Identify key competencies
Analyze the job description carefully, as this will help you to identify the competencies needed to perform the role effectively. Look at advertisements for any other jobs in the same department, as these may also use the same competency framework. For example, will you need to demonstrate accountability, customer focus, industry awareness, good communication skills, teamwork, or vision?
Reflect on how you fulfil these in your existing role, and prepare five to seven examples to demonstrate this. Next, practice answering positive and negative competency-based questions. Make sure that you can remember them, but avoid memorizing them by rote – otherwise, you’ll sound inauthentic.
5. Learn to think on your feet
Many interviewers will put you on the spot to see how well you perform under pressure. They usually do this by asking a tough question, such as, “Tell me about your biggest failure as a project manager.”
‘Be honest when you talk about your weaknesses, but keep your comments short and positive. Focus on one that you’ve been working on, and provide examples of your progress.’
You need to know how to think on your feet so you can respond appropriately to difficult questions. Start by taking a deep breath – this will flood your body with oxygen and help you relax. Then, take a few seconds to think about your response, and don’t start talking until you know what you want to say.
Repeat the question slowly to confirm that you’ve understood it, if you need longer to think, or ask for clarification. You can also request additional time to formulate your response.
Using role-playing is one of the best ways to practice answering interview questions. You can discover how you might react when you’re put on the spot by acting out scenarios with another person. It also helps you to rehearse dealing with stress and thinking on your feet, and it can boost your self-confidence.
Practice is essential if you want to feel comfortable, confident and authentic during your interview. However, avoid giving scripted answers, which will likely make a poor impression. Practice until you feel confident and prepared, and then stop.
Examples of common interview questions
Below are four strategies that you can use to answer typical interview questions.
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
This is a common and predictable interview opener. Use this opportunity to tell the interviewer about your interests and experience, but make sure that they’re relevant to the role. Talk about your education, work history, key accomplishments and awards, and future goals. Don’t spend too much time talking about subjects unrelated to work, like your family or hobbies, unless the interviewer asks about them.
‘Practice is essential if you want to feel comfortable, confident and authentic during your interview. However, avoid giving scripted answers, which will likely make a poor impression.’
2. “Why do you want to change roles?”
This is a tough question, and it’s important to keep your answer positive. Don’t use it as an opportunity to verbalize complaints about your existing role, even if you had a bad experience with your last boss or department. Instead, explain what you learned, and give positive reasons for your job transition.
3. “Why are you interested in this job?”
Your answer should demonstrate why you’re a good match for this position. Explain why you’re excited about using your strengths, skills and expertise to help the organization grow and achieve its goals.
4. “Tell me about the worst boss you ever had, before you joined this organization.”
Interviewees cringe when this question comes up, and with good reason. It’s difficult to answer because you don’t want to badmouth a former boss, but that’s exactly what you’re being asked to do.
Answer honestly by talking about one aspect of this person’s behaviour that created challenges for you, then explain how this helped you grow. Don’t make the mistake of talking about a boss or leader within the organization!
For example: “My boss was always late for our staff meetings at a previous company. So I began in her absence, to make sure that we stayed on schedule. She appreciated my initiative, and this also helped me get over my fear of public speaking.”
Get ready and go for it, only you can.
Image: Minervastudio from Pexels
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde