Interview Preparation Tips

Deborah Hall 01.05.2012

The interviewer wants to find the best person for the position. The job seeker is looking for the best opportunity to build skills, grow a career, and engage in satisfying, enjoyable work.

Preparing for an Interview

The first step is to look at the job's requirements. What are the day-to-day tasks? What education or experience is required? Prepare examples of how you've used your skills to meet similar needs.  Don't be intimidated by limited work experience or a new field. You probably generated ideas, managed projects, exceeded expectations, learned something, or helped someone meet a challenge at work or in non-work related situations such as a volunteer. These skills would be valuable to any employer. 
 
An effective way to prepare your past experience examples that relate to the job requirments it to use the STAR format. 
  • Situation/Task: explains the circumstances.
  • Action: describes what you did.
  • Result: describes the outcome of your action.
 
This account of past performance is impressive because it provides hard data about a difficult situation: specific actions the candidate took and the positive results she achieved. Answering this way is much more effective than providing vague, general, or theoretical answers. Learn the job's requirements then write STARs that provide specifics about times you met similar requirements. See an example below:
 
 
Situation/Task:
"This one client was famous for beating suppliers down on price. I think she thought it was a game or something. The ironic thing was that the more they needed our services, the harder she seemed to fight for discounts."
 
Action:
"I was nervous about the negotiation, so I sat down with my manager and we tried to brainstorm every possible price objection she could raise. Then, when I sat down with the client, I was able to counter every objection by showing her how we met her company's needs."
 
Result:
"I wound up changing prices a little because a couple of the steps weren't really necessary. In the end, we were paid fairly for the value of our services."
 
 
Get your STARs in order and write out examples of how you have used your skills, abilities, and motivations to accomplish goals. 
 

The Interview Format

Well-trained interviewers usually begin with a question designed to put you at ease. Sometimes, however, you'll need to start the conversation. There are two good ways to get the discussion going:
  • Make a positive comment about the department and how you see yourself contributing to it.
  • Ask a question such as, "Could you tell me more about the work I might be doing in this position?" or "What issues are driving the need to create this job?"
 
 
Your goal in the interview will be to provide specific information that will help the interviewer evaluate how you would perform in the job you want. Avoid theoretical responses that begin with, "I think," "I believe," or "In general." To make sure your responses are specific and practical, use a STAR example to describe how you successfully applied the knowledge or skill in question.  Responses like this one provide interviewers with the information they need to make fair and accurate hiring decisions: examples of specific actions taken in particular situations and the results of those actions. Providing responses like these also makes an interviewer's job easier—no one likes to have to dig for specifics—and impresses them with your ability to recall details about your past performance.
 
Some interviewers will ask vague questions, such as, "Why should we hire you?" or "What do people say about you?" These questions can be difficult to answer because they don't seek specific information related to your skills or experience. Don't let vague questions throw you off course. Because you prepared for your interview, you have a list of your key abilities. Mention one of them now and give a STAR example of how you have used that ability.
 
Interviews usually end with the interviewer asking, "Do you have any questions?" Most interviewers want a candidate to ask meaningful questions. If you don't ask questions, the interviewer might feel as if you weren't fully engaged in the interview. Besides, this is your chance to collect important information about the job. For those reasons, prepare some questions that you can ask at the end of the interview. You might ask about two areas often not covered by interviewers:
  1. The reporting structure of the job.
  2. Miscellaneous concerns such as how the position will motivate you, a description of the departmental culture, and the actual workplace location.

Common Pitfalls 

  1. Thinking that you can wing it: If you walk into an interview without examining the job requirements, and yourself: 
  • You might find it difficult to answer questions because you can't recall specific experiences.
  • You'll miss out on highlighting your strengths because you might not be sure what they are.
  • The interviewer might think that you're not really that interested in the position.
  • You might end up accepting a job for which you're ill suited.
  1. Ignoring your motivations:If you don't take the time to think about what you need in a position: 
  • You might end up working in an environment that doesn't give you the support you need
  • You could be swayed by "false positives"—apparent benefits that are really meaningless to you, such as free airline travel when you're afraid to fly!
  1. Exaggerating information about yourself: Because a STAR response is like a story, you might be tempted to stretch the truth or create an answer. Don't because: 
  • You'll probably get caught, and your credibility and integrity will be in doubt.
  • You could end up with a job that you're unable to do successfully.

Tips

Find out the requirements of the position you are seeking.
  • Request a job description from the human resources department or the hiring manager.
  • Ask acquaintances or colleagues about the work environment to find out if it suits your style.
  • Ask for information from the person currently in the position, if appropriate.
  • Research similar types of positions.
  • Read publications to discover the skills, abilities, and motivations a person needs to be successful in a certain position
  • Identify your skills and abilities.
  • Emphasise your most recent examples at work or in community or volunteer work.
  • Use the STAR (Situation/Task, Action, Result) format to organise the information.
  • Take the time to write down your STARs so you'll recall them easily during your interview.
  • Identify your strongest examples so you'll be sure to cover them in the interview.
  • Remember to look at your motivations.
  • Write down the things you like to do in a job and the things you don't like to do.
  • Compare your lists to what you know about the job responsibilities.
  • Examine your work style and values to determine if you'll be comfortable working in the position.
  • Consider whether this position fits into your career plan.
  • Be realistic about any major changes to your lifestyle and whether you can handle them
  • Match your skills, abilities, and motivations with the job's requirements.
  • Sketch a profile of the job, then compare that against what you have to offer and what you need.
  • Focus on the areas in which you are a strong match for the job in your interview.
  • Pinpoint gaps in your skills or experience and think about how you can compensate for the lack of a certain skill.
  • Consider what tradeoffs you're willing to make and pursue the position with your eyes open.
  • Be an active participant in the interview.
  • Offer strong STAR examples.
  • Ask questions or offer comments that show your interest in the position and the thoroughness of your research and preparation.
  • Listen attentively and ask questions to gather information.
  • Provide additional material (references, samples, etc.) that you think the interviewer might need.

 

If your interview is funds related you might also like to read the article Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Deborah Hall's picture
Manager
dhall@morganmckinley.com