It’s that time of year again: job interview season!!
Thought I would take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts about how best to prepare. I welcome your ideas in response. What has worked for you? What would you never do again?
From student to professional
A major theme of this blog is enacting the transition from student to professional, and I would argue that the job interview (while key to enacting this transition) is actually best approached as an opportunity to show that you have already enacted this shift. So for example, when you are asked to give examples of things that you have done well (or things that you need to improve upon: more about this later), give examples from a work environment. Or talk about school in a way that shows you understand it as a job and are thinking about it as your profession. Do mock interviews with friends and family asking them to pay attention for ways that you may be approaching questions or responses from the perspective of a student (for example, seeming to be looking for guidance or asking for permission rather than working independently, taking initiative).
One exercise that I like to do to help me think about good examples to talk about in job interviews comes from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talked about as a Time Management Matrix from this blog. Now this is supposed to be an exercise to help you be more proactive in managing your time, because it forces you to think about your work habits and triggers, but it will also trigger recollections which you can recontextualize as narrative answers to job interview questions.
Any and all thinking that you can do about quadrant 2 (those things which are important and not-urgent) will be the most valuable. Here you will find your core motivators, your values, which are tremendously challenging to articulate on the spot, and thus bear some thinking about. Think about the job tasks that live here, and how can you take some time for them from tasks from quadrants 3 and 4. Incicdentally, 3 and 4 and your responses to those may be the seeds of an answer to a question about your weaknesses, which you really do want to answer honestly.
How to answer the “tell me about a weakness” question
Find something to talk about that you have processed emotionally: if you are still angry or embarassed about it, that may spill over into the interaction and will not read well. You want to display self- awareness and self-compassion: “I know enough about myself to know that I can get very anxious before an oral presentation.” Then, talk about the strategies you have learned that help you manage this weakness. ” I have learned that I need to write out a script and rehearse if possible.” End by talking about how this might manifest in a team environment, “when I can, I will take the lead in managing the timelines for deliverables for creating the presentation so that I can be performing at my best on the day of the presentation.”
Get your “5 things” in:
Make a list of 5 things that you would like to talk about. Ideally, these can be in response to things that you will be asked, but if they do not come up from the interviewers, find a way to introduce them into the conversation. Actively incorporate some of them as keywords into your answers and examples, or just be ready with one of these should someone ask you “is there anything else you would like to say?” or even the dreaded, omnipresent “tell me about yourself.” How fantastic does it make you look if you have something that you are just bursting to contribute with enthusiasm? It makes you look good and it makes them feel good, probably because you have demonstrated that you view the interview as collaborative, and that you take equal responsibility for the interaction going smoothly, a move which absolutely reads as “professional” and not “student”. I would venture to suggest that you will also be listening in a different way if you are looking for an opportunity to bring one of your five things. In improv, we call this “active listening,” it looks different.
Some old tried and true advice, which still holds:
Prepare questions to ask THEM
And after you have prepared them, have another look at the job description. Be sure that there is nothing there which has already been answered.
Do your homework
Go beyond the website in doing your research. Who is talking about the organization? What are they saying? What are the social media outlets which may give you unique insight into the most current developments they are experiencing (Twitter, LinkedIn?). Imagine that you were about to write a literature review about this company, but instead of key journals and major publications, it is your task to identify the key individuals in your life who might have insight into this industry and who you MUST speak to in order to locate yourself in the ongoing conversation. Do this not because you have to, but because you want to, because are interested. Use this as an opportunity to show how you take initiative, that you go above and beyond.
Show up EARLY!
We have all fallen into the trap of almost showing up late for a job interview. I have actually been late TWICE! In both instances, it was the fault of public transportation, which is to say, both were MY FAULT because I should have left much earlier to allow for problems. The first time it happened to me, I was new to the DC area and encountered some unexpected single-tracking on the green line. I arrived at the interview flustered and completely stuck inside my own head. When my interviewer asked me about my trip, I started venting about Metro, at which point she shut her folder, stood up, and said “well, if I were to give you this job, that would in fact be your daily commute, so I know one way to solve that problem for you quite easily: we can end the interview right now!” I ended up getting the job, but it involved some MAJOR humble pie, and I honestly think they must have been in a real pinch. Demonstrate unequivocoably that you take complete ownership here.
Learn from past mistakes,
Ask for feedback, do at least one thing better each time.
As ever, I want to hear from you: let me know how it is going for you out there!