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This is the first part of a two-part article in which I discuss three key steps you can take to set yourself up for success at your next job interview. Here, in Part 1, I address the first two steps; in Part 2, I wrap up with the third step.
To prepare for job interviews, most people reread their resume, review the responsibilities of the position they are applying for, or memorize dozens of answers to potential interview questions. However, taking a more structured approach to interview preparation can bolster confidence and improve performance. To do so, I recommend interviewees work through three key steps to ensure interview success. Here are the first two steps.
Step 1: Conduct Research
Whether you’re up for promotion or interviewing with a new organization, you will want to do research to be as informed as possible before you go into your interview. Here are areas that I encourage you to investigate and some key questions that will help guide your research.
- How will the interview be structured? Will it be with a single person over the phone, a few people in separate interview times, or in front of a panel of interviewers? Knowing this information will not only help you feel at ease because you’ll know what to expect, but will also focus your preparation.
- Who will be doing the interviewing? What does that person’s background (or people’s backgrounds) tell you about what they might ask you? For example, a peer might have a different set of concerns and questions than a future boss.
- What might be a “top of mind” problem or concern not just for the role you are interviewing for but also for the organization as a whole? Have new laws or regulations affected daily operations? Has there been a high rate of employees leaving for new opportunities? Has there been bad PR? Has there been a budget crisis? Depending on what you learn, you’ll be able to formulate interview responses in a more targeted way. If you’re unfamiliar with the organization in a larger context and have ample time before the interview, you can set up Google Alerts with relevant key terms to keep abreast of the latest information.
- What are the most pressing issues and top priorities for the person who will become the new hire? Analyze the job description carefully and speak with anyone you know who could give you insight into the role or provide further information about these issues and priorities.
In light of the new information you have gathered as a result of this research, think through your priorities and prepare relevant questions you can ask the interviewer(s) to facilitate a productive conversation. Ultimately, the best interviews are ones that feel like a conversation rather than an inquisition.
Step 2: Create a Strategy
Equipped with the information you learned from the research process, start creating your strategy. If you are one of the many people who cringe at the thought of self-promotion, I’d encourage you to reframe how you approach your interview. Rather than “selling” yourself, which is a common term people use to describe interviewing, shift your mindset to one of educating. To make this shift, ask yourself: What do the interviewers need to know about you, so they understand why you are a good fit? Then, prepare your talking points accordingly.
You can often boil down your fit for a position into approximately four to eight broad categories, all with supporting points. You can think of this as a conceptual map that will guide you during the interview and keep you on message. For instance, your categories might be Qualifications, Communication, Professional Demeanor, and Problem Solving. Next, identify a few relevant pieces of evidence that support each category. For example, to support the Qualifications claim, you might discuss your education and professional development (additional certifications or training) as well as your career experience. For each category, address what will be most valued by the employer, so you can tailor your response.
After mapping out your categories and the supporting evidence for each one, reflect on your main point. In other words, how do your categories and supporting evidence come together to create a “main claim” for your fit for the job? Once you have identified this key message, review your categories and supporting evidence to confirm that they all align with the main claim you plan to make in your interview.
Another way to approach this is to think about how you would present your fit for a role if you had to state your claim in only one or two sentences. This exercise forces you to get past less relevant details and to hone in with a laser focus on the most important pieces of your background the interviewer needs to know.
When preparing for interviews, be tactical and strategic. These two steps are key components of successful interview preparation. The third step, which is discussed in Part 2, gives you a plan for structuring your interview answers, so they will be powerful and memorable.