I’ve had many wonderful interviews throughout my career. Moments when I knew I wanted the job and that it was mine for the taking. Interviews where I pulled answers out of the depths of my brain and later wondered how that knowledge ever got there.
The opposite is also true. Early in my digital marketing career, I interviewed with a major advertising agency and showed up absolutely unprepared. I didn’t want the job, but somehow I wanted them to want me. When they asked, "Why would you want to go from client-side to agency-side?" I knew I didn’t want to, so instead I started talking and then kept talking. And talking. I lulled myself into such a bored slumber that I felt my smarter self floating above the interview, watching this unending, meaningless soliloquy and tried to send powerful psychic messages saying, "SHUT UP! I BEG YOU. JUST STOP TALKING!" Finally, I did. The HR Manager did not pass me on to the Hiring Manager I was scheduled to meet. I apologized to my friend who referred me and I made a promise to myself to always give 100% to prepare. And now, I help my clients make that commitment as well.
Here’s my interview prep process that starts with the surface topics and then digs deep into reflecting on the challenges that may be holding you back in your search.
1. Your elevator pitch
I see that face behind your screen. Yes, you need this. It’s simply the answer to the question, "Tell me about yourself." You want this to be clear, precise and on-brand. This is your first impression and your chance to have a powerful start. Here’s another blog post where I provide an elevator pitch formula. And if you’re in a career transition, here’s a variation on that pitch framework.
2. STAR Stories—more is more here
Hiring managers want to hear examples of how you exemplified the skills and expertise they’re seeking. That said, you don’t want to talk for days without a breath or jump into a story that has a beginning, a middle and a middle. STAR is a framework you can use to practice your stories. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. When working with clients, I often have this nagging feeling to remind them that you don’t say those words as you’re telling the story, rather it’s simply how you organize the story in your mind. My absolute favorite interview article on themuse.com, 31 of The Most Common Interview Questions, will walk you through how to create your STAR stories for the top interview questions. Note—come up with many and some that are within the past year. Some hiring managers will get that specific!
3. Walk me through your resume
This is a common interview request that you can use to tell your narrative in a positive way, highlighting a diverse set of strengths. I work with clients to attach one anchor strength, skill learned or story that demonstrates a top quality of yours to each role listed on your resume. That way, you can connect the dots with those anchor points to walk through your resume in a clear, concise way that demonstrates the breadth of your experience and allows your personal brand to shine through.
4. Where are the skeletons buried?
This is where we dig deep and get honest with ourselves. While reviewing your resume, underline bullets and write in the margin areas where you might or definitely will go negative. Why are you leaving your job? Why did you stay in the same role for 6 years? Why did you take a career break? How was it working with a manager accused of sexual harassment? You know the questions. You know the moments that still make your face red and your palms sweaty. Reframe those stories. Rewrite the narrative in a boundaried way so that you only say what you are comfortable saying. Then, when you’re in the conversation, hit it head on and then move on. Don’t linger in those landmines even if you are well practiced.
5. Do your research and ask insightful questions
Any hiring manager wants to see your hunger, your commitment and your style in the interview. If you’ve done your homework and ask good questions, you’re showing them that this is the kind of person you’re going to be in the role. Also know that this process goes both ways—you are interviewing this employer as well. When you ask questions about the company, but also the things that are important to you in a role (leadership style, culture, etc.), you’re demonstrating confidence and gaining leverage in your negotiations because it provides the appearance that you have options.
6. Intentions and self-care
The day of the interview, do what you need to do to raise your energy and make yourself feel whole—like you. For some, that means planning your outfit the night before and exercising or meditating in the morning. For others it means having a token or symbol of strength on your person during the meeting. If I have pockets—a rare event in women’s clothing—I like to keep my father’s pinky ring with me during a presentation or a big meeting. Occasionally, I’ll touch it and feel grounded, refueled and energized. One of my clients puts a rock from her hometown in her pocket for the same reason. Also, set an intention for who you want to be in the meeting. If you’ve reflected on your values lately, perhaps it’s one of those—connection or courage. For some of my clients, they set an intention to simply learn more about the role or to be themselves. If you find yourself struggling during the interview, take a deep breath and remember, " I can be myself."
As you strengthen your narrative and your interviewing skills, know that it takes practice—and there’s ALWAYS room to improve. If you don’t get the job, ask for feedback. Even though I’ve found feedback comes only 15-20% of the time, sometimes it can be an absolutely critical piece of wisdom that makes all the difference in your next round of interviews. Also know that finding a job is often about fit. Sometimes when you don’t get the job, you may have dodged a bullet because of something in their culture or leadership approach that was not going to be a fit with your style. Make sure you do a debrief after you don’t get a role so you can learn how to vet those wrong-fit situations out within the interview process and set your own expectations accordingly. Because I have the benefit of seeing many people through this process, I know that the tools I’ve outlined work, but the most important thing you can do for yourself during this intense time of a job search is believe. Believe that there is not only one great opportunity out there for you, but many. With a combination of belief, knowledge that you’re worthy of that next great role, patience, practice and prep—in time—you will get there too.