How to prepare for an interview

One question I see a lot of job-seekers struggle with is how to best prepare for an interview. If you’ve got a job interview coming up that you’re excited about, there are lots of ways to waste your time spinning your wheels that don’t actually prepare you to knock it out of the park.

You might waste time in an endless research hole online. For example, learning everything you can about the company and whoever’s interviewing you. While important to an extent, online research alone can give a false sense of preparedness.

When you’re gearing up for a job interview, make sure to focus on the following three skills – and practice them out loud.

Know Your Story

You have to be prepared for the first opening question that almost every interview begins with: “Tell me about yourself.” Here’s what they’re really asking – sometimes more explicitly than others – “Why do you want to work here?”

Your personal story can be a brief, but compelling narrative that culminates with a perfectly compelling reason that you belong in their organization. Here’s what I mean: every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our human brains are wired to pay attention to stories that are structured in this way – more-so than a chronological rundown of your resume.

People especially empathize when your story involves facing a challenge, making a choice, and learning a lesson that led to where you are today. Are you a corporate lawyer applying for an internal counsel position at a global charity? There’s a story there! Tell me why you’re compelled to make that choice.

I’ll give you an example: when #BradTheBoo was job-searching here in Denver, we were living in DC and he’d spent the prior three years or so quitting his comfortable architecture job to devote his time and energy into focusing on CNC fabrication – a much more hands-on craft that involved designing projects in 3D space on the computer, but also then machining, manufacturing, finishing, and installing custom furniture. His narrative boiled down to this: I got to a comfortable place where I was using my architecture graduate degree in an air-conditioned office, sitting in front of a computer of eight hours a day, and I just couldn’t do it. I made a choice to pivot into more hands-on craftsman work. That’s why I’m here today, because your shop would be the perfect place for me.

Now, granted, this story only really works when applying for custom manufacturing jobs, like the one he landed 2.5 years ago and has been working happily at ever since. If he were, for whatever reason, applying for architecture firm jobs, that story wouldn’t work.

Whatever the case may be for you, and no matter how long your work history is, you need to be able to quickly sum things up in a story – a story that leads you to working wherever it is that you’re interviewing. This is only possible through practicing out loud, preferably with a trusted ally you can ask for feedback. Learn more about constructing a compelling personal story here.

Ask smart questions

As much as you can practice telling a great story, you can also practice getting into the habit of asking smart questions. Interviewers are people, too, and after all, everyone loves to talk about themselves. So make sure you go in ready to ask about them, too. You want the interview to feel like a reciprocal conversation, not a one-way soliloquy.

This is where your research can pay off, too. You might ask your interviewer(s) about why they chose to work there, how they feel about where the organization is headed, and what their opinion is on who would be a good fit.

Bring genuine curiosity to this conversation, as well as active listening skills. Nod. Say “mmmhmm.” Provide engaging verbal and nonverbal queues to show that you’re listening and taking their responses in.

And don’t be afraid of getting into the weeds a bit. Ask technical questions about the work at hand. Ask if they’ve considered different strategies that you might suggest. If things start to get a little too detailed, you can always say something like, “Well, I don’t want to get too ahead of myself here, but as you can tell, I really love this stuff.”

Emphasize what’s transferable

Finally, throughout your interview conversation, be conscientious of drawing parallels between past experiences and your future potential. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing position, be ready with stories and specific examples of overcoming marketing challenges in the past. Be ready to verbally reference third party validators like any past achievements, accomplishments, numerical transformations you can point to, or even past praise. For example you might say, “My last boss thought it couldn’t be done, but when we were able to pass the 10,000 email subscriber count, he attributed my strategy directly to our success.”

Many times we assume that employers and hiring managers will connect the dots on their own, but be explicit. Say how your past podcast editing experience will directly support the organization in launching their own. Mention that your financial analysis done in past roles will be helpful to the budgeting analysis needed for this organization to improve their overall decision-making. Connect the dots for them.

Got an interview coming up?

What works best for you? Let me know how you’re preparing in the comments below, and if you put these practices into place, I want to hear what works!

This article first appeared on Bossed Up.