Acing an Interview: Greatest Hits

Almost all of my appointments for the past few weeks have been mock interviews or about prepping for an upcoming interview. A lot of that is timing of industries like Finance, Consulting, and Technology who have been interviewing for the past month or so. Given it’s been such a hot topic and that other industries will still be interviewing through the Spring semester, I thought now would be a great time to review some best practices for acing an interview.

Questions:

You can’t prepare for every question an interviewer may ask you. Even if you could, studying for questions can make you sound rehearsed or throw you off if a question isn’t quite what you expected. People have told me some of their hardest questions have been almost trivial sounding and unexpected things like “What’s your spirit animal?” and “What’s a book you read recently for pleasure?” The sections after this will be grounded in how to prep for an interview without knowing the exact question, but there are still a few that are so common you’ll want to have at least a framework prepared:

  • Tell me about yourself / walk me through your resume
  • Why this job/this company?
  • What are you goals in the next x years?
  • What’s your biggest weakness?
  • What are your greatest strengths?

A successful answer to any question is reflective, uses concrete examples, and is tailored for the audience. Think of ways you can show rather than just tell the interviewer your answer.

STAR Method:

The acronym STAR can be a helpful framework in organizing your thoughts for almost any question you’ll get in an interview. STAR stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Activity/Action
  • Result

If you hate acronyms like I do, though, you can just boil it all down into using examples and telling your interviewer a story rather than hoping they’ll just take you for your word. The Situation and Task help set the context of your story and the Activity and Result show how you in action and your reflection upon that action. Try leaning towards the second half of the acronym so you don’t spend too much time setting your story up.

Review Your Resume:

I’m sometimes baffled by how rattled people can get when an interviewer references something directly from the their resume. To avoid this, before the big day, sit down and read through the resume you provided to the employer. In doing so, think through different situations or stories that might be worth sharing from your past experiences. It could also be a good time to reflect and think through what types of things might be most interesting and eye catching to your interviewer.

Prepare for Categories of Questions:

I mentioned earlier how you can’t ever prepare for every question you’ll receive in an interview. Instead, consider the broad types of questions you might get so you can be as flexible as possible even when presented with the unexpected. Think through what you want to get across to the employer and ideally match some of the stories or anecdotes you generated from reviewing your resume. Try to think not just of the exact industry-related content they’ll want to hear, but also the transferable skills you’ve used elsewhere that may apply to this new job. Some categories to consider:

  • Interests (in the role, in the company, or maybe even just what you do for fun)
  • Academics (why you chose your major, favorite class, projects you’ve worked on)
  • Experiences (accomplishments in clubs and past internships, projects, etc.)
  • Challenges (anywhere in life, but ideally where you can articulate a challenge and how you overcame it)
  • Role-specific questions (what are you excited about, what will be challenging, different situations related to the role)
  • Skills-based questions (greatest strengths, times you’ve used certain skills)
  • Teamwork (group projects, challenges, your role in a team, leadership)

Knowing yourself and being able to draw from your experiences are maybe the two most important pieces to interviewing. While you certainty want to present yourself professionally, more often than not, people can start to feel too stiff, rehearsed, or like they lack confidence. Reflecting upon your experiences ahead of time and preparing more flexibly can help make an interview feel more conversational help both you and the interviewer feel you aced the interview.

By Natty Leach
Natty Leach Handshake Manager and Associate Director, The College Natty Leach