Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to Practice for an Interview

This posting applies to MBA applicants, but really is relevant for anyone preparing for an upcoming interview and in need of some common sense advice.

1. Figure out what kind of questions you might get.

There are two parts to this process.

1a. Do Research

If you are an MBA applicant you can go here or here to get good lists of questions submitted by former applicants. Job interviews are tougher, though not impossible, and a quick Amazon search reveals some possibilities for figuring out what you might get asked in your interview.

Some questions, of course, are relatively obvious:

Why do you want to work for our company / go to our school?
What are your objectives in the short-term  / long-term?

So obvious in fact that you should be ready to answer them.

1b. Look at your own Resume

A lot of questions you may get will be based on your own experiences.  So, review your resume thoroughly, and be ready to talk at length about anything that is there.  Examples:

Why did you quit working for Company A and move to Company B?
What did you learn during your time as the (Position) at (Company A)?
Why did you choose to write a thesis on (topic)?
What benefits have you realized from your involvement in (Activity X)?

At the very least, for every position you have held you should be able to describe an accomplishment, a leadership experience, a teamwork experience, and the takeaway or learning gained from that position.

2. When writing down your plan for answering certain questions, don't write full sentences.

Looking at these "notes" will only make you want to memorize them word for word.  Instead of writing verbatim everything you want to say in response to a particular question, write a bullet-point summary of our main ideas instead.  In this way, when you are practicing answering the question (see #3 below) it'll always feel fresh rather than memorized. And, if you forget something, you can quickly look at your bullet point list to see what you are to say next.  Repeat until you know the content.

3. Interview practice means speaking out loud.

This could be with an interview coach, with your best friend or colleague, your husband or wife, the mirror in your bathroom or a wall in your room.  Whatever the case, ensure that your interview practice involves actually talking to someone or something.  Anything else (writing down notes, researching possible questions) is only preparation - it's not interview practice.

4. It's not a good idea to do all of this by yourself.

At some point, you're going to need to get feedback from someone, who hopefully has experience either conducting interviews, or preparing people to succeed in them.  Mock interviews aren't necessarily the most comfortable thing to do, but that's the point: you get used to the feeling of being uncomfortable, and the more mock interviewing you do, the more you can learn and adapt your strategies, and the more confident you'll be when the real thing happens.

Good luck!

John Couke