Thoughts on acing an interview

Thoughts on interviews:
  • Most people interviewing you have no formal training on how to do so. Many think they need no training because they see themselves as a “good judge of character”.
  • Many people interviewing you will have grabbed your resume from a printer just before they walk into a room (or connect on Zoom) to interview you.
  • You can just about count on getting a variation of each one of these four questions:
  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What are your strengths?
  3. What are your weaknesses?
  4. Tell me about a time when things did not go your way?
Thoughts on how to answer:

1. Tell me about yourself
Do NOT do the boring regurgitation of your resume. Be different. Say something like: “Is it safe to assume you have read my resume? Since you have, would it be OK for me to address what I think are the top three qualities you are looking for in this position and focus on experiences in my job history that speak to those qualities.” If the interviewer consents to your proposed approach, launch into three stories that follow this pattern:
  • You are looking for someone who excels at X
  • When I worked at Y we had this [problem/situation]
  • Here is what I (or my team) [did/directed/organized/…] (showing X kind of qualities)
  • And this resulted in: [benefit to employer]
Don’t spend more than 3 minutes on any of your stories. Do insert some silence in between the stories you tell.

2. What are your strengths?
Do NOT use sentences starting with “I am”, instead think about endorsements. Nike does not say “we make the best shoes”, they use the endorsement of athletes who use their shoes. You can either have a document with you that has excerpts of past professional evaluations showing nice things previous bosses have said about you or you can state something like: “If you call my references I know they will speak about my strengths in A, B, and C.” You are not saying "I am strong", you are saying: “others are saying I’m strong”.

3. What are your weaknesses?
Do NOT say: “My weaknesses are…”. (In my case I won't say "I'm impatient".) The theory here is to:
  • Generalize
  • Minimize
  • Turn into an advantage
Here is one of my stock (memorized) answers to that question:
“I suppose, like everyone else, there might be a thing or two I’d like to work on just a little bit. For example: I’m a quick learner so I tend to understand things pretty rapidly. I can see issues to conclusion without copious amounts of data so I can get antsy when someone is delving into details in a presentation. I have learned over time to let them continue without interruption as there may be others in the room who prefer more data for decision making.”

Let’s analyze the above:
  • Generalize: “like everyone else”
  • Minimize: “there might be a thing or two I’d like to work on just a little bit.”
  • Turn into an advantage: I did not say “I’m impatient and prone to interrupt people in meetings” (which might be a true statement). I said: “I’m a quick learner and I tend to understand things rapidly.”

4. Tell me about a time when things did not go your way?
Do NOT come across as someone who is upset their management did not understand her. Use an example from way back from your first job when you were an intern. State the facts, own what you did, and don’t blame anyone else. The most important thing is to state what you learned from this incident.
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